Tag Archives: Pastor

Pastor explains why the pulpit must address public policy issues

Crusader knight prepares for battle
Crusader knight prepares for battle

My friend Scott pointed out this brave and necessary article from pastor Michael Sherrard, who is currently studying for his PhD in New Testament.

Pastor Sherrard writes:

[…][P]astors are… watchmen. And when the enemy is before us, the watchmen better not have his head down wiping the eggnog off his ugly sweater as the walls are being scaled.

Rather than be caught defenseless, pastors must equip their people to engage a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile toward Christianity. And so, the pulpit must be political. Yes, I know that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Let’s get that out of the way. I already hear your objection: “We should care more about salvation than society.” Sure, I agree. It is better to lose the world than your soul. But if you think that society can go to hell as long as people don’t, you’ve fallen for an old trick and you’ve misunderstood the nature of the gospel.

A politically silent pulpit is one that is catering to the secularist’s agenda: “Keep your religious beliefs private. They are not wanted in society. They are no good to us.” And for some reason, we’ve bought into the propaganda of those that want to fashion a society after their own values. Somehow they have convinced us that the only good beliefs for society are the beliefs of atheists. But beliefs that are true are true for all and are good for all. It does not matter where they come from. And if the Christian message contains truth, the application of that truth is far reaching. It does not end at the capital steps.

Christianity is an all-encompassing worldview. Meaning, it is a set of true beliefs that affect all of life. The gospel itself has implications that go beyond ones eternal destination. We see this truth in Paul’s ethics. Pauline ethics might be summed up this way: because Christ humbled himself and died on a cross, so should you be humble and willfully offer up your life for the good of others (Phil 2:1-11). Our faith manifests itself in ways that benefit others, if it is a real faith. You must repress your hope in God to keep it private. I doubt you disagree with this.

So why are politics off limits? Why is it right for us to sit back and allow harmful policies be legislated? Why shouldn’t we expose candidates that seek to preserve the right to kill babies? Why do we think we have to let atheists run our country? Are Christian teachings not good? Do they not promote human flourishing? Why do we think a Christian influence equals a theocracy? How have we become so simple minded about our civil responsibility? Pastors we have failed our people. If it is not our job to instruct the people of God on these things, whose job is it?

When politics are ignored in the pulpit the message to the world and the church is clear: Christianity is irrelevant. It tells the world that what we care about is our little club, and it tells those in the club not to worry about what goes on outside.

Yes, yes, yes!!!!! This is exactly what my main complaint about pastors is – that they are so contain to discuss castles in the sky and angels dancing on the head of a pin. They want to chase Christian theology into some far-off area where it has no connection with anything real. They want to make our happy feelings everything, and leave us with nothing hard to do for God. But being a partner means doing work that achieves goals, and politics is surely one of the areas where we can show God that we are with him, and that we love him.

Now, the pastor got a lot of flak from nitwits for that post, and so he wrote them a response, with the title “No, your’e right. We should let the atheists run the country”.

Here’s the best part:

Oh and you’re right, who cares who holds office. The Bible doesn’t say anything about voting and our role in democracy. (You’ll be happy to know I’ve also stopped teaching my kids math because Jesus didn’t say anything about that either.) Who cares if there are candidates that would exclude us from the first amendment. Religious freedom is overrated. I mean look how the church is growing in parts of the world where Christianity is illegal. We could benefit from a dose of persecution. You know, I think I’ll pray for it. Tonight I will huddle my family and pray that we will soon find ourselves in a country where I could lose my head for my faith. That sounds biblical.

Religious liberty is my most important concern. I would be willing to flee my country in order to get it back.

I think it’s worth it to read both his posts in full. Why aren’t more pastors like that? Why all this focus on feeling good and being liked, and doing whatever we “feel led” to do? How about we do what is necessary, whether it makes us feel good or not?

Barna poll: what would people like to hear about in church sermons?

