Month: January 2020

Our Culture of Proof Texting

Complimentarianism and Egalitarianism both require proof-texting to make their points, reading their own ideas back into the text whose writers would not recognize them. Both sides fail to address the proof-text for the others arguments and so a stalemate ensues and the church remains divided.

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

As a budding Historian of the Church in America in the 19th Century I get to study all the various debates that raged through that century. I also get to study the origins of those debates either in the enlightenment or in eighteenth century revivalism. Wrapped up in the radical individualism of western culture they end up dividing and splitting the church into fragments. Instead of engaging other ideas, writers would just dismiss the argument and attack the person making the argument. This was the case in the debate between Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy during the First Great Awakening and between Charles Finney and Charles Hodge during the second. Or in the debate between Mercersburg and Princeton, though the Mercersburg Theologians do a better job than most actually addressing their opponent’s arguments theologically rather than just tossing insults back and forth. John Williamson Nevin understood that personal opinion and preferences were no basis for an entire theological system. Adam S. Borneman in his book “Church, Sacrament and American Culture” notes that: “Nevin was not anti-individual. Proper reason and proper religion, however, only took place when the individual submitted their own subjective reason to universal, objective reason. Private judgment, if it remained private, was not sound judgment. In order for it to be rational and accurate in its interpretation of the outside world, it was necessary for such judgment to show “itself to be truly general.” In other words, there was room for opinions within the Church, but those opinions should not be the basis for private, individual theologies that you then chose to associate only with like minded individuals. To both Nevin and Schaff Party Spirit was a worst enemy to the church than Roman Catholicism, a point I agree with them on. The result of all these debates, and what is still true today, is that both sides present railroad arguments that either dehumanize their opponents or make them into some identarian boogeyman. Like the gentlemen who said to me once in a theological forum concerning the interpretation of 1st Timothy 2&3. When confronted with Gordon Fee’s insistence that you cannot interpret 2$3 outside of chapter 1 and the cultural issues going on at Ephesus, he said: “Fee is tainted by Feminism, we cannot listen to him.” Fee, one of the preeminent biblical scholars of our time and likely one of the more conservative, was dismissed because of the boogeyman of feminism. In our 21st century context we are still inundated with the debates like this, we still practice party-spirit.

Here is the thing though, if you look at the basis for most of these debates, they center around one or two and sometimes three passages that rely only on a plain reading of the English text without any critical thought. Basically, these opinions get blown up into essential doctrines based on building an entire philosophical framework based on dealing with a text in a complete vacuum, wrestling it away from its cultural, literary, historical backgrounds and at the expense of the consideration of the full biblical council about the topic at hand. Some translators, like in the case of the ESV’s, have even admitted to making lexical decisions on difficult passages based on their preferred theological framework. This approach to scripture is dishonest, but at least consistent with the dictates of both modernism and fundamentalism (another debate from the 20th century). Reject the full council of scripture in favor of a personal opinion that is built on one passage that in the Greek is actually not as black and white as the English text makes it. The result is that we come to the philosophical system before we come to the truth of scripture and then we pigeonhole the text into that philosophical system. Thus we create a culture of proof-texting based on nothing more than two or three texts (sometimes only one) in the English rendering and claim those opinions are infallible. As I said in last week’s article, we love to read those opinions uncritically back into the text, the fallacy of Presentism.

The most hot-button issue where this happens is in the debate between complementarianism and egalitarian debates of the 20th and now 21st century. Both systems can trace their roots back to the nineteenth century and both sides practice this kind of proof-texting to make their point. Complementarians love 1st Timothy 2:11-15 and 3:1-13 with Titus 1:5 and a passage in Corinthians as the basis for their arguments and Egalitarians love to use passages like Romans 16:1-8, Matthew 28:1-15, and passages in Acts to make their point. Both are convinced they are right, both are built on proof-texting, both refuses to answer questions asked by the other. The closest thing to reconciliation between the two parties is Gordon Fee’s “Complementarian without hierarchy” but even this falls short because like the other two it requires proof texting and a though slightly larger, limited view of scripture. I have even heard it said that: “The Bible preaches complementarianism/egalitarianism” and absurd claim because scripture knows nothing of either philosophy and does not serve the purpose of preaching to anything other than Jesus Christ and His saving work through his death and resurrection for the Glory of God. Being first an ABC and then a CCCC Pastor I have had to study this issue in depth, I minister regularly with both men and women and associate with churches that have women pastors, women deacons, women Elders and so on and so forth. The second-highest ranking person on my denominations board is a woman and when we were securing the Board for 10:31 we explored thoroughly the debate and the scriptures associated with both sides. I also attended seminary with extremely qualified women who know the scriptures better than many men I know. The Pricilla’s to our Aquilla’s if you will. Because of this I have worked hard to study both the book of 1st Timothy and the role of women in the early church. I have talked to scholars on both sides of this debate and delved as deep as possible into the ancient world of Ephesus to learn what was really happening in the Ephesian Church that Paul might do a basic reset of the church. Because of this I have concluded through thorough study and teaching on this subject, just a few things. 1. It is dishonest to interpret 1st Timothy 2&3 in a vacuum that neglects chapter 1 and dishonest to deal with any passage in that way, 2. That there is a very specific cultural reason Paul gives for his words in those two passages and that has to be considered. 3. Women were not exceptions within the leadership of the Early Church, but regularly worked alongside men as Deacons and Elders, with even one serving as an Apostle. And 4. Both sides of the debate are wrong because they are predicated on proof-texting and ignore sound biblical theology making systematic theology impossible, doing damage to the text, dividing the Church into factions, are based not in the texts themselves but man made philosophy and have been used to justify all kind of heresy and mistreatment of others.

