Monday, March 17, 2008

The Next Breed of Evangelical Leaders

At the National Religious Broadcaster’s convention recently, Dr. James Dobson lamented the passing of several prominent Christian leaders who have been activists for several social causes. With the deaths of people like Ruth Graham and D. James Kennedy, and several others getting closer to the ends of their careers, Dobson wondered what was going to happen to broadly conservative Christian activism.

“The question is, will the younger generation heed the call? Who will defend the unborn child in the years to come? Who will plead for the Terri Schiavos of the world? Who’s going to fight for the institution of marriage, which is on the ropes today.”

Dobson, Kennedy, Colson and others have made great social strides in several ways, but more often than not their causes have either explicitly or implicitly been tied to political activism. According to some culture watchers, the younger breed of evangelical is less apt to align themselves politically, or at the least, less apt to openly associate with conservative politics. The article goes on to note:

Christian activists and other observers of the movement say that the next generation of leaders isn’t as interested in polarizing debates and wants to broaden the evangelical agenda beyond divisive issues like abortion and gay marriage. “Who in the next generation will be willing to take the heat, when it’s so much safer and more comfortable to avoid controversial subjects,” Dobson said.

Among that next generation of evangelicals is the emergent movement. If you follow it closely, you know emergents claim to have avoided the same political “errors” of their predecessors. But they have, in fact, committed the same error on the other side of the political aisle. If you are looking to avoid political entanglement, they are not much more help.

I agree with Dobson that our culture needs a new generation of evangelical leaders to stand up for the right things. Here are some thoughts on what ought to characterize those leaders.

First, they need to resist relativism in all its substantial forms. Epistemological and religious relativism are slow-acting poisons that destroy their consumers from the inside out. The Christian worldview needs some form of objectivism to really do its work.

Second, they need to be committed to Jesus Christ and him crucified: from behind pulpits, in vocation, in the public eye, in personal witness, and in family life. For instance, some have gone the route of substituting social justice for the theology of atonement, and are going the way of 19th century theological liberalism. We need to regain a full-orbed sense of being a Christian in this world (including social causes) beginning with the clear messages of the nature of Christ and the nature of humanity. Despite all appearances, those are not mutually exclusive goals.

Thirdly, the next wave of leaders needs to keep their kingdoms straight. Good theology will inevitably have social and political consequences. Political activism without good theology reduces to propagandizing. A major mistake Christians make (in both political directions) is treating parties and figures as surrogate messiahs. “If only Senator So-and-So is elected, then we can get some real work done for the Kingdom of God” is a confusion of kingdoms. In reality, the church often flourishes most when the powers that be are openly opposed to it. Maybe that is because in those seasons Christians have a better grasp on the true identity of their Savior.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no specific distaste for Christians making their views open to political debate and public vote. What I don’t like are the tendencies that sometimes comes to the fore when Christians get too tied to politics. The kingdoms of the world are fading away, but the Kingdom of our Lord will last forever.


Anonymous said...

What is the point of protecting the unborn, yet supporting the war and killing men, women, babies all in the name of defending freedom? What is the reason to plead for Terri Schiavos, yet support the cutting of funds for the poor, the sick, and the helpless? The Christian Evangelical movement had has its time, and had failed miserably. In fact, many followers of the past prominent Christian leaders exhibited behaviors of anything but Christian. They were full of greediness, selfishness, self-importance, and arrogance. Clearly they did not see themselves in the mirror and of course they would feverishly deny all those wrong intentions. But words and images can not hide the pretentiousness of men, and they can never shield from God. Unlike you, I absolutely believe that a truth Christian should not foray into politic. The church is about the spiritual kingdom, not about the earthly politic nor earthly kingdom.

The Gyrovague said...

I echo a lot of Anonymous (I know, predicatable)

What the emergent church is trying not to do is be bedfellows with the world as Dobson and others have. You can not deny that listenting to his broadcasts anymore is a political statement almost more then anything else.

