Bryan Lair of the EFCA’s Acts 29 Trinity City Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota writes an interesting article for the national EFCA blog. He poses the question and asks are we listening to Fox News or the Good News? While Bryan communicates some good points this blog raises some questions in response. While pointing out the issues of anger that can come from Fox News did Bryan in his life point out the same issues of anger from people like Mark Driscoll? Or did he consume, PODcast and drink the Kool Aid from a dubious and questionable pastor who this blog believes had mental health issues?
“Citizenship is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his own informed opinion and stand by it.”
“It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.”
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Matthew 22:21 NIV
The United States Capitol taken from the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.
When Bryan Lair speaks about an angry life how does he explain people like Mark Driscoll?
This blog follows and reads the national EFCA blog, afterall The Wondering Eagle focuses on the national EFCA denomination. Often there are ideas and articles that I look at that deserve a comment. Recently Bryan Lair published one post that I wanted to do some spot commentary on as well. For those of you who do not know, Bryan Lair leads Trinity City Church, an Acts 29/EFCA church in the Saint Paul area of Minnesota. I wrote about this church already in the EFCA. For example this blog documented how Trinity City Church responded to the riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. You can read that post in, “How Acts 29’s Trinity City Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota Responded to the Neo-Nazi Rally in Charlottesville.” Then I wrote about their Acts 29 church planting efforts and how they worked with a ministry that is connected to another Acts 29 church that covered up a child pornography and voyeurism scandal in Memphis, Tennessee. You can read about that in, “Acts 29 Trinity City Church Plants Immanuel Fellowship in Minneapolis with Fellowship Associates. Is the Culture that Led to the Alleged Cover-up of Voyeurism and Child Pornography in Fellowship Memphis Being Duplicated in the Twin Cities?”
The post Bryan wrote looks at evangelical faith and politics and raises some questions. The name of the article is called, “Are We Listening to the Good News or Fox News?” While I enjoyed it, I also thought it revealed some short comings. And that is especially true when it comes to his Acts 29 Neo-Calvinist faith. While there are some aspects that I appreciate there are some questions that need to be raised. So let’s explore this post. My comments will be in red below.
A recent headline at the satire site Babylon Bee reads: “Politics Now Nation’s Fastest Growing Religion.” Satire stings because it contains an element of truth. For many Americans, almost everything in life is filtered through a political lens.
It should be noted, that research shows that political thought in the brain comes from the same section that religious thinking comes from. I guess we are hard wired for that aspect. I find that to be fascinating. Its one of the many reasons why science is so crucial. If you want to read more about how people can be hard wired you can do so here and here .
As Christians, and especially as church leaders, we must begin to recognize how politics, on both the right and the left, challenges the centrality of Christ in all of life. In addition, we must also consider how a life that strives to follow Christ will transform our political and public involvement.
James K.A. Smith writes in Awaiting the King, “There is something political at stake in our worship and something religious at stake in our politics.” Let’s consider what is at stake in our lives when politics becomes our religion as well as when the Christian faith radically alters our political and public engagement.
Politics is religious
The EFCA is pietistic. We understand that a reborn faith will also result in devotion to Christ in all the details of life. If you get up in the morning to read God’s Word and pray, if you meet in homes with God’s people, if you serve the poor and the marginalized, and if you gather for corporate worship with the church, then these practices both reveal something about your faith and also shape it.
Is this really accurate? This blog would like to know what about those who engage in all those activities who still have deep systematic problems? Or another way to ask this question is attending a Bible study, and getting involved in corporate worship going to make you a stronger Christian and reveal more about your faith? How many people just go along and stick to something even when problems develop? How many churches and situations have I explored at this blog where people who go to church that has issues and yet have deep problems? Let me pose this question. This blog wrote about Trinity City Church planting another Acts 29 church with a questionable ministry that is closely connected to a church that covered up a voyeurism and child pornography scandal. What does it say about the people who, attending community group, maintain membership covenant, etc… Does that reveal a deep faith?
