By / Nov 1

“I don’t think the average Christian is nearly political enough.”

For Christians paying any attention to political developments in the United States, these words may seem ill-conceived at best, or just plain crazy. Just think, in 21st-century America, the term “evangelical” has been so co-opted by politics that it describes a demographic increasingly viewed as a voting bloc more than a religious community. We might better wonder if we’ve gotten too political. But for Patrick Schreiner, associate professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the new book Political Gospel: Public Witness in a Politically Crazy World, these words aren’t crazy at all, nor are they ill-conceived. They’re tethered to the main argument of his book, that “Christianity is political“—a reality, it seems, we’ve come to collectively overlook.

Rather than viewing Christianity and politics as two wholly different spheres that sour when mixed, Schreiner argues that “[Christianity] and politics are . . . completely and wholly overlapping.” And because they’re so intertwined, Christian discipleship would do well to “not separate what God has joined together,” so to speak (Matt. 19:6). But, lest we misunderstand Schreiner’s aim, Political Gospel “is not an argument for one party over another,” nor is it “a manual for policies,” nor even “an argument for a third way;” instead the book “offers a framework” that leaves readers “recognizing Christianity is quite political, but maybe not in the way [they] think.” 

Christianity is political

“It has become a truism,” Schreiner writes, “to state that Jesus didn’t come with a political message. As the common trope goes, though Israel expected a warrior-king to come riding on a white horse to overthrow Rome, he came with a spiritual message about their hearts. Jesus simply wants a relationship with you.” 

Have you ever heard someone make this statement? Have you ever made it yourself? 

“The problem is,” he continues, “this is a half-truth. Jesus made a political announcement. He declared himself to be King. We have one ruler to whom we are loyal . . . he is the King of kings.” With this, Schreiner drives the stake of his argument firmly into the ground—”Christianity is political.” In fact, he argues that “the whole biblical storyline,” and “all the vocabulary of salvation,” even, “can be put under the banner of politics.” He goes on: “The substance of Christian hope at its foundation is political. Thus, Jesus was not merely urging a revolution in personal values. He was not aloof to political concerns; it was the very purpose of his coming.”

Politics defined

Over the years, our working definition of politics has become skewed and is now assumed to mean something more akin to partisanship. And partisanship, “the wheeling and dealing along party lines” or the “endorsement of candidates by pastors” is not what Schreiner argues for. He’s also not advocating for “the merging of church and state.” Instead, he means “politics in terms of public life, the ordering of society, enacting justice, and the arranging of common goods.” And because “God is sovereign over the whole world,” not just “the inner reaches of the human heart,” the gospel has significant political implications. 

Politics in its proper place

But Schreiner is “not merely suggesting Christianity has political implications.” He argues that “Christianity is itself a politic. It is an all-encompassing vision of the world and human life…meant to be enacted in the church, showcased to our neighbors, and spread to the world.” If that’s the case, then Schreiner is right: Christians should indeed be more political. But to what degree, and in what way?

In Political Gospel, the charge is for readers to put politics in its proper place, which requires that we “recover the true political nature of our message” and reassert our allegiance to the “King of kings,” letting his vision of the world and its proper ordering shape our public and private lives. And while we are called to be more political not less, the model of Christian political engagement put forth by the New Testament, as Schreiner argues, is surprisingly paradoxical. 

The paradox

The way in which we understand Jesus’ message to be political and the way we apply and enact his message in our current political environment consists of a series of paradoxes, as it did for Jesus and the first-century church. We are to embody what Schreiner calls “the way of the kingdom” and “the way of the dove;” “the way of subversion” and “the way of submission;” “the way of the lion” and “the way of the lamb.” It is these tensions—these paradoxes—that are to mark our thinking and our ethic as “political disciples” of the King of kings.

Way of the kingdom, way of the dove

“When Jesus stepped onto the scene, his first words were fully political: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ (Mark 1:15). Gospel. Kingdom. Believe. All of these are politically loaded terms.” With these words, Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was officially breaking into the Roman world of his day and, therefore, rivaling its political order. And he went further, calling people “to enter this new polis (city)” by transferring their allegiance, and enacting the kingdom’s dominance, for example, by disarming one of Rome’s “mascots” (the exorcism of legion, Mark 5:1–20). In his life, Jesus “proclaimed, presented, and performed a new public, social, and political reality”—he “was the bearer of a new political regime.” And he was crucified for it.

But, though “Jesus proclaimed the way of the kingdom he “enacted it as the way of the dove.” He was not “an anarchist, revolutionary, or social reformer.” And he didn’t bring the kingdom by way of “the sword.” Instead, the political ethics of Jesus were marked by persuasion, servanthood, mercy, peacemaking, meekness, love, and submission. They are what Schreiner calls “the ethics of the dove.”

Way of subversion, way of submission

In observing the life and ministry of Paul, we encounter the subversive nature of the gospel message—a message that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). As he traveled from city to city, Paul constantly had “political accusations” levied against him: he was accused of “subverting the Roman Empire,” “acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees,” and disturbing “the Pax Romana,” or peace of Rome. And why were these charges raised against him and his companions? Because Paul proclaimed the gospel of God’s in-breaking kingdom and established “political assemblies” (i.e., churches) all over the Roman Empire whose members pledged allegiance to a King not named Caesar. 

But like Jesus, “Paul proclaimed the way of subversion [yet] did so in the way of submission.” Paul is accused of being “an agitator, a plague, a leader of a rebellion, and someone who desecrated the temple,” but maintains that he is innocent of these charges. Rather than leading rebellions, Paul subverts the Roman Empire while submitting to it. 

Way of the lion, way of the lamb

In the book of Revelation, we read of Jesus as the King of kings, the one whose throne “stands above every earthly throne,” whose coming will mark the fall of every other empire. At his return, the “city of God” will finally supplant the “city of man” and “complete the redemption of the redeemed.” We will join him in the city whose “gates will never be shut” (Rev. 21:25). One day “The Lion will return and [conquer] all other kingdoms.” 

But what are we to do in the meantime? Should we try to hurry the kingdom by taking up the way of power? To conquer the city of man by legislating our King’s victory now? Schreiner says no, “We are called to conquer. But the way we conquer shocks us.” The way of the lion must be “embodied in the way of a slain lamb.” We are to conquer by being in Christ, by bearing witness to Christ, and by waiting on Christ faithfully. “In many ways, we are to continue in normal everyday Christian responsibilities looking forward to Christ’s return.”

Our public political witness

In Political Gospel, the charge is not for readers to make politics ultimate but to put politics in its proper place. Too often the church has chosen one of two ways—either partisanizing or privatizing our “politic”—that either overlook or refuse to see the political nature of our message, both of which reveal and result in “malformed political discipleship.” On the side of partisanism, our political discipleship “comes from talking heads on cable news” instead of from “reflections on the implications of our faith for public life.” Here, our partisan loyalties are prized over loyalty to Christ. On the other hand, we can also privatize our faith, refusing to see “how the gospel should shape our public habits [and] stances.” Here, we become “politically quietistic or innocuous,” with nothing to offer a society in dire need of our “political gospel.” Both approaches reveal a misplaced politic and a counterproductive or ineffective public witness.

But how we “behave” politically—how we “respond to the government,” how we interact on social media, how we speak of our elected officials, how we think—”is part of [our] witness.” And, currently, our public witness is floundering. The time is ripe for us to bring “our political lives in conformity with Christ.”

“The gospel is political, but it is political in a way no one expects.” And followers of the way are political, but should engage in politics in a way no one expects. But, like every generation, we face a political choice. “Will we follow the cross in our political engagement or our own ideas? Will we let fear drive our decisions, or trust God? Will we submit to his way, or carve out our own paths?” In Political Gospel, Patrick Schreiner helps readers answer these questions, offering a new paradigm from which to think. True to his aim, readers will leave convinced not only that “Christianity is quite political” but that Christians themselves are not “nearly political enough.”

