In the house of God, Christians must learn to remember the identity of their brothers and sisters, humbly pray for their brothers and sisters, lovingly cover the sin of their brothers and sisters, and privately confront their brothers and sisters. As we do, we will see God’s grace healing and sustaining our relationships in ways that the world will never experience.
As the culture war rages on, there is another battle raging to which we must turn our attention. When I was a boy, my dad would sometimes tell me, “No one will hurt you so much as others in the church.” In my lifetime, this has generally proven to be true. Believers sometimes experience the greatest hurt in their relationships with other professing believers in the church at large.
When a professing believer hurts our feelings or reputation, how should we respond? Should we, in turn, demean that individual by telling others (whether privately or publicly), “I can’t stand him,” or “she’s such a mess” or “I’m not even sure that he or she is a Christian.” To our shame, most of us are guilty of having responded in such sinful ways. When someone hurts us, the instinct of our flesh is to hurt them back.
Thankfully, God does not leave us to our fleshly instincts to learn how to respond. Instead, He instructs us in very specific ways about how we should respond when someone does us harm. By virtue of our union with Christ—in His death and resurrection—we can learn to put the following into practice:
1. Remember the spiritual identity of the offending brother or sister.
The Scriptures differentiate between the children of God and unbelievers. Everyone who is united to Christ by faith has been adopted into God’s family. None of us deserves to be adopted into God’s family. It is the height of the spiritual blessings that God has conferred on us by grace. When we sin against others in the body, or when they sin against us, we are sinning against one of God’s beloved sons or daughters.
We are to view all professing believers as our brothers and sisters in Christ—as members of “the whole family in heaven and earth” (Eph. 3:14). Our actions are to accord with what we believe about the doctrine of adoption. If we are brothers and sisters in Christ, then we should “be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10), and we ought never “speak evil of one another” (James 4:11). If we viewed each other according to the doctrine of adoption, it would radically change the way that we respond when a brother or sister hurts us.
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By Stephen Kneale — 5 months ago
What is great about Romans 8:28 is not only that God is sovereign, nor that all things work together for our good, but that the good God has designed for us is far better than any good thing we might imagine for ourselves. Whatever good we can think of, God intends all things to work towards our ultimate good of becoming like Jesus. That good is far good-er than any goodly thing we might think of.
Romans 8:28 is one of those much beloved, oft quoted verses. Everybody likes it. It is the kind of thing people like to stick of mugs and t-shirts. If we’re going to hear about the sovereignty of God – which gets people hot under the collar for some reason – let’s think of it in Romans 8:28 terms. God’s sovereignty ultimately works for my good. That’s a truth we can get behind.
Unfortunately, as with the overwhelming majority of things ripped out of context, the truth of Romans 8:28 is usually massaged to mean whatever the person quoting it wants it to mean. If all things work for my good, then God will only ever do what is good for me. So far, so true. So, goes the reasoning, what is good? Money is good. Health is good. Every wish-dream I can possibly imagine must be good. If all things work together for good, God must surely be gearing up to give me all this stuff.
It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to see how many of things might prove not to be so good. If the history of Israel tells us anything it is that when everything is going pretty well, they do not suddenly start to thank God and believe in him more, but forget him and think all is well. Far more dangerous than difficult circumstances that cause us to press into our reliance on God are good times where we fool ourselves into thinking we have no need for him. Then, of course, there are the various biblical warnings specifically against these things at any rate. The New Testament has lots to say about storing up treasures on earth and seeking after money. These apparently good things are not warned against for nothing.
We all know instinctively anyway that too much of a good thing is a problem. Just think of “good” weather, for example. Good, in the eyes of many in the West, means pleasantly warm and sunny. But again, Israel knew only too well the problems associated with that sort of good weather all the time. What they were usually crying out for was rain.
By Bill Melone — 11 months ago
Christianity has been through many conflicts throughout the centuries, some of which have been far more challenging and destructive than the current debates about justice. Being in the midst of a conflict is very hard, but God has always brought his church through those conflicts. And reorienting ourselves to the more complex world we live in is an important step in that direction.
We live in a time of division, as many of us can wearily testify, but we also live in a time of disorientation. Navigating divisions can be challenging, but the challenge multiplies when we are disoriented, and that is a less recognized element of the times we live in.
That we are disoriented and not just divided is evidenced by the numerous and diverse attempts to frame the disagreements among American Christians. Kevin DeYoung’s framing points towards postures, tendencies and fears; Karen Swallow Prior finds helpful framing in the exposure of syncretism in Tara Isabella Burton’s Strange Rites; Voddie Baucham’s book is titled Faultlines, and identifies the problem as ideological; Timothy Dalrymple diagnoses three areas of fracturing: media, authority and information among communities; Michael Graham and Skylar Flowers frame the primary conflicts between Neo-Fundamentalists and Neo-Evangelicals, and between Mainstream Evangelicals and Post-Evangelicals; and denominationally speaking, Ross Douthat sees the liberal and conservative wings of Catholicism as misdiagnosing each other, while Trevin Wax says of problems facing the SBC, “Dig below the topics of debate and you’ll find different postures, competing visions, and broken trust.”
