A topic I tackle regularly here is how we as Christians work out a ‘theology of involvement.’ As I do so, I often get the response, “Why do you write about ? Do you really think that’s something a pastor should talk about?”
We practice our faith where we live, not in pristine steeples or ivory towers.
Along those lines, I loved an interview with Russell Moore, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. In many ways, I feel like he answered the question above by saying what I want to say, only saying it better. What follows are his words (get the whole interview on the link above):
I want to address the outside world with what I call “convictional kindness.”
This conviction is rooted in kindness, which in the Bible isn’t equated with passivity but with spiritual warfare. We love and care about our neighbors because they aren’t our enemies. We wrestle with accusing demons, not with their prey.
I was recently on a lesbian feminist talk show on the West Coast. The host wanted to hear what evangelical Christians believe about same-sex marriage, and why. She easily could have caricatured me and used me as an ideological piñata to score points with her base, but she didn’t. She listened to me and shared her concerns with me. We were able to have a civil dialogue because we respected each other. She sought to persuade me that I was wrong, and I sought to persuade her to consider the Christian vision of sexuality and, ultimately, of the gospel behind it.
If I really believe the gospel, and I do, then I know that the ultimate issue isn’t my rightness. This lesbian feminist talk-show host is made in the image of God, and she is loved by God. Jesus died for her and offers her a queenship in his kingdom. How can I not respect her and treat her with kindness? And if I really believe what I say I believe, then she is just a sinner’s prayer away from being my sister in Christ. This lesbian feminist talk-show host could be the next Corrie Ten Boom.
I am not here to represent the Bible Belt’s political interest to a post-Christian culture. I’m here to help equip churches to signal the coming kingdom of God. The message of that kingdom isn’t a cranky “Hey you kids, get off our lawn.” Our message is “Make way for the coming of the Lord.”
The church of Jesus Christ isn’t a political action committee, affixing Bible verses to already-existing political programs. The church is a colony of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. That has social and political implications, but these implications are as much about the next trillion years as they are about the next four.
The temptation, of course, is for Christians to pick and choose our issues so that the biblical witness becomes a prop for our political aspirations. Conservatives then could easily talk about family matters but never about the poor and the sojourner. And progressives could easily talk about environmental stewardship and immigration reform but ignore one of the most pressing issues of the day: the denial of personhood to millions of orphaned, unborn children.
The evangelical community seems to swing between partisan occupation and pietistic disengagement. Neither fits the biblical pattern. The errors of the last generation, in politicizing everything, can result in a dangerous over-correction by the Millennial generation into a hyper-libertarianism that reduces the gospel to the question “Who is my neighbor?” and avoids moral discourse as a defense against legalism.
Ironically, this form of disengagement itself becomes a kind of Pharisaism, building hedges around the point of temptation in order to avoid falling into it.
We must tie everything we do explicitly to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the mission of Christ. This means we speak to the whole of human existence, including what it means to live together in civil society and as citizens. We do so recognizing there are some areas where the church speaks with clear authority, because of a clearly revealed truth in Scripture, and other points at which we speak with a more nuanced voice. There is not a Christian position on a balanced budget amendment or gun control legislation, for instance, although there are certainly Christian principles that inform our motivations and goals on such things. On the means to those ends, we can agree to disagree.
The primary aspect of this third way though is the priority of focus. The state is important. The culture is important. But the church is the focal point of Christ’s reign in the present era. We must be in all the areas of cultural and political influence. Decisions made there flow backward into our communities and congregations with all sorts of implications. But I think the first step of Christian engagement with the outside world is a gospel-driven, counter-cultural, Bible-disciplined congregational life.
“A gospel-driven, counter-cultural, Bible-disciplined congregational life.” As a pastor, that’s what I’m all about.