We do not want to be stuck in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to our words as Dobson recently was (I am not going to vote in 08 ring a bell) We want to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We want to stimulate a generation to get out of their SUV's get their feet muddy working with and along side the poorest of the poor. We want them to see that what we are given is a blessing, and it is even more of a blessing to give what we have been given to others in need. Is that such a bad thing?

I agree with you on the bad theology. I agree that some have taken the term emergent and high jacked it for their own cause and to advance their own agenda of stupidity. They will have their day of reconing with God. But being emergent means being graceful and humble and going about doing the work of God full force, in community, out of community, in the cubicle jungle, in church and everywhere in between. We are not content to drive our SUV to church, put our game faces on and tell people we are "blessed to be a blessing, we are the head and not the tail" when all around us is failing at home. Finances, health, job, marriage, whatever. That is just not Jesus.

eric "the" lind said...

So, if the church is only about the "spiritual kingdom" why bother with ministering to peoples' bodily needs at all? That's so "earthly". Conversely, if Christians can't be in politics, why should there be any government funding for "the poor, the sick, and the helpless"? Shouldn't that all be done through the church? Without Christians influencing the actions of government, government devolves to tyranny. I'm sorry, that was a cheap shot, I know, but I think anonymous is using two utterly different trains of thought and they don't seem to go together.

We are to go out and be Christ-like in all avenues of life. Everyone needs Christ, even, or especially, politicians. While I am wary of religious leaders who leverage that role into one of political power, I firmly believe it's silly to say that true Christians can never be political. It is a way of influencing society for the better, as is getting your feet dirty with the poor (as the gyrovague said).

The Gyrovague said...


I know you were cheap shotting a bit, but to your query about should governments be in the business of funding the poor. The answer is of course a yes. But not as it has been. So much of what the government does perpetuates, and does not alleviate, poverty. Welfare, social security (for those not retired) etcetera etcetera. What we feel is that the church is much better prepared to minister to these needs and average church goers today are all to happy as "tax paying Americans" to let the government do the job. The government is doing the job, but very poorly (with some notable exceptions)

Remember giving a hand up, not a hand out is the key. You want the church and the government to come to your aid, fine, but be prepared to work through a system that gets you on your feet, productive and back in society.

Shane Ogle said...

I believe Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous has gotten his/her personal political leanings confused with the Word of God. First of all, an abortion kills an innocent baby – not a blob (as once was purported – but of course, thanks to the ultrasound gone public, we know is absolutely untrue.) Jesus said, that a person who harms a little one should just as well tie a millstone around their neck and throw themselves into the sea.

At the same time, you mention war. Come on – the Old Testament is filled with God-led and even inspired wars – with all sorts of God-given blood-curdling rhetoric. In the New Testament Paul tells that our political leaders are not given the sword for nothing. In the book of Revelation Jesus returns to make war with the nations. He tramples the blood of men so that it spatters on His robe. The point being – we are called to defend our liberties – and at times to intervene in would-be world dictators' wars. We cannot sit back idly and allow evil to reign. (Even the Apostle Paul draws a mental image of the Christian life from a Roman soldier's armor.) And while (in the church) we wrestle not against flesh and blood – in the realm of earthly governments we do. Historically and biblically – Mr./Mrs. Anonymous you do not have a leg to stand on. (And while Jesus refused to be a part of a political war – He was not afraid to – with His physical body, mind you – fashion a whip, turn over tables, and drive out the money-changers in the Temple. People who were inflating the prices of sacrificial animals to fleece the flock and line their on pockets.)

As far as Terry Schiavo – as Christians we should always value human life – no matter how insignificant a human being they might seem to you (created in the image of God -- and while you might not see God in these -- countless others do). There are countless stories of such individuals being used of God to speak to a lost person needing Jesus. And the poor – I know that a good government will endeavor to help – I'm all for it – but i feel much of what our tax dollars go for – is forced charities that I, as a Christian, would never support. Overall, I like the idea of the church doing it's part – albeit there are times when the need can just be too great (which is why the Apostles in the book of Acts appointed seven men to organize and restructure their outreach efforts to widows – and the Apostle Paul bothers to outline what a qualifying widow is.)

