Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Are Christians Trouble Makers?

Are Christian’s Trouble-Makers
Kevin Shrum

In a recent article entitled, “The French Connection: The Many Parallels Between France’s Revolution and Today’s Anti-Christian Secularism” (Touchstone, Sept./Oct, 2011), James Hitchcock essentially argues that what started in the French revolution is now being continued by those who are rampant secularists and strident atheists. The goal is to dismantle the effects of the Judeo-Christian worldview on culture, in particular Western culture, stripping it of any vestiges of what secularists believe is a repressive and non-progressive system of belief.

Hitchcock rightly states, “The Enlightenment attempt to discredit Christianity in three ways – 1) as the incubator of hatred and violence, 2) as based on a false understanding of its own origins, and 3) as merely one manifestation of the natural human religious instinct – is now being reprised.”

Hitchcock is correct. In both subtle and blatant ways, Christianity is slowly being isolated and marginalized in the public square. Where it once was welcomed, the Christianity is now an increasingly unwelcome voice, a world-view now viewed as strange and obstructive. Whereas before the Christian worldview was the framework for the consideration of what was right and wrong, it has itself become the focus of suspicion and ridicule.

Are Christian’s the trouble-makers we’re made out to be? Do we foster violence, engender delusional beliefs, and manifest an arrogance of belief that is wrongly embraced? Do we hold to strange and unfamiliar truths that no longer resonate with modern culture? Is the church now the unwelcome guest at the community table?

While it is true that Christianity has had its share of abuses and abusers, maybe what we’re discovering is that the reaction a modern, secular culture is exhibiting toward Christianity is actually rather normal. Having come out of a period where Christianity was the ‘favored religion’ of Western culture, could it be that we are actually getting back to the normal reaction any secular culture has to a series of beliefs that focuses on the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the call for a humble repentant self, the authority of a Spirit-wrought book, and where the cross is not just a beautiful mantle piece, but a true symbol of the sacrificed life?

I want to suggest that, barring a revival of monumental proportions in Western culture, Christianity will continue to be minimized as a legitimate intellectual enterprise as noted by a plethora of strident atheists and marginalized as a series of silly beliefs held by wackos and people of sub-intelligence as suggested by many in the modern, main-stream media.

While we should be consistent in our beliefs, measured in our responses, and undaunted in our engagement of secular culture, we should also count ourselves in good company with a few other Christian trouble-makers in history. For example, Jesus troubled Herod’s kingdom at his birth (Mt. 2:3); Paul troubled Athens (Acts 17) and Ephesus (Acts 19) by simply preaching the gospel; and the whole church has been troubling the world to one degree or another for centuries.

Instead of being shocked at this recent rise of anti-Christian sentiment and instead of playing the role of the pouting adolescent who didn’t get invited to the class party, let us sharpen our minds with the great truths of the Christian intellectual traditions that have weathered more serious storms than are currently raging in our times. This is no time for cowardice, but for firm, yet loving spiritual and intellectual engagement. It may that God is refining his church, clarifying her beliefs, purifying her motives, and testing her mettle for some future event in God’s glorious purposes.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Mission for or a Mission of Jesus?

On Mission for or a Mission of Jesus?
Dr. Kevin Shrum

Question: Are you on mission for Jesus? Or, are you a mission of Jesus? I would imagine all of us are a little of both. To be on mission for Jesus is to do what Jesus would do, say what He would say, and go where He would go – after the lost and needy hard and fast. To be a mission of Jesus means that we’re on the receiving end of things; it means that we’re needy for His ministry – that we are the mission project.

While even the saved person will always need to be ministered to by God, it is all too often the case that we live on the receiving end of ministry and never mature to be on the giving end of ministry. Too many Christians are willing to receive ministry, but all too few are willing to give themselves away in ministry. It’s called the 80/20 rule: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people.

How does the believer move from the receiving end of missions and ministry to the giving end of missions and ministry? It’s called growing in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:13-17). It’s called maturity. The more mature a believer becomes the more they are willing to give themselves away for the cause of Christ; the less mature a believer is the longer they will remain as receivers and takers instead of givers and servers.
How can you move from the receiving end to the giving end of missions? How can you move to be on mission for Jesus and not just a mission of Jesus? The answer is what it has always been: 1) Bible study, 2) prayer, 3) service, 4) and fellowship with other believers. In addition, maturing in the faith means taking risks, along with sacrifice and dedication.