Now, I am not saying there no room for dissent on this issue, but if we cannot disagree without being disagreeable, to use a phrase from one of my mentors, then we have already failed. There is also a deep hypocrisy behind telling someone that the English text says: “Husband of one wife” while you yell at them and berate and threaten them to put you in violation of the rest of the text as a church leader. In that moment you cease to be “Above reproach” or “Sober-Minded” and you certainly are not in good standing with all the people. This again is the problem with this type of hunt and peck individualistic theology, apply what you want and leave the rest, even if what you apply makes you a hypocrite in another area.

So, what do we do with these ideas? It is important to remember that the world the bible was written into know nothing of these ideas. For complementarians then, I want you to consider passages like Romans 16. The text is clear there that Pheobe was a Deacon or Minister in the Church in Conchrene and that Junia (not junias, no self-respecting Roman would name their son after a goddess), who was “Premiant/well-known among the apostles.” Or Pricillia and Aquilla who were foundational for the founding of the Church in Corinth and who the ordering of the way in which they are addressed would imply Pricilla had some greater role in the church than her husband. They are even credited with having taught Apollos. They should also consider later evidence of women serving in the church such as John Chryssosotem who refers to his older sister Matilda as “The Teacher.” Consider that the book of 1st Timothy is not as black and white in the original Greek as many would like to make it, that there is actually ambiguity and confusion to this day among translators and scholars because the language is not as cut and dry as our English text makes it. It is possible Paul built this ambiguity in chapter 3 on purpose so that once the women learned quietly as the Jewish School boys and Catechumens were required to do they could lead again, in short, once their witnesses were restored, following how they had been destroyed by participating in the Cult of Artemis and the eve cult that may have been present because of it, and they knew the scriptures well, they could minister again. If the historical data we are starting to learn more about yearly is what happened, then we must consider it in interpreting the text. One might even look up N.T Wright’s arguments on this point and his translation of the passage which brings out the cultural nuances of the words used in 2:11-15. This is not a rewriting of scripture, but a translation that is built upon a deeper understanding of how the culture of that time would have interpreted the words. Also consider the implication of Jesus first instructions after raising from the dead was to instruct the women to literally preach and proclaim his resurrection to His brothers. Apply the same criterion for interpreting these passages in Ephesians that get used for this argument as well.

To Egalitarians, consider the texts in 1st Timothy, that there are standards for those who serve within the rank and file of God’s family. And those standards mean that not just anyone can teach and lead within the Church. There must be a standard and that standard cannot be built on man-made agendas, philosophy and criterion but on the Word of God. There is nothing wrong with desiring leadership within the church, as we have seen there is lots of biblical precedence, but that leadership comes with a requirement that starts with “Above Reproach” and includes being able to rightly divide the word of truth. The pastoral calling is a high one and it has been disgraced by too many preachers both men and women who have failed to maintain the integrity of the office and the integrity of biblical interpretation. One should not enter this calling lightly and those who do should consider both the internal and external call of God to make sure this is what God is calling them too. If we all did this there would be a lot less of us in the calling today. Women and Men both called to the ministry must be students of the Word of God and learn all they can about it if they are going to teach it. They must guard against dealing with a text in a vacuum and seek to become good and solid biblical theologians before they are good and solid Systematic Theologians.

Neither side then should ever Lord it over the other and demand the other should shut-up or “go home.” That is neither respectful nor consistent with how the Bible teaches we are to interact with one another as Brothers and Sisters. Instead, each side should mutually submit to the other, making allowances for the others viewpoint and considering the others arguments and doing so in a manner that does not cause further division, oppress the other or harm the advance of the Gospel. Too much of our discourse from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries are marked by this kind of toxic sectarian discourse that we are now carrying forward into the 21st century. In doing so we have continued to do damage to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hinder its spread because Christians have lived and acted offensively in the name of the Gospel. The message we bear is offensive enough in our hyper-individualistic society, it ill-behooves us to live in such a way that is a stench as well. The early Church lived a life that was attractive to the outsider and they had favor with all the people (Acts 2:47), knowing how offensive their message was. Yet the way they lived attracted people from the lowest and highest strata of society and made them a family defined as members, one to another (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, 12:14=26). Both sides of this issues should work to “Maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity” (Ephesians 4:1-5) which means we cannot angrily shout each other down and work hard to eviscerate the other in comment sections.

Finally, let me address you from the other side of my calling, the pastoral side, not as a Church Historian who studies these debates, but as an under shepherd of the Christ. Through the Holy Spirit you are Brothers and Sisters, Heirs and Co-Hers with one another and with Christ. You are not individuals existing in a vacuum, the way you act, the way you treat one another in debates like this reflect the attitudes of your heart towards you brothers and sisters and have consequences and affects on your brothers and sisters. I have been deeply, deeply hurt by brothers and sisters on both sides of this debate because in their mind this is an essential issue. But no theological or philosophical position, held corporately or individually should ever be held over your brother or sister in Christ in a manner that denies them the love of Christ, the compassion of the Body or the dignity they inhabit by being made in the image of God. There is a time and place to contend for biblical orthodoxy but that orthodoxy cannot be divorced from orthopraxy and must be rooted in the full council of the authoritative Word of God, Holy Scripture, Old and New Testament, Genesis to Revelation, not the ideologies, philosophies or opinions of man. This requires us to lay aside our confirmation biases and approach one another with a spirit of listening and understanding. We must work to be biblical peace makers, not body dividers.