By / Oct 19

Jesus rose again. The Christian faith depends upon this truth. If it were false, the gospel would not be worth sharing. Jesus would not be the door of salvation or the way to heaven (John  10:7-9, 14:3-6); as George Eldon Ladd well understood, “. . . if Jesus is not raised, redemptive history ends in the cul-de-sac of a Palestinian grave.”1George Eldon Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans,  1975), 144.  The resurrection matters—supremely; it is the historical hinge of our heavenly hope and the reason that we have a message of life to share with a dying world. This message has a bearing on every aspect of our lives and is our only hope for lasting change at the heart level. 

Ultimately, Christians believe that Jesus lives because the Holy Spirit has borne witness in and regenerated our hearts (Titus 3:5). Still, in evangelism, Christians should gladly offer historical evidences for the faith. To do so is to follow the apostolic example—especially that of Paul (Acts 17:30-31, 26:19-29; 1 Cor 15:6). Furthermore, a historical emphasis upon Jesus’ death and resurrection highlights the uniqueness of the gospel. In a therapeutic age that emphasizes self-improvement methods such as positive thinking and “manifesting” desired life outcomes, the gospel offers profoundly more than an idea, a self-help strategy, a life philosophy, or a worldview; in the words of J. Gresham Machem, “Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an  event”—namely Jesus’ death and resurrection.2J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, new ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans,  2009), 60, Logos Bible Software. 

This historical foundation gives the gospel a concreteness—a material reality—that holds forth, not merely a perspective or mindset for living, but the way of life eternal, opened through Christ’s saving work nearly 2,000 years ago. Similarly, the event-centeredness of Christianity sets it apart from other major world religions, which focus on ideas such as rules, rituals, and distinctive perspectives on life. In an age filled with empty pluralistic religious ideas, we behold the empty tomb, inviting others to “Come and see what the Lord has done” (Psa. 66:5). 

Five resurrection facts

To some, the resurrection carries the credibility of any story beginning with “once upon a  time”—wishful thinking for the simple-minded. This view is misguided because this central  claim of Christianity boasts great historical evidence. In a post-Christian age where unbelief reigns, here are five basic resurrection FACTS that can be used to encourage believers and engage skeptics: 

Foretold—Jesus foretold his resurrection. 
Appearances—Jesus appeared to many, transforming lives. 
Cost—The apostles shared a costly testimony. 
Time—The apostles shared a timely testimony. 
Setting—The apostles’ testimony spread in the immediate setting of Jesus’ death. 

1. Foretold: Jesus foretold his resurrection (Mark 8:27–33). 

Many critics assume that alleged miracles always have a natural cause, even if that cause is unknown. It is true, of course, that many strange, yet natural, occurrences have wrongly been followed by the excited proclamation, “It’s a miracle!” However, a foretold miracle claim sits in a different category; and Jesus actually foretold his victory over death. 

One such foretelling occurs in Mark 8:27–33; Jesus says that he is going to be rejected and killed, but that he would “after three days rise again.” Upon hearing this, Peter has the audacity to “rebuke him.” In response to Peter, the Lord offers a severe correction, “Get behind me, Satan!” These details help to discredit the assumption that this incident, which specifically emerged in response to Jesus’ foretelling, was imagined later by the church. After all, why would the early church fabricate a humiliating story for a leader as prominent as Peter? 

In their book, Reinventing Jesus, J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace assert, “It is hard to imagine the early church inventing embarrassments for themselves . . . .”3J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace. Reinventing Jesus: How  Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications,  2006), 46. The embarrassing character of this passage supports its authenticity, which includes the foretelling of the resurrection. Jesus’ rising was foretold as the foreordained plan and purpose of God; thus, it is not a random occurrence or natural anomaly that was later embraced by ill-informed conspiracists and gullible crowds. 

2. Appearances: Jesus appeared to many, transforming lives (1 Cor 15:1–8). 

What could transform James, the skeptical half-brother of Jesus, or Saul, the persecutor of the church, into followers of Jesus? Before the resurrection, James did not believe in his brother’s ministry (Mark 6:1–5; John 7:5). Yet, after Jesus appeared to him, he became a key leader in the early church (1 Cor 15:7). Similarly, while actively terrorizing Christians, Saul of Tarsus encountered the risen Jesus (Acts 9:3–8; 1 Cor 15:8) and became an apostle to proclaim “the faith he once tried to destroy” (Gal. 1:23). Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances are correlated with radical transformations.  

Notably, these appearances were not individual hallucinations because they were experienced by multitudes—at one point even to 500 people at once (1 Cor. 15:6). Michael Licona observes that “Modern psychology . . . has not come close to confirming the possibility of collective hallucinations.”4Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove,  IL: IVP Academic, 2010), 509. Thus, such appearances provide strong evidence for the  resurrection. 

3. Cost—The apostles shared a costly testimony (1 Cor. 4:9–13). 

Having encountered the risen Lord, the apostles courageously shared their eyewitness  testimony—at great personal cost. Many early church leaders such as Paul, James, and Peter were martyred for the gospel. Remarkably, the apostles willingly embraced such risks (1 Cor. 4:9–13). By way of contrast, modern terrorists are sometimes willing to die for religious beliefs that they learned secondhand, but the apostles were willing to pay such a cost for their own eyewitness testimonies. The apostles were convinced that their testimony was true. They were not lying, for, as Licona succinctly puts it, “Liars make poor martyrs.”5Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 370. They courageously spread their resurrection testimony, whatever the cost

4. Time: The apostles shared a timely testimony (1 Cor. 15:1–8). 

Legends and myths develop over time. It is noteworthy that the news of Jesus’ resurrection was established early—within the lifetimes of multitudes of eyewitnesses. For example, this truth permeates 1 Corinthians 15:3–8. Jesus’ rising is explicitly stated in verse 4; his subsequent appearances are stated in verses 5–8. Around A.D. 55, merely 20–25 years after Jesus’s earthly ministry, Paul wrote this letter, confidently asserting that “most” of one group of “five hundred” resurrection eyewitnesses were “still alive” (1 Cor. 15:6)!6Verlyn Verbrugge, 1 Corinthians, in vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans– Galatians, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 248.   

Significantly, before 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 was preserved in written form, this statement of faith was established as an oral formula, as evidenced by the phrase “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Cor. 5:3). In light of extrabiblical Hellenistic literature, Richard Bauckham observes that the words “delivered” and “received” are intentionally used together to emphasize the faithful transmission of the gospel story.7Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2017), 264-65. In other words, a community containing numerous eyewitnesses guarded carefully this formal testimony of the resurrection such that it was well established in the early church—even before a single New Testament manuscript was written.  

So how early was this oral formula established? In 1 Corinthians, Paul is giving a reminder of what he had preached at the founding of the church at Corinth—around A.D. 51–52 (1 Cor. 15:1; see also Acts 18).8D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids,  Michigan: Zondervan, 2005) 447-48. Yet this formula originated earlier, for Paul says that he had previously “received” it from the other apostles, likely within a few years of his conversion. Consequently, the resurrection testimony was likely well established within such an official confession of faith within one decade after the crucifixion. Thus, the timely nature of the apostolic testimony indicates that the resurrection is not a legend, which characteristically requires more time to develop. 

5. Setting: The apostles’ testimony spread in the immediate setting of Jesus’ death (Acts 2).  

When you think of the idea of “setting,” think location, location, location. Where did the message of the resurrection first take root? In Jerusalem, the immediate setting where Jesus was crucified. News of his execution spread quickly; at that time, anyone who seemed unaware of it could be asked, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened . . .?” (Luke 24:18). Since Roman crucifixion was a public spectacle resulting in certain death, there is not a more unlikely setting for the resurrection message to take hold—unless, of course, it actually happened. Indeed, the tomb was empty, many saw the risen Lord, and thousands more believed on that first day of the apostles’ preaching. In Jerusalem, the church exploded in growth, confident in the One “whom God raised up, loosing the pangs of death” (Acts 2:24).  

As you engage with unbelievers, use these FACTS to remember some basic historical  evidences for the resurrection. Indeed, Jesus rose again, and the gospel is worth sharing. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will use these facts to awaken hearts to the truth of who Jesus is. And as you have conversations, do not forget that grace is the real reason why the gospel message bears such beautiful historical uniqueness. While none of humanity’s ideas—no philosophies, rules, or rituals—could merit salvation, Jesus entered human history to save sinners. As we defend the historical truth of Christianity in an age of relativism, let us not neglect to highlight the grace of God in Christ Jesus, who is “alive forevermore” (Rev. 1:18) and is still transforming lives.

