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Picture of Joshua Harris' I Kissed Dating Good-Bye book and image of a cross

My Joshua Harris Moment and the Challenge of Christian Cultural Engagement

This week, Joshua Harris, a preacher who rose to prominence within certain segments of Christianity through his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, has now said, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” I honestly think I get where he’s coming from because of my own experience. I also think his admission directly bears on politics and culture in Tennessee and our country.

My Personal ‘Joshua Harris’ Testimony

I do not know Joshua Harris, and so to say I know where he’s coming from is admittedly presumptuous, but this comment by him bears on my own journey over the last couple of years. I was a “good kid” growing up. My moral compass was pretty straight. By “all the measurements that I [had] for defining a Christian,” I was one.

Then in law school I heard for the first time about the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and it added a new dimension by which I could “measure” my Christianity. Now an even greater reason for “being good” was introduced.

About 14 years ago, I found myself in a pew at the end of a Sunday evening service quietly sobbing into my hands and repeatedly muttering, “I’m just so tired.”

Life is a journey, but over the course of the last 14 years I have learned what might be shocking to many Christians: A Christianity understood as and measured by what I do is exhausting, and it is not the gospel.

Yet, I suspect my old perception of Christianity reflects the tenor of much of what passes for evangelical preaching today with its emphasis on three steps to having this in one’s Christian life and five steps to having something else. Preaching with that kind of tenor is what Christians even as recently as 100 years ago would have called legalism. To avoid Christian jargon and hopefully spark discussion, I’ve started calling it “Christian moralism;” it is “having a go” at reforming one’s moral values by personal willpower.

The End of ‘Christianity’?

Legalism or Christian moralism easily slips into Christianity because it appears to be a good antidote to and a means of inoculating Christians against the heresy of antinomianism, which means literally “against law.” It goes something like this: If legalism is bad, then antinomianism is worse!

Antinomianism is the “safe harbor” for those who don’t want to give up their basic belief in God and want to satisfy a felt need to “be right with God.” It is a belief that the gospel frees people from strict adherence to the moral law of God. Antinomianism allows the person to continue in the sin that legalism insisted he or she give up but by will power could not be done, and think he or she will be forgiven anyway because God is a God of love.

What’s ironic is that the tenor of the Apostle Paul’s preaching against legalism resulted in him being accused of antinomianism!

We know this by the fact he spent time in his letter to the Christians in Rome anticipating the charge that the gospel he preached was antinomian.1 In fact, Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones once said of Paul’s letter, “If your presentation of the Gospel does not expose it to the charge of Antinomianism you are probably not putting it correctly.”2

Even as legalism left Judaism in tatters when the gospel came in the form of Jesus Christ and the Temple was soon destroyed, I won’t be a bit surprised if the legalist spirit so often associated with Christianity will soon leave the words “Christianity” and “Christian” in tatters, too. I think the growing malaise toward and outright contempt for “conservative Christianity” is evidence of this trend, and more of the same won’t help.

The ‘Solution’ to Legalistic and Antinomian Christianity

Legalism and antinomianism both miss the point of the gospel, which, at the core, is God implanting a spirit or principle of life into a person so that normal human faculties (intellect, will, etc.) are redirected toward an affection for God and the glory that is God.

This is what Thomas Chalmers, the great Scottish preacher and cultural reformer, said on this matter, and I believe it bears directly on why Christians in political office and many Christians who support them seem to be so weak and unwilling to support laws that go against the current cultural flow of things:

To bid a man into whom there has not yet entered the great and ascendant influence of the principle of regeneration, to bid him withdraw his love from all the things that are in the world, is to bid him give up all the affections that are in his heart.

In other words, the world and that which is in it or a part of it is all there is for those who lack this principle of regeneration. And who will give up any affection that may be found in what this world has to offer unless it is replaced with a greater affection? No one.
To expect that is to expect the person to cease being human. That’s why Chalmers described the gospel as “the expulsive power of a new affection.”

How Joshua Harris ‘Connects’ to Christian Engagement in Politics and Culture

Here, then, is how I see Joshua Harris’ renunciation of Christianity relates to politics and culture:

When we as Christians in political office and Christians who are interested in the laws that politics produces and are concerned about our nation’s moral slide, allow this new affection for God and the glory of God to displace the greater affections we might have for office, influence, power, reputation, or possessions, then I suspect we will see a change in our country’s direction away from bigger civil government and away from a liberty that has turned to licentiousness.