Consider too that we are entering a cultural moment in the South and Midwest that the East and West Coast churches have already experienced and had to respond to. One where we no longer have the luxury of these debates, when we will need all hands-on deck and devoted to Holy Scripture if we are going to survive it with our distinct Christian Identity, rooted in scripture, intact. Those who have doubled down on these positions on both sides, have made fools of themselves and made fools of the church in the public square. We are no longer in a place where we can afford our comfort and those churches which want to maintain the status quo of American Individualism and theologies based on individual opinion and built on two or three verses of scripture are dying and will die. If Jesus were walking among us today would he look at us who claim to be His children and say: “You wicked and unbelieving generation, how long must I endure you” (Matthew 17:17) or will we all hear: “Well done my good and faithful servant.” As much as many of us would like to hear the latter, I fear it will be the former that we would hear. Our hope is not in man, its not in rooted in Western Individualism or modern Western philosophy or any construct of Man, but on Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior and the Gospel which He has left us. The only way to restore the Church in America is through a return to the Holy Word of God and a rejection of the man-made ideas that are causing our death.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Jesus Was Not A Socialist, and He was not any other modern category either.

A Decade ago the band “Downhere” asked the question: “Can anybody show me the real Jesus?” Not only have we not found Him, we have made Him even more unrecognizable

Jonathan David Faulkner

I have written before about the historical fallacy called Presentism: the practice of reading modern ideas back into history. Recently I had the occasion to think through the fact that while we encourage historians to avoid this practice, we encourage theologians to do so. For instance, Jesus and the Apostles would have known nothing of our modern idea of complementarianism, it did not exist, but we are quick to pigeonhole verses into this modern philosophy and then make bold statements such as “Paul was a Complementarian, see! His verse backs up my philosophy.” Or we look at specific stories and try to apply them to modern philosophical constructs that did not exist in the ancient world. It does not matter how and ancient church applies biblical texts, the church fathers could not have been _______ because they had no concept of ______.

The place on the left this often happens is the claim that Jesus was a Socialist or would support a form of socialist government over and against the capitalism that marks our modern economic system in America. Because Jesus was a Socialist, they argue, we should have a forced socialistic society. Both the right and the left have made the same error or turning to use the government to enforce their views of Jesus onto a secular society. Not only are we presenting onto Jesus our modern understanding of socialism, we are demanding that the agency which should carry that socialism out is the federal government. The right turns to the government to enforce religious morality which largely fails to be Christian morality, though based loosely on scripture or conservative philosophy. Both sides are looking to the wrong place both for their worldview and for the application of their worldview. The secular world wants nothing to do with Christian Morality and government forced proselytizing has only failed Christianity. The same is true in the history of pure socialism or communism. Forced collectivization has only ever benefited those at the top, usually the totalitarians leaders who have forced the collectivization. Even Democratic Socialist countries often run into the same issues of delay of services. In these countries’ collectivization revolves around a few services but is not voluntary and those services can be (but are not always) of lower quality than in non-democratic socialist countries.

Neither of these categories, capitalistic or democratic socialist, capture life in ancient Mesopotamia for the Early Christians. And for the Early Christians, our tendency to look to modern government, left or right, to fulfill our agenda would seem to be anathema. Yes, there were Christians in government positions, but until Constantine, proselytizing through government would have gotten them killed for denying the Pagan god’s of Rome. The point being, Christians should not turn to government to advance the kingdom of heaven because the secular governments of man are 1. In rebellion against God the Father, which means we should not make kings as Christians (see 1st Samuel 8:7) and 2. Are secular and therefore apposed to the very foundations of Christianity, Jesus Christ himself. When Christians turn to a political strong man to advance an agenda through government we actually do damage to our witness, especially when that strong man is extremely immoral and does not reflect the character which we have long insisted that Leaders, Christian or not, embody.

And yet, here we are. Both sides, let and right, within the church have turned to government to fulfill their agenda and they both look back to Jesus as their authority. The problem is Jesus does not fit either side of the debate, he is completely and utterly unique and His kingdom requires a greater amount of loyalty than any man-made kingdom ever. Jesus is neither the left-leaning hippie of the left, or the heavenly gift-giver who makes us more moral people if we want to, otherwise, no change is necessary. Nor will I make the claim that Jesus was a centrist, not because I do not think he was likely in the center on all these issues, holding a perfect balance because He was the perfect Son of God who had been from the beginning  and will be to the end. But because calling Him a centrist would be yet another attempt to make Jesus into my own political mascot, something I am writing against in this piece. It would also continue to perpetuate presentism because once again, centrism is a modern American Political position, not something the early Christian would have identified himself as.

