So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Part Four: "But we have to be sensitive to Muslims about Israel"

            I remember several years ago when I took an Intro to Islam course in my seminary. The professor was a lot more critical of Israel than I tend to be, but at least he acknowledged her right to exist and to defend herself. But he said something that’s haunted me to this day, and it’s a topic we Evangelicals—especially those of us who take the Great Commission seriously—have to address and wrestle with.
            The issue is sensitivity of Muslims towards the Israeli/Palestinian state and the obstacle this presents to their receiving the Good News of Jesus. My professor was very critical of those of us who want to see Muslims become followers of Jesus and who at the same time subscribe to what he considered unconditional support for Israel. In particular, he rejected any interpretation of eschatology which sees Israel as a fulfillment of prophecy and which therefore requires Christians to support it.
            I see his point. I really do. We need to be sensitive to the backgrounds of those we’re approaching with the Message, and our presentation is going to take that into account. All you have to do is read the book of Acts, and it quickly becomes apparent that each presentation or sermon took into account the backgrounds of the hearers. When the presenter (like Peter in Acts chapter 2) was talking to Jews, he naturally quoted Old Testament Scripture and explained the Message from that perspective. When Paul was speaking to Greek philosophers in Athens, he quoted no Scripture (since they neither knew nor cared about Moses or the prophets) and instead quoted Greek philosophy and poetry to make his point.
            So here’s where I come down on this, trying to approach this subject from a biblical perspective.

1) As I stated in my first posting on this topic, fitting the modern state of Israel into biblical prophecy is a difficult business. Christians who take the Bible seriously can disagree on that issue, and to any degree to which it distracts unsaved people from the simple truth of the Message, that which is of first importance (“Christ died of our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day”), it’s a problem. Your particular interpretation of the origin of the events of 1948, or how much or how little you criticize Israel is not nearly as important as your relationship with God through Christ.

2) I’ve done some thinking on this, and I certainly am open to correction on the following, but here goes. I thoroughly believe that repentance from sin is a sine qua non of the Message. Repentance is defined as a change of mind which will eventually result in a change of actions and outward behavior. If there’s no repentance, then there’s no salvation in Christ. And the flip side of that truth is essential to understand as well: If your “faith” doesn’t result in a changed lifestyle, then your “faith”—as James put it so well—is dead and is the same faith as demons.
            Having said that, I’m not sure that a call to salvation would necessarily include calling out a person’s specific sins. Jesus called out the “rich young man” in his greed and love of money, intentionally confronting him so that he’d recognize his need for salvation. But in most of the calls to salvation in Scripture (such as in the books of Acts), whenever someone is invited to believe in Christ, their specific sins aren’t made an issue. Paul makes it clear in the early chapters of Romans that we’re all under just condemnation for our sins, but in his general indictment of humanity in chapters one and his indictment of his fellow Jews in chapter two, he doesn’t seem to single out any particular sin: sexual immorality is listed along with disobedience to parents.
            Let me try to clarify what I’m talking about. Let’s say I’m sharing the Message with a practicing homosexual. Is there any biblical precedent for me telling him “You’re going to Hell because of your ‘gay’ lifestyle!”? Maybe I’m missing it, but I haven’t seen any precedent for that. If he’s going to Hell for a homosexual lifestyle, is he also going to Hell because he cheated on his taxes last year? Why not? The book of Revelation says that “everyone who loves and practices falsehood” will—apart from the Lord’s grace—end up in the Lake of Fire. That same verse also condemns anyone who practices any type of sexual immorality, which means any type of sexual expressions outside God’s plan.
            You see, when someone is outside of Christ, the main issue isn’t this particular sin or that particular sin. The main issue is that they don’t have faith in Christ. When the Holy Spirit convicts someone of sin, righteousness, and judgment, the sin that he convicts them of is lack of faith in Jesus.  

3) The reason I made such a big deal in the last point was to focus on the typical Muslim’s mindset towards the Jews and Israel. I wish I was wrong, but my impression is that anti-Jewish bigotry—even murderous hatred—is rampant in the Muslim world. Not just among the Arabs. I’ve been told that anti-Israeli sentiment is common in Indonesia, where there aren’t exactly a lot of Arabs. But I believe that the only way to truly release a person’s heart from bigotry and hatred is for Jesus to get a hold of them. He’ll change their heart.

