Doing Justice and the Gospel, Part 4: Applications

[This is the last of a four-part series on doing justice and the gospel. See parts 1-3 for context here and here and here.]

Application of Justice and Injustice

  • It is unjust to allow some people to break a just law because of their status, whether politicians or immigrants, celebrities, juveniles, or disgruntled citizens.
  • It is unjust to withhold information or tell only part of a story to manipulate the public, as the media often does, or to escape just punishment as public figures often do.
  • It is unjust to circumvent due process or the rule of law because we are outraged at a wrong.
  • It is unjust to convict an innocent person because we want someone to pay for wrongdoing.
  • It is unjust to forcibly take taxpayers’ $ for immoral purposes such as abortion, abortifacients, and sexually immoral causes.
  • It is unjust to include sexual perversion as a human rights issue alongside genuine human rights issues such as racism, persecution, genocide, FGM, human trafficking, etc.
  • It is unjust to bind the hands of law enforcement and then complain that they don’t do enough.
  • It is unjust to ask law enforcement to risk their lives, witness unspeakable horrors on a regular basis, deal with the most wicked, evil, dangerous people, endure constant harassment, hatred, and scrutiny, and then provide them with little mental health counseling and minimal pay, all the while expecting them to always make the right decision in split-second, life-or-death situations that will be scrutinized by millions within seconds of the event.
  • It is unjust to not hold law enforcement to a high standard of integrity, behavior and speech regarding treatment of those they encounter.
  • It is unjust to judge all cases of police discharging their weapons as police brutality before all the facts have been revealed.
  • It is unjust to tolerate corruption in our police, or attorneys, or politicians and to fail to prosecute them when they break the law.
  • It is unjust for men to sexually harass women, to pressure them, to make comments about their bodies, to touch them in an unwanted way, to use sexual innuendos, to intimidate them, or intentionally make them feel unsafe, vulnerable, belittled, demeaned, or objectified.
  • It is unjust for women to do any of the same to men.
  • It is unjust to place artificial standards on a woman who has experienced sexual abuse before she is believed, such as “she should have reported it right away,” she should have stopped it somehow, she should remember all the details of this traumatic event in which she thought she would die, etc.
  • It is unjust to allow our inclination to believe those who report abuse to drift into automatic conviction of the accused on the spot without due process.
  • It is unjust for us to see injustice and fail to speak up about it. God calls us to courage and a prophetic voice in this world.

All this goes to show that JUSTICE IS DIFFICULT AND COMPLEX, because we are not God, who knows all things and who judges impartially. We should continue to pray and advocate for justice whenever we hear of injustices.

Doing Justice and the Gospel, Part 3: Principles to Guide Our Practice of Justice

[This is the third of a four-part series on doing justice and how it relates to the gospel. See the first and second parts here and here.]

church diversity 2

Principles for doing justice and the gospel:

  1. Hermeneutically, we must make distinctions between the combined political/religious institution of OT Israel and the Church today as a counter-cultural entity in a secular nation. The church is given to make disciples, which includes personal transformation leading to social transformation, but the church has not been given the task of cultural transformation apart from the gospel.
  2. Social justice, as the world proclaims it, can divide us from one another by setting types of people against one another, destroying our unity in Adam as fallen, and our unity in Christ as redeemed, where there are to be no more distinctions. In the church, masters stood next to slaves, Jews next to Barbarians, men next to women. At this foundational level, hatred and separation were transformed by their unity in Christ. Identity politics will necessarily continue to fragment until there is no shared experience at all. Feminist v Womanist thought. Feminist v. Transgenders
  3. The gospel frees us from false guilt, such as “You are guilty because you are white, or male, or middle-class, or educated, or tall.” It also frees us from false gospels, which say that you can never escape your guilt, or that you must denounce yourself and make unspecified reparations to make atonement. The gospel does not call us to conviction about who we are or how God made us, but for words, thoughts, and deeds that are clear and specific violations of his commands. The gospel says I am guilty because I have sinned against God and I can be forgiven because Jesus, the just one, was punished on my behalf. If God convicts you of a specific act of injustice, then repent and God will graciously forgive you.
  4. The implication of the gospel is that in my personal life I should be the Good Samaritan who sacrifices significantly and materiallyto help others in need when my life intersects theirs. I should seek out those in need around the world and do what I can individually and as part of the community of the church to do justice and love mercy. This will look somewhat different for each person and church. Exodus 23:4–5 reminds us of our responsibility to love our neighbor: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates youlying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.
  5. Addressing matters of injustice is a powerful means to demonstrate the love of Christ and open doors for the gospel. Churches in America that ignore injustice cut themselves off from reaching their communities! Doing good is mentioned 12 times in 1 Peter as a way to deal with suffering in a hostile culture. One way wealthy, suburban churches can do justice is to support churches in the inner city who are faithfully reaching their communities.
  6. The goal of doing justice is to glorify God by bringing Shalom to people’s lives. As a former pastor in an urban church, I witnessed firsthand the way the gospel transformed, individuals, then families, and even neighborhoods. When God transforms hearts and changes families, communities are blessed as a result. The church is supposed to be a foretaste of the justice, mercy, love, compassion, truth, and care we will experience when Christ returns.
  7. When justice cannot be obtained, Christians must have a robust theology of suffering to be able to live triumphantly (1 Peter). We are called to follow the example of Jesus who suffered the greatest injustice, and yet did not revile his persecutors. If justice cannot be obtained, there is the reassurance that God will eventually bring justice (2 Thess. 1:5-7; Rom. 12:19). We are called to dojustice, but not to bringjustice—only God can do that. Our hope should not be in fixing the world, but in the return of Christ, who will restore all things. God will justly judge every person at the end of time. To do away with Hell, for example is to remove the reassurance of final judgment on the wicked.
  8. Social Justice, as is practiced by those who reject Christ, is almost completely devoid of New Testament Christianity, and has the power to distort the gospel from a deliverance from the guilt of sin through repentance in Christ, to a deliverance from guilt for mere existence through activism. It reduces Christianity to an ethic of ambiguous love, where Jesus is merely incidental. American Christianity walked this path 100 years ago, and it proved impotent and disastrous.

In the final post of this series, I will make some specific statements about injustice in our country and our world today.

Doing Justice and the Gospel, Part 2: Justice According to Leviticus 19

exploitation

[This is the second of a four-part series on doing justice and how it relates to the gospel. See the first part here .]

The laws that God lays down in Leviticus contribute to the overall picture of justice in the Bible. Let’s take a look at one passage that is rich in instruction about doing justice. There are many passages in the Bible that address justice, but Leviticus 19 touches on a number of concepts related to justice that are especially pertinent to doing justice in our world today.

One thing to notice about Leviticus 19 is that it is set in the context of commands forbidding Israel from walking in the customs of Canaan or do as the Canaanites do (18:3, 30 and 20:23). In other words, Israel was not to take its cues regarding justice from the surrounding culture. So, while we may be made aware of social ills and injustices by unbelievers, we will not be able to agree fully on the interpretation, causes, and solution for the problems. The unbeliever’s solution will not contain the gospel, and so will be only partial at best and destructive at worst.

The commands for justice and mercy in this passage are also set in the context of the repeated phrase, “I am the LORD.” Sixteen times this phrase is included to remind readers that the ultimate authority in matters of justice is God. Justice is done by God’s people for Him and according to his revealed directions. Justice is an act of worship to God, just as injustice is an act of rebellion and rejection of God’s authority.

I will focus on five principles of justice in this text, even though there are others. First, justice includes material concern for the indigent (v. 9-10). The poor referenced here were landless people and so had no means of survival apart from the mercy of others. They were not people who refused to work and just wanted a check in the mail. When we talk about issues of justice related to poverty, we must define who are the vulnerable poor.

In the United States in 2015 about 6% of the population had an income-to-poverty ratio that put them in the category of extreme poverty, which is a combination of inadequate food, clothing, and shelter, little or no healthcare, and inadequate education for children. Another 7% were moderately poor, with only slightly better conditions. This amounts to around 42 million Americans who live on less than $17.00 per day. When we look globally, approximately one billion people live on $1.00 per day, and another one billion live on $2.00 per day.