If you do want to describe Jesus and the early Church, I think a combination of two words used by Howard I Marshall in his commentary on Acts and Joseph Hellerman in his book “When the Church was a Family.” “Voluntary Collectivists.” Hellerman is right in his assertion that the Early Christians came from a primarily collectivist culture, most cultures around the world are still collectivist at the grass roots level. There is a sharing and caring involved among the people and family is valued above all else but at the same time this wasn’t forced, the government was not making people share their belongings. If anything in Isaiah the Government is hindering this kind of care for neighbor as the elites horded wealth and neglected the poor and the foreigner. Since it wasn’t a forced collectivism it had to be a voluntary one, stemming out of the genuine love that God had shown the people, the outpouring of which resulted in a natural caring and need meeting among the alternate family of the Church. Nor does it seem that the Apostles demanded that people sell their possessions and then redistribute them as the need arose, but that people, seeing a need, would sell possessions and give the proceeds to the church who would then meet the need. Unlike the Collectivism of Russia under Stalin’s five year plan, no one was forcing the early Christians to give up goods against their will and under pain of death, but out of the gladness and humility that came through fellowship with Christ and through one another. This would follow the teachings of Jesus of Self-Denial and Self-Denunciation. One had to choose to follow these teachings, deny themselves and follow Christ. Interestingly enough, in this strong group society, it was the voluntary nature of the collective that made the early church so attractive despite how offensive the message of the Gospel was even to a Roman World that was also collectivist in thinking.

Now, in modern America, both left and right-wing circles, any kind of collectivism is considered evil because it tramples on the radical individualism we value so much. We have been taught and conditioned that the accumulation of things (consumerism) is what is required for the ultimate happiness of the individual. That the happiness of the individual is the chief end of life and so we should do everything we can to attain for ourselves the ultimate happiness and anyone who gets in our way or who points out those we have trampled on is in our way. But this also plays out in today’s tribalism which advances the claim that an individual’s self-disclosed identity, even harmful ones, are paramount. The accumulation of stuff has not made us happy as individuals, so now we must form an identity based on “our truth”  Jesus, once again, gets co-opted, just as He did with consumerism, into his usual role, not as God incarnate, but as therapist, and not a very good one, who sees whatever cognitive distortion the individual has bought into and affirms it.

Those who use Jesus in this way apply him to those who really want nothing to do with His message of “come and die to yourself.” We are apposed to his ideas of self-denunciation because they require to give up the idea that we have our own truth and to look beyond ourselves to find this truth. We are opposed to this because not only is it uncomfortable, it goes against the foundation of radical individualism.

In Voluntary Collectives, people have a natural bent towards working together for the good of the community, not the good of the individual though the good of the individual may be what is best for the community. In Voluntary Strong Group Societies, we still find to this day what is described in Acts 2:42-47. A group committed to one another and following their leaders who taught and ministered to their needs and arbitrated fights between them and none of it is forced, it comes from a natural love for one another and in the case of the early church, the outpouring of the Love of God for them.

The closest instance in our time we can look at to display this sort of voluntary collective would be the Moravians at Herrnhut who sparked the first protestant missions under Nicolas Von Zinzendorf in the 18th century. The Moravians, descendants of John Hus, practiced what was called “Communitarianism” adapted from Peter Walpot’s “The Yieldedness and the Christian Community of Goods” written in 1577. As a theological descendant of John Calvin and Martin Luther it might seem strange for me to support an anabaptist idea, but this is the one instance when I think the anabaptists got it right. The argument was that because God has given much to us, we should then share with one another so that no one lacks anything. Walpot himself said: “The more possessions one has the more one wants, whoever wants much, whoever wants feels the lack of much, whoever covets much feels left wanting much. That is the most poverty-stricken and dissatisfying life kind of life on Earth. And Christ, at those who walk at home in the true sabbath, Pentacost and Easter will have none of it.” Walpot has no problem with someone owning goods, but goods were not to be an end, but a means to ensure the security of neighbor. Basically a direct application of the “They had everything in common” of Acts 2:42. Again, this was not forced, the Moravians, who adopted Communitarianism, applied it willingly and only enforced it when their second community because practicing excesses and had to be reminded by Zinzendorf the basic tenants of their voluntary collective.

The historical fact is that when the Moravians launched their mission’s movement to St. Thomas in the 1730’s it was this idea of “Communitarianism,” this voluntary collective, that made them effective missionaries both among the slaves and among the merchants. They lived within their means, started business and became self-sustaining missionaries. To this day, the Moravian Church is strong in the Caribbean because of its willingness to get down alongside the people and work alongside them.

Contrast the Moravians with other cultures approaches to Missions, either coming in and destroying the local culture or acting as a colonizing force for the government. I have written before that every missions movement in history that is based on these two systems has failed. They are also based on doctrines like “The Discovery Doctrine” that are extremely sinful and harmful, hindering the spread of the Gospel in the same way the marriage between Evangelical Populism and Nationalism (Christian Nationalism) are today. Dominion theologies are destructive whereas the Moravians built something, learned the language, contributed to the local  and aided the people as neutral parties during the many wars that spread through the region in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Communitarianism was the closes thing we could get to Jesus in our time, yet he is not one of those either. Nor can we go so far, the other way, as some have, and call him a capitalist. Capitalist Jesus is just as deadly as Socialist Jesus. No, Jesus formed a voluntary collective of Brothers and Sisters that formed a voluntary collective built on mutual love and understanding, love for one another and their neighbor. They were defined by their radical care and that radical care put them in good standing with all the people outside the faith, even though the Gospel message was offensive.

