The latest dustup over Pres. Trump by the editor at Christianity Today magazine has a long history. It didn’t start with Trump in 2016. As the song “A Change Is Gonna Come” goes, “It’s been a long time coming.” There are many reasons for it. Here’s one consideration:
In terms of Christian theory, privatization means that the grand, global umbrella of faith has shrunk to the size of a plastic rain hat. Total life norms have become part-time values. In terms of Christian practice, watch your average Christian business person or politician. Are there family prayers at home before leaving for work? The private sphere. Are there Bible studies with colleagues at the office? Still the private sphere.1
Ray Kroc, founder of the McDonald’s fast-food restaurant chain wrote the following in his book Grinding it Out: “I believe in God, family and McDonald’s—and in the office, that order is reversed. If you are running a hundred-yard dash, you aren’t thinking about God while you’re running. Not if you hope to win. Your mind is on the race. My race is McDonald’s.”2
Kroc’s statement reminds me of the made-for-television movie Brian’s Song (1971) which is the moving story of Gale Sayers’ friendship with Brian Piccolo when they played for the Chicago Bears and Piccolo was fighting an aggressive form of cancer to which he succumbed at the age of 26. Sayers tells the story in his 1970 autobiography, I Am Third. The title is based on his philosophy of life, “The Lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third.” While Kroc’s worldview is crass and unChristian, the one by Sayers is endearing and a credo to emulate. But unless “the Lord is first” means first in everything beyond its use as a cliché, like saying “God bless you” after someone sneezes, it isn’t much different practically from Kroc’s business philosophy that God is third.
Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), homeschooled by his father, minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, prime minister of the Netherlands, editor of the newspaper The Standard, president of the Free University of Amsterdam, founder of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, and prolific author, said, “there is not one inch of creation of which Christ doesn’t say ‘Mine,’”3 Christians often choose “there is not one inch of creation of which Satan doesn’t say ‘Mine,’” this side of the rapture.
There are many Christians who see no direct relationship between their Christian faith and business and politics and everything else. It’s not that they are hypocrites, although they may be. Their Christianity, like Kroc’s, could be more cultural and social than authentic. It’s more likely that they were taught that the Bible does not apply to their larger world, certainly not when it comes to law, economics, business, and politics because they have been taught that there’s a fixed sacred-secular divide. The pastor does not address politics from the pulpit since Jesus didn’t get mixed up in politics, there’s a separation between church and state, our citizenship is in heaven, politics is dirty, you can’t impose your morality on other people, we don’t want to offend people. We’re told not to judge, we are to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, etc. As a result, Christians often adopt the broader culture’s version of the role that the State — civil government — plays in our lives, then we are told to submit.
Ted Turner, founder of CNN, had this to say about the Ten Commandments when he addressed the National Press Association in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1988: “We’re living with outmoded rules. The rules we’re living under [are] the Ten Commandments, and I bet nobody here even pays much attention to ’em, because they are too old. When Moses went up on the mountain, there were no nuclear weapons, there was no poverty. Nobody around likes to be commanded.’” There is a prevailing belief held by many Christians that the laws of God are not applicable today because (1) they are outdated and (2) we are under grace, not law. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote the following in his commentary on Romans”
It was a tragic hour when the Reformation churches wrote the Ten Commandments into their creeds and catechisms and sought to bring Gentile believers into bondage to Jewish law, which was never intended either for the Gentile nations or for the church.4
One Christian website argues that since the Bible says “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities,” and “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1), that Christians have no biblical right to oppose abortion clinics and businesses that openly promote homosexuality. Why? We are in the dispensation of grace. Here’s how some in the anti-law crowd argues: “These pastors are trying to turn unsaved pagans into righteous heathen instead of presenting them with the gospel as Paul did.”5
One has to wonder how such an argument would apply to slavery and gas ovens. What do we do in the meantime while we’re witnessing to the likes of a Hitler, a Stalin, and the people at Planned Parenthood and the politicians who support and fund them? If Christians serve politically, what standard do they apply to the civil sphere? Should Christians even participate politically? If they do, is it a violation of Romans 13 to oppose the funding of unconstitutional programs like abortion, homosexual marriage, and wealth confiscation in the name of social justice? Must we wait until all these legislators and people become Christians?
How did we get like this? There are many Christians who believe that the Bible only requires a personal and private faith. Os Guinness described this as “The Private-Zoo Factor,”6 a religion that is caged so that it loses its wildness. When true Christianity is applied to any part of the world, it blossoms far more fully and colorfully than we ever could have imagined. When pagans stopped believing that they lived in “an enchanted forest” and that “glens and groves, rocks and streams are alive with spirits, sprites, demons” and “nature teems with sun gods, river goddesses, [and] astral deities,”7 at that moment their world and everything in it changed. Everything seemed possible within the boundaries of God’s providence and law. A Christian worldview made science possible and civil government ministerial rather than messianic. Stanley Jaki, the author of numerous books on the relationship between Christianity and science, comments:
Nothing irks the secular world so much as a hint, let alone a scholarly demonstration, that supernatural revelation, as registered in the Bible, is germane to science. Yet biblical revelation is not only germane to science—it made the only viable birth of science possible. That birth took place in a once-Christian West.8
Over time, Christianity ceased to be a comprehensive, world-changing religion. “[W]here religion still survives in the modern world, no matter how passionate or ‘committed’ the individual may be, it amounts to little more than a private preference, a spare-time hobby, a leisure pursuit.”9 Theodore Roszak used an apt phrase to describe much of modern-day Christendom: “Socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.”10 It wasn’t always this way:
The Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, comes out of the background of a Hebrew mindset. The basic idea behind the Hebrew mindset is that God and accompanying spiritual principles permeate all of life here on earth. … I believe one of the causes of [cultural disengagement is a Greek mindset], which tells us Christians should be concerned about saving souls and going to heaven rather than paying much attention to material things like transforming our societies.
[James Davidson] Hunter, to the contrary says, “Most Christians in history have interpreted the creation mandate in Genesis as a mandate to change the world.”11
As long as Christianity remained nearly exclusively “privately engaging,” the secularists had no interest in disturbing the sleeping giant.
- Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File: Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 79. Also see James Sire, Chris Chrisman Goes to College (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 23, 123–127. [↩]
- Ray Kroc with Robert Anderson, Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonalds’s (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), 124. Emphasis in original. [↩]
- Douglas Groothuis, “Revolutionizing our Worldview,” The Reformed Journal (November 1982), 23. [↩]
- Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Freedom (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958), 134. Quoted in S. Lewis Johnson, “The Paralysis of Legalism,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 120 (April/June 1963), 109. [↩]
- Kent R. and Marti B. Rieske, “Church Bondage,” Bible Life Ministries: http://www.biblelife.org/bondage.htm [↩]
- Guinness, The Gravedigger File, 79. [↩]
- Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 23–24. [↩]
- Stanley Jaki, “The Biblical Basis of Western Science,” Crisis 15:9 (October 1997): 17–20. www.catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0005.html [↩]
- Guinness, The Gravedigger File, 72. [↩]
- Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends (New York: Doubleday, 1973), 449. [↩]
- C. Peter Wagner, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2008), 40, 41. [↩]