Politics is religious. If you get up in the morning and check media feeds filled with partisan voices, if you mainly read books or listen to talk radio that affirms your political leanings, and if you mainly discuss politics with those who agree with you, then these practices, too, reveal something about your heart and also shape it. In these regular practices, Fox News or MSNBC become the source of daily devotionals, the platform of the Republican or Democratic party is a confessional statement, and the practice of evangelism entails calling others to turn from their ways in order to “Make America Great Again” or to “Feel the Bern.”
Here I agree with Bryan. Politics is religious. People can create their own echo chambers and the internet I would passionately argue has dumbed down communication and created a society that is avoiding people. In the pre-internet days people had to co-exist and learn from the same media. Now you can follow your own media and some media is indeed suspect. I see this when I research and see many questionable sources that I don’t use. However, this is part of the reason why I have tried to build bridges with people of different traditions and beliefs so I could better understand how they think. That is the joy of the internet, but many people use it for ways that are not as healthy. What good is it if one uses the internet to create an environment that re-enforces what you think and believe?
1. A partisan or tribal life
In this life, we become completely devoted to one side of the political aisle; we don’t merely lean one direction. We’re all in. In addition, this political life also has a strong sense of “us” versus “them,” the good guys against the bad guys. We are highly aware of other political camps and make sure that we stay with our own people.
But let me also ask Bryan Lair a question. Couldn’t what he is saying also apply to the Neo-Calvinist movement? Can’t this apply to Acts 29 culture? What about the issues this blog has written about in regards to EFCA churches being theologically hijacked? For me this is what I thought about when I considered the issues in this article. It successfully points out the problems of tribalism, and then is in denial about the culture it came from being tribalistic.
Andrew Sullivan, a writer and political commentator, believes this extreme tribalism, driven by a religious impulse, is expressed in “various political cults.” In his piece “America’s New Religions,” Sullivan writes:
“We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.”
But while pointing out the problems I also want to acknowledge what Bryan Lairs is saying because I see that as well.
2. A combative life
This life not only follows clear tribal lines but also has a combative posture toward the other side. The other side is characterized as the enemy, as people to be opposed and confronted because they are what’s wrong with the world.
Our media diets lead to the regular consumption of this model of combativeness. According to a recent report called “Hidden Tribes”:
“Media executives have realized that they can drive clicks, likes, and views, and make money for themselves and their shareholders, by providing people with the most strident opinions. This means that the most extreme voices―no matter how outlandish―often get the most airtime. In addition, people with the most extreme views are often the most certain of their positions. They are willing to argue with anyone and avoid moderating their opinions or conceding points to the other side. All this can make entertaining television and viral social media content.”
Such a combative posture can begin to affect our relationships. Do others often get frustrated talking about politics with us? Do they avoid talking with us about the topic altogether?
What troubles me about this section is that I would like to ask Bryan Lair what about the entire Young Restless and Reformed Movement? What about their combativeness? What about when John Piper tried to get Greg Boyd fired from Bethel? What about when Mark Driscoll used to yell at his congregation at Mars Hill? I could go on and on, but that entire movement is a combative movement that claims they are “sold out for Jesus.” Is Bryan going to give them a pass on their combativeness?
3. An angry life
The angry life may begin with a sense of frustration, especially toward those on the other political side, but this feeling of frustration will eventually morph into fear and anger. A report from Pew Research found that 87 percent of Democrats and Republicans “have at least one of these negative feelings about the other party—frustration, fear or anger.”
In the context of politics I agree with what Bryan is saying. However what about the entire Neo-Calvinist movement what about their anger? How many people in that movement embraced and celebrated Mark Driscoll? Watch the video above, is that not an example of an angry life? Yet that anger is probably dismissed and ignored by Bryan Lair if they have “sound doctrine.” Keep in mind when Driscoll gave sermons like the one he did above he was the rage. It was the normal that some of these individuals tolerated and practiced. Did people like Bryan Lair write posts about “The Angry Life of Mark Driscoll and his followers?” No they didn’t if John Piper gave his stamp of approval then all was fine, especially since Piper is the 67th book of the Bible for people like Bryan Lair.
