Jehoshaphat was one who was able to fully appreciate the victory of salvation. God responded to the king of Judah and obliterated the enemy army without a single soldier in the Judean army having to lift a finger. And it is the same for us. In the battle against Satan and sin, the only thing required of us is to trust that God will get the job done and to give him all the glory when the victory is won. That sounds pretty straightforward, but, as we also learn from the life of Jehoshaphat, it is often a lesson we learn slowly, and often have to re-learn.
King Jehoshaphat was a mixed bag. At times he displayed godly wisdom and a clear-sighted vision of what God requires of the king of His chosen people. At other times he lapsed into human folly and sought to make Judah strong through ill-advised alliances. However, in the Chronicler’s account of Jehoshaphat’s “battle” against Moab and Ammon, we see in this mixed-bag king one of the most clear and memorable confessions of dependence on the Lord.
A messenger had come to come to Jehoshaphat with bad news: an vast enemy army was fast approaching and Jerusalem and all of Judah would soon be under attack. How we respond to bad news says a lot about the condition of our heart and the firmness of our faith. It is easy to panic when things suddenly spin out of control and we realize we are face-to-face with something that threatens our comfort, joy, or even existence.
But those who understand and believe in the sovereignty of God are not shaken – they respond like King Jehoshaphat. They seek out God, they humble themselves, and they pray. Above all, they remember, as Jehoshaphat did, the promises of God and they believe that God will do as he says.
God had promised the land of Canaan to Israel and he had promised to step in and take action when his people cried out to him. A vast army of allied-kings wasn’t going to derail God’s promise. Jehoshaphat knew that and so he threw himself at the feet of Almighty God and confessed his complete dependence and utter incapability to deal with the bad-news army knocking at his door.
For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
2 CHRONICLES 20:12
That is a beautiful confession of faith, and one we can take upon our own lips as well.
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By Tim Berglund — 11 months ago
My family occasionally attended a local Nazarene church, and it was at their Vacation Bible School in 1980 that I first responded to the Gospel and committed my young heart to Jesus. But our participation in the life of the church was uneven, and I did not grow up in the conventionally Christian home that my own children would come to know decades later.
You’re getting to know some new Christian friends at a small group you just started attending. People are trading testimonies of how they came to faith. The next guy’s up, and he starts with, “I was raised in a Christian home.” Well, now you know it’s gonna get good. The false starts, the flimsy profession in adolescence, the hypocritical teen years filled with make-out sessions and secular music, the slide into the organized crime underworld by age 22, repentance and true faith at 27 to the tearful strains of Love Comes True—it’s all going to be there.
Well, that’s not me. Growing up, my mother was a believer—I think she was converted when I was a preschooler—and my dad took some years of his early adulthood to come to terms with the reality that the faithful Lutheranism of his upbringing was not his own. My family occasionally attended a local Nazarene church, and it was at their Vacation Bible School in 1980 that I first responded to the Gospel and committed my young heart to Jesus. But our participation in the life of the church was uneven, and I did not grow up in the conventionally Christian home that my own children would come to know decades later.
That little boy responded to his new faith by wanting to read his Bible, which was regrettably a verse-per-paragraph King James edition. Mom encouraged me in my faith, discipling me into the moderately fundamentalist Dispensationalism that, in the early 80s, had not yet begun its eventual decline. I recall enthusiastically reading Hal Lindsey and Salem Kirban and unironically consuming Chick Tracts. But tell me when God has ever been pleased not to allow his church to be, in some parts, a gloriously redeemed tire fire.
My family didn’t hold together. Substance abuse, mental illness, and a crumbling marriage culminated in my parents getting divorced in 1990—and me getting married that same year. My new wife and I promptly left our homes in Colorado and moved to Central Florida for college and a new life together away from our difficult families of origin. Church had not been a meaningful part of our lives in our teen years, and was also absent from the first year of our marriage. On a random August day in 1991, my wife pointed out a Nazarene church right next to the university, and said, “Wasn’t that the kind of church your family used to go to? We should visit there.”
We did. She was converted several weeks later, and my faith, which had been asleep, slowly woke back up over the coming months. We were loved and discipled by the healthy, caring brothers and sisters there—some of whom remain friends 30 years later. I discovered I had a mind for theology, and tried to understand what everyone meant by “Wesleyan Arminianism” and why this “Calvinism” thing I heard about was so bad. “Calvinism” was a system affirmed by “Baptists,” whose primary tenet was the pernicious “Once Saved, Always Saved” doctrine that could never possibly lead to holy living.
We attended the “College and Career” Sunday School class taught by a member of the church board who was around my father’s age. He and his wife took an interest in us and invested in us, as committed middle-aged folks tend to do with young couples in the church.
By John D. Wilsey — 12 months ago
Written by John D. Wilsey |
Tuesday, February 22, 2022
Du Mez’s work reads less as history and more as ideology, and an ideology with little in the way of faith, hope, or charity. All we have before us as we reach the end of the book is a cliff edge, with no path forward to forgiveness and reconciliation. There is no apparent hope. But hope is central to a Christian historical method.