  • 1
    George Eldon Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans,  1975), 144. 
  • 2
    J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, new ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans,  2009), 60, Logos Bible Software.
  • 3
    J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace. Reinventing Jesus: How  Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications,  2006), 46.
  • 4
    Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove,  IL: IVP Academic, 2010), 509.
  • 5
    Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 370.
  • 6
    Verlyn Verbrugge, 1 Corinthians, in vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans– Galatians, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 248.  
  • 7
    Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2017), 264-65.
  • 8
    D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids,  Michigan: Zondervan, 2005) 447-48.
By / Oct 17

A common refrain among many outside the church is that Christians seem obsessed with talking about sexuality and gender issues. Often, this is mocked or simply dismissed as Christians just seeking to enforce their personal views on other people or to impose our beliefs through government action. Many argue that society would be better off if Christians just kept to themselves and let people have their personal, private fun since it doesn’t hurt anyone. It is thought that the Christian sexual ethic is not only retrograde and backward, but also deeply harmful and inherently hateful since it limits moral autonomy, the golden calf that rules our day. The idea goes that we all must respect one another’s private decisions and honor the autonomy of the individual to decide what is right and good for themselves.

The infamous moral philosopher Peter Singer highlights this idea in the introduction to his work, Practical Ethics, by highlighting how most people assume that Christians are obsessed with sexuality to the neglect of other aspects of ethics. He states that there was a time in our history when if someone saw a newspaper headline reading “RELIGIOUS LEADER ATTACKS DECLINING MORAL STANDARDS,” they would naturally understand this was simply decrying (yet again) promiscuity, homosexuality, pornography, and more. Singer rightfully decries this simplistic understand of ethics, but then goes to on lambast religious-based sexual ethics as simply “nasty puritanical prohibitions” designed to keep people from having fun.

Yet, this focus on sexuality isn’t simply limited to Christians; these ideas are at the forefront of cultural debate today and have been for several decades with the meteroric rise of the sexual revolution. This monumental shift in society is rooted in modern conceptions of the individual that reject our created nature and believe that one’s sexual desires and proclivities are to be seen as absolutely central to one’s personal identity. Not only that, but they should be freely expressed and affirmed by all, regardless of one’s personal beliefs. 

Given the widespread cultural fixation on sexuality and gender, it is no surprise that the church would focus on these crucial aspects of both personal and social ethics. But we must not believe that the Christian sexual ethic is simply a response to cultural movements. Instead, as humans, it is rooted in the very nature given to us by God. In an age where we often seek to create our own meanings and moral truths, Christians must remember that the biblical sexual ethic isn’t about limiting one’s pleasure but aligning our desires with our God-given nature for our ultimate good.

An inflamed and sexualized society

We are inundated with conflicting messages about sexuality and deep confusion over the nature of sexual ethics, whether it’s providing (and protecting) gender-affirming care and surgeries for youth or the deeply entrenched nature of pornography. One of the main aspects of this cultural divide is seen in the recent calls to push for the complete normalization of LGBTQ+ lifestyles, especially among children and young adults. For example, this past summer we saw companies like Disney make sexuality and gender issues a primary emphasis in their entertainment offerings for children. This push can also be seen in the Biden administration’s recent National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality that is designed to help normalize these lifestyles throughout all domestic and foreign policy.

But these moves are just one element of a larger movement throughout our culture to encourage and support the radical moral autonomy of the sexual revolution. While particular instances like that of Disney made national headlines, many schools, communities, churches, and even hospitals have bought into and promoted the harmful lie that we are able to simply determine our sexuality and gender based on personal feelings and decisions rather than seek to bring the mind into alignment with the biological realities of our creation. As these discussions and debates continue, what does the Christian ethic bring to this conversation? And how can we proclaim truth while also caring for those struggling and left in the wake of broken promises and false hopes for peace?

The root of our sexual rebellion

According to Romans 1:25, all of us in our sin and rebellion—no matter our sexual temptations or desires—have ”exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” While not all people believe in God, Paul makes it clear that we all know that there is a God, even if we suppress that truth in our unrighteousness and desire to be like God ourselves (Rom. 1:19-23). This desire to be God and to have the power to decide what is right and good for ourselves is the very root of our rebellion (Gen. 3).

Many will speak of the root of the sexual revolution as the turmoil of the 1960s, various Supreme Court decisions on no-fault divorce, contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage, or even the rise of modern philosophy with figures like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. While these factors have undoubtedly shaped beliefs about sexual ethics today and aided the progression of the sexual revolution, the core of our problem goes much further back. All rebellion and sin began at the Fall of humanity (Gen. 3), and the nature of this fall reveals a deep truth about human nature and the great lie we are apt to embrace. 

Leading up to the Fall, the serpent tempted Eve by causing her to doubt how God created her. The beginning of Genesis goes to painstaking lengths to show that God created man and woman utterly unique from the rest of creation, stating how God made humanity in “our image, after our likeness”—a reflection of the Triune nature of God. Yet, in Genesis 3, the serpent asks, “Did God actually say?” and then quickly stirs up confusion about how God made Eve in his very image. The serpent said, “You will not surely die (if you eat of the fruit). For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This original disinformation and an outright lie was not just tempting Eve to question God’s commands but to reject her God-given nature. She was already like God because she was made in his image. 

One of the ways we try to be like God is by asserting authority over our sexuality. However, part of our God-given nature is the reality of being made distinctly male and female. Our sexuality is rooted in our created nature. But in our sin, we seek to reinterpret or alter God’s good design. This isn’t simply limited to those outside the church or even to those struggling with gender disphoria or same-sex attraction. All of us apart from Christ seek to rebel against God’s good design for our sexuality. Many of us go to great lengths to craft our own identities and reject the one given to us by our Creator. 

While the culture around us pushes to normalize rebellious, sinful, and harmful ideologies, Christians must seek to retrieve a deeply biblical sense of sexual ethics, rooted both in Scripture and in the evident ways that God has created us. This idea is commonly referred to as natural law ethics and is a foundational element of the Christian ethic upon which the commands of God as revealed in Scripture and the virtues we are to exhibit as Christians are built. This approach reminds us that the Christian ethic must be deeply rooted in the Bible, but is also revealed in part through how God made us in his image as humans—both male and female.

Even though it is common to hear that the Christian sexual ethic is backward, oppressive, and out of date, we must respond by boldly and gracefully speaking the truth, remembering how God rescued us out of our rebellion. Despite the opposition we might (and will) face, we can take comfort in the fact that God has made his attributes clearly known in creation and that our hope is not placed in temporal cultural gains. As we proclaim and live out the Christian sexual ethic to which creation itself testifies, a broken society will witness how our God enables us to live in joy and true freedom as we point to the gospel of reconciliation and redemption. 

By / Mar 28

My first memory of world events was the Challenger explosion. I was in 3rd grade, and it was weeks after my 8th birthday. What was supposed to be a happy triumph became its opposite. The weird mix of shock, embarrassment, and guilt at watching people die on live TV embedded in my memory so deeply that, 34 years later, I felt apprehensive echoes waiting to see if Space X would become the first private company to launch humans into space. 

My next memory of world events was happier: the fall of the Berlin Wall. But then a parade of horribles: the Gulf War, the Balkan Wars, the Rwandan genocide and — looming as a turning point around which all else was “before” or “after” — the terrorist attacks of 9/11. 

The hits kept coming: war in Afghanistan, the Beltway Sniper (2002), war in Iraq, the financial meltdown of 2008, the rise of ISIS, the volatility of our national government over the last several years, the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, COVID-19, pandemic lockdowns, and mass unemployment, and now war in Ukraine and the specter of nuclear escalation around the corner. Also, two hurricanes, an earthquake, and a record-setting blizzard that hit my home all within three years of each other.