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there
Church sucks, that’s why men are bored there

This is from Glenn Beck, not someone I pay any attention to. But the poll was done by Barna, and the results are interesting.

Excerpt:

An prominent Christian pollster joined Glenn on his T.V. program Tuesday night to unveil the findings from a new poll, which sought to identify the top issues church-goers want to hear about from their pastors. The findings fascinated Glenn, who has been saying for a long time the way to wake our country up should be through our churches.

Joined by historian David Barton, pollster George Barna from the American Cultural & Faith Institute presented his research in which nearly 3,000 active church-goers were surveyed about the issues they want to hear about most in church.

Top 12 Issues the Church Wants to Hear:

1. Abortion: Beginning of life, right to life, contraception, adoption, unwed mothers. 91%

2. Religious persecution/liberty: Personal duty, government duty, church response, global conditions. 86%

3. Poverty: Personal duty, government role, church role, homelessness, hunger, dependency. 85%

4. Cultural restoration: Appropriate morals, law and order, defensible values and norms, self-government. 83%

5. Sexual identity: Same-sex marriage, transgenderism, marriage, LGBT. 82%

6. Israel: Its role in the world, Christian responsibility to Israel, US foreign policy toward Israel and its enemies. 80%

7. Christian Heritage: role of Christian faith in American history, church role in US development, moder-day relevance. 79%

8. Role of Government: Biblical view, church-state relationship, personal responsibility, limitations. 76%

9. Bioethics: Cloning, euthanasia, genetic engineering, cryogenics, organ donation, surrogacy. 76%

10. Self-governance: Biblical support, personal conduct, impact on freedom, national sovereignty. 75%

11. Church in politics/government: Separation of church and state, legal boundaries, church resistance to government. 73%

12. Islam: Core beliefs, response to Islamic aggression, threat to US peace and domestic stability. 72%

David Barton went on to present several Action Steps that church-goers can do right now, to help get their churches off the sidelines and their pastors preaching about these important issues.

Well, I certainly found these poll results interesting, and that’s why I try to have a variety of topics on this blog.

The first thing I thought when I read that list is that pastors would have to be reading about things outside the Bible in order to know how to speak about them. For example, to talk about abortion, it helps to read books by Scott Klusendorf, Frank Beckwith, Robert George and Christopher Kaczor. Now, I’ve talked to some friends who have been through seminary, and it sounds to me that they read very little on the substance of these kinds of issues, and a lot about spiritual fluff. Maybe, instead of focusing so much on the packaging, they can focus more on the content. The list is pretty clearly a list of serious controversial issues. But in church I feel that the emphasis is always on feelings and agreement.

So, let’s see. How should we go about getting the churches to speak about these issues? I really have no idea, and I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to start to talk about how the Bible is supported by evidence, or about what anti-Christians skeptics say, or about how the Bible applies to issues in the real world. The pastors just seem to be not interested in all the most interesting things in the world, for some crazy reason. I love the list – I wish I heard these things discussed in church.

Darrell Bock and Eric Chabot discuss the challenges of campus ministry

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

My good friend Eric Chabot did an episode of the The Table podcast, which is the culture podcast of Dallas Theological Seminary. Eric does campus ministry at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in the United States. He has a frontline view of the challenges that Christians face on campus, which is a battle I am so passionate about.

Here’s the podcast:

The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

  • 00:15  What does a typical RC meeting look like at Ohio State?
  • 02:44  Key social issues facing Ohio students
  • 05:30  How do you engage with the same-sex issue on campus?
  • 11:01  How do you engage with political issues on campus?
  • 13:08  How do you engage with social justice issues on campus?
  • 16:19  How would you describe the Christian environment on campus?
  • 18:33  Advice for parents considering Ohio State for their child

I give this podcast and the discussion my highest recommendation. It’s so practical, and so different from what you hear in church from pastors who seem to be totally unaware of how worldviews conflict on the university campus. This podcast is practical and hands-on.