God’s heart for the truly poor is evident in his instructions not to harvest all the produce in their fields or vineyards to give the poor an opportunity to survive. But this act of charity was not a do-nothing handout. The indigent had to work to obtain these resources. They had to go to the fields and vineyards and harvest the remaining food. God does not diminish the created order of work for people in need. Because work brings dignity and fulfills the Creation Mandate to cultivate and subdue the earth, it is a positive and productive requirement for the needy to do what they can for themselves when receiving charity. If a poor person does not like the kind of work required to receive charity, he may be motivated to seek greater opportunities to provide a better life for himself. “The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on” (Prov. 16:26 NIV).

Second, justice requires complete, absolute honesty in every dealing (v. 11-12). Stealing, cheating, and lying were all forbidden. That means that deception, exaggeration, or misrepresentation should not be tolerated in a just society. This is especially true, because those who are weak (socially, economically, and educationally) are the most hurt by dishonesty, as they often have no recourse. Complete honesty benefits everyone, except the deceptive person. All these sins are rooted in greed—they get a person some benefit in an improper way, often by defrauding them. As a teenager I worked for my father who was a stone mason. I remember the fury I felt when we finished a job that took us months, and the homeowner refused to pay the last half of the bill simply because he knew my father couldn’t afford a lawyer to sue for the money. It was nothing more than theft and fraud, and God warns wealthy employers not to withhold the pay of their employees for any reason (James 5:1-6). Such an action is abhorrent to God, and he will exact justice from the wicked.

Another injustice mentioned here is swearing falsely on God’s name (taking God’s name in vain), God is clear that he will not consider a person who takes his name in vain to be innocent (Exod. 20:7). These laws equally applied to government officials, employers, civic and religious leaders, as well as employees, students, immigrants, and citizens.

Third, justice refuses to take advantage of others (v. 13-14). Exploitation, extortion, bullying, manipulation, oppression, and blackmail of any kind are forbidden. Most of us may not consider ourselves to be in a position to do these things to anyone, but there are applications of this principle that are more common. Tormenting, mocking, belittling, and name-calling reveal a cruel heart that does not fear God, and thinks that no one sees or will help. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian and later Prime Minister of the Netherlands, promoted a robust view of justice when he defined a just society as one that pursues for others security from drastic imbalances of power in their basic relations. Again this is important because the weak are most often exploited in an unjust society. Proverbs 23:10–11 reminds us, “Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless, for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.”

Fourth, justice includes judging everyone by the same standard (v. 15-16, 35-36). This is true regardless of their economic, ethnic, educational, gender, or national stations in life. We should never let a person’s social or economic position influence a decision, whether in personal dealings, or in the legal system. No favoritism or partiality is allowed. Further, I should see anyone accused of wrongdoing as a neighbor, not as an enemy. Justice is rooted in love for neighbor, even if the just penalty for his wrongdoing is severe.

Finally, justice requires loving your neighbor as yourself (v. 17-18, 33-34). Hatred of anyone because they are male or female, black, white, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, Native American, rich or poor, educated or not, older or younger, American or foreigner, law-keeper or law-breaker, etc. is forbidden. So is ill-treatment of vulnerable people in society.

Embracing and empowering those who are truly in need and truly vulnerable reflects biblical justice and compassion. Defending those who are harmed by those more powerful is a just act to perform. And there is no greater injustice in society than abortion.

In the next post We will look at 8 principles derived from the biblical teaching on doing justice related to life in the 21st century.

Doing Justice and the Gospel

cup cold water

The question of the role of social justice and the church is one of the hottest topics of the day among Christians. Recently I had 30 minutes to address the issue in chapel at Lancaster Bible College. In the next four blog posts I will unpack my chapel talk.

Preliminary Statements:

  1. No one can escape their bias regarding these issues, so it is impossible to be neutral. Neutrality implies that I can set aside my personal feelings or experiences. It is, however, possible to be objective. I acknowledge my personal bias and you should too. And anyone you hear, or read, or watch should also acknowledge their bias. Everyone’s desire when addressing a topic as important as this one ought to be objectivity. What I say here today represents my best attempt to address the massive and complex issue of justice like a pizza delivery—in 30 minutes or less. Therefore, the views I express are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the Bible and Theology faculty or Lancaster Bible College.
  2. What God reveals in the Scriptures ought to be for Christians authoritative and definitive for understanding any issue. If we do not have an unchanging and objective foundation for our thought, we can ultimately have no shared meanings or experiences, and what we call evil and unjust today could be considered good and normal next week.
  3. Right and wrong, justice and injustice, are not determined by what I or anyone else perceive to be the quantity of harm done by an action, but rather are determined by God, who has revealed his character and commands, primarily in the Bible. We should not judge ourselves according to how the world evaluates us, but how God evaluates us. The world will often hate Christians and slander us regardless of what we do.
  4. We need to define our terms:
    • Biblical justice is the faithful exercise of power in the community, doing the right thing in relation to other people. This ties justice to mercy and compassion (Rom. 13:8—owe no one anything except love). Justice means treating people equitably, acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of ethnic, economic, gender, or social status. Justice also means giving people what they are due, whether punishment, or protection, or care.
    • Righteousness denotes virtue, uprightness, moral rectitude—godly character. This message today is primarily about doing justice, rather than “social justice,” which is a nebulous term.
    • When referring to social justice, I will use the definition of Innosanto Nagara, an Indonesian intellectual, author of the children’s book, “A is for Activism,” and founder of the Design Action Collective in Oakland, CA. He writes that “Social Justice Work is work that we do in the interest of securing human rights, an equitable distribution of resources, a healthy planet, democracy, and a space for the human spirit to thrive (arts, culture, entertainment).” While we can sympathize with some of these commitments, they do not correspond to biblical concepts of justice and righteousness. The danger of the gospel of Christ being reduced to a social gospel is a real danger. It happens all the time.
    • More specifically, the U.N. defines social justice as “the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” Social justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.
    • Michael Novak’s book, Social Justice Is Not What You Think It Is, notes that Social Justice typically refers to: state redistribution of wealth, equality of outcomes, and a collectivist notion of the common good, which becomes an excuse for total state control.
  5. The fundamental reason for injustice in our world is human depravity.
    • Systemic depravity where corrupt governments use power to enrich themselves or treat people unfairly based on any number of factors.
    • Institutional depravity where corruption, greed, discrimination, and exploitation are protected to advance the institution or cultivate a biased ideology.
    • Individual depravity is the source of the other forms of depravity, and is the primary reason for broken families, poverty, violence, ignorance, hatred, greed, etc.
    • The Christian understanding of depravity prevents us from believing what I call the “magic of socialism”—the belief that when individuals act on behalf of the government, they magically become honest and wise, so they can redistribute the wealth of others without greed and corruption.
  6. Many of the concerns expressed under the name of social justice can be shared by Christians who are seeking to love their neighbors as themselves, but too often the interpretation and solution for those concerns are antithetical to the Christian gospel. Therefore, as Christians we cannot naively join with those who oppose the tenets of our faith, if doing so requires our endorsement of unjust and immoral solutions. Proponents are often seeking to establish a social order with no reference to the one true God.
    • For example, “intersectionality” refers to the compounding of experiences that can render some people significantly more vulnerable in society than others. A good example are the Greek widows in Acts 6, who were not only vulnerable because they were widows, but in the early church were overlooked in the care of widows because culturally they were outsiders, compared to the Hebrew widows. The church’s response was to appoint six deacons like them (with Greek names) to make sure they were cared for. Empathy for their situation resulted in a remedy that appropriately corrected the vulnerability. But when the ideology of intersectionality turned toward Freud and the reduction of humanity to feelings, concepts like “dignitary harm” arose, and the concept was corrupted (Rosaria Butterfield, “Gay Rights, Hate Speech, and Hospitality” .
    • The #MeToo movement has rightly exposed sexual harassers and predators, and what has happened so far may just be the tip of the iceberg. My guess is that the vast majority of women have been the recipients of inappropriate statements, physical contact, and more. Yet, the broader culture seems to take no responsibility for the rejection of God’s standards of sexuality 50 years ago that set the stage for widespread exploitation of women. #MeToo can be misused to summarily convict anyone against whom an accusation is made.
    • The concept of “privilege” is indisputable if we take it to mean that in certain circumstances or locations, some people are free from fear, while others are at a disadvantage or in potential danger. The solution, however, is not to heap guilt and blame for society’s ills on people perceived to be privileged. Nor is it to silence anyone who is perceived to be privileged, because they have allegedly “had their turn” or can’t possible speak into a situation they have not experienced. The biblical answer is for people who have “privilege” in any given situation to use their advantage or strength in the service of others. Moses, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, and Paul all had privilege and used it when appropriate.
  7. It is easy to get focused on American issues, when global issues of justice are significantly greater. When we consider the global scene it significantly reshapes our ideas of where the greatest injustices lay.  Human trafficking, corrupt governments, lack of basic healthcare, education, clean water, and food is widespread.
  8. The fruit of the gospel is not the gospel. The implications of the gospel are not the gospel. “Preaching Christ crucified will transform society. Preaching transformed society will transform nothing” (Douglas Wilson, “American Vision and the Word that Justified”). Do you care deeply about justice? Which issues? Only the culturally acceptable issues such as racism, the environment and child labor, or also the unacceptable issues, too, like abortion and pornography? Do you care as much about the message of the gospel and the saving of souls as you do social issues? It is easier to march and demonstrate and protest than it is to tell someone they are lost and need Jesus. Mark 8:36—”For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