I’m tired of living through interesting times. We bear witness to ceaseless pain, suffering, and death, and for the most part we are utterly powerless to do anything about it — except, perhaps, help clean up afterward.

Remember truth, and finding comfort

In the face of such tumult, what would Jesus do? I’m pretty sure he would say, “I told you so.” Because he did: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt. 24:6-8).

This is, oddly, comforting. As often as we hear that we live in unprecedented times, our times are, sadly, quite precedented. The technology changes, as does the speed with which we can become aware of tragedy happening on the other side of the world, but otherwise war, privation, pestilence, and death are so common as to be timeless symbols of human affliction, immortalized as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Ezekiel and Revelation. There is nothing new under the sun. 

I need to remember these truths. In the spring of 2020, a couple months into the pandemic, I had something close to a panic attack. Watching the economic collapse and social disruption, I feared what kind of social and political fallout we’d be enduring for years to come.

A few months later, we had the largest civil unrest in 50 years with the protests after George Floyd’s murder. Six months after that, we had the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Now, a year later, we have a major war in Europe. 

The pandemic didn’t cause these things. But, as many others observed, the pandemic was an accelerant and a pressure cooker. The pandemic amplified a lot of what was already there. In some cases, it was maybe the thing that tipped the scales and made bad things more likely. I feel certain we are not done yet. Wars and rumors of wars; nation rising against nation. 

God does not call on us to respond to all this with Buddhist detachment. The pain and suffering in the world is real, and it is bad, and we should eagerly hope and pray for it to end. Nor should we Bible-slap one another with a cavalier James 1 reminder to rejoice in trials of all kinds. That is wise counsel to help us prepare for suffering ahead of time, but often not the most helpful message to give in the moment of suffering. 

How should we respond? 

I suggest several responses to the misery we witness.

First, lament for the world. Many Christians have forgotten the spiritual discipline of lament. But the Bible gives us plenty of examples in the Psalms, in Lamentations, and elsewhere of crying out to the Lord, wailing before him, putting words to our grief and pain, asking boldly for God’s deliverance and mercy, and expressing our hopeful trust in him.

Second, love your neighbor. And by “neighbor” I mean “every human you meet.” Life is too short to spend it being a jerk. Everyone you meet has something they have suffered from or are suffering from right now. So, go easy on them. Love them with a kind word, or a smile, or a compliment, including your Uber driver, the lady behind the counter at the DMV, the guy who cut you off in traffic, and the annoying co-worker with bad social manners. Doing so helps share their burdens, and may help ease your own. 

Third, cultivate your garden. This is how Voltaire puts it in the immortal final line of his novel Candide. In other words, take responsibility for whatever small patch of creation is within your care. Nobody reading this can stop the war in Ukraine (unless Vladimir Putin is reading this, in which case: repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand). But we can do a hundred small acts to steward our homes, love our families, and serve in our workplaces. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,” and “be joyful,” and “take pleasure in all [your] toil,” (Eccl. 9:10, 3:12-13). Or as Paul says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” (Col. 3:23). 

I know it can sound trite, but “aspire to live a quiet life” is sometimes the best advice (1Tim. 2:2). It’s good for your mental health and, in aggregate, is also one of the best solutions to some of the world’s big problems too. And remember that the suffering we endure today is a bond of solidarity we share with generations past and future. In the new creation, those of us in Christ will meet our ancestors and our progeny and swap war stories about what we witnessed and suffered, and we will recognize that suffering well and cultivating our garden amidst the turmoil of our times is what gave us ballast, depth, and solidity — as well as compassion, empathy, love, and an opportunity to glorify God.

By / Feb 25

On Thursday, Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and launched attacks on cities and airports throughout the country, including near the capital, Kyiv. According to The New York Times, “​​Russian troops moved across the Ukrainian border in multiple areas at once, landing in the port city of Odessa in the south and crossing the eastern border into Kharkiv, the second largest city.” The attack sadly unfolded exactly in line with President Biden’s repeated, dire predictions. Putin, who wields the largest estimated nuclear stockpile in the world, threatened that nations “will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history” for interfering with his invasion.

Ukrainian forces are fighting back and have reportedly shot down six Russian fighters and a helicopter but in all likelihood are no match for the powerful Russian forces. Ukrainian President Zelensky announced that they “will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country” and urged his countrymen to “Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.” Ukraine has a population of more than 44 million people, and panic swept over the country this morning as many could see and feel the impact of the initial attacks with runs on banks and gas stations being reported. Images of long lines of vehicles fleeing west have been widely seen. 

This is the largest ground invasion in Europe since World War II. More than 40 Ukrainian soldiers have already been killed with dozens more injured. Both figures are expected to rise. 

In addition to the senseless loss and destruction of human lives, there are multiple reasons why we should care about what’s happening between Ukraine and Russia. These reasons are grounded in geopolitical perspectives, humanitarian concerns, and biblical realities.

Ukraine is a sovereign country and a U.S. ally

One of the reasons why Russia’s illegal invasion is so important to pay attention to is because Ukraine is not only a sovereign country but also a democratic partner of the United States. Global leaders cannot invade other nations and claim territory without consequences. Ukraine not only has strategic importance to Europe, but also to the United States. Although Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it is aligned with the United States and other NATO nations in Eastern Europe. As former Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor stated, “if Ukraine succeeds, we succeed. The relationship between the United States and Ukraine is key to our national security, and Americans should care about Ukraine.”

Putin plainly wants to undo the post-Cold War settlement, restore Russian arms and glory, and force the world to recognize Russia’s place as a global superpower on the international stage. This act of aggression and destabilization fundamentally shifts the previous world order and also further emboldens other authoritarian leaders to seize power around the world.

Cyber attacks could trigger Article 5 of NATO

Although President Biden has emphatically and repeatedly stated that U.S. troops will not be sent to Ukraine, it is possible that Putin will push his attack outside of Ukraine and into neighboring NATO nations. Article 5 of the NATO Charter states that “ . . . an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” NATO has added “cyber” to the definition of possible attacks that could trigger Article 5. 

While it is possible that Putin could attack a NATO nation through traditional means, it is thought to be more likely that cyberwarfare could be used. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has outlined two ways the U.S. could be drawn into the conflict through digital warfare: the deployment of cyber weapons in Ukraine that spread to neighboring NATO countries or retaliation against western sanctions through direct cyber attacks targeting key U.S. and NATO member-nation infrastructure.

Russia’s invasion could cause a refugee crisis in Central Europe

As the first attacks were waged in Ukraine, citizens quickly began to flee west, with many attempting to seek refuge in Poland. It has been reported that as many as 5 million people could be displaced as refugees by the war, creating the largest influx of refugees in Europe since the Syrian crisis in 2015. 

Poland has already begun preparing to receive these refugees by setting up hospitals and reception centers at its border. The Polish government has also announced that they will accept up to 1 million Ukrainian refugees if necessary. Other Central European nations have also pledged to host refugees and offer humanitarian aid as the situation unfolds, and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is calling on these governments to open their borders and has promised support for those that do. As the crisis continues and violence potentially spreads, Western Europe and the United States must also make preparations to open its doors to these vulnerable refugees. 

The Ukrainian Church

Ukraine is home to a vibrant Church and a number of missionaries. Joshua Tokar, director of English language services at Ukraine Evangelical Theological Seminary, noted, “Ukraine is the main missionary-sending country for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The church is very strong. As far as Europe is concerned, the Ukrainian church is perhaps the strongest and is doing the most for education, training, and sending out workers.”

Many serving in Ukraine have made the difficult decision to relocate out of the country while others have chosen to remain. As Russia invades and potentially seeks a regime change, it is likely that these Christian brothers and sisters, as well as those of other religious minorities, will face intense persecution and human rights abuses. Those that have chosen to stay are committed to meeting the needs of their neighbors as they are able and have said, “When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need.”

What’s next?

The European Union announced announced the strongest package of sanctions ever delivered by the coalition of nations against Russia. The United States had already sanctioned two Russian banks and the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, and in an address to the nation today, President Biden, alongside the G7 leaders, announced additional, more severe sanctions on four more Russian banks and on some exports to Russia. It has also been reported that President Biden could consider massive cyberattacks against Russia for its actions, if provoked. The president had already repositioned thousands of troops in NATO countries in Eastern Europe and announced today the sending of additional troops to Germany and NATO’s Eastern Flank to bolster the alliance’s efforts.