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez (New York: Liveright, 2020), 386 pages, $18.95 (Hardback).
As I begin, please indulge me as I make a few personal prefatory remarks. I have reviewed dozens of books in my professional life, but this review will be different. Consider this review a cri de coeur over a book written as a cri de coeur. I am deeply invested in more than one element of Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne. For one, I know Professor Du Mez professionally and I have a deep and abiding respect and admiration for her. I also am a white, conservative evangelical Christian, so I read the pages of this book with the realization that my people are the subject of this book (although I do question how valid the way DuMez normativizes the concept of “white evangelical” is). And lastly, I am a Christian historian myself, and am constantly thinking about how to be a worthy student and teacher of history, as well as a creditable teller of past stories for present audiences. In short, I do not read Du Mez’s book from the standpoint of total objectivity, nor do I approach her subject matter as a set of pure abstractions in which I have no part.
Furthermore, I bring my own experiences as an evangelical to the narrative that Du Mez has produced in her book. I was not born into an evangelical family. In fact, I am the first evangelical Christian in my family’s history, as far as I know. I was raised in a family of mainline Presbyterians and Episcopalians, and did not go to church except on holidays during my childhood and teenage years. I came to Christ after I went to college, and initially joined a Southern Baptist church because the person who led me to Christ was a Southern Baptist. Thus, the history of evangelicalism in the 1970s and 1980s was a history I learned about in books, and had no direct experience thereof.
Still, since coming to Christ in 1988, I have partaken in the recent history of evangelicalism. I have studied it, but I have also witnessed it unfold as a seminary student, as a member of a pastoral staff in a Southern Baptist church, as a Christian school teacher, as a seminary professor, and as a husband and father. Predominately white conservative evangelicals, of the Southern Baptist kind, are my people. My wife and I homeschool our children—we often laugh at ourselves as “weird homeschoolers.” I have a profound love for evangelicals and a loyalty to them based in personal identity, but also in thirty years of full-time service to them and alongside them. Still, I am not blind to their flaws, and I am not their unconditional defender. White conservative evangelicals are what they are for a host of reasons. They have a complex history, and their story is a story that is thrilling, fascinating, heartbreaking, and everything in between.
Du Mez has given us a history of evangelicalism going back to the early twentieth century. Her history is troubling. She lives and teaches in Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the most significant centers of evangelicalism in America, and her book reads as an anguished and prophetic cry of the heart to her own people. I would guess that my own awareness of a personal stake in this history is multiplied exponentially for Du Mez, who, I suspect, claims white evangelical Christians as her own people, too.
Du Mez’s overall argument is that white, conservative, evangelical Christians in America since the early twentieth century have been at least as influenced by culture as they have by theology. For her, John Wayne serves as a paradigmatic figure illustrating this enduring dynamic. A militant, masculine, Ameri-centric ethos, inspired by mythical and gendered ideals of American exceptionalism, white supremacy, the nuclear family, and law and order came to define white evangelicalism from Theodore Roosevelt (d. 1919) to Donald Trump. Combined with this ethos, evangelicals adopted and cultivated a continuous attitude of embattlement and a sense of suffering persecution. What resulted time and again in the world of evangelicalism was the calculated production of a cosmic conflict between light and darkness, between purity and threats to purity—with evangelicals always being on the side of righteousness, and any opponents being on the side of wickedness. Evangelicals cast themselves on the side of America, and so by extension their detractors were either in league with, or were even themselves, enemies of America. The effect has been that conservative white evangelicals have consistently and increasingly betrayed the faith that they purportedly claimed by embracing anti-Christian standards such as oppressive patriarchy, racism, nationalism, and militarism, both explicitly and implicitly. In Du Mez’s words, “Like [John] Wayne, the heroes who best embodied militant Christian masculinity were those unencumbered by traditional Christian virtues. . . . For many evangelicals, these militant heroes would come to define not only Christian manhood but Christianity itself” (11).
Du Mez bases her thesis on a narrative that begins with Theodore Roosevelt’s move to become a cattle rancher in Dakota Territory in 1884 and ends in the middle of the Trump Administration with its correspondent reckonings among evangelicals with the consequences of #MeToo and #ChurchToo. She unweaves an ugly tapestry of evangelical complicity in the creation of “Christian nationalism” (a conflicted term at present), disregard for the plight of African Americans, uncritical glorification of war (especially in Vietnam and the War on Terror), creation of a unique subjugating sexism that resulted in widespread trauma, celebration of abuse of power in church and secular contexts (e.g. Bill Gothard and Oliver North), and tears over perceived threats to religious freedom. Du Mez concludes her book by arguing that evangelicals created a culture that culminated in the rise of Donald Trump. While she acknowledges that such a culmination was not inevitable, the inescapable, logical end point of her history is Trump’s election to the presidency, in which he rode a wave of immensely enthusiastic support from a broad evangelical base.