These attempts at framing are significant for how they indicate a heightened sense among American Christians that we are in a truly significant period of time for the Church in America. It also indicates that we are aware of a deeper root to our disagreements, but that we aren’t sure what that root is exactly. It’s a feeling that Brian Fikkert captures in the intro to his book, Becoming Whole:
Life feels unstable and uncertain, as if the foundations are shifting. But it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s changing, why it’s changing, and where it’s all heading. All we know is there’s a gnawing sense of anxiety that wasn’t there before.
That gnawing sense of anxiety comes from disorientation, and it’s important to find where that disorientation is coming from. We know the key issues: race, Trump, gender roles, gay marriage etc., but the attempts at framing are seeking something deeper, as well they should. For decades, we have imagined American spirituality in a simplistic, linear way, but the events of recent years have proven that framing to be outmoded and inadequate.
The Simplistic Linear Imagination of American Spirituality
Picturing various modes of thought along a spectrum can be a helpful way of organizing ideas within culture. It simplifies and organizes perspectives in a way that can be easily taught. Tim Keller – to use one example among many possible examples – uses a ‘Spectrum of Justice Theories’ to picture the different ways of understanding justice that are common in Western Culture.
It is common to imagine various strains of Christian belief in a similar linear way. The particular labels can differ, but the vision is essentially this: Fundamentalism is at one end of the spectrum, and unbelief is at the other, with evangelicals and Mainline/Liberal Christians in between:
This spectrum maps fairly directly onto Kevin DeYoung’s 4 Approaches to Race, Politics and Gender, and is a simpler version of Michael Graham’s 6 Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism, but what’s particularly important about the spectrum is not just that it is a common way of imagining American spirituality, but also that it informs what a friend of mine has called ‘Slippery Slope Discipleship.’ That is, to imagine a linear spectrum of Fundamentalism to Secularism is to imagine a spiritual world where some modes of belief are considered safe, and others are thought to be dangerous, slippery slopes that lead out of Christianity altogether.
Thaddeus Williams, in Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth speaks this way of Christians who embrace a particular type of social justice: “There is… a predictable pattern: one [secular] doctrine tends to lead to another, then another, until many Christians end up abandoning their faith” (p164).
Al Mohler also speaks this way in The Gathering Storm:
Liberal Protestantism and secularization have merged, creating a new and dangerous context for biblically committed Christians… because of secularization’s effect, liberal theology sometimes even infiltrates churches that think themselves to be committed to theological orthodoxy. Secularism has desensitized many people sitting in the pews of faithful, gospel-preaching churches, leading them to unwittingly hold even heretical doctrines.
This way of thinking is common among the Neo-Fundamentalist Evangelicals and the Mainstream Evangelicals (to use Michael Graham’s terminology) who are concerned about the Church drifting into and assimilating with secularism. And many Liberal Protestants would proudly see themselves as occupying a third way between the extremes of fundamentalism on one side and unbelief on the other. But the Fundamentalism-Secularism spectrum is failing as a way to understand American Christianity, and we need to understand why.
In one sense, it should not be surprising that a linear spectrum is failing as a way to frame anything today. A significant part of Charles Taylor’s analysis of secularism in A Secular Age was to describe our contemporary age as a supernova of options for belief. Taylor has outlined many of the reasons for this, but there are particular changes that in very recent years have catalyzed the shift to the supernova in American evangelicalism, and I would argue that these changes are responsible for much of our disorientation.
Conservative and Progressive Secularism
Two of these changes deserve extended attention, but it is necessary to preface them by briefly addressing one particular issue: the increasing utilization of non-Christian thinkers by Neo-Fundamentalists. Voddie Baucham, for example, in Faultlines, heavily utilizes the work of James Lindsay, and Thaddeus Williams utilizes Andrew Sullivan, Jordan Peterson, and especially Thomas Sowell (whom he calls “the second Saint Thomas”). Many other examples could be given.