Here in the United States, the crisis will continue to increase already high gas prices as Russia is the world’s second largest natural gas producer and third largest oil producer. Punchbowl news reported, “As of 5:30 this morning, the price of WTI crude oil was $100 per barrel, the highest it has been since 2014. The White House has said that it may release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help keep U.S. gas prices down.”

As Congress attempts to finalize and pass an omnibus spending bill funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year ahead of the March 11 deadline, there will be growing pressure for the inclusion of additional defense and humanitarian aid in the spending package. 

A call to prayer

Ultimately, Christians should care about this because millions of image-bearers live in Ukraine. We should urgently cry out to God in prayer for the people of Ukraine. We’ve listed a few ways you can pray specifically below. And this guide from Send Relief has additional suggestions.

  • Pray that Christians and missionaries in Ukraine would hope in the Lord and that many would come to saving faith in Christ through their witness.
  • Pray for the safety of the citizens of Ukraine as war begins and that their lives would be honored and protected.
  • Pray that those fleeing the country and those who will be unable to return home will find a Christlike welcome and a home in a new nation.
  • Pray for President Biden and global leaders as they navigate geopolitical tensions and attempt to respond with wisdom and discernment.
  • Pray that Vladimir Putin’s heart would be changed and that he would withdraw from Ukraine and not pursue additional aggression.

In the midst of the darkness, may it be that the light of Christ brings hope and help through his people, his Word, and his mercy shown to a war-torn region.

By / Feb 22

In a moment of politicization and tribalism, conversations are always difficult. There are any number of topics today that cause controversy: who to vote (or not) for in the next election, responding to COVID restrictions, and how to think about protests both domestically and abroad. But there are few conversations that are as difficult to have as discussions of race. While Christians should be able to have these conversations because of our shared identity in Christ, we too are prone to avoiding the topic because it can be hard, difficult, and awkward. Isaac Adams wrote his new book, Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations, to counter that problem. Adams offers hope for how to have these conversations and some guidance on where to begin. 

Alex Ward: You originally set out to write a book about what to do, and instead ended up writing about how to talk about the issue of racism. Why was it essential to make that shift, and why do we need to start there?

Isaac Adams: Often when I teach on race and racism, the question I know I’ll be asked is, “What can I do?” And in so many ways this is a great question. While we Christians aren’t saved by good works, we are saved for good works (Rom. 7:4; Titus 2:14). Yet, as a pastor, I often find people wanted to go and do big things as regards racial justice — they wanted to march down the street; they wanted to maintain unity in their church — yet these same people couldn’t even have a constructive conversation with the person they dreaded seeing at Thanksgiving, much less on Sunday morning. It seemed to me, then, that before we could talk about action, we’d do well to figure out why we couldn’t talk at all. Figuring that out would have us be that much better equipped for the good and right active pursuit of racial justice. 

AW: In the book, you use these fictional characters to unpack some of the common responses to the topic and provide an entry point. Why start with a story? Why not just begin with application and teachings?

IA: There’s something in people that loves a story. We see Jesus use them so often — the parables. Nathan, in 2 Samuel 12, when confronting David uses what? A story! David is sucked into it before he realizes that he is the bad guy. Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, though massive, reads beautifully because it’s told primarily through the lens of story. And so, I landed on a story because a fictional account would help me grasp the complexity that people are. Writing straightforward, didactic stuff, while I do that, doesn’t allow for painting the complexity that you and I so often live in. A person is more than their political opinions, their racial perspective, their racial sins. A story helped me to paint that complex picture more clearly. 

AW: When reading the chapter about the two sisters, Anna Beth and Samantha Lee, I was struck how often I have seen their argument play out, whether in real life or social media. One is more concerned with structural issues and doesn’t think her church and peers care enough about racism. The other thinks an overemphasis on race is part of the problem causing the divisions and anger. So as you look at the state of the discourse among white evangelicals today with one another, what counsel would you offer? 

IA: I try to offer a lot of different counsel in the book, as there are so many things to address. One piece of counsel I would give is to listen to the perspective of non-white evangelicals, and I praise God for many of my white brothers and sisters who do that. That said, often, the things that determine “the race conversation” are the anxieties and burdens of white evangelicals. But it’s important to realize that all people in the kingdom of God have anxieties and burdens that need to be addressed.

AW: One of the main reasons, you write, that we should engage in cross-race conversations about this topic is because “love compels” us. What do you mean by that? And if so, why are we so hard-pressed to have these conversations?

IA: I meant that love ought to be the main motivator behind our conversations. Without this, we could have all racial knowledge in the world and still be a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13). To love God and love neighbor are the two greatest commandments, and so it’s love for God’s glory, love for our Christian witness, love for our hurting neighbors that ought to motivate us — not revenge or power. 

In terms of being hard-pressed, I think it’s easy for many American Christians to have a biblical gospel in name but a prosperity gospel in function — a gospel that says life should always be easy. But, of course, we know that Scripture says quite the opposite. In the world we will have trouble (John 16:33). I say this because I think it’s easy to assume that love should be pain free. But the cross shows us that love can be painful, difficult, messy. And so much of what’s going on in our conversations about race is painful, difficult, messy. So while love is our motivator, it actually presses us further into hard things rather than further from them. Still, those hard things, I’d say, are good and worthwhile things to wrestle with.

AW: The recent COVID lockdowns and the protests for racial justice of the last few years have highlighted the exit of many African Americans from predominantly white congregations. Your book thinks through that process and doesn’t condemn Christians who make a decision to stay or leave. How would you encourage Christians to wrestle with that choice? Are there clear reasons why someone should choose to leave or stay?

IA: I appreciate this question! In the book, I tried to tackle questions like these head on. My main encouragement for Christians wrestling with this choice would be to fear the Lord most in the decision. It’s easy to fear what people will say about you, whether they call you an Uncle Tom for staying or a theological liberal for leaving. It turns out, though, that these aren’t the only two options. What’s more, someone’s opinion of you pales in importance compared to the Lord’s opinion about you. That said, the decision to leave or stay can be so difficult, so painful. As an African American who often navigates white spaces, I felt I had to address The Black Exodus from predominantly white churches. 

Regarding the clear reasons to stay or leave, yes — there are some reasons that are clear, and some that aren’t so clear. I lay that out on pages 32-36 in my book. 

AW: A helpful part of the book is the reminder that conversations about race are not just about the white-black binary, even if it appears to be the most pressing and visible. As you wrote about Jane (Eun-ji) and Luis, what were you hoping Christians would understand about this conversation?

IA: The black-white conversation is obviously an important one, and it’s a historically unique one. However, the kingdom of God is wonderfully colorful; it’s not just black and white. And I wanted to convey that in the book because if we’re going to faithfully follow Jesus amidst race relations, we’re going to have to remember that he bled and died for all tribes, not just ours. 

AW: Throughout the book, I was constantly thinking about the way that tone was essential to the conversations, particularly one of humility and lament as well as a refusal to impute motives to others or respond with sarcasm and condescension. How can Christians go about cultivating that in their own lives and conversations? The lives of their families? Their churches? 

IA: Start with prayer. Ask the Lord to reveal to you your hidden faults (Psa. 19:12). Then, go to a brother or sister from the “other side” and admit to them some things they’re right about. Then pray some more. Apologize for some of the ways you have not conducted yourself helpfully in these conversations. Then pray some more. Then, tell that person some things you are afraid about regarding this conversation. Then pray some more. Confession, humility, vulnerability, prayer — this is how we lower defenses rather than make other people defensive. 

AW: For a topic that is so polarizing, what encouragement would you offer for how to get the conversation started? And what should be our goal in that conversation? 

IA: There’s no better goal than Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The goal, then, is to benefit others. In terms of getting started, you would be shocked at how much talking to God (praying) before talking to that person can help you. After prayer, you might just print out this interview, ask the person to read it, and ask two questions: 1) What did you think of this? 2) Can I please share what I thought, and some of my hopes and fears in this conversation? 