There is also a transcript (PDF).

I just want to excerpt a few questions to get you interested enough to listen:

Dr. Darrell Bock:

Ok. Well, that’s the intellectual background. Let’s move on to the other questions I told you we were going to discuss. The social pressures of campus? This, and I’ve done a handful of these interviews, in fact I think you’re the 5th or 6th campus that we’ve done.

We’ve done UCLA, UC Irvine, California, San Diego, A&M and Princeton, and the interesting thing is that as we move from campus to campus and I go to social issues, that – those kind of are more varied than the intellectual stuff. The intellectual stuff seems to be pretty consistent from campus to campus.

But the social challenges really are a reflection of the environment of the campus itself and certain emphasis are tied to certain campuses. So, what are the social challenges that students face in terms of their walk at Ohio State?

And:

Dr. Darrell Bock:

Ok. Well, let’s turn our attention to the final two questions that I want to be sure and get through, and that is you’re giving advice – let’s start with parents – you’re giving advice to parents. They’re thinking about, you know, sending their kid to Ohio State.

What do you regard as the, as keys for the preparation of that student that a parent should be thinking about? Perhaps in particular, thinking about their junior and senior years, they’re getting ready to think about college and the way you prepare a student for college and the choices and the freedom that they’re gonna fall into. How do you, what advice would you give to parents?

And:

Dr. Darrell Bock:

Ok. This may seem like a related question, but I do think the demands are slightly different and that is what advice do you give to youth leaders and to pastors as they are preparing kids who are going through their church programs for university?
And here, I sorta have in mind what kinds of things would you hope a youth leader who’s dealing with high school students, what kinds of issues do you hope that they’re dealing with and treating so that the student is prepared for the campus experience?

That’s why I focus so much on same-sex marriage and politics on this blog. We really have to explain to young people why natural marriage is best, and why the free enterprise system is best. We are seeing now the challenge that the combination of same-sex marriage and big secular government (socialism) poses for religious liberty.

The trouble with avoiding controversial topics

Young people usually only get one side of every issue - because we don't tell them the other side
Young people usually only get one side of every issue – because we don’t tell them the other side

Lindsay blogs about it on her Lindsay’s logic blog.

Intro:

According to these definitions, a controversial topic is simply one on which many people disagree. In some cases, this may be due to the topic being merely opinion. If you are asking which ice cream flavor is the best or which sports car is the best or which season of the year is the best, these are all matters of opinion and there is no right answer. There is no absolute truth in these cases because the inherent question is about what people prefer. Different people prefer different things.

But in spite of the fact that there is a lot of disagreement on the best ice cream flavor (vanilla, in case anyone was wondering), we don’t usually try to shut people up when they express an opinion, even if it differs from ours. And we usually don’t call these opinions “controversial.” In fact, I have never heard anyone refer to ice cream flavors as a controversial issue. (What a conversation that would be. “I like vanilla best.” “Oh, don’t talk about ice cream flavors because they’re so controversial.”)

When people talk about something being “controversial” they usually do it when it’s not just a matter of opinion, but they want to believe it is. They want to use the disagreement out there to avoid taking a side on an important topic.

Sometimes they don’t want to take a side because it’s unpopular. If they take a side, the people on the other side might not like them.

Sometimes they don’t want to have to put the effort into studying the issue. Laziness makes them avoid finding out which position is the correct one.

Sometimes they don’t like the implications involved in taking a position. What if believing one way or the other means they have to change something about their life? Perhaps give up something they enjoy or do something they don’t like?

Sometimes they have the mistaken idea that a “controversial” topic doesn’t have a correct answer and thus neither side should be dogmatic.

Some see taking a side on something that evokes a lot of disagreement as somehow “divisive” or “polarizing” and therefore bad.

Whatever the reason, these people want to stay “neutral” and not take a side. And, often, they don’t want to hear anyone else’s position on the matter either.