This is why missional and ministry involvement in and through your local church is essential. There are no ‘lone ranger’ Christians who go it alone. Maturing believers lock arms with other believers in giving themselves away for the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The result of all of these tools and opportunities ought to be a maturing body of believers willing to give themselves away in glad evangelism and missions.

I prayer that you’ll join the growing number of givers and servers, moving from the category of simply taking and receiving to giving and serving. Every believer will always be on the receiving end of God’s empowering grace and power – we need God’s power and strength. But the best way to receive is to give. It is in the giving away of yourself that you find yourself and the life God desires for us to experience (Mark 8:34-38).

Friday, May 27, 2011

Exploding the 'Myth of Culture'

Exploding the ‘Myth of Culture’
Dr. Kevin Shrum

The ‘myth of culture’ needs to be exploded if the gospel is to penetrate the culture. Let me explain. I recently returned from a twelve day stay in Kiev, Ukraine. Having returned home, I am more convinced than ever before that the ‘myth of culture’ is a false barrier we have created that is inhibiting the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the expansion of the kingdom of God in some areas of the world, particularly America.

While in Ukraine, God either taught me or reminded me of some very important essentials while teaching at Kiev Theological Seminary. One particular thing – maybe the most important thing – God reminded me of is what I call the ‘myth of culture.’ That is, we too often think that people in differing cultures are really different not only in their cultural practices but also in the nature of their souls. And if radically different, then when it comes to the gospel we need different gospels for different cultures. Unintentionally, concern for culture relativity has usurped a commitment to the one, true gospel. It’s as if we have made the gospel to suffer from a type of ‘multiple personality disorder.’ One gospel for this culture, one for the next culture – you get the idea. But is this true? Do we need a different gospel based upon differing cultures? Or, is the same gospel that saves in the Ukraine the same gospel that saves in Nashville, in Seattle, in Brazil, and so on…? Have we gone too far in the process of contextualization that we have failed to trust the gospel itself to save the sinner no matter his/her cultural background?

The reason the same gospel saves all who will repent of their sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is because all people in all cultures are essentially the same. I have preached from coast to coast in America as well as Brazil, Italy, Puerto Rico, and now the Ukraine. Here’s what I have discovered. Scratch beneath the surface of what we call ‘culture’ and you will find that we are all the same. Yes, people in Seattle do things differently than do the people in the Ukraine, just as people in Nashville do things differently than the people who live in Puerto Rico. Yet, deep in the soul of every person is an ‘essential sameness’ that the gospel speaks to with power and truth.

No matter where one lives, no matter the background of a person’s culture or heritage, this ‘essential sameness’ cab be distilled into five issues. That is, all of life can be filtered through these five issues. These five issues have helped me minister to people in different cultures, from different backgrounds with differing cultural traditions. Cultures do differ. People do things different in different ways from family to family, from region to region, from people group to people group, from country to country. I am not opposed to recognizing and appreciating our cultural practices. Such practices make life interesting. What my concern is is that we have so emphasized understanding culture that the gospel has become subservient to the culture. Relevance has become THE key issue rather than gospel clarity. Being relevant is relevant, but not if the gospel is minimized. We have many cultural technicians in the church without gospel competence.

Let me say it again, scratch the surface of what we call ‘culture’ and you will find beneath the surface that all people everywhere desire the same things. Why? Because all people are made in the ‘image of God.’ This image, though corrupted by sin, makes us common ancestors of our great Creator God and it makes us desire the same things. The reason the gospel of Jesus Christ is so powerful is because it meets all five needs. All five issues can be put in the form of a question. What are these issues?

1. Is there a God? If so, what is God like and what does this mean for life? If there is no God, then what does this mean for life? This is the spiritual question, the belief question! All people everywhere have some type of spiritual or non-spiritual belief based upon their answer to this question. This spiritual belief may vary from atheism, to agnosticism, to animism, to various modes of meditation and contemplation. This is a universal essential. We are incurably religious.
→ The gospel answers this question by reminding us that there is a God. That this God is holy and loving, merciful and righteous, a God who has revealed Himself 1) in His creation, 2) in His Word, and 3) in His Son as the One, True God in three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – and who has spoken to us through His Word as God works through His church to evangelize the lost and to bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, gladly waiting for His second coming. This was Paul’s tactic in Athens as he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, Acts 17:22-34. He simply recognized the universal religiosity of the people within earshot and then preached the gospel.