The Christian faith is political
A recent report found that people who are actively involved in church tend to have less extreme and less partisan views politically. In other words, when Christians make their faith the center of their lives, and there is evidence in their daily and weekly practices, then it has an impact in their politics and public engagement.
1. A devoted life
Christians unite around the confession that Jesus is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16; cf. 1 Tim 6:15). He is the promised Messiah who has the government “on his shoulders” and is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). Affirming these qualities about Jesus has become so routine that we may forget the political nature of these names. The claim “Jesus is Lord” is “also a political act in its refusal to say ‘Caesar is Lord!’” (Smith, Awaiting the King). Christians believe that a political party is not ultimately in charge, nor is any president, prime minister or royal family. We don’t pledge ultimate allegiance to any political group or person, but rather, our ultimate loyalty is to King Jesus.
Our allegiance to Christ will impact our relationship with politics. Some Christians may lean to the right or to the left. They may primarily vote for Republicans or Democrats. Yet they will never be completely in the back pocket of any political group on every issue. Christians are called to speak the truth (Zech 8:16-17). When our allegiance is to King Jesus, then we will often find ourselves challenging aspects of a political platform. When is the last time we challenged aspects of our political ideology because of our allegiance to Jesus?
This segment I have no disagreement with.
2. A loving life
Christians affirm that every person is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). We also seek to obey the great commandment to “love our neighbor” (Matt 22:37-40). So revolutionary is the call to love in the Christian faith that we even apply this command to our enemies (Matt 5:44).
This life of love creates a radical community within the church. In Christ, there “is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female” (Gal 3:28), nor is there Democrat and Republican, neither progressive nor conservative. After the 2016 presidential election, Christians who voted for Trump and Christians who voted for Clinton (or for neither) gathered together in corporate worship. The love of Christ continues to unite the church.
In addition, this life of love seeks the good of all people, including those who don’t have faith in Jesus. For Christians, the public square is not full of enemies to be defeated but with people who deserve love. Miroslav Volf says the belief “that God is love and that we are created for love” results in human flourishing (A Public Faith). Volf writes:
“We lead our lives well when we love God with our whole being and when we love our neighbors as we (properly) love ourselves. Life goes well for us when our basic needs are met and when we experience that we are loved by God and by our neighbors—when we are loved as who we are, with our own specific character and history, notwithstanding our fragility and failures.”
Again this section I have no major concerns with either.
3. A joyful life
The apostle Peter writes, “Though you have not seen [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Pet 1:9). In contrast to the religion of politics, shaping us into a people of unrighteous anger, the Christian faith shapes a people of joy.
Christians have an opportunity to show a different approach in our civic involvement if we take our joy in Christ into our public lives. As Greg Foster writes in Joy for the World, this joy is not an emotion, but the joy of God as “the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit.” This joy is not naive to the real darknesses and injustices in our world, but instead knows that neither these things nor destructive politics will get the final word.
In the book, One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love, John Perkins writes about the example of African-American Christians in the face of great violence, fear and anger.
“They suffered well. Their suffering was undergirded with the joy of the Lord. They rested in the assurance that He would deliver them—if not in this life, certainly in the next.”
Again, while I understand what he is saying has this been found true? Look again at Mark Driscoll and other personalities like James MacDonald. Have they been examples of a joyful life? And yet how many times have people like Bryan and others in the Neo-Calvinist camp embraced and used Mark Driscoll and his material? I am starting to sound like a broken record at this point in how I keep going back to this. (Sorry Bryan if because of your age you have no idea what a record is!) But did individuals like Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald have that joy of the Holy Spirit that you are speaking to here?