We need to stop appropriating Jesus for our own pet causes, especially those that cause us to live in the direct opposite manner as He has put before us to live. Jesus is not the ultimate affirmer of our own personal truth, He is, though the Holy Spirit and the Word of God in agreement, the arbiter of truth and the one who imparts it to us. I cannot say that Christians need to reclaim the total and utter distinctiveness of Jesus because it is a universal and absolute reality, instead, I can say we need to embrace and insist upon His distinctiveness in a biblical manner that makes us again a voluntary collective that is defined by mutual love and understanding. The early Church was meant first and foremost to be a family of believers, and it was until it came to power under Constantine. It was Jesus, the real Jesus, who made that ragtag group of fisherman and tax collectors into a family with fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers. An alternative family to the ones that Jesus said His Gospel would divide.

A decade ago Canadian Ministry Music Group Downhere asked the question: “Can anyone show me the real Jesus?” in the song they listed all the places Jesus appears and how He gets used for everything under the sun. The song was the first time I ever considered the reality that “Jesus isn’t white,” something that has stuck with me this last decade. The point of the song is that Jesus is the opposite of all society makes Him out to be simply because He is God incarnate. The bridge sings like this: “If anybody walks behind the Good Shepherd, If anybody holds the hands that heal lepers, And if you recognize the eyes that see forever, please…”

Jesus, the one who is not a socialist or a capitalist, democrat and republican, the one we have not presented our modern ideas onto, can only be found in the pages of scripture, the Old and New Testament in their entirety. You want to find the real Jesus? You have to approach His word and do so by laying down all your modern ideas and philosophy’s. Come with the mind of a child, and the heart of a ten-month-old hugging her father tightly. Lay down your preconceived ideas and culturally informed ideas about scripture and read it, and if you feel so inclined, read about it. Learn about what God has left us, the culture into which it spoke, the people whom it spoke too and how it affected and impacted their lives and the way they live. Then, to the bewilderment of the world, do what you can to live like they did, those who saw, heard and reacted to the Real Jesus.

Amen

 

.\Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

The Scandal of Carl R. Trueman’s Mind

Critiques of Populist Christianity are needed and should be heeded, adopting a “Thou Shalt Not Question” attitude puts both Orthodox, Biblical and Historical Christianity at risk and damages the witness of Christ.  

Jonathan Faulkner

I want to start this piece by acknowledging the role that Carl R. Trueman has played in the development of my thought life as both a Historian and a Theologian. His book: “Histories and Fallacies” was essential in being able to identify Historical Fallacies such as Presentism. I also recently used his critique of Mark Noll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” titled “The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” I have a lot of respect for his body of work and for his mind in general. However, since his article in First Things responding to Mark Galli’s CT Editorial both of which came out last December I have been sadly disappointed by both the lack of care in his response and the descent of First Things (which I still subscribe to, perhaps as a vain hope) as a serious enterprise into populism. In doing this, in my view, Trueman has not only made Noll’s point, that there is no Mind in Evangelicalism, but also his own, that there is no Evangel in Evangelicalism because we keep outsourcing it to groups outside Christianity.

I have always found both critiques entirely accurate 80% of the time and I had to chuckle at the irony of Trueman, in one line on a keyboard proving both correct. What little mind there is to Evangelicalism has sounded a lot like Mark Galli over the last four years and what little Evangel is there has been severely hindered and damaged by the cultural populism that claims to be Christian, yet neither has a mind or an evangel and has chosen to let the rich and power speak for them in the public square thinking that the government of man can save them before, over and against the kingdom of God because they have told that this is the only way to protect Christianity.

I have noted many times that this approach is not protecting Christianity but is in fact feeding it and the Christians who daily practice what the bible says, to the wolves. Trueman meanwhile, seems to imply that any critique of Christian Populism is the: “lambasting populist evangelicals as hypocrites or dimwits will simply perpetuate the divide.” By the way, Galli does not do what Trueman is accusing them of, instead he calls them to “Remember who they are” and to consider how supporting someone who is as Immoral as President Trump does to their Christian Witness. Trueman’s point is that Galli and other Evangelical Elites are “out of touch” with the evangelical populists. Trueman points out that he lives in Trump Country and that most of the people he knows who voted for him did so with noses plugged because the alternative is no better. He asks the serious question “was the alternative any better?” and of course, it is true that the answer was no. Neither option was good, both required us to give up our moral high ground and get dirty and both demanded complete and total loyalty to their platforms Something Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian noted actually means we as Christians cannot support either party because 100% buy-in is required. A point that Keller has doubled down on in his recent New York Times Editorial. For my part, I agree with Keller, the church should not be associated in totality with any one political party for theological reasons, most importantly being that Party-Spirit is expressly forbidden within the church by 1 Corinthians 1. That means to say that you follow anyone other than God in Christ first and foremost is to violate the spirit of unity. That means the identarian expectations of both the right and left are off limits to the Christian because they require us to identify ourselves wholly and completely with the party and the party leader. Taxes and to be paid to Caesar, but sole loyalty belongs to God (Matt 22:15-22). The Church then should not be aligned with the powers and principalities of this world but with the Kingdom of God which every Earthly Kingdom will one day bow to. Every time we have aligned with the kingdoms of this world (which in First Samuel God equates to rejection of Himself) it has never ended well for the Church going all the way back to Israel’s days as a Kingdom.

Trueman also commits the unfortunate mistake of reversing the order laid out in scripture for where every Christian should receive their instruction from. In Trueman’s world it seems the theologian should be takin their cues from the populace and so I as a preacher and thinker should just confirm the biases and opinions of my congregants on matters of politics. Yet, Acts 2:42 lays out for us the direction our instruction is to come from: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” If we are going to testify to the authority of scripture, it needs to inform our discourse and be the place from which our discourse begins. If we are to “Devote ourselves to the teachings of the apostles” then that means we should today be devoted to the teachings of the apostles and listen to those whose job it is to pass down those teachings to us, our pastors on the front lines, our seminary professors and our scholars, the mind of Christianity. Trueman, who would likely affirm the Apostolicity of the church, should understand this and direct the populace to listen to the mind of Christianity and weigh that against what the mouth is saying to see if it reflects the truth of scripture.