By / Feb 18

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to protect children from the potentially harmful impacts of social media. The Kids Online Safety Act of 2022 includes five major elements:

  • Social media companies would be required to provide privacy options, the ability to disable addictive features and allow users to opt-out of recommendations like pages or other videos to “like.” It would also make the strongest privacy protections the default. 
  • The bill would give parents tools to track time spent in the app, limit purchases, and help to address addictive usage.
  • It would require social media companies to prevent and mitigate harm to minors, including self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and unlawful products for minors like alcohol.
  • Social media companies would be required to give kids’ data to academic and private researchers. The scientists would use that data to do more research on what harms children on social media and how to prevent that harm.
  • Social media companies would be required to use a third party to perform independent reviews to quantify the risk to minors, compliance with the law, and whether the company is “taking meaningful steps to prevent those harms.”

Whether the bill will be something Christians should support remains to be seen. But as Dr. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, told ABC News, it’s an attempt to apply what social science research has taught us about the potential harms of social media. “I think politicians are taking what we know from the science and saying, ‘How do we build in these safeguards?’”, says Anderson.

Questions for evaluation 

While it’s important to build safeguards on social media for our children, every Christian adult should also consider what guardrails they are putting up for themselves. Listed below are 14 questions for self-reflection that we can ask ourselves about our social media engagement. 

1. The time use question: In 2020, the average adult spent three hours a day on social media. Do we spend more daily time on social media than we do on spiritual practices, such as prayer and Bible reading?

2. The best use question: Even if the time we spend on social media is not out of proportion to other activities, we should still consider how we want to spend our days. Is our social media usage an example of following the command in Ephesians 5:16 to make the “best use of the time”?

3. The bubble question: Social media allows us to choose who we interact with, allowing us the ability to create the online equivalent of gated communities. What types of interactions are you missing out on by engaging only within your social media bubble?

4. The corrupt company question: In light of question 3, what kind of bubble are you creating? Who are you surrounding yourself with online? Bad company — even disguised with Christian language — that will corrupt (1 Cor. 15:33)? Or good company that will build up? 

5. The looking with lust question: The predominance of personal photos on social media can allow us to get an intimate glimpse not only into people’s lives but often of people’s bodies. What precautions are we taking to prevent ourselves from looking with lust on the images we see in private (Matt. 5:28)?

6. The one another question: Throughout Scripture there are more than 50 “one another” commands that apply to our fellow believers (for example, the commands to “encourage one another and build up one another” in 1 Thessalonians 5:11). How are you using social media to fulfill those commands?

7. The probability of cancellation question: Cancel culture refers to the modern practice of withdrawing support for someone (i.e., “canceling them”) after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. What are the chances that you could be “canceled” for something you post on social media?

8. The loving your enemy question: Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:43). Do we use our social media accounts to identify the “enemies” we need to pray for?

9. The foolish controversies question: In Titus 3:9, Paul tells us to avoid foolish controversies because they are unprofitable and useless. Does our social media usage increase the likelihood that we will engage in such foolish controversies?

10. The eulogy question: Imagine that if at your funeral someone who despises you was able to give a eulogy that consisted of them reading 10 items you posted on social media. Would you have any concerns or fear of embarrassment if that were to happen?

11. The anonymity question: Many people on social media (especially on platforms like Twitter) choose to remain anonymous. But Jesus says “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:17). If you have an anonymous account, would you be ashamed if your identity was revealed? (Alternative question: Should we be engaging with those who choose to hide their identity while attacking those whose identities are known?) 

12. The unwholesome talk question: Paul commands us by saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). Do we use social media to engage in unwholesome talk?

13. The true and noble question: Additionally, Paul says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Does our social media usage help us to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy?

14. The glory of God question: Paul also says, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:13). Can we honestly say that all that we do on social media is glorifying God?

By / Feb 8

Social justice is a polarized topic in these divided times. The issues that are associated within this discussion are important and should be evaluated from a biblical perspective. Dr. Thaddeus Williams, an associate professor of systematic theology at Biola University, helps us do that in his recent book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth. Below, he answers questions about justice, identity politics, and the role of social media in our conversations.

Jason Thacker: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What got you interested in a lot of these topics, and why did you end up writing this book?

Thaddeus Williams: I teach systematic theology at Biola University, and I’ve always considered myself sort of a generalist fixated on how the lordship of Jesus applies to every square inch of life. So from where I’m coming from, there’s really nothing out of bounds or any territory of reality that Jesus doesn’t declare “mine.” I’ve been interested in literature and art, and with most of my books, I sort of want readers to be confused and ask, “What am I reading? Is this apologetics? Is this systematic theology? Is this church history? Is this literature? Is this poetry?” And the answer is yes, it’s all those things. Because again, if Jesus is Lord over every square inch, then we should reflect that as best we can. 

So when it comes specifically to questions of social justice — which is my latest book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth — I noticed in all the speaking and traveling, I do, some version of the problem of evil [would come up], with the top question being “How can a good God exist when the universe is so messed up?” But in the last four to five years, that’s shifted pretty dramatically. Some version of “How do Christians think biblically about social justice?” has now taken first place. So the first motive behind the book is realizing there are a lot of Christians out there seeking biblical clarity on these questions.

And I’d say a second big reason was seeing a lot of friends and students of mine getting swept up into certain social justice ideologies, and they just slowly became unrecognizable to me. The fruit of the Spirit — love and joy and peace and patience — slowly got replaced with bitterness, rage, resentment, assuming the worst of other people’s motives, and self-righteousness. I was scratching my head and trying to get to the bottom of it. I realized, at the root, there are a lot of very trendy ideas about social justice that are on the rise these days. And I’m convinced a lot of these ideas are a direct assault on a Christian worldview and directly undermine Christian character.

And one of the final reasons is a lot of the stuff I was reading out there was super polarized. For example, if you think racism exists, then [some think] obviously you’re a far-left, snowflake, social justice warrior Marxist. Or, you might think something isn’t as racist as it’s cracked up to be, so you’re [labeled as] an alt-right, fascist, neo-Nazi or something. And I’m only slightly embellishing there. These days, that tends to be the way these conversations go. So, I hoped to put out a resource that could actually draw Christians together to think it through biblically and as charitably as possible.

JT: In the book, you lay out a biblical vision for social justice, and you make the case that social justice isn’t optional for the Christian. Can you help us understand a little bit of a biblical understanding of social justice and the role of the imago Dei?

TW: Just think of how many passages where God doesn’t suggest, but rather commands justice. “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed” (Jer. 22:3). And most of us are familiar with Micah 6:8. It’s not, “What does the Lord suggest of you?” It’s, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This is a running theme from the Old to the New Testament — to do justice. 

So I argue that there’s no such thing as a private injustice or even a private sin that won’t, in some way, affect others. Because both sin, by its very nature, and injustice, by its very nature, are corrosive. They send out a destructive ripple effect on the people around us. So, in a way, all injustice is social injustice in the sense that it affects people around me. And the flip side of that coin is also true. If I’m doing real justice, it’s going to bless the people around me. 

JT: Can we use the term social justice, especially since the term has been co-opted by ideologues? 

TW: The term was invented by a Christian thinker a little over 200 years ago. And if it’s being used and abused today, well, let’s reclaim it and inject those letters with biblical content. Throughout my book, I draw a very basic distinction that runs throughout. On the one hand, social justice, simply defined as the kind of justice that’s compatible with the biblical worldview. But on the other hand, a lot of what’s on the rise these days is what I call “social justice b,” which is deeply incompatible with the biblical worldview. 

So, what are some of the marks of biblical justice? Think of that famous wedding passage where Paul’s describing love (1 Corinthians 13). Paul says that real love is not easily offended. I would say, for example, that’s one mark of biblical justice; it’s marked by a slowness to take offense. This social justice movement that we’re seeing on the rise today is the exact opposite. It actually encourages and inspires people to take offense. By [it’s adherents’] standards, the more offended you are, the more virtuous you are. 