In Part 2 we will look at Leviticus 19 to see what it says about justice, and how it can challenge us about our part in doing justice.

Acceptance of LGBT Increasingly a Requirement to Participate in Any Aspect of Society and Academia

kruger-photo-2015Michael Kruger, a world-class scholar on the New Testament and the canon of Scripture, brings to our attention the decision by the Society of Biblical Literature to disallow the Christian publisher, InterVarsity Press, from displaying their books at the annual meeting in November in San Antonio, TX. This includes Kruger’s excellent books on the canon. The reason? IVP decided to maintain their policy of upholding their employees to maintain a biblical view of marriage.

The SBL membership is a mixture of Christian and non-Christian scholars who study the biblical text at the highest academic levels. While there is strong disagreement over interpretation of Scripture, the two sides in the SBL have generally coexisted, even as the number of evangelical scholars has grown through the years. This move can be interpreted as nothing but an attempt to exclude traditional Christian belief regarding sexuality from even being discussed.

This is well worth the read to understand the growing intolerance of the “tolerance” warriors of the “intellectual left.”

Children Are the Ultimate Victims of Identity and Gender Politics

kid-confused
I Don’t Know

“What’s going on in a world where, when children are married off as brides, conscripted as soldiers or forced to work in sweatshops, we rise in condemnation. Yet those who beat their breasts about such violations of human dignity advocate as rights unrestricted access to abortion, physician assisted suicide and gender-reassignment surgery? What’s going on? Confusion. We are reaping the harvest of a generation’s long societal worship of the idol of personal autonomy.”

When children as young as three years old are given the choice of their gender, and subsequently undergo surgery to mutilate their genitals, we have truly descended into cultural madness. See the full article here: The Age of Consent in a New Age.

The Failure of Philosophy and the SCOTUS Decision

nietzscheI was reading an interview with seven philosophers about the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, and in none of their short essays, save one, did the philosophers who responded actually apply any serious philosophy. Their answers are mostly opinion pieces lauding justice and dignity, with no attempt to define those terms philosophically, or to justify their importance. As K. Scott Oliphint says, Philosophy is largely well-articulated unbelief.

Only one philosopher, Cheshire Calhoun of Arizona State University, asks the right question. She notices that Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion, referred several times to the “transcendent purpose of marriage.” As a non-Christian Calhoun questions where Kennedy gets the notion of the transcendent, and why that notion should be binding. The transcendent smacks of religion, and that cannot be tolerated, so she suggests that we do away with the concept and the vocabulary.

If any law is based on a concept of transcendence, there is a danger that transcendence may interfere with the next sexual taboo to fall, be it polygamy, incest, etc. Best to drop the language of transcendence, she advises, because it legitimizes marriage too much, and it’s high time we stopped considering marriage to be anything more than a misguided relic of the hateful past.

Calhoun is right about one thing. If there is a transcendent to which we can appeal, we are all in deep trouble. That transcendent may demand of us things we don’t want to do. It may hold the specter of future judgment. Like many of her philosophical peers, Calhoun is eager to jettison the notion. Also like many of her peers, she forgets the prescient words of one of her own comrades in the philosophical guild, albeit of a different century.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s parable of the madman confronts the hubris of those who discard the divine. He knew that ridding ourselves of the transcendent did not bring bondage, but a loss of the foundations of society, dignity, and rationality.