The significance of this is that it disrupts the way that Mohler, Williams, and other Neo-Fundamentalists often speak of secularism, when, as quoted earlier, they describe secularism as if it was inherently aligned with progressive politics. With popular unbelieving conservatives like Ben Shapiro, James Lindsay, and Jordan Peterson, we must understand that secularism very much exists today in both left-leaning and right-leaning forms, such that if there is a ‘slippery slope’, it does not descend in only one direction. For any framing to be useful for understanding our divided times it must account for Neo-Fundamentalism being flanked by a conservative form of secularism. A slightly more accurate (but still flawed) version of the Fundamentalism-Secularism spectrum would distinguish between ‘Conservative Secularism’ (represented by Andrew Sullivan, Jordan Peterson, Thomas Sowell and others) and ‘Progressive Secularism’ (represented by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders and others) and might look like this:
With this clarification, we can consider the two significant disruptions to this spectrum. I would identify those two key changes as:
1) the on-going development of what could be called a ‘Second Fundamentalism’ (especially involving the topic of social justice)
2) the delegitimizing of evangelical moderacy by conflicts over racism and abuse (which plays out even more broadly through the conflict between emotional health and stoicism)
It’s important to consider each one of these changes, and then seek to re-form our imagination of how American spirituality is playing out.
The Proliferation of a ‘Second Fundamentalism’ with Theological Concerns
The Fundamentalism-Secularism imagination is being disrupted in large part through a new kind of fundamentalism which has proliferated among evangelicals oriented to justice, particularly those who would identify as Neo-Evangelical or Post-Evangelical in Michael Graham’s formulation. These concerns about justice are not simply social in nature, but they are also very much theological, and this means that this ‘Second Fundamentalism’ cannot be simply viewed as one step away from secularism and unbelief.
Using the term ‘fundamentalism’ in any identifier can sound like a back-handed way to mark advocates of justice with disparaging terminology, but it is precisely their similarity to the original fundamentalism of the early 1900s that is important for understanding how they disrupt the simplistic linear imagination.
Consider some well-known quotes of J. Gresham Machen, which I have lightly edited to show how much Christian advocates of social justice today sound like him (with substituted words in italics):
“It is impossible to be a true soldier of Jesus Christ and not fight for justice.”
“I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the gospel on the street corners and at the ends of earth, but neglects the children next door.”
“Christianity is not engrossed by this transitory America, but measures all things by the thought of love.”
“Patriotism is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the gospel.”
Or compare Machen’s rousing call to stand strong against opposition to the gospel to Beth Moore’s call to do the same in the face of White supremacy:
Let us not fear the opposition of men; every great movement in the Church from Paul down to modern times has been criticized on the ground that it promoted censoriousness and intolerance and disputing. Of course the gospel of Christ, in a world of sin and doubt will cause disputing; and if it does not cause disputing and arouse bitter opposition, that is a fairly sure sign that it is not being faithfully proclaimed.
If you’re gonna let a little name-calling keep you from standing up for what you believe according to the Word of God… you ain’t ready. White supremacy has held tight in much of the church for so long because the racists outlasted the anti racists. Outlast THEM.
They’re going to call you a Marxist, a liberal (their worst possible derision) & a leftist. They’re going to make fun of your “wokeness” & they’re going to say you’ve departed all faithfulness to the Scriptures. If you teach or preach, they’ll say you are a false teacher/prophet.
Just as Tom Holland has argued in Dominion that secularism is an expected and unsurprising product of Christianity, so we might also say that the Second Fundamentalism is an unsurprising way to follow the lead of Machen.
By Patrick Reilly — 6 months ago
On June 7, the school held its first-ever Pride Chapel event for its lower school, in which Grace Church Schools chaplain Rev. Mark Hummel began the service by sharing a few words on the importance of Pride. Students also learned about the history of the rainbow-colored Pride flag and sat through a reading of “Twas the Night Before Pride” with their parents.
Grace Church High School — a progressive independent Episcopal school in the East Village that charges over $59,000 for yearly tuition — invited renowned New York City drag queen Brita Filter to its sixth annual “Pride Chapel” event for a live performance on April 27.
The event was sponsored by the school and organized with the help of the students and faculty advisers in Spectrum — the high school’s LGBTQ+ support club.
Brita, whose real name is Jesse Havea, performed a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The artist then sat down with the school’s queer director of vocal music, Andrew Leonard, to answer students’ questions about drag performing, queerness and the importance of pride, according to the school.
Video posted on TikTok shows Filter entering the back of the church in full drag, dancing up the aisle in a short-cut orange and blue dress and matching go-go boots as students clapped and cheered him on from the pews.
“I literally went to church to teach the children today,” the performer wrote in the video caption. “A Catholic High School here in NYC invited me to their Pride Chapel. Visibility matters and I’m so honored to have had the chance to talk to you about my work as a LGBTQ+ Drag Queen Activist.”
In another clip of the performance posted to Instagram, Filter — who was a contestant on Season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — can be seen singing a rendition of the classic “The Wizard of Oz” tune, dancing up and down the aisle and up to the altar while students stood and watched.
“Who said you can’t have a drag queen at church? Would you go to this service?” Filter wrote in the post, adding it was a great experience to hear “the beautiful brave queer stories and songs from your students and faculty.”
“I will never forget this beautiful moment,” the performer concluded.