2. Who am I? Am I a cosmic accident? Am I the by-product of evolutionary processes? Or, am I a unique creation of God? This is what I call the question of self-identity. All people everywhere desire to know who they are. All people desire to know if they have meaning and purpose. In fact, we spend a great deal of our lives attempting to understand who we are, where we came, and what our destiny is. If we are incurably religious, we are also individually analytical.
→ The gospel answers this question by reminding us that we are created in the image of God. Though this image has been corrupted by sin, in Jesus Christ we are made new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), given new birth (John 3:3) with a new self (Eph. 4:17-32). In brief, 1) we are special by creation as made in the image of God, 2) we are sinners by reprobation as rebellious against our Creator, 3) we are saints being justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and 4) we are sanctified by the Spirit as new creations in Jesus Christ. Our identity is ‘in Christ’ as we’re remade and renewed as a new creation.

3. Who are you to me? This is the question of relationship! This question covers the relationships between individuals, in families, between nations, etc. In fact, economics is a form of relationship based on currency. Politics is about relationships. What happens in the church is all about relationships. How we relate to each other is an all-consuming feature of life. While we are incurably religious and individually analytical, we are also relationally connected.
→ The gospel answers this question by reminding us that as we were made relational creatures who relate to God through grace and love God, a grace and love that enables us to love our neighbors, both believer and unbeliever alike (Matthew 22:34-40).

4. What should I do with my life? Should I be a preacher, a missionary, a farmer, a politician, a businessman, a criminal, an artist, a writer, etc.? This is the question of vocation. That is, what should I do with my life? Along with this question comes the question – Does my work have meaning and purpose? Does what I do make any difference at all? Or, is my work futile and empty? It doesn’t matter if you live on the African plain, reside in the crowded city of New York, or live in a remote village on the frozen tundra of the Gulag, we desire to know what to do with our very fragile and brief lives. Incurably religious, individually analytical, and relationally connected, we are also vocationally quizzical.
→ The gospel reminds us that our vocation – no matter if it’s sacred or legitimately secular – can bring glory to God. In fact, 1 Corinthians 10:3 reminds us that we are to do all things for the glory of God. This makes the work of the farmer and the missionary important to God because both can bring glory to God (Colossians 3:12-17).

5. Finally, what happens when I die? This is the question of eternity! When I die do I cease to exist? Is there such a thing as reincarnation? Or, is there a heaven and hell? We are, as it were, eternally challenged.
→ The gospel reminds us that there is a heaven and hell, there is an eternity (Hebrews 9:27). Because we are made in the image of God there is a longing for another world. God has set eternity in the heart of mankind whether or not humanity acknowledges this truth. The gospel answers this question by reminding us that there is an eternity – heaven or hell – whose destination is decided by how one responds to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the here and now.

So, let the guy in south Alabama enjoy his sweet tea and the lady in London her hot tea; let the person in the Ukraine enjoy her borsch and the person of the upper plains of America his chicken-noodle soup; let the tribesman of the middle plains of Africa enjoy his exotic cuisine and the Texan her grilled steak. Let Celtic music sooth the soul and Asian artistry enamor the mind. Yet, let the one, true gospel be preached to all people whom God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). And let every sinner hear the good news, responding with repentance and faith so that when all is said and done “a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb” will say with one voice “salvation belongs to our God!” (Rev. 7:9-10) It will be on that day that the ‘myth of culture’ will finally be exploded by the triumph of the one, true gospel – Jesus Christ!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Is The Church Un-Prepared for Opportunity?

Is the Church Un-Prepared for Opportunity?
Dr. Kevin Shrum

We live in interesting times, do we not? Morally and spiritually, as well as economically and politically, it seems that everything has been turned on its head. And in the middle of these tumultuous times, the church seems to have been caught, as we would say where I grew up, ‘standing flatfooted.’ In other words, it appears that the church has been surprised by the sinfulness of sin, the increasing secularization of society, and the continual de-Christianizing of the Christian West in particular.

Such changes have morphed into heated discussions on the redefinition of marriage, the viability of alternative lifestyles and orientations, and the legitimacy of the church itself…and the list could go on. People outside the church respond, ‘What’s the big deal? Religion is out-of-date, we’re more scientific in orientation and less focused on fables and myths.’ People inside the church, when they crawl out from under the rock where they often live, are absolutely shocked at the exponential explosion of anti-Christian, non-Christian, and secular developments.