4) So we have to focus on the main issue—life-changing faith in Jesus. That’ll make the difference between Heaven and Hell, and it’ll change people from the inside-out like nothing else can.

5) And of course we as believers in Jesus must show compassion towards Palestinians. Even though I don’t think most of their problems come from Israel and the Jews, there’s no doubt they’ve suffered over the last few decades. Mostly they’ve suffered under horrendous leadership, mostly under Yasser Arafat who embezzled millions of dollars of money intended for Palestinian relief into his own personal accounts. His own people starved while he encouraged them to blame Israel for their problems instead of taking responsibility for themselves and building their own country. And to any degree in which Israel has mistreated the Palestinians, we need to challenge them to address that while we make sure to get the entire context of what’s been happening up till that point.  But to be quite frank, every single indictment of Israel that I’ve ever read or seen is A) taken out of historical context, B) wildly exaggerated, C) made up out of whole cloth, or D) being addressed in the Israeli court system (which is fully functional as an outlet for grievances).

6) Having said all that, I just have to get something off my chest: The Good News of Jesus Christ is not advanced by coddling and indulging sin. We don’t advance the Kingdom by pretending that sin isn’t sin. If I was able to share the Message with an active homosexual, I’d make it clear that receiving Christ means that you turn over the keys of your life over to him, and eventually all your sin has to go, sexual and otherwise. If he asked me “Does that mean that I’ll have to give up my gay lifestyle?” of course I’d have to answer “yes.” You can’t believe in Jesus without surrendering your life to him, and he’s made it clear in his word that any sexual activity outside of God’s pattern (of one man united with one woman for life) is unacceptable for a follower of Jesus.

           In the same way, if we pretend that Israel and her attackers (both verbal and physical) are on equal moral footing, we're indulging slander of a good nation, which is lying. Thus we’re being enablers of sin. If someone expresses hatred of Jews as Jews and we’re silent, we’re enabling sin, even if we don’t hold those sentiments ourselves. If someone singles out Israel as the worst human rights violator in the world and ignores nations which are thousands of times worse (like China towards Tibet, or North Korea, or just about any Muslim country towards its religious minorities), we’re enabling a lie. Perpetuating lies—“[loving] and [practicing] falsehood”—is completely incompatible with being a follower of the Truth. And I’ll come around to what I said at the beginning of this point: The Message of salvation in Jesus is not aided by enabling people to continue to believe lies and to indulge in murderous bigotry.

            I’m well aware of the tightrope that missionaries and those who support them have to walk on. You can do your best to avoid off-topic distractions which hinder the main Message. But there’s a good chance that eventually you’ll be asked about this. And if you come right out and defend Israel on any score—if you express anything less than full support for the worst of their anti-Semitic bigotry—then there’s a good possibility that you’ve ipso facto closed the door on any hope of a hearing. But if I was witnessing to a practicing homosexual, I’d have to walk the same tightrope. The instant that I give any indication that the homosexual lifestyle is anything less than wonderful in God’s sight, the moment that I give any hint that homosexual behavior is sinful, I’m also in danger of closing the door on any fruitful conversation. But I can’t indulge and coddle sin. I can’t call something OK which God has condemned. And I certainly can’t coddle sinful behavior in light of the destructiveness of their sinful choices.
            Something that we as modern-day Christians seem to have a hard time accepting is that the Message of salvation in Jesus is intrinsically offensive. If someone is being presented the Good News and it doesn't offend him at some point in his outlook or in his mindset or worldview, then we need to question whether or not the Message is being accurately presented. Paul warned the Galatian believers that it's entirely possible for the "offense of the cross" to be "abolished," and that's a very very bad thing. 
            Look, I can’t pretend to have all the answers on this issue. But at least I’m trying to work through this. If you’re reading this and want to add to the conversation, please feel free. As long as you’re respectful and base your arguments on Scripture, I’ll post your comments. May the Spirit of Wisdom help all of us go “further up and further in.” 

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