And this is where I want to turn this topic to parenting. I have met people who fell away from their faith after being raised in a Christian home, and this is what I’ve noticed about them. The parents are usually uncomfortable with listening to the other side of “controversial” issues. Does God exist? Too controversial. Is there unjustified evil and suffering? Too controversial. Should abortion be legal? Too controversial. Are non-Christian religions false? Too controversial. Is premarital sex morally permissible? Too controversial. Nothing can be discussed, because we all have to feel happy – and be seen by the neighbors to BE happy. So shut it and keep smiling.

It reminds me of this post from Beyond Teachable Moments, where the author was interviewing a woman who lost her faith in college before returning to the faith.

Read this:

 Throughout the phases of my childhood, expose me to different types of social situations with people from all walks of life. I think having experience talking with a wide range of people with differing worldviews is so important. In other words, get me outside the safe Christian “bubble”, but do so with the support of parents and with an open discussion of why people think/believe differently and why we believe what we believe. Do not just tell me “believe this because I told you it is true or because I said so.”

Learn what is going on in popular culture within my peer group. What are kids my age thinking, watching, and listening to? Be involved; don’t view every outside influence as a threat, but help and encourage me to analyze situations and make decisions accordingly. Don’t try to shelter me from everything. I need to develop confidence and a foundation in the little things if you expect me to be able to take on the big things at university.

Don’t use me to make you look good in front of other people at church, I can see straight through that. It does not feel good and drives me far away. What matters is what is going on inside, not what is projected. Looking perfect and going through the motions does nothing. The very basis for Christianity is what is going on in the heart. Only by letting Jesus work in your heart can actions follow with true authenticity.

If every topic is off limit in the home, then the child will very likely drop Christianity like a hot potato when she hits college. You do not teach a child how to debate controversial topics by shushing them in order to maintain your happiness – or to keep up appearances. It’s even worse when the shushing is done with screaming and arguments. Controversial topics must be discussed openly and respectfully. Work has to be done by parents to study these issues. Debates (like WLC debates) must be watched by the whole family. Both sides of issues must be represented properly. But how many times does this happen in Christian homes? And how many times does this happen in the Christian church? You can attend an evangelical church for from birth to death in America and never hear one iota of useful information related to controversial topics. The parents don’t know, the pastors don’t know, and that’s the way they like it.

Many Christian parents are happy for their kids to “be nice” and “look good” while they are home even if they go wild in college. It’s so “unexpected” they will say later. They did such a good job – took them to church every week, and they got their Bible memorization and praise hymn singing badges. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that not knowing anything and not teaching anything about controversial issues is a great parenting technique. Parents and pastors are sure that it’s more “pious” to just believe things without evidence, and not discuss and debate alternate points of view. And easier, too – leaves more time to for “devotional” activities, which don’t require study. The more we spiritualize Christianity instead of debating it, the more likely our children will turn on God.

The most alarming thing is when I tell Christian parents and Christian pastors this, and they start to make excuses about how faith is beyond reason and evidence. How do you stop a problem like this when the parents and the pastors are more focused on looking good and feeling good than they are on knowing whether what they believe is true? You can’t. We have to recognize that this pious refusal to get down and dirty with the truth claims of Christianity is motivated by laziness. It’s not praiseworthy at all to chase Christianity into some mystical realm beyond the reach of logic and evidence. Yet this is the dominant view in Christian homes and churches.

Why Christian parents get nervous about evidence when discussing Christianity

Homeschooling mother Dr. Lydia McGrew explains why Bible-believing Christians are uneasy with the use of evidence on her blog What’s Wrong With The World. (H/T Eric Chabot)

Excerpt:

4) The idea that, if a young person gets deeply interested in Christian evidence, he will go out on the Internet (or at his public high school or secular college) seeking giants to slay and will get overwhelmed. Again, this worry has merit as a sociological matter. That can certainly happen.