But should we be surprised at these events? And should we not view the times in which we live as a God-ordained judgment on sin as well as a God-wrought opportunity for the power of the gospel? I, for one, think that the gospel shines best when it seems darkest. No place was more secular than the Athens of Acts 17. Yet, the Apostle Paul preached the gospel with blazing boldness. And what was the response? Some believed, some made fun of Paul and the gospel, and others said they would give further consideration to the gospel (Acts 17:32-34). Should we expect any less?

More importantly, Paul didn’t analyze culture through geo-political lens or through an economic window. He wasn’t discouraged by the sinfulness of sin and/or the secularization of culture. Paul viewed all things through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The results were amazing. Paul had more confidence in the gospel than he had in any potential discouragement he experienced from the sinfulness of sin and/or the secularization of culture. Further, the gospel burned a path across the Middle East and Western Europe, a flame that leaped across the Atlantic and for more than 200 years burned a path across a new nation called America. In essence, the spiritual fire produced by the gospel boldly preached was fueled by and burned up the dry, parched ground of sinful secularism.

What’s the point? We live in days of great peril as well as tremendous opportunity, depending on one’s perspective. The difference between the two is how one perceives either the efficacy or the impotency of the gospel. Those first century believers lived in perilous times, yet without the amenities we know from modernity they conquered the world because they radically believed the power of gospel of Jesus Christ to transform lives that in turn transformed cultures.

What must we do? Is such a revolution possible again? What are we to do? 1) Let us reaffirm our belief in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 2) Let us take our confidence from the gospel and not from political movements, economic trends or slick marketing campaigns. 3) Let us ‘come out’ of our religious closets – church fortresses – and make ourselves known as loving, truthful Christians. 4) Let us engage culture with the gospel not in spite of the gospel. 5) Let us not hook our religious wagons to political machines thinking that the kingdom of God comes through worldly power instead of by Spirit-empowered means.

6) Let us live with the kind of gospel confidence that enables us to be unembarrassed of living a transformed, Christ-centered life. 7) Let us prepare to joyfully live behind ‘enemy lines,’ not expecting favorable decisions from pop, political and/or judicial culture. 8) Let us live with gospel contentment and peace, though in the minority. 9) Let us saturate our minds and hearts with God’s inerrant Word as the lead weapon in our spiritual struggles. 10) Finally, let us gather with other gospel believing Christians to preach and serve the world as salt and light. With such gospel embracing confidence and commitment perilous times morph into seasons of opportunity.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Recovering the God-Centeredness of God

Recovering the God-Centeredness of God
Kevin Shrum

Most believers are more me-centered than we care to admit, even when it comes to the necessity of God’s God-centeredness. We are sympathetic with the notion that God should get ‘all the glory’ so long as God is all about us and our glory in His actions and attitudes. Shouldn’t God use His great glory and power on our behalf and to our benefit? Aren’t we the ‘apple of His eye?’ Aren’t we special, unique, and cherished in His sight? I suppose there is a degree of truth to each of these statements. Yet, how humbling it is to come to terms with the fact that God is first and foremost God-centered before He is anything else and that His main goal is to glorify and enjoy Himself forever, a glory and enjoyment we are allowed to be caught up in as a benefit of His magnificent grace and mercy.

As a result of downplaying the God-centeredness of God, we have turned salvation into a ‘me-centered’ enterprise. God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and life-giving power are there to show-case how valuable we are to God. What arrogance, what hubris we must own up to when the clay says to the master potter, ‘It’s all about me!’ Let us remember that God does not love us because we are valuable; we are valuable only to the degree that God made us and loves us as image bearers and reflections of our creative and great God.

Our me-centered theology has morphed the church into a self-serving enterprise, as well. Think about it. The church these days, in large part, has become a place where mini-gods rub elbows with each other as we make much of ourselves, our skills, our blessings, and our lives. Instead of making sure God remains at the center of the marriage event between the bridegroom (Jesus) and the bride (the Church), we have made the church out to be a place of performance and self-actualization. The church has become the prostitute that serves our self-interests, pimped by a clergy who help perpetuate the me-centeredness of her members. This is why the main questions in some churches are: Are my needs being met? Am I being fed? Where are the people like me? Why do people not make much of me and my talents? Churches would be massively transformed if we constantly pointed people away from self and to the Savior. Instead of preaching the doctrine of self-fulfillment and self-actualization, let us preach the doctrines of self-abandonment and self-denial, for it is in the abandoning of ourselves to God that He saves us.