Now, that is not easy in our time when the mind is seriously divided over politics, but the mouth has given up listening to the warnings of either part of the mind altogether and the result is a Christianity that is schizophrenic and divided. Mark Galli expressed in writing what so many of us have been thinking over the last four years. Not just what Trueman calls the: “the sanctimonious subgenre of self-regarding anti-Trump noise created by hokey-wokey evangelicals—those who tweet endlessly about white privilege and misogyny in between writing checks for their children’s elite private schools and knocking back Martinis and Manhattans at the country club or the art gallery opening.” An insult to someone like me who has been a #NeverTrumper from the beginning, retained the name “Evangelical” because it is a global movement, not a strictly American phenomenon, who also does not tweet in this way, or cut checks to my children’s Elite Christian School. This insult serves to do exactly what Trueman is accusing Galli of, deepening the divide within Christianity as he takes a shot at more liberal or centrist Christians who have their own cultural Christianity to deal with. Galli expressed what a large swath of younger Christians have been asking for four years, if we had this standard for Clinton, why do we not have it for Trump? This is why I found Franklin Graham’s critique of Galli’s editorial amusing, those of us who have been unable to support Trump or right-wing politics (I cannot in good conscious right now support either party) have watched as over and over again Christianity Today has played it safe on the right, we have been waiting for someone on the right to express what many of us have been thinking and finally Galli has done that.

But what about Trueman’s assertion that Galli’s critique of “Populist Evangelicalism” is: “ symptomatic of the same underlying pathology” as the “Pharisees” who “standing in the Temple of Twitter, thanking God that he is not like other evangelicals—white supremacists, misogynists, or even this Trump supporter over here.” Does this mean there is no room to critique populism or populist evangelicalism? Is any critique or more accurately in the case of Galli’s Editorial, call to reformation based on Scripture and Christian Identity as well our historic demands that our leaders be moral. Would Trueman have attended the council of Nicea and told Athanasios or Nicholas to “leave Arius alone” over his heretical doctrine that was dividing and destroying the church in the ancient church? It makes sense if you follow the “Thou shalt not question” mentality of many within the upper echelon of the Ivory Tower that is certainly a cancer, and which has become Cult-like in its application. Instead of being like the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 11:17) we have become like the Galatians who have been “bewitched” by the circumcision group and proselytizers who stirred up trouble for Paul and the early Christians. We are more like the catholic hierarchy immediately before the reformation who made the people live off the bread of the pope rather than: “every word that comes from my Father who is in Heaven” (Mat 4:4). We would rather take the steady diet of fear of the world that is being fed to us by the leaders of evangelicalism than the very words of scripture which tells us that those who are in Christ are secure regardless of what the world may do against us or to us. We have been told not to question what we are being told and Trueman seems to perpetuate that fallacy in his response to Galli. If we cannot examine and question ideas and search the Word of God to see if they line up with what God has said, then we have given up our ability to think and reason for ourselves and together. Christians are not called to follow an earthly leader blindly, God made our minds and gave our us the ability to think and reason, we are to learn discernment then, even to discern the things of scripture and how they apply to life or if they apply to life. If we are not allowed to question something happening in the culture and examine it in light of scripture and critique in based on what scripture shows us, then we forfeit our ability to guard biblical and historical orthodoxy that has been handed down to us from the Apostles and the Early Christians. If we are just meant to live on the words of men without questioning them, swearing undying loyalty to them then we risk missing scripture altogether in favor of the gospel of man. I should not have to iterate the dangers of doing this, yet it seems that evangelical populism has opted to do just that.

Now, none of this means that Christians should not participate in politics, there is a long history going back all the way to the early Church of Christians doing just that. But how we participate is what matters. Do we mindlessly give ourselves to a political party? By no means! Nor should our participation be built on pushing an agenda, for the early Christians involved in politics this would have been a death sentence. Our involvement should be that as Stewards of the biblical justice. As Timothy Keller has said at other times it is the Christians responsibility to address injustice when it is seen and to work towards the correction of it. We should ask ourselves, if we are going to be involved in politics, am I contributing to justice or injustice by my actions here. Am I violating God’s mandate to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)? Is our religion true and unstained by the world in that it is marked by “caring for widows and orphans” (James 1:27)? Or are we pursuing political power to push through an agenda and enforce a system onto a secular world, choosing conversion by Proselyte rather than by genuine belief that can then be discipled. The secular world does not want our morality, day-in and day-out they fight against it and imposing an unwanted morality on a secular society only makes Christians a stench for all the wrong reasons. If we are going to be offensive, let it be because of the cross, not because of our participation in politics or proselytization of a people that do not want it. Let’s make Christianity attractive for the reasons it was attractive in the ancient world, by being an alternative community that cares for the needs of its lowliest members for the sake of the Gospel, a Family on Mission, if you will.