That is why we should say loud and clear to Christians interested in this topic: Don’t do that! What do I mean? Just this: Being committed to investigating the evidence for Christianity does not mean that one has to find out every possible thing that anyone has ever said about or against Christianity and know the answer to it. That would be impossible because of the sheer bulk of (ultimately unpersuasive) objections which skeptics can bring up as though they were real problems.

In this context the words of George Horne, an 18th century bishop, from his Letters on Infidelity, are wise and helpful. (Emphasis added.)

In the thirty sections of their pamphlet, they have produced a list of difficulties to be met with in reading the Old and New Testament. Had I been aware of their design, I could have enriched the collection with many more, at least as good, if not a little better. But they have compiled, I dare say, what they deemed the best, and, in their own opinion, presented us with the essence of infidelity in a thumb-phial, the very fumes of which, on drawing the cork, are to strike the bench of bishops dead at once. Let not the unlearned Christian be alarmed, “as though some strange thing had happened to him,” and modern philosophy had discovered arguments to demolish religion, never heard of before. The old ornaments of deism have been “broken off” upon this occasion, “and cast into the fire, and there came out this calf.” These same difficulties have been again and again urged and discussed in public; again and again weighed and considered by learned and sensible men, of the laity as well as the clergy, who have by no means been induced by them to renounce their faith.

[snip]

Many and painful are the researches sometimes necessary to be made, for settling points of that kind. Pertness and ignorance may ask a question in three lines, which it will cost learning and ingenuity thirty pages to answer. When this is done, the same question shall be triumphantly asked again the next year, as if nothing had ever been written upon the subject.

And a bit later:

5) The unspoken fear that Christianity cannot stand up to scrutiny and doesn’t really have good evidential support.

Here I do not blame the parents, but not because I share the unspoken fear. I do not blame them, because in most cases no one has ever taught them otherwise. How many pastors and priests have really taught apologetics to their congregations, or even offered such studies as an option? Too few. How many courses on sharing your faith have explicitly taught people not to get involved in responding to questions and objections but just to “share their experience” because “no one can argue with that”? Too many. It’s no wonder then that the congregation comes away with the sneaking suspicion that our Christian faith is no better grounded than Mormonism and that we, like they, must depend chiefly on the burning in the bosom.

And one can always push the blame further back. Perhaps the pastors weren’t taught Christian evidences at their seminaries.

In fact, I would not be surprised if all too many theologians who give high-falutin’ rationalizations for being anti-evidentialist are actually making a virtue out of what they deem to be a necessity. Since they don’t think Christian faith is founded on fact, they might as well make up some profound-sounding theological theory that tells us that it shouldn’t be.

When Nathanael asks Philip, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip simply says, “Come and see.” (John 1:46) And he brings him to Jesus. If you as a parent or mentor to the young are opposed to the study of Christian evidences partly because deep down you suspect that they aren’t very good, I can only say to you as well, “Come and see.”

I blogged about this tendency of church leaders to make a virtue out of laziness and ignorance before.

Here’s a snip:

Suppose a pastor or campus group leader wants to avoid having to learn physics and cosmology, or the minimum facts case for the resurrection, or how to respond to apparently gratuitous suffering, or the problem of religious pluralism. Suppose he thinks that Christianity, if it is about anything, is about his feeling happy and comfortable with a minimum of effort and work. So, he diligently avoids reading apologetics, because learning evidence is hard work. He avoids watching debates on God’s existence and the resurrection, because this is hard work. He avoids conversations with people who do study these things, and implies that there is something wrong with them for studying these things. He endeavors to conceal his laziness and ignorance and cowardice from his flock with much pious God-talk and fervent praise-hymn-singing.