Our me-centered theology has transformed missions into a series of neat little excursions into ‘another context’ so that we won’t feel so guilty about our lavish lives. Rather than living and breathing mission wherever we are all the time – that our life is not our own – we plan episodic mission events to those who have it bad because we have it so good. The remaining part of our life is ours to determine what we choose do with it. Mission has become digging wells for clean water because our water is so clean, yet not offering the life-giving water of the gospel; mission has become feeding the poor because we are so filled and fat instead of offering people food that fills the soul. Digging wells, feeding the poor and rescuing people from wickedness are all noble causes, so long as they pave the way for the water of life, the bread of eternity, and the rescuer from sin – Jesus. Mission is mission only to the degree that one soul tells another soul about the God-centeredness of God in Jesus Christ whose God-centeredness becomes the sole source of true liberation. To simply do good to and for others, if separated from this God-centered gospel, will only reinforce the me-centered condition of humanity. Let us feed, cloth, and rescue the helpless and the hopeless, yet do it with the gospel in mind, lest while preparing people to live in this life we do not prepare them for the next.

Our me-centeredness has equally turned marriage into a self-centered contractual relationship. Take two people and put them together with the goal of self-actualization and there will be trouble. Yet, put two people together who push each other toward the one true, eternal God in Jesus Christ and there will be passion, romance, understanding, grit, and determination. In fact, take a woman who is lifted up to God as a precious offering by her husband, a husband who longs to see his wife blossom into a beautiful vessel in which the treasure of God can be displayed, and I will show you a God-centered marriage that can weather any storm with grace and grit; take a man whose wife lifts him up to God as the humble leader of his home and I will show you a man who will die for her, an example of God’s sacrificial God-centeredness. In both cases, show me a God-centered marriage and I will show you a man and a woman, a marriage, where God directs the household to domestic peace and purpose.

The problem with the God-centeredness of God is that it conflicts with the me-centeredness of me, a dilemma that can be traced back to the garden in which THE temptation was for us to become like God (Gen. 3:5). Since the Fall, sin has shifted the center of human existence from God to self. I am convinced that the reason many in the church have no, true joy is because we attempt to wire the soul with the circuitry of a me-centered world and the God-centeredness of God. It just won’t work; we’ll blow a circuit. And no matter how much we possess or how much we reach for self-actualization there will be no joy or peace.

The good news is that in Jesus Christ a new creation begins for the me-centered sinner that is caused by God and where God once again becomes the center of all things. Instead of God orbiting our lives, our lives orbit His in Jesus Christ. But, oh, how painful this transformation is as we are usurped as the god of the universe, replaced by a God-centered God who is once again acknowledged in all things as supreme and whose God-centeredness graciously spills over into all things that benefit His children.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Universalism: For Whom the Bell Tolls? – It Tolls for Thee

Universalism: For Whom the Bell Tolls? – It Tolls for Thee
Dr. Kevin Shrum

The anticipation of the release of Rob Bell’s new book continues to grow. If the title of the book – Love Wins : Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived - is any indication of Bell’s future theological trajectory we will see the precursor of what will become full-blown universalism. Bell’s defenders will accuse his opponents of overstating the dangers of the questions Bell is asking concerning God’s love, the reality of the nature of our eternal destinies, and the seeming incongruity between a belief in a loving God and the radical punishment (eternal hell) for those who reject God’s love; Bell’s detractors will act as if Bell is the first person to wander off the theological reservation.

If Bell is headed toward a full-blown universalism that is wrapped in Christian garb, I have but one statement and one major question for Bell.

My statement is rather personal, so let me address it directly to Rob Bell: “Rob, when I heard about your book, watched some of your video clips, and read some of the numerous responses to your proposals I had this vision of you standing on a white sand beach, sun-tan oil and towel in hand, sunning yourself in the rays of God’s warm sun, oblivious to the fact that a tsunamic tidal-wave was rising up out of the ocean ready to sweep away everything and everyone in its path, including you. Don’t you realize that the beach of universalism on which you’re stepping has been tried before and that, just as before, a tidal-wave of biblical truth and historical/theological consensus will sweep you away? You will become a footnote in the history of the church as just another well-intentioned ‘theologian’ who tried to spit into God’s powerful whirlwind of truth. Rob, I’ve never met you, but please, get off the beach before your stellar career is swept away.”