“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

What Calhoun celebrates, the idolization of desire, will not only be the destruction of her trade, philosophy, but civilization as a whole, the very thing she thinks has been saved by SCOTUS’s decision. If desire reigns, there is no need for philosophy, because each one’s own peccadillos are all that matters. Philosophy’s task is rendered irrelevant. There is no more room for the questions of universal good and justice. Such questions themselves become as oppressive as a transcendent idea of marriage.

The concept of civilization, too, will have to be redefined or discarded, once the most deviant in society realize that the holy grail of hedonism, consent, is nothing more than a preference. If there is no transcendent, there can be no argument that consent should be the guiding ethic of sexual expression. Once consent is lost, it’s a quick fall to chaos and destruction.

Bible believers know what happens when everyone does what is right in his own eyes. The biblical book of Joshua recounts the horrors of life without restraint. As one Puritan divine prayed, “O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creaturely power and goodness, when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incarnate. This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.”

While those in favor of the SCOTUS decision praise it for its grant of justice and dignity, they pull the rug out from their own feet. Do away with the transcendent God, and terms like mercy and justice become meaningless. Only by beginning with the triune God of Scripture can the genuine dignity and justice in the world be possible.

Understanding the Differences Between the Expansion of Christianity and Islam

Nineteenth-century Christian missions exploded across the globe with the general expectation that the gospel would penetrate the whole world, and that the evangelism of the world would conceivably be completed within a century or so. That sense of optimism is not so prevalent today, probably in part because of the decline of Christianity in parts of the world that were at one time the fountainhead of Christian faith. A review of the past century reveals that regions in which Christianity had at one time taken root have not always remained Christian for long (think Europe). In contrast, Islam’s progress has tended to be more stable, rarely giving up territory once it has been claimed.

In his book, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (T&T Clark, 2002), Scottish historian Andrew Walls explains the difference between the expansions of the two major religions:

Islam can point to a steady geographical progression from its birthplace and from its earliest years. And over all these years it has hitherto not had many territorial losses to record. Whereas the Jerusalem of the apostles has fallen, the Mecca of the prophet remains inviolate. When it comes to sustaining congregations of the faithful, Christianity does not appear to possess the same resilience as Islam. It decays and withers in its very heartlands, in the areas where it appears to have had the profoundest cultural effects. Crossing cultural boundaries, it then takes root anew on the margins of those areas, and beyond. Islamic expansion is progressive; Christian expansion is serial (p. 13).

If Walls is correct, this raises some troubling questions. Why does Christianity wax and wane so consistently, while Islam rarely experiences the same fluctuations? Why do the faithful of Christianity possess what seems to be a more tenuous faith?

Walls asks and answers some of his own questions to provide some answers:

Do the resiliency of Islam and the vulnerability of Christianity reflect something of the inherent nature of the two faiths? Does the very freedom of response inherent in the Christian gospel leave it open to ultimate rejection? Is the Christian impact durable only when there is sustained, unceasing penetration of the host culture? Christianity has no culturally fixed element, as is provided by the Qur’an fixed in heaven, closed traditions on earth, perfection in law in shari’a, single shrine in Mecca, and true word every where in Arabic. If the acts of cultural translation by which the Christians of any community make their faith substantial within that community cease—if (if one may use such language) the Word ceases to be made flesh within that community—the Christian group within that community is likely to lose, not just its effectiveness, but its powers of resistance. Most cultures are in frequent change or encounter with others, so the process of translation is endless (p. 13).

In other words, Islam survives in a given culture because it remains unchanged and sees itself as embattled against cultural difference or change. As a result it can remain monolithic and isolated from the culture. In a world distressed by the culture-destroying power of technology, secularization, urbanization, and other such forces, the unchanging nature of Islam provides a rare sense of security and stability. There is no need to contextualize or adapt. Americans, who have grown up in a constantly changing culture, often forget that not everyone in the world embraces cultural change or the overturning of traditional practices to the same extent that they do.

On the positive side, Christianity has thrived in many parts of the world precisely because the gospel is a message to every tribe and tongue, and while the message must remain the same, the medium and the method are readily adaptable to other cultures.

Walls explains further:

This vulnerability [of Christianity] is also linked with the essentially vernacular nature of the Christian faith, which rests on a massive act of translation, the Word made flesh…Christian faith must go on being translated, must continuously enter into vernacular culture and interact with it, or it withers and fades. Islamic absolutes are fixed in a particular language, and in the conditions of a particular period of human history. The divine Word is the Qur’an, fixed in heaven forever in Arabic, the language of original revelation.