Legalism and antinomianism both lead to death. The fact that many conservative Christians, I among them, think our nation is dying should speak to us about how we might have contributed to its condition and what first must change about us if the change we desire for our nation is to ever come about.

For further reading
The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance―Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson.

NOTES

  1. Romans 6:1,15.
  2. “If your presentation of the Gospel does not expose it to the charge of Antinomianism you are probably not putting it correctly. . . . What do I mean by that? Just this: The Gospel, you see, comes as this free gift of God–irrespective of what man does. Now, the moment you say a thing like that, you are liable to provoke somebody to say, “Well, if that is so it doesn’t matter what I do.” The Apostle takes up that argument more than once in this great epistle [to the Romans]. . . . You see–what is not evangelical preaching is this: It’s the kind of preaching that says to people, “Now, if you live a good life; if you don’t commit certain sins; and if you do good to others; and if you become a church member and attend regularly and are busy and active you will be a fine Christian and you’ll go to Heaven. That’s the opposite of Evangelical preaching–and it isn’t exposed to the charge of Antinomianism because…it is telling men to save themselves by their good works…And it’s not the Gospel–because the Gospel always exposes itself to this misunderstanding from the standpoint of Antinomianism.” http://feedingonchrist.com/lloyd-jones-on-the-gospel-and-the-charge-of-antinomianism/

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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handshake

Working Across What Aisle?

Now that the election is over, the question in the minds of many is whether those elected are willing to “work across the aisle” with each other. Will Trump and Pelosi work across the aisle to govern? At his very first press conference, Governor-elect Bill Lee was asked if he would have any Democrats in his administration. But what is required if political partisans are to “work across the aisle”?

During a meeting I had last Friday with a group of African-American pastors, I had a concrete, demonstrable experience that crystallized for me my growing understanding that there is a different, more important, and significant “aisle” that will have to be crossed if we’re going to see work across partisan political aisles.

Finding a Unifying Political Topic

Because I was the only Caucasian invited to speak at this meeting and had held office as a Republican, I decided to talk to this group of black pastors about something I thought might unite us.

Consequently, I focused on why the United States Supreme Court’s decision on marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, was the most important political and policy issue in the country and, more specifically, why it was actually worse for the black community than the Court’s Dred Scott decision.

I explained to them that, in Scott, the Court had only decided the meaning of the word “citizen” in the U.S. Constitution and had excluded blacks from citizenship. But when the Obergefell majority said that biological, sexual differences were no longer relevant to the one societal institution that had been anchored in that difference, it had effectively held that, as a matter of constitutional law, human beings do not bear the image of God that God said was reflected in the fact He made us male and female (Genesis 1:27).

Obergefell, I told them, was not as much the resolution of a legal issue—the meaning of the word “citizen” in a legal document—as it was an ontological, anthropological statement about the very nature of what it means to be human, in other words, what it means to be a “being” who is human as distinguished from other forms of being, such as animals.

The import of Obergefell became clear when I reminded them that many at the time of the Scott decision viewed blacks as non-citizens because they viewed blacks as something less than fully human.

The pastors to whom I spoke understood that erasing the image of God necessarily meant erasing the God in whose image we were made and that when God and the image of God were far enough removed from our memory, then slavery of some men by a majority of other men was justifiable.

Bishop Matthews Leaps the Aisle

With that as the setting, Vincent Matthews then got up to speak. Matthews is a bishop within the largest predominately black Pentecostal denomination in the country. He is in charge of his denomination’s Family Life Campaign throughout the world.

Bishop Matthews began by saying that in my explanation of Obergefell, I was “talking more black” than most black politicians, and then he launched into the issue of abortion and the devastation it was wreaking on the survival of the black community.

Bishop Matthews concluded by reaching across partisan aisles with this amazing statement (paraphrased from what I heard):

I will never vote for a politician that supports abortion. When people try to tell me how much help some pro-choice politicians bring back to the black community, I tell them that killing our people does not help our community.

The First Aisle We Must Work Across

In my remarks, I had told the pastors that the biblical line of demarcation between people, the real divide, lies not in skin color or party label but elsewhere.

The Bible tells us that God divides humanity by race in the only sense that matters to Him. The first race is composed of those who are only natural descendants of the first Adam, who God originally created. The second are those who are part of the new “race” descended from the Second Adam, Jesus, the God-man, by virtue of having been born again by the Spirit of God. (See 1 Peter 2:9, 1 Corinthians 15:45–47, John1:12–13.)