My questions are rather personal, as well: “Rob, if Love Wins in the way you are reported to say that it does, why be a Christian at all? I don’t get it. If, in the end, nothing really matters (how I live or who I serve) because God will save the worst of us even if we refused to follow Jesus in this life, why follow Jesus in this life at all? Why live holy or make any attempt to really love my neighbor? This is one thing I’ve never understood about universalism. If there’s nothing at stake, if everyone wins, if God’s holiness is actually meaningless and can be co-opted by my hubris, if love alone defines God apart from His holiness, righteousness, wrath, and judgment, then why make any attempt to follow Jesus in this life in the first place? By the way, Rob, if universalism is true don’t ever speak of church discipline to your church members or your kids – in the end, it doesn’t matter. Don’t ever speak of truth – it doesn’t matter. Please don’t tell me that following the ‘Jesus way’ will make my life smoother, easier, or better in this life. Who cares? If universalism is true, then truth is determined by the autonomous self that will get the good side of both time and eternity no matter what.”

But, Rob, I have more questions. If universalism is true, I’m going for the best of what both worlds have to offer – eat, drink, and be merry in this life for tomorrow I will die, and when I do die I get heaven no matter what happened this side of eternity. And what’s my reward? I get away with it! Fantastic! Again, please don’t tell me that I should still follow Jesus in this life because it will make my life better. Are you kidding! I’m a ‘stinkin’ sinner’ who is already uninterested in and struggling with changing my ways, so if I don’t have to and I can still get heaven and if thumbing my self-important finger in God’s face has no eternal consequences, this is awesome and I for one am all about it. If universalism is true I may or may not be faithful to my wife, depending on if it benefits me; I may or may not love my kinds, etc. You get the picture. Oh, by the way, it’s nice that Jesus lived, said some amazing words, ‘died for sinners’, rose from the dead, etc. – if you still believe all that stuff. But if universalism is true then I’m not going to miss whatever ‘it’ is in this life because I’ll get ‘it’ in the long run. I must say, your orthodoxy has truly become generous.”

“I join John Piper in bidding you farewell, Rob Bell. Let me be prophetic. The crowds will still attend your church and your conferences, your book will sell (I bought one myself), and you will become even more rich and famous than you are now. But you have become what Jesus said of the Pharisees of old (Mt. 23:13-15): ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.’ Be well and be safe on your journeys across the universalistic high seas. So long, Rob Bell, so long. Only remember but one question: For whom does the bell toll? Rob, it tolls for thee.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reclaiming the Exclusivity of Jesus Christ

Reclaiming Jesus as the ‘Only Way’
Dr. Kevin Shrum

The Christian claim that Jesus is the exclusive and unique way to know God has been, is, and will continue to be an on-going discussion both within the church and outside the church. Within the church the issue of exclusivity makes some Christians cringe because they do not want to appear to be narrow-minded, unloving, disengaged, arrogant, parochial, and isolated from culture. Outside the church the claim of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only way to know God comes off as prideful, uninformed, and sophomoric. How can the Christian message claim to be ‘the’ exclusive way to know and experience God in a personal, saving way? What hubris! What spiritual bigotry! And yet, this is the historic claim of Christians.

Sadly, as a pastor, I see many Christians unable to explain in substantive terms the reasons for this claim. The truth of ‘Jesus is the Only Way’ has simply been passed down from one generation to the next, often times without thought or reflection. The results of this kind of unthinking Christianity are devastating. When pressed about his/her beliefs in such assertions, the unthinking Christian will either a.) abdicate their position by claiming that Jesus is ‘a way’ but not ‘the way;’ or b.) they will defensively retort to their inquisitor with equally unthinking terms such as ‘just cause’ or ‘the Bible says so.’ Yes, the Bible says so, but where does it say it and why does it say it?

So, let me be elementary in restating just a few reasons why Christians can confidently claim that Jesus is the exclusive way to know and experience God in a saving way.

First, Jesus claimed exclusivity. The critic will often respond to the claim of exclusivity with comments like, ‘Well, that’s just your opinion.’ They will act as if it’s a claim Christians thought up just to aggravate people. The problem with this response is that it is ignorantly void of understanding the source of the exclusive claims of Christianity. In other words, the Christian does not have to bear the weight of being the source of this claim. Why? Because it was Jesus Himself who made such exclusive claims. Numerous times either directly (John 14:6) or indirectly (John 5:16-18) Jesus claimed that He alone was the exclusive way to know God (see also Acts 4:12; Gal. 1:6-10; John 8:48-59; John 10:30-33; Phil 2:5-11). The critic may argue with you about this claim, but she will not be able to do so based upon hearsay or personal opinion. They will have to take up their case not with you but with Jesus. Yes, we speak this truth. But let Jesus bear the weight of this claim – He can handle it.