I fear Trueman has proven both Noll and his own critique of Evangelicalism correct. He has shown that there is no mind and has sided with the populists who look less and less like the biblical Christians they claim to be every day. This moment should give us pause but also make us mourn, have we really gone so far that we think that just because our strong man is in office Christianity is going to be great again? Similarly, have we really abandoned and even shown to be a sham our claims that morality matters? We have abandoned our responsibility to think critically and discern what is going on in the world in favor of blind following of strong men who, when the pretense is removed, actually care nothing about you or I outside of keeping them in power. Trueman as a scholar, First Things as a scholarly work should know better. The only thing that can save Christianity is Christ and the only thing that is going to stop the decline of the Church is His people showing the world the blessings and benefits of a relationship with Christ in this life. No strong man, no promises of restored greatness from politicians who do not care about people. The soul of Christianity will only be recovered through Christ Jesus our Lord and living by the Word He has given us to live by out of gratitude to Him for the things He has done.

May God save us and have mercy on our souls.

 

\Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

10 Years after the day my Faith Almost Collapsed.

It has been 10 years today since the Night With the Grace Killers and I am not where I thought I would be.

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Deconstruction is a painful process; it is one that has been in the media a lot lately too as many have come and announced their “deconversions” from Christianity. Some have even written that Deconstruction’s natural end is a deconversion from all forms of faith altogether. I have many friends whom I still love dearly who have gone through this process and deconverted from faith altogether. It is easy to understand why, especially if you are deconverting from a cultural Christianity that is built on a relationship with the church and not on a relationship with Christ, why one might abandon faith altogether. You are deconverting from a civic religion, not true, biblical Christianity. But still others go through deconstruction from that cultural faith, or a cultural faith that at least hinted at the real thing, and we do not deconvert from the faith. Many of us have been hurt deeply by the church and we have seen firsthand the hypocrisy that is often perpetuated in the church, and often in pastors’ families. We see a faith that is not in Christ, but in cultural practice or we become the victims of abusive leaders who Lord their power over us, or parents who infantilize us, who never let us grow to adulthood. Instead of answering the questions that arise from these things we end up being told not to question and if we do we are in rebellion.

Most of you know that this is largely my story. Raised in the culture of “easy-believism” that so vibrantly marks both evangelicalism and general conservative Christianity. The kind of Christianity where all you must do is believe and you’re good to go to heaven. The what is generally perceived to be Jesus or the Bible, or God or even just what your parents or the church tell you. Then you go to AWANA and memorize a bunch of verses that are disconnected from their context and your good to go. Of course, everyone is a Christian and questioning that statement is tantamount to losing your faith. On top of that, my chosen medium for expression of my faith, rock music, was viewed as “not edifying” or “dark” by parents whose own parents leveled the same critique of their own music in the 60’s and 70’s. The music I write for now, Folk Rock, does not fit the current idea of worship prevalent in CCW (Contemporary Christian Worship) today. Even though I made a profession of faith in middle school and had been baptized, looking back it always felt like Christianity was something you did more than something you were. You always did all the “good Christian things” like instantly obeying every word that came out of your dads’ mouth or not smoking, drinking or having sex before marriage. Consequently, these were the things that most of my friends were sneaking around to do before and after youth group.

Then of course, was the infamous “Night with the Grace Killers” that happened 10 years ago tonight, the night when everything I had learned about scripture got tested and if it were not for my pastor and professor at Sterling, would have been the last night I ever stepped foot in a church building. After all the accusations, the lies about me and my family circulated by that pastor, being told to “shut up” because I was just a first semester college student who knew nothing about pastoral ministry and church discipline. Told that I was not “Jesus” or “Paul” or “Peter” and had no right to question the inexcusable actions of that senior pastor against my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the youth group. I walked out of that building that Wednesday Night vowing to never step foot inside a church building again. As I said, I probably would not have had it not been for those two men. In that moment, everything I had ever thought about God before I was converted in Middle School, (I still believe I was converted in Middle School but came of age and a deeper understanding of Faith on that mountainside in Denver). In that moment I was either going to become what David Kinnamen calls either a: Prodigal, those who leave the church and the faith altogether after making professions of faith, or an Exile: One who feels they have not place in the organized church because of their music or artwork or whatnot but still retain and active and vibrant faith that they live out outside of the organized church.

God though, had other plans, and the fact that I am a Pastor today is a testament to His grace and healing work.

For the next two years after the night with the grace killers though I wondered aimlessly in my faith. I was having regular meetings with counselors and relearning everything I had ever been taught about Christianity. That was when I really started reading and reading and reading. Systematic Theologies and introductions of the Old and New Testament. I started learning not just the bible but about the bible. In the process I did not just learn about Christ and God, I learned to be in relationship with them. Then this hurting and broken kid went to serve the homeless in Denver Colorado for 3 months as part of the requirements for his bachelor’s degree and God literally met Him on the side of that mountain that cool July 4th as he prayed and walked the labyrinth. It was then, for the second time in my life, God broke through the noise of the pain in a powerful and mighty way and did a major healing work. Three week’s later as we prepared to finish up my time in Denver, as I was praying one morning, God gave me the definite and undeniable call to Pastoral Ministry.