Eventually, some member of his church asks him to go for lunch with an actual non-Christian family member. The pastor agrees and when he meets the unbelieving family member, he has nothing at all to say about typical challenges that unbelievers face. He has no knowledge of evolution, the problem of evil, the hiddenness of God, or the hallucination theory. He has never read a single atheist, and never read a single piece of evidence to refute them from Christian scholars. He lacks humility, refusing to admit that other Christian scholars may know more than he does because they have studied other areas. Needless to say, he fails to defend God’s reputation to the non-Christian. What will he say to the members of his flock about his failure? How will he justify his obstinate refusal to do what everyone else in the Bible does when confronting non-believers?

Well, consider this review of a recent book that defends the Gospels and the historicity of the resurrection by one such fideist pastor.

He writes:

There are, however, two significant shortcomings to the book.

First, Cold-Case Christianity places far too much emphasis on the role of extrabiblical sources. No doubt there is a legitimate role for biblical archaeology and extrabiblical writing from antiquity. Christianity is, after all, a faith firmly rooted in human history. But there is a grave danger when truth is suspended because of an apparent lack of corroboration from extrabiblical sources. And Wallace, I’m afraid, wanders too close to this dark side of apologetics.

All of chapter 12, for instance, is devoted to proving the Gospels have external corroborative evidence—“evidence that are independent of the Gospel documents yet verify the claims of the text” (183). Wallace then addresses the historicity of the pool of Bethesda and makes another worrying statement: “For many years, there was no evidence for such a place outside of John’s Gospel. Because Christianity makes historical claims, archaeology ought to be a tool we can use to see if these claims are, in fact, true” (201-202, emphasis added).

In other words, Wallace seems to suggest we cannot affirm the truth of the Gospel accounts without the stamp of approval from archaeology and other extrabiblical sources. Such reasoning is dangerous, not least because it cannot affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. But also, it places the final court of appeal in the realm of extrabiblical sources rather than of God’s all-sufficient, all-powerful Word.

That is a textbook definition of fideism – that belief is somehow more pious and praiseworthy the less evidence we have. And the best way to have less evidence is to study nothing at all, but to just make a leap-of-faith in the dark. Of course, a leap-of-faith can land you anywhere – Islam, Mormonism. Presumably this pastor is like the Mormons who eschew all evidence and prefer to detect the truth of Mormonism by “the burning of the bosom” which happens when people read the all-sufficient, all-powerful Book of Mormon. His view of faith is identical to theirs, and 180 degrees opposed to the Bible. He has made his leap-of-faith, and that leap-of-faith is not accountable to arguments and evidence. His faith is private and personal, based on his own feelings. He considers it blasphemous to have to demonstrate what he believes to those who disagree with him. Where is this in the Bible? It’s nowhere. But it is everywhere in anti-intellectual Christian circles.

[…]I think that Christians are much better off following the example of authentic Christian pastors like R.C. Sproul, who, in a conference on evangelism, invited Dr. Stephen C. Meyer to present multiple lines of evidence from mainstream science to establish the existence of God. The only reason not to take this approach is laziness, which leads to ignorance, which leads to cowardice. And failure. It is pastors like Pastor Bungle above who are responsible for the great falling away from Christianity that we are seeing when we look at young people. Pastors who pride themselves in refusing to connecting the Bible to the real world, with evidence and with policy analysis, are causing young people to abandon the faith.

I think that many people who reject Christianity can point to a general impression that they got from Pastor Bungle and his ilk that faith is somehow different from other areas of knowledge and that it was morally praise worthy to insulate faith from critical thinking and evidence. Pastor Bungle could never justify his view by using the Bible, but a lot of church leaders have that view regardless of whether it’s Biblical or not.

The really troubling thing that I see again and again in the church is when pastors base all of their opposition to behaviors like abortion and gay marriage on Christianity. This effectively makes it impossible to do anything about these issues in the public square, because Christians are then taught to have nothing persuasive to say on these issues to non-Christians. It’s like pastors are more interested in striking a pious pose with their congregations instead of studying secular arguments and evidence so they can equip Christians to actually solve the problem.