That is why Bishop Matthews and I were able to reach across the partisan political aisle on two fundamentally important and divisive “political issues.” We believe the really great and fundamental divide among human beings has been bridged by and a basis for unity has been found in the God-man, Jesus, who we both acknowledge as the only true Sovereign to whom all, including politicians and political parties, owe allegiance (Ephesians 1:20–21; Revelation 1:5).

When that basis for unity and that allegiance become more important than partisan unity and allegiance, when the proclamation and advance of the Kingdom headed by Christ are more important than touting and building a partisan community, and when His Word becomes the foundation for our policy “platform,” then we’ll find the problem of working across the political aisle greatly ameliorated. I look forward to that day.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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David Fowler, his wife Linda, and daughter Allison after winning the legislative seat

Image Is Everything in Tennessee Politics

The year before I ran for the state Senate, a person I did not know came up to me at a Christian event in my hometown and said, “I think you should run for the Legislature.” His reason shocked me, but this incident came to mind because of something one of our leading state elected officials said last week.

The reason given by the person who suggested I run was that I, along with my attractive wife and cute 5-year-old daughter, would be visually appealing to voters. It turned out that this person was a successful political campaign consultant. But I got his point: image means a lot, if not everything, in politics.

In Tennessee, part of the image you want to create in order to appeal to our generally conservative and generally Christianized electorate is that you are a Christian, a person of faith. And one of the best ways to do that is to use language that tickles Christian ears.

So, it was with great interest that I read this recent statement by one of our elected officials: “[E]very man and woman created in the image of God deserves meaningful work.”

To affirm the image of God as central to our humanity is to speak the Christian’s lingo and probably to earn the Christian’s approbation for being willing to put one’s Christian faith on public display.

But it’s important that Christians understand what the image of God means and then evaluate that politician’s grasp of that meaning by how he or she applies it in other contexts in which that image is equally important.

Dissecting What It Means to Be Created in God’s Image

In the present situation, we know that the Bible refers to God’s acts of creation as work, so it is true that the image of God means that it is good for human beings to work. However, I would add that any work, when done for the glory of God, is meaningful work, regardless of what one is paid or how highly others esteem one’s work.

But the Bible gives us another aspect of the image of God, one we don’t even have to extrapolate by analogy to what God does. It says, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27 NKJV). It is clear that being male and female is a part of the image of God our humanity bears.

In case there is any doubt about this, Genesis 2 makes it very clear. In that chapter, we’re given more detail. God makes the man, Adam, first and then stops. It is the only time during the creation process in which we’re told that God stops, and He says, “It is not good.” That should get our attention.

It was not good because man was “alone,” so God made a neged (transliterated Hebrew) for him, which, according to Strong’s definitions, has a meaning of “a front, i.e. part opposite; specifically a counterpart.” And the “counterpart” was clearly connected to a biological difference because the difference allowed for procreation. It is an embodied difference, not a psychological or cultural one, such as what is meant today by gender identity and transgenderism.

In other words, God “fixed” the aloneness of Adam not merely by creating another human being—by sameness—but by biological differentiation. It was just another aspect of the differentiation process demonstrated throughout the entire creation process. God differentiated the light from the dark, the night from the day, the sea from the dry ground, and so on.

To deny the difference between the male and the female is to deny God’s image in us and, moreover, to deny what God said was good for both the male and the female.

But, when it comes to this aspect of the image of God—this God-declared good differentiation between male and female—this politician basically said, and I am paraphrasing, No, I don’t mean or want to include that part of God’s image in our humanity. I don’t want the Legislature to enact a law that would communicate to our children in a tangible, understandable way this God-ordained difference by having biological males use one shower and biological females use another. In fact, I’m okay if our public schools confuse the differentiation and deny that part of the image of God.

While that last sentence may seem harsh and not what that official would intend to communicate, it is, in fact, the necessary implication. If the usage of such facilities is not being designated based on biological differences, then their usage must be based on some other consideration, which cannot be the relevancy of biological differences.

Perhaps this person1, and others among our elected officials (and would-be officials) who are thinking this way (and there is an increasing number of them), will rethink this issue. Until then, I’d rather the image they convey politically just leave the image of God out of it.

NOTES

  1. The name has been withheld so that the point being made is not obscured by anyone’s affection for or allegiance to the person quoted. It is not my purpose here to impugn anyone or, in this context, influence his or her policy position, which I think is intractable anyway. Besides, other elected officials would say and then do the same thing.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

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