I have many friends and family going through or who have gone through deconstruction. ba Whether that be from a legalistic fundamentalism or the libertine “easy-believism” that says so long as you believe in Jesus, do whatever you want except for smoking, drinking or having sex out of wed-lock. The truth is this is a painful process, it requires us to come to the realization that the Christianity we have inherited is not the Christianity of the bible which needs to be thoroughly thought through and which it is okay and even invited to ask questions of. Like the church member who, after hearing me preach on the cross of Jesus where I mentioned the two sections of the cross, one carried and one already waiting at the crucifixion site said: “I learned that the whole cross being carried all at once was an invention of the Italians in the eighth century. Who knows what to believe anymore?” This was after a trip to Israel. That is why we have to avoid a “Thou Shall Not Question” mentality, when someone does go through deconstruction they can do so in the safety of the Church with Church Members and leaders who are going to sit next to them, walk with them and help them reconstruct a deeper, biblical and Christ-Centered faith rooted in the history of Christianity and Christian Witness.

Please do not hear me wrong, I am not throwing out the faith my parents handed down to me, it is dangerous to throw the foundations out if they are sound and my parents did a good job laying the ground work for the faith I have today. What I reject is the Easy-Believism that I heard preached from the pulpit on Sunday when Scripture was telling me that yes, you just had to believe to become a Christians, but then through Christ you had to become someone totally knew. As C.S. Lewis put it: “God is in the business of making old men knew” yet the Christianity of Easy-Believism taught me that “becoming new” just meant being more moral, behaving my parents and serving people. A deep and personal relationship with God seemed to be reserved for times I needed my anger checked. It was not deep, it was not wide, it was a pool, a tiny puddle. It required not actual change outside of changed outward behavior until you got angry and then you had to ask God to change your inward attitude. This is sadly nothing more than mere behaviorism, the kind popularized by James Dobson in the 70’s-90’s. It focuses on behaving as ones parents tell them to behave which may have been loosely based on scripture. Meant to make “nice Christian kids” who ate their peas and followed their chore chart.

But what almost kept me from faith altogether before Middle School and my final conversion in Cleveland at an Acquire the Fire rally was that this did not make anyone I knew any better people and in fact I saw those who believed for decades longer than I had been alive act worse than they were telling me too. Easy-Beleivism was a foundation because it’s premise is true, all you have to do to become a Christian is believe in Jesus as Romans 10:9 says, but this is a foundation and not the whole building. Behaviorism on the other hand is legalism disguised as good biblical principles but if you peel back the curtain you find a lot of verses taken out of context to demand loyalty not to Jesus but to the family unit. My parents laid a groundwork for faith, but by making that foundation all their was when the last straw was to come, when I sat before the pastor who had spiritually and emotionally abused me I had literally nothing to fall back on. Perspective is a funny thing huh.

Where was my faith nourished then? Obviously, I still do not smoke, when I do partake of Alcohol it is on a limited capacity and with the conscious of my company in mind, and my wife and I did not sleep together before marriage. I did not abandon faith altogether, in fact, today my faith is deeper and richer and my relationship with God stronger than it ever has been. My faith was nourished through reading and internalizing the words of Jesus, in Denver as I served the homeless and, on that mountainside, when God came in force during the week in silence. Through many great men of faith who have spoken life into me, introduced me to the reformed faith which introduced me to the Church Fathers. Retaught me how to think through my faith beyond the black and white legalism I ended up with by the end of High School. It was formed in conversations, both with God and brothers and sisters, it was formed in the pages of ancient books, in libraries, in cathedrals and monasteries, classrooms and cross cultural worship sessions. It was formed in the 10:31 Office, in the long conversations with brothers who were my peers, in the now three years I have been reading through the Psalms everyday. Most importantly it was formed in the pages of scripture, spending hours and hours with Jesus, discovering a faith that you enter by just believing and which exposure to the one at the center, Jesus, leaves you totally and utterly transformed, not just by the Gospel, but by Jesus himself. Someone has said: “Christianity is the only religion where its leader bids us come and die so that we might receive eternal life.” I found a faith where you die to all your selfish ambitions and your selfish desires and you become like Christ because He lives inside of you through the Incarnate Holy Spirit and transforms you into His likeness. I do not think I am perfect or have found perfect Christian Faith, but I know I have seen God’s blessings as my wife and I seek to follow Christ and raise our daughter in covenant with Him. Praying she receives the promise of her baptism and believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior.

Yes, this change has caused tension and it has not made life any easier. If anything, I am the crazy one now. I still talk to a couple of therapist friends at times for wisdom and prayer and have many counselors helping me walk this Christian Walk. Brothers and Sisters who do not tell me how great I am or how I can do anything I put my mind too, but who help me walk with my weaknesses and strengths, who help me understand scripture and my faith as a member of that family of faith whom I love so much.

In some ways 10 years later, I am still the same person who left that church building 10 years ago. I am still passionate about the truth of scripture, I am still a musician, still try to do my best to stand up for the little guy. But in many more ways I am completely different than the kid who walked out of that church building. I am not where I thought I would be that night, instead, I am not able to make sure no one else experiences that hurt and pain so much as I can help it. I can now help others who are willing heal as they walk through deconstruction and help them as they ask questions about faith and the Bible and so on and so forth. I have also been equipped with the tools and resources, by God’s grace, to do this and God has placed me where He wants me to do the work of sharing what scripture has given us all to share.

As I look out my office window at the parsonage after a long day where I had the blessing of burying a dear saint and sister in Christ. As I think of the kindness of my congregation and the wonderful relationships we are forming here with young and old. I do not regret how painful this road was and still is. I do not regret how hard it is, it just drives me to the cross and the empty tomb. I desire for others to know nothing of Christ and Him Crucified and this whole story of the 10-year journey points not to anything I have done, but everything that He has done. Praise the Lord for His incredible grace and joy.

Amen

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.