In his book The Political Disciple, Vincent E. Bacote writes, “Our beliefs are not only for personal gain but also for public expression.”
The EFCA Statement of Faith gives a framework for our churches to display this kind of public expression. Our Statement of Faith affirms, “God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory” (Article 1). God will both redeem individuals and “all things.”
In addition to our Statement of Faith, the EFCA is united around the mission to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, local churches, in proclaiming and living the gospel of Jesus Christ, can be agents and instruments used of God to transform people, neighborhoods and entire cities. For this transformation to happen, Christians need to be active to various degrees both civically and politically. Yet exactly what this public and political engagement looks like will be different from church to church. The EFCA has a wonderful culture of uniting around the essentials and allowing diversity in the non-essentials.
My challenge to EFCA churches, who may have different approaches to public and political theology, is to not be indifferent to these matters. Call out idols on the right and the left, develop a framework for civic engagement, and publically pray for God’s justice and transformation in your community. EFCA churches obey Christ’s commission “to make disciples among all people,” which includes “bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed” (Statement of Faith, Article 8). Let’s “live out our faith” by confronting the religion of politics and by giving “back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matt 22:21). My prayer is that our churches will help transform people, neighborhoods and cities, and this happens when God works through us in a diversity of ways, including in our public and political lives.
Its important to be civically engaged and to be involved in the matters of the day. The same is true for government, as Christians should be involved. This is an issue that is complicated because of the theological stripes that can be attached. I would argue that the Neo-Calvinists are healthier in this area than the traditional evangelicals. Whereas the Neo-Calvinists just want to plant churches and emphasize expository preaching, etc… traditional evangelicals can very much be caught up in the culture wars and politics. I think the EFCA can be healthier that denominations like the Assembly of God or the Southern Baptists in this area. And yet I don’t have to look very far inside the EFCA to see problems. For example just look at what Roy Fruits at Rockpoint Church in Lake Elmo, Minnesota wrote a couple of years back. I captured and documented that engagement by Roy Fruits here at this blog. For Bryan Lair and the staff of Trinity City Church they can read that at, “Documenting Roy Fruits Political Commentary Through Rockpoint Church in Lake Elmo, Minnesota on the 2016 Election and the Supreme Court” and “A Look at Rockpoint Church’s Political Comments on their Church Blog. A Gentle Reminder to the EFCA that they Need to Follow the Johnson Amendment.” And of course this can differ depending upon where you live. I don’t think a lot of churches are balanced here in the Washington, D.C. area. Being located at the epicenter of government that complicates church life here. In confronting the religion of politics what the EFCA needs to do is call out Christian Nationalism. That is a threat to the Christian Gospel and to look the other way is to encourage the problem. At some point I am going to have to write a post about why Christian Nationalism is a threat to Christianity. Basically it distorts the gospel. But evangelicalism struggles with this issue more than Catholicism, or mainstream Protestantism.
Final Thoughts on Bryan Lair’s Article
In the context of politics there is much I agree about when it comes to Bryan Lair’s article. And yet the article contained many flaws. Chief among them is that while he pointed out the issues in regards to politics this blog is also desiring him to acknowledge the same issues inside the Neo-Calvinist world. While he wisely points out the anger people can get from watching Fox News did he point out the anger in people like Mark Driscoll? Or did he consume, PODcast and stream his talks and ignore the anger issues? I am trying to straddle a line because I like what he says about politics, culture and evangelicalism; bit I also am left wanting to ask if he applied these thoughts or teachings against a number of people in the Neo-Calvinist world. If he did that then this blog is grateful but if not can I recommend that he consider the same issues in that tribe as well. This blog takes me up and down the East Coast in traveling and writing. How I wish I could get up to Saint Paul, Minnesota and sit across a table and talk with Bryan about these very concerns. Hopefully this article will give him something to consider. I will be writing about Trinity City Church in Saint Paul again in the near future. This blog wishes Bryan Lair and his church well.