Christianity and the Patriotic Gospel

The other day, I came across this question on Twitter, “What’s worse, the prosperity gospel or the patriotic gospel?” My first reaction was it was a bit of a toss up. But the more I thought about it and observed the discussion on my Facebook page, I do think the patriotic gospel needs to be spelled out a bit. I don’t know the author of the tweet so I have no idea what he meant by it but I thought I would write out a few thoughts about what I believe it is. I suspect that some will disagree but these are my convictions.

I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with patriotism, as long as it is kept in perspective. I see no prohibition in Scripture where one cannot love their country and want what is best for it. Though America has not always lived up to her ideals, we can celebrate her victories.

However, the patriotic gospel is more than just a love for country. I actually do believe it is a form of the prosperity gospel so let me lay that out. A common misconception about the prosperity gospel is that it is about money or getting rich. Actually, wealth is just an outcome of its foundation. At the heart of the prosperity gospel lies the notion that material gain symbolizes favor with God. Material gain can be wealth but also comes in different forms, such as employment success, social standing, houses, cars, and other earthly treasures. While proponents of the prosperity gospel will say they are placing their faith in Jesus, in reality, hope is placed in obtaining material gain since that represents right standing with God. It’s why you see so much emphasis on the material in prosperity teaching. Sadly, I think softer forms of prosperity teaching run rampant in mainstream American evangelism.

Now, let’s make that application to the patriotic gospel. I think the most obvious form is believing that the United States has a special status with God and therefore, supporting her prosperity means continued favor. It’s treating the US as if God has made a covenant with her. This line of thinking sees no problem with inserting patriotic symbolism into Christian expression such as Bible verses and church services. Continue reading

Some thoughts on the church and racial reconciliation efforts

I recently got into a twitter exchange over the issue of church’s hosting of a racial reconciliation conference, panel discussion, etc. The thrust of the argument was that it puts a focus on the reconciliation according to skin and we should do as Paul says ‘to know no one after the flesh.’ I pushed back on the notion that anytime a church calls for a racial reconciliation, it is a “false gospel.” As typical with Twitter exchanges, I start getting lost in the comments. So I thought I’d sketch out some thoughts I’ve had on this issue in a more cohesive fashion. This is not so much about that exchange but rather  examining the broader scope of racial reconciliation efforts in the church, my observations of them, and also to identify some concerns. This is not meant to be anything exhaustive but more like me dumping some thoughts on this topic into a single space.

First let me note that I do heartily endorse the idea that believers should anchor their identities first and foremost in Christ. I believe that our first consideration for dealing with other believers is based on our union in Christ. When you see another person with whom you are united in Christ, the first thought should not be a [______] Christian but a fellow heir, regardless of their race, ethnicity, physical characteristics, or place of origin. We should take serious Gal. 3:28;

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But of course there are distinctions and we can appreciate them according to how God made us.  Are we not male and female and are we not different in that regard? We are not nondescript blobs. We can appreciate the ways in which we bring our ethnicity, heritages and experiences to the table.  We also have to recognize when those distinctions have caused and do cause dissension in the body of Christ, especially when dealing with a long-standing one like racial disparities that were not only deeply ingrained in society for hundreds of years but also in our churches. Racial reconciliation is ultimately about reconciling hearts towards one another. Continue reading

My cloud of witnesses: 7 traits of highly effective race runners

I’ve been mulling on this passage in Hebrews for the past couple of weeks;

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Heb. 12:1-2a)

Of course the cloud of witnesses referred to here are the heroes of the faith in the Old Testament listed in Hebrews 11. I interpret this to mean those whose lives have testified to their belief in the promises of God and demonstrate what faithfulness to those promises mean in how they have lived their lives.

I’ve been thinking about my own cloud of witnesses, those who for me model what Heb. 12:1-2 talks about in their witness and ministry commitment. In leveraging the title of that popular book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I’m thinking about common traits these folks possess that not only invoke an admiration for them but also an inspiration for me for any ministry God has placed in my hand to be faithful to Scripture and glorify him.  And while I can include a whole swatch of Christians who have encouraged me in my walk with Christ, I’m particularly thinking of those who are more subject to scrutiny and criticism because they pastors, seminary professors and/or have more visible ministries. Continue reading

On transforming culture and why I dislike the question

Are Christians called to transform culture? Whenever this question comes up, I’ve typically been struck by those who declare we are not. Now I get that transforming culture is loaded with complexity. What do we mean by this? The simplistic answer is influencing culture such that it is compatible with Christianity. But in a fallen world, that lofty goal is myopic at best.

Another issue is what do we mean by culture? Andy Crouch states it simply, “it is what human beings make of the world.”[1]  Of course, it’s a bit more complex than this in the ways an ethos is formed from the various components that make up a particular culture. Example, a workplace culture is one defined by the priority of values and examples of living that out. So, if we consider the nature of culture, we have to conclude that there is not just one culture but many operating in different spheres of society and overlapping with each other. Even when we consider our prevailing ethos, it is an amalgamation of various cultures forming a compatibility that infects the whole. This is one reason I dislike the question about transforming culture. Which culture do you mean?

But there’s another problem I have when the question gets dismissed with an emphatic no. I’ve been reading through Theology in Three Dimensions by John Frame. He provides a basic layout for his theory of triperspectivalism, which deals with the multi-dimensional aspect of how we come to know and accept truth. Room does not permit an exhaustive description and I don’t want to deviate from the point of the post. For the sake of brevity, he speaks of that which is normative, situational, existential and the ways in which each perspective overlaps with each other. In his chapter entitled, “Perspectives in All of Life,” he starts off by saying that we bring our relationship with Christ into every sphere we enter proclaiming “the gospel changes all of life . . .it creates new people, as new creations of God (2 Cor. 5:17). Continue reading

How much should Christians care about reputation?

The title question is one I’ve been mulling over the past couple of days since a charge was thrown my way that I care too much about my reputation and how I look in the eyes of others. Well, the first place we should go with such accusations is before the Lord with honest introspection. Is it true? It doesn’t help to justify and defend if others see something in us we are unwilling to admit about ourselves. That’s why I think it’s important whenever there is a consensus of critism. Not that this is the case here, but generally, if a number of people are saying the same thing about you, it’s something to pay attention to.

But the second place we should go is to Scripture because for the Christian, it is our ultimate authority. Now this is nowhere near an exhaustive examination but some observations. In asking this question does reputation matter, here are some musings I’ve come up with thus far.

No, reputation is about pride.

Well, it can be for sure. We can take so much care in how we look in front of others that it becomes more about self-preservation than Christ proclamation. When it comes to the issue of reputation, we can look no further than mission of the Son to humble himself on our behalf. I love how the NKJV portrays Christ’s condescension;

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus’ mission wasn’t to look good in front of others but to do what was good according to the Father’s will. His earthly ministry demonstrated that he cared nothing about what people thought of him but everything about revealing the mind and will of God so that people see his glory and purpose. His obedience to this call is ours as well, to proclaim him who became of no reputation so that we can be reconciled to the Father and live at peace with him in this world. We do that in spite of our reputation and caring what others think of us. Continue reading