For Christians, however, the divine Word is translatable, infinitely translatable. The very words of Christ himself were transmitted in translated form in the earliest documents we have, a fact surely inseparable from the conviction that in Christ, God’s own self was translated into human form (p. 29).

A charitable reading of Walls reminds us that the success of Christianity throughout history in so many cultures has been the gospel’s ability to reach people in any culture while maintaining the positive aspects of common grace in that culture. The vernacular nature of the Christian faith presents a temptation and an opportunity. The temptation is to contextualize the message of the gospel, and thereby to lose it. For this, Christians are rightly criticized by Muslims. The diluted gospel of much of

Steel girder cross at Ground Zero

evangelicalism and fundamentalism under the guise of being relevant or old-fashioned, respectively, bears constant witness to this tragedy. The temptation, however, is not necessary, and Christianity can be adapted to various cultures successfully, without compromising the message. Walls concurs:

Christian faith is repeatedly coming into creative interaction with new cultures, with different systems of thought and different patterns of tradition; that (again in contrast to Islam, whose Arabic absolutes provide cultural norms applying throughout the Islamic world) its profoundest expressions are often local and vernacular. It also means that the demographic and geographical centre of gravity of Christianity is subject to periodic shifts. Christians have no abiding city, no permanent sacred sites, no earthly Mecca; their new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven at the last day (p. 30).

At least two implications arise from these distinctions between Christianity and Islam. First, all of us, not just missionaries, need to translate the faith into the local vernacular in which we find ourselves without compromising the gospel. Christianity is not Islam, and so is not culturally monolithic. Second, rather than seeing the expansion of Christianity as a necessarily universal progressive missionary certainty, perhaps we ought to realize that the spread of the faith will probably always be influenced by the currents of culture and the degree to which Christians in a particular location remain faithful. The survival of the gospel in a particular area is not assured apart from the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word. This is an especially poignant reality for the church in America where attention and commitment to sound doctrine has fallen precipitously, and simultaneously, Islam has expanded exponentially. If Islam is hardly ever dislodged once it is established in a region, the only hope for the spread of Christianity is the wholesale commitment of the church to the centrality of the gospel.

The Double Tragedy of School Shootings

Every time I hear about another school shooting I am sickened. Sickened as a parent, as a citizen, as a gun owner, and as a Christian. But just as sickening as the loss of life and terror that school shootings produce is the response by the experts who do not believe in cause and effect. They do not believe that what our society has told children and teens will have any effect on them. This only ensures that shootings will continue to happen, over and over again. As Steve Turner says in his poem, “Creed,” school shootings are merely the sound of man worshiping the god we told him exists.

“Creed”

“We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin

We believe everything is OK

as long as you don’t hurt anyone

to the best of your definition of hurt,

and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and

after marriage.

We believe in the therapy of sin.

We believe that adultery is fun.

We believe that sodomy’s OK.

We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything’s getting better

despite evidence to the contrary.

The evidence must be investigated

And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes

UFO’s and bent spoons.

Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,

Mohammed, and ourselves.

He was a good moral teacher though we think

His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same-

at least the one that we read was.

They all believe in love and goodness.

They only differ on matters of creation,

sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing

Because when you ask the dead what happens

they say nothing.

If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then its

compulsory heaven for all

excepting perhaps

Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn

We believe in Masters and Johnson

What’s selected is average.

What’s average is normal.

What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.

We believe there are direct links between warfare and

bloodshed.

Americans should beat their guns into tractors .

And the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.

It’s only his behavior that lets him down.

This is the fault of society.

Society is the fault of conditions.

Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that

is right for him.

Reality will adapt accordingly.

The universe will readjust.

History will alter.

We believe that there is no absolute truth

excepting the truth

that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,

And the flowering of individual thought.

If chance be

the Father of all flesh,

disaster is his rainbow in the sky

and when you hear

State of Emergency!

Sniper Kills Ten!

Troops on Rampage!

Whites go Looting!

Bomb Blasts School!

It is but the sound of man

worshipping his maker.”

Steve Turner, (English journalist), “Creed,” his satirical poem on the modern mind. Taken from Ravi Zacharias’ book Can Man live Without God? Pages 42-44