Second, Jesus Claimed to be God. As if claiming to be the exclusive way to God is not enough, Jesus goes one step further by claiming to be God. The religious leaders of His day picked up on this even when His own disciples remained clueless. In fact, John 5:18 states that they understood Jesus words and deeds as “…making himself equal with God.” Such a claim dovetails with other core Christian doctrines such as the trinity. Let it be stated clearly then: Jesus did not become God at His birth, He was not adopted as God at His baptism, nor did He gain that title/position through His crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus’ claim is larger. He claimed to have always been God – pre-incarnate God come in the flesh who now reigns eternally as a part of the Trinity - Father, Son , and Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14).

Third, Jesus Forgave Sins. But Jesus not only made outrageous claims, He did outrageous things that only God can do – He forgave sins. Case in point: In Mark 2:1-12 a lame man was brought to Jesus by four of his friends. After having dismantled the roof of the house, they lower their ill friend before Jesus. They wanted a healing service, but Jesus gave them more than they bargained for. He not only healed the man physically, He forgave his sins. To demonstrate He had the power to heal, He both healed (the temporal need) and forgave (the eternal need) the paralytic. This act stunned the religious-minded who were crammed into this small house with dozens of other seekers. They knew that such an action was none other than an implicit, yet bold claim to be God. In fact, Mark 2:7 records what was going through the minds of the religious leaders, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus forgives sins. Only God can do this.

Finally, Jesus Accepted Worship. This point is not discussed enough, yet is as powerful as any supporting the exclusive claims of Jesus. Stated clearly – Jesus never refused the worship of people. This takes the cake! To ‘say’ you are the only way to God could be understood as mere words that can be dismissed as arrogance. And, the claim to be God could put Jesus in the class of a lunatic as C.S. Lewis noted. Further, to forgive sins could be understood as simply the therapeutic act of a religious sage for the wounded soul. But Jesus’ acceptance of worship as God is over the top. This means that Jesus not only talked like God, He acted like God because God alone is jealous for worship and worthy of worship.

I wonder what the response of the Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at Jacob’s well would be if we asked her if the exclusive claims of Jesus are true and if worship of Jesus is a misdirected and/or ill-advised act? I think her response would be – you may not believe Jesus is God, but I have met Him, I have experienced His forgiveness, I have heard the truth because He is the truth, and I have found the true place of worship at His feet (John 4:1-45). Let us then boldly and humbly claim what Jesus claimed – He’s the truth, the way, and the life!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Christians are Atheists

Christians are Atheists
Kevin Shrum, Isaac Shrum, Caleb Shrum

Let’s begin with an outlandish claim: Christians are atheists. We want to add to the new generation of atheists that have arrived on the scene, i.e. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, et al, a new and unique category of atheistic persons: Christians. How can such a claim be substantiated? Aren’t Christians supposed to be theists? That depends on your definition of theism and atheism. Christians are theists if you mean by that term a belief in a creator, sovereign God who is personally involved in creation. However, if you’re counting on Christians resting their faith on ‘all things that are not god’ then Christians can rightly be labeled atheists. In other words, there are some things Christians do not believe in. The claim that Christians are atheists is not new, however.

The argument for Christianity on the basis of a specific definition of atheism finds it roots in the second century. In fact, it was used by one of the first Christian apologists of the church, Justin Martyr (A.D 100 – A.D. 165). Let me explain. One of the charges against the early church was that Christians were atheists because ‘they did not believe in the gods of the time.’ Christians rejected belief in the pantheon of gods of the ancient world in favor of belief in the One, True God. When Justin Martyr was making his defense of Christianity before the Roman Emperor, Titus Aelius Adrianus Antonius Pius Augustus Caesar (b. AD 86 – d. 161) who ruled Rome from AD 138 – 161, he used a novel form of the atheistic argument that captured the essence of Christianity in succinct terms.

Here’s what Justin said in ‘The First Apology of Justin’ before Caesar: “For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue. Hence, are we (Christians) called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from impurity.”