A second point of distinction of biblical justice is going to start with the pride-leveling reality from Paul’s argument in Romans 3 when he says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. A biblical approach to justice isn’t going to play these kinds of inner-tribal identity group games of saying, “Well, I’m in the good group. We’ve been oppressed. You’re in the bad group, and you’re the oppressors.” Rather, it’s sort of like a wrecking ball that smashes far-left and far-right versions of identity politics where my economic status, skin tone, or my XX or XY chromosomes will determine the worth and value of what I have to say. A biblical view knows we’re tragically united in Adam. But then there’s this new identity in Christ that draws people together from every tongue, tribe, and nation. So a biblical approach to justice is going to give us a foundation for real, meaningful unity that you just won’t find in the “social justice B” alternative. 

How does the image of God fit into all that? If I’m starting from a biblical perspective, then even the people I most passionately disagree with are not enemies on the battlefront of a culture war. Instead, I need to see them at a deeper level. I need to see them theologically and through biblical lenses where this person is an image-bearer of God. And when that clicks, it’s really hard to keep playing the name-calling game, the mudslinging, the assuming the worst about everybody who disagrees with me. If you look at the “social justice B” alternative, there just isn’t a category for the imago Dei. It lends itself more readily to being able to use some pretty dehumanizing language to describe people who don’t agree.

JT: Let’s dig a little bit into some of the issues surrounding identity politics and the elevation of group identity over and against biblical categories of being in Adam or in Christ. One of the criticisms that a lot of Christians have of the social justice movement broadly is the elevation of this group identity. Help us to think through some of the valid elements of understanding group dynamics in the ways that certain groups have been disenfranchised over time, and at the same time realizing that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. How do we navigate some of the tensions between those worldviews?

TW: I’m going to resort to my mentor, my friend, the living legend of the Civil Rights Movement, John Perkins, who, as you mentioned, was kind enough to to write the foreword to my book. And he shares four basic points. Number one, we’ve got to start with God. If you don’t start there, then these tribal identities are going to lead to tribal warfare. If we don’t start with God, then we’re not starting with the image of God as the premise of how we engage somebody. 

His second bit of insight is to be one in Christ. Basically, he says, regardless of the melanin levels in your skin cells, recognize that you have been adopted by the same Father into the family of God. You have been redeemed by the same Son, by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and you’re inhabited by the same Holy Spirit. Whatever cultural differences, melanin level difference, XX or XY chromosome differences, or whatever other kind of cultural category we could sort people into, a running thread through New Testament theology is that we are family. And if we aren’t reminding ourselves of that often, then we’re going to fall into these, polarized political traps and start excommunicating each other left and right. 

His third bit of advice is to keep the gospel first — the historic gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says this is of first importance. He cites this ancient — and some scholars think it’s actually the earliest — creed we have on record from the first century church: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, he rose from the dead on the third day and appeared. If we get so swept [up] in social justice that the best news in the universe, the saving death and bodily resurrection of Jesus, becomes an afterthought, then Perkins says we aren’t doing justice and forth. 

And finally, he says, just teach the truth. He clarifies and says don’t go with what’s politically in vogue or what’s trendy right now. Don’t go with what politicians and presidents say. Don’t side with the Twitter mob. When we start with God’s Word, it’s going to take us back again and again to the fact that we all need community in Christ. We join an every-tongue-tribe-and-nation kind of community that gives us a foundation for being a true family. Whereas the further and further we drift from the text, the more we get swept up into the political moment, which is all about us-versus-them tribalism. 

JT: Throughout your reading and research, what role [did you discover that] technology, specifically social media, plays in some of these identities and tribalism and polarization? How do you counsel Christians to use these technologies more wisely?

TW: That is a profound and pressing question. The advent of the trifecta of the internet, social media platforms, and smartphones is extremely new in the history of the human race. And that means that I now have at my fingertips instant access to everything horrible happening on planet Earth, with a few swipes. I can quickly be pulled down a rabbit hole of depressing headline after depressing headline. I think a lot of the fallout of the social media and smartphone revolution is that we just don’t know how to cope with scrolling through a news feed and seeing everything horrible thrown into our field of consciousness on a daily basis. That’s part of the problem. 

The second part of it is we need to contextualize the rise of social media. Particularly in American history, we were coming out of the 90s. The internet came to be when I would argue relativism was at its peak in America. Really, the only thing considered sinful in the mainstream 90s was calling anything sinful. Part of the problem is that anything-goes style relativism just doesn’t fit our design. God designed us, according to Scripture, to be part of an epic drama of good versus evil, to fight the principalities and the powers and take every thought captive into obedience to Christ. We’re designed to be part of that grand moral melodrama. And relativism just took that from people, because relativism can’t give you anything bigger than your own personal tastes and preferences. Nobody’s going to die for their favorite flavor of ice cream, right? We don’t die for preferences. So on the heels of that, I would argue that relativism has a shelf life.

As social media has become basically a fixture of life in the 21st century, you have a lot of people who were bored morally through the 90s. Now, all of a sudden, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction. So now people think: “I need to to be a warrior, I need to to signal my virtue to the masses, and I need to be able to to hashtag my solidarity or my outrage at every new headline, because that’s a lot more exciting.” In the broader cultural context, part of what we’re seeing is the convergence of a new technology that enables people to voice moral outrage unlike any platform humanity has ever seen, and this is coming on the heels of a stage of extreme moral malaise and boredom. Put those two things together, and you have a recipe for everybody being outraged all the time — at others who either don’t have enough outrage or the wrong kind of outrage. 

So what can Christians do in a moment like that? We don’t want to just write off social media. One of the things the Church has been great at through history is whenever there is a new innovation, new ground is pioneered in communication technology. As soon as the Gutenberg press came out in the late 15th century, Christians were right there at the forefront to say, “Let’s get the Bible out there in a way that it’s no longer under lock and chain in a Roman Catholic cathedral. Let’s get it in the hands of the masses.” During any one of these decisive technological leaps forward, the Church has adapted and often been at the forefront. 

So, as Christians, we don’t want to have [the attitude that] social media is bad. I know people who heard the gospel for the first time through social media. My dad has this mission field in cyberspace where he’s reaching out to Baha’is and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims. He’s been able to have meaningful points of contact and share the gospel. So I would say it’s not something to be afraid of, as much as something to capitalize on for the sake of the gospel.

And let me add a few bits of advice on navigating a technology that can be ambivalent and can pull us in really good or bad directions. Two things immediately come to mind. We need to recognize something that I describe in my book as the Newman effect. I’m borrowing here from a 2018 viral interview between Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and news host Cathy Newman. Any time Peterson makes a point, the response was “so you’re saying,” followed by an inflammatory interpretation of what Peterson was saying. I argue in the book that social media has sort of made Cathy Newman’s out of all of us. So, as we engage this very new technology, [we should] not play by those rules. [Unfortunately], that’s how most conversations that I’ve seen on important questions tend to go as we buy into the Newman effect and automatically assume the worst of other people’s motives. 

Secondly, think of the rise of Millennial and Gen Z folks who don’t identify as religious. There is a clear uptick over the course of the last 10 years. Researchers trying to get to the bottom of it found the number one answer was some version of, “I saw this really hilarious two-minute YouTube video of this guy just ripping Christianity.” People were now settling ultimate questions, eternally-weighty questions based on some two-minute sound bite they saw or some 60-second clip. So, that’s something we want to be very careful of, especially as we deal with complex questions like race, economics, sexism, abortion, or fill in the blank. As Christians, we just can’t settle for soundbites, which means we need to deliberately resist the algorithms that will only send us the kind of stuff we’re already buying into. We need to be very intentional about breaking out of our echo chambers. For Christians committed to truth in the age of social media, we need to be as intentional as possible about getting at the whole truth.

JT: What are some books that you would recommend for folks? Maybe one or two works that help us understand some of these issues, whether from a more historical perspective or more of a practical outworking on some of these?

TW: The one I’ve been going through again recently, that seems like it was written for these crazy times we’re in, was written a couple of hundred years ago. It’s William Wilberforce’s Real Christianity. It’s rightly considered a classic. And what he does there is he’s able to give just rock solid theology. Wilberforce has a clear grasp on the historic gospel of the Christian faith and the implications of that gospel for society, particularly when it comes to questions of justice and social justice.