And I think it absolutely foolishness to promote the idea that a Christian cannot be in politics. So are you saying we can only elect non-Christians – atheists – and people of other world religions? I don't see support for that anywhere in the Bible – in fact – quite the opposite – read I and II Kings (or we might say Presidents/ Politicians).

Your feverish pitch in your stern rebuke of evangelical leaders is quite telling. I will admit there have been shameless failures (in which I refuse to rejoice in nor coddle)– but I will also say – that is true on the others side (the liberal side) as well – that's not a conservative/ liberal condition – it is a part of the human condition. I, for one, am not proud of the men you only allude to – I am heartbroken. They stood for good – and they fell into the very sin they preached against. I cannot believe they started out that way – I see them (on both sides of the issue) as casualties of war (I am speaking now of the spiritual war we Christians are called to).

And finally – to Phil – great blog – "don't get the Kingdoms confused" – I couldn't agree with you more.

K. said...

I just read all the posts on your main page.

I don't necessarily agree with everything you say, perhaps.

But I like that you take a firm stand on truth. I'll probably engage you in some discussion later on one of your posts.

Keep provoking me to think.


Anonymous said...

Does Shane believe that the current war is "God-led"? Yes, the Old Testament is full of mayhem. I don't think God had a thing to do with the war in Iraq. It is all "man-led". The word of God emphatically states that we are to beat our swords into plowshares. Don't talk to me about morals and family values unless you are willing to stand in the gap yourself. If you call yourself pro-life, are you willing to take in the children whose lives you saved, or at least be willing to guide and help the moms raise them? I'm pro-life, but I realize if I am going to go by that label I can't pick and choose which lives I want to protect. Hunger, homelessness, and access to adequate health care are moral issues as well. Jesus commands us to help all of the "least of these". I celebrate that the younger generation of evangelicals is less tied to conservative politics. Dr. Steiger, great post. God is neither Democrat or Repyblican, and thanks for reminding us.

Shane Ogle said...

Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous,

As you may well know -- no one person can do all. Are you a political leader actively engaged in changing our leaders views on war? I am the father of a three year old boy that the world would have said to abort. And knowing the risks --we chose life (even if it played out in a way we would not have chosen for ourselves).

I work a fulltime job -- pastor a church start and maintain my role as a husband and father as well. Not that i desire to tout my credentials (nor is it necesasary). How about you? What have you done to stop the war? How are you feeding the hungry? What about the homeless? (I have put my own life at risk ministering to the homeless of Nashville -- where they live).

And do you or do you not believe that Christians should run for office?

Last thing: is it wrong for us to enter into war no matter what the reason?

(As far as Iraq -- I cannot say absolutely for sure if God is in it -- one way or the other. I suppose one could argue that the liberation of the Iraqis is worth fighting for -- though I do not believe that is why we are there -- but God can turn all around for the good).


Shane Ogle said...

Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous,

Oh and by the way -- the beating our swords into plowshares -- that will happen when King Jesus takes over and not before then (He is the Prince of Peace -- no one else).

God Bless.


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Anonymous said...

In reference to Anonymous and others…

Call up any Church in the United States, tell them you are in a bind, and see what happens. I will tell you what happens: the Church will come to your aid.

Study after study shows that people identified as conservative and who generally vote republican do more for the poor and give to charity in greater proportion than those that self-identify as liberal.

You can shout about what evangelicals have and have not done but look up the stats and you see the real picture. What some are subscripting to in these comments, is a media driven narrative that has sought to paint evangelicals as hypocrites.

Read the Moment of Truth in Iraq by Michael Yon and see the good are soldiers are doing in the war on terror and then complain about a war you appear to know nothing about. Better yet read the City of God by Augustine for a Christian understanding of the issues raised in this post.

You want to understand what conservatives are really about read Makers and Takers
by Peter Sweizer.

More than anything Evangelicals need to quit being intellectual light weights and do their homework.

Thanks for the good post.