Any honest appraisal of a book like this must reckon with the ugly details of the narrative. At times, I was embarrassed. At other times, I was angered. Frequently, I felt defensive—and I admit, at times I wanted to find ways to argue that she was objectively wrong. And of course, many of my reactions were defined by simple sadness and regret.
Abuse is an enduring theme of this book. I was never a victim of sexual abuse, but I did suffer physical and verbal abuse as a child and as a teenager. It took me years to realize that the things that happened to me in my youth were not my fault, that they were not normal, and that forgiveness did not mean that I had to maintain relationships with people who abused me, as if nothing had happened. As a historian who studies the history of the intersection between nationalism and theology in the context of war, diplomacy, and political thought—and as a person with painful memories of abuse, who recognizes that abuse is deep and widespread in our communities—Du Mez’s book is often compelling. To say that this book is important, that it should be widely read, that it should be taken seriously, is obvious.
It is a supreme tragedy that American evangelicals have, for generations, replaced the authority of Scripture with that of what I have spent years characterizing as our own “evangelical magisterium.” This magisterium is religiously and culturally authoritative, and often even compels Scripture to submit to it. It consists of three dynamics: pragmatism, experience, and sentimentality. Du Mez is at her best when she demonstrates how these dynamics have played out in various historical contexts, especially from the early years of the Cold War through to Trump’s presidency. The results of the application of this evangelical magisterium are tragic, and Du Mez narrates those tragedies on every page of her book. For example, evangelicals have been, in significant ways, excessively interested in political power. But political power is fleeting and usually comes with a cost not worth paying. Alexis de Tocqueville, writing the first volume of Democracy in America in 1835, foresaw the results of an overly-politicized religion. In de Tocqueville’s estimation, when church and state remain separate, religion can remain in a state of splendid isolation from political squabbling. In such a state of affairs, church leaders can enjoy the respect of the whole populace, regardless of political or religious conviction. But when church leaders begin to engage in political maneuvering, the Christian faith becomes ensnared in politics and gets associated with the factions in which religious leaders bring the church into alignment. Religion, Tocqueville said, “does not need [political powers’] assistance to live, and in serving them it can die.” We are seeing this occur before our very eyes today.
By Kyle Claunch — 1 month ago
Because the Advent season is upon us, it is particularly fitting to focus on the fact that the Holy Spirit glorified Christ by bringing to completion the miracle of the incarnation. When the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is going to conceive in her womb and bear the promised Messiah, she wonders how this can possibly come about since she is a virgin (Luke 1:34). The angel tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
This advent season, should Christians focus less on Jesus and more on the Holy Spirit? Do we emphasize Jesus so much that we sometimes neglect the Holy Spirit? After all, we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christ-mas and the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. We refer to the gospel of our salvation as the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we refer to our Bible and our sermons from the Bible as Christocentric. Even the name of this website is “Christ Over All.”
Too Christocentric? What About the Spirit?
According to one common narrative, Western Christianity has seen a revival of pneumatology in the last century. The Holy Spirit, so the narrative goes, was neglected in Christian worship and theology from the days of the early church until the Pentecostal renewal movements of the early twentieth century. Since that time, however, the Holy Spirit seems to be center stage in much contemporary Christian worship and theological reflection. It is common to see this historical narrative framed by the metaphor of the classic fairytale of Cinderella. Overlooked, neglected, and long uninvited, Cinderella finally showed up to the ball and stole the show. A well-worn explanation for this so-called neglect of the Cinderella Spirit is the church’s overemphasis on the person of Christ.
A survey of this so-called revival of pneumatology will reveal that the new emphasis on the Holy Spirit has often resulted in new theological commitments. These commitments are not fresh articulations of the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) but departures from it. Pneumatology has been the doorway for declaring that people of non-Christian faith traditions can be saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Others have posited pneumatology as the way to know the feminine side of God, a kind of balance to the masculine names of the Father and the Son. Still others have seen the ongoing work of the Spirit to be a kind of liberating of the people of God from the strictures of the cultural ethos that dominated the human authors of Scripture.
Thus, for some, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, emphasis on holy, bears unholy fruit (see Gal. 5:22–23). Rather, such pneumatology becomes the theological justification for a sexual ethic that celebrates gay, lesbian, transgender, and polyamorous sexual expression. If a tree is known by its fruit, the tree on which much contemporary pneumatology grows has a bad root—Satan masquerading as an angel of light rather than the Holy Spirit manifesting his presence and power (2 Cor. 11:14).
So, I ask again, do we run the risk of neglecting the Holy Spirit because of our worshipful obsession with the person of Christ? To borrow the Apostle Paul’s favorite negation, “May it never be!” The problem in our lives, our churches, and our society is not that we focus on the Lord Jesus too much but that we focus on him too little. In fact, if our doctrine of the Holy Spirit is regulated by holy Scripture (which the Holy Spirit inspired) rather than by the imaginations of men, we will see that the individuals, churches, and traditions most in step with the Holy Spirit are those who emphasize Christ most! The reason for this is straightforward. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes… he will glorify me” (John 16:13).