A lot of social justice causes revolve around questions of gender, gender identity, and sexuality. Religious freedom gets wrapped up in there, too. So, another resource is The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Truman. He does a really helpful job of kind of walking through the history of some of the ideas that used to be in the ivory towers of academia, but have now gone mainstream. If you want to be discerning in this cultural moment and see a lot of the trendy ideology for what it is, I would put his book pretty close to the top of the list.

This article originally appeared here. 

By / Dec 28

The 2020 documentary The Social Dilemma traces the effects of the digital age on individuals and communities, highlighting how social media has led to a breakdown of trust and larger social instability.

In it, computer scientist and design ethicist Tristan Harris makes an important observation: technology itself is not necessarily the threat.

“We’re all looking out for the moment when technology would overwhelm human strengths and intelligence,” Harris says. He goes on:

When is it going to . . . replace our jobs, be smarter than humans? But there’s this much earlier moment when technology exceeds and overwhelms human weaknesses. This point being crossed is at the root of addiction, polarization, radicalization, outrage-ification, vanity-ification, the entire thing. . . . It’s technology’s ability to bring out the worst in society and the worst in society brings the existential threat.

In other words, while technology may create the conditions, the spark that sets the world on fire is . . . us.

Although he probably doesn’t realize it, Harris is echoing what the apostle James knew in the first century. In James 3:14, he writes that “bitter envy and selfish ambition” fuel “disorder and every vile practice” (v. 16). In the next chapter he says it this way: “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?” (4:1). Bitterness. Envy. Vile practices. Wars and fights among us. Sounds a lot like the present moment, doesn’t it? But just a few verses prior, James also says this: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness . . . setting on fire the entire course of life” (3:5–6 ESV).

According to James, we are the ones who light the fires with our knee-jerk reactions and our constant need to be right. But James isn’t addressing simply what we say. He’s addressing the deeper realities of our heart, because what we say, write, and profess reveal what’s happening within us. We wage war on the outside because we have passions waging war on the inside. “The source” of all the fighting, of all the fires, isn’t “out there” with some person or group we disagree with. It is “in here.” The spark is the sinful passions and desires within the human heart, both yours and mine. Our mouths simply give them a voice. As Jesus put it in Luke 6:45, “[the] mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

The danger isn’t simply that we struggle to know and say what’s true, but that too many of us don’t want the truth in the first place. The problem is that we’re interacting with other people from fleshly hearts that are full of “bitter envy and selfish ambition.” Technology has created a combustible environment, sure. It has made it easier for us to be terrible to each other. And that is something to mourn and resist (many tech experts will tell you that was done on purpose). But what James holds up in front of us is this: the desire to be terrible in these ways, regardless of environment, has always been smoldering within us. Our environment can only fan the flame of destruction because the flame is there in the first place.

Fire safety and heavenly wisdom

When I think of a raging fire, I think of my father-in-law who worked as a forester for four decades. Throughout his career, he managed hundreds of acres, partnered with landowners to steward and cultivate their properties, and battled the forest fires that would inevitably break out. In fact, my husband tells of a childhood punctuated by “fire season” — a period of several months in spring and fall when forest fires are common due to environmental factors like dryness, bare trees, and high winds. During fire season, my father-in-law couldn’t travel outside a prescribed radius, needing instead to stay close to his work truck, ever ready, ever vigilant, should a fire break out. Because all it took was one spark. One match, one flame could set the hills ablaze.

While my father-in-law’s work demanded vigilance during fire season, he spent the rest of the year reducing the risk of fire through things like reforestation, prescribed burns, and teaching fire safety to the larger public. (When the moment called for it, he wasn’t above donning a Smokey the Bear costume to remind folks that “Only you can prevent forest fires!”)

The idea behind fire safety is simple: you can’t control the elements. You can’t control how much rain will come and how dry the forest will be. But you can control your behavior. You can choose to make wise choices about when and where you start fires and whether you’re careless with matches. You can conduct yourself with wisdom instead of foolishness.

After warning us about how the tongue can set the world on fire, James asks this question: “Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom” (3:13, emphasis added). And with this, James sets up a contrast between those who pursue wisdom and those who indulge their sinful tendencies. “But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart,” he continues, “don’t boast and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (3:14–15). Simply put, there are those who fight the fires and those who start them. There are those who seek heavenly wisdom and those who act out of earthly wisdom.

So what would this heavenly wisdom look like? How can we tell the difference between the wisdom that is from above and “wisdom” that is simply enabling, excusing, and encouraging our human weaknesses and fleshly desires?

First, heavenly wisdom is counterintuitive. Biblical wisdom has a way of confusing us at first because it challenges the assumptions that emerge from our sin nature. This is what Proverbs 14:12 means when it says that “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.” Our instinct or gut feeling about how to respond to a situation or issue is not enough — neither is “feeling peace” or a “lack of peace.” 

Instead, we are pursuing the “renewing” of our minds (Rom. 12:2). We are inviting God’s Word and God’s Spirit to make us into the image of God’s Son, to conform our thoughts and words and deeds to his likeness. So, as we explore what wisdom looks like in these times, expect to be surprised. Welcome the experience of feeling challenged. Why? Because this is exactly what the Scripture tells us will happen when we’re being changed.

Second, heavenly wisdom is knowable to all who seek it. Wisdom is not the exclusive property of a select few who have discovered a secret memo, a secret meaning, or a secret cabal. In fact, in James 1:5, the Scripture invites “any of you” who lack wisdom to come to God, promising that he will give it to all truly seeking him. The challenge of wisdom is not that only a few can “know” what is true or real. The challenge is that wisdom requires hard things of us. It disrupts and confronts us, so many of us simply choose to look away from it. We don’t want to look at “the source” of the wars being waged among us, namely, our own sinful passions and desires. 

We resist the invitation because doing so would also mean admitting that we are part of the problem. To face our inner arsonist and drag it into the light would take an enormous amount of both courage and humility. This is why James warns us that coming to God for wisdom will require singleness of heart. Anyone can come to God for wisdom; but only those humble enough to believe that God’s ways are better than our own will find it.

Third, heavenly wisdom is countercultural. Those seeking heavenly wisdom are seeking the “narrow way” that leads to life and flourishing — a narrow way that many other people won’t necessarily understand (Matt. 7:14). Even other Christians. Even their fellow citizens. In fact, heavenly wisdom will likely disrupt the status quo because it seeks the kingdom of God rather than a kingdom on this earth. In this way, heavenly wisdom challenges both our personal assumptions and our cultural and social assumptions. So don’t be surprised if, in pursuing heavenly wisdom, you find yourself swimming against the current in unexpected ways. Don’t be surprised when what you once thought to be common wisdom turns out not to be wisdom at all.

Fourth, heavenly wisdom points to the gospel. Rather than reinforcing our sense of righteousness and self-reliance, heavenly wisdom challenges us while leading us to repentance and grace. After all, if Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), his ways, works, and words will align, teaching us how to live out the gospel in practical ways. Even more, lives based on heavenly wisdom will bolster our claims that Jesus himself is the way, the truth, and the life. Living in foolishness, on the other hand, will undermine our gospel witness because the disconnect between what we say and what we do will be glaringly obvious to anyone watching. 

Consider how Paul calls out the partiality and segregation that was occurring in the church at Galatia — when certain Christians separated themselves from their brothers and sisters. He says that “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14 ESV). The way they were mistreating those of a different background reflected earthly values and earthly wisdom. Heavenly wisdom, on the other hand, calls believers to behavior that embodies Christ and his cross.

And finally, heavenly wisdom seeks union and reconciliation. Listen again to the words of James: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:17–18 ESV). The goal of heavenly wisdom is not simply to separate those who are right from those who are wrong. The goal of heavenly wisdom is to identify and heal the brokenness in our midst. The goal of heavenly wisdom is reconciliation. And while it’s true that some may resist that reconciliation, those seeking heavenly wisdom will not. Those truly seeking to live like Christ understand that the goal of the gospel is reconciling us to God and each other.

Excerpted and adapted with permission from World on Fire. Copyright 2021, B&H Publishing.