In essence, what Justin Martyr did was morph the accusation that Christians are atheists by embracing the accusation and reinterpreting its meaning. Christians are full-blown theists if that means a belief in the God and Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But if theism is defined as a general belief in the things that the world considers holy then Christians are atheistic when it comes to a belief in the ‘gods of this world.’ What are these gods that Christians do not believe in as ultimate reality?

One god that Christians do not believe in is the god of ‘self’, or ‘the old self’. According to 2 Corinthians, once the unbeliever is saved, he or she is a ‘new creation’ in Christ, ‘the old has gone, and the new has come’. Though saved, the Christian remains in a constant struggle with the god of self. Daily, the believer is enticed to follow his own will and to reject God’s way. The book of Philippians gives a vivid picture of what the ‘god of self’ looks like when he states, “Their (non-believer) end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

The writer in Proverbs realizes the folly of following the god of self when he states, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 16:25). Pride so easily lures the believer into ‘gratifying the desires of the flesh’ (Galatians 5:16). The apostle Paul knew that the war with self would only become worse when in 2 Timothy he states that, “people will be lovers of self.” But, since the believer is led by the Spirit of God he is now able to shun the selfish desires and passions of the old self. Therefore, the Christian is ‘atheistic’ by rejecting the ‘god of self’, and clinging to the One True God.
Another god that Christians do not believe in is worldly knowledge. Christians are not anti-intellectual. Rather, for the Christian, true ‘knowledge’ is found in fearing the Lord, and not in earthly knowledge or wisdom. In fact, the god of knowledge in an unbelieving world is exposed in 1 Corinthians 1 when Paul writes, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” The only true “knowledge” comes in the gospel of Jesus Christ. To the unbeliever, the Gospel is folly, but to the believer it is “the power of God.”

If anyone had reason to put faith into human knowledge, it was the apostle Paul. Before his conversion to Christianity he says that he was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people,” and that he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” It was not uncommon for Paul to have had the first five books of the Bible memorized. Talk about intellect! However, Paul knew that the only thing worth “knowing” was Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” By not putting faith in the knowledge the world offers, the Christian can once again be labeled atheistic.

Christians are also atheistic in that they do not believe in the god of family. Family is good, precious, and beneficial. Family was created by God in the beginning. Families are made to glorify God. However, many in the world value family above God. Family heritage, siblings, and parents are elevated to a status that is more important than Christ. For the Christian, there are principles in Scripture that teach how a family should function (Ephesians 6), but family should never take the place of the living God. Jesus hit on this point in the gospel of Matthew when He said, “…whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). So, the Christian is an atheist in that a commitment to Jesus Christ supersedes commitment to family.

Christians can also be classified as atheists by not believing in politics as the source of ultimate reality. An ambiguous term nonetheless, politics can include: political parties, presidents, authorities, leaders, governments, kingdoms and various institutions. It can also refer to a belief in the ‘collective’ of the body politic as the most important factor of human existence. The writer of Psalms (20) knew that trusting in Kings was futile when he said, “some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Christians respect political persons and processes; Christians pray for political leaders; Christians participate in the political processes of their respective country. But Christians do not view politics as the summa of all things.

Along with the aforementioned gods, Christians do not believe in the god of sports. Our family loves sports. But, sports can’t save anyone. The point is that we have placed our faith in Christ and not sports. Sports can be good, but the world we live in today is one where sports ego and pride have been elevated to an all time high, morphing sporting into a religion with its many centers of worship (arenas & stadiums) and hero worship of specific athletes. There is no doubt that the New Testament is full of sports analogies/images when speaking of the Christian life, but the writers knew that sports, games, or athletics should never be more important than Christ. In fact, by using these sporting analogies, the writers of Scripture often prove the point that the Christian life is not about sports, but about Christ.

For example, in 1 Timothy chapter 4, Paul says that “physical training is of some value, but godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. “ Paul was not naïve. He lived in a culture that valued sports; but he also knew that worldly competition and training are temporary and worthless compared to knowing Christ. Because the Christian does not have faith in sports, he or she can be classified once again as an atheist.

Another god that Christians cast aside is the god of sex. Sex is not intrinsically evil – God created it to be enjoyed in a committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationship. Sex becomes a god, even in marriage, when abused and misused, when it is taken out of the context of its intended purposes. Don’t get us wrong, marriage is good. Marriage was created by God and gives a marvelous representation of Christ’s love for the church. However, Paul knew that relationships can cause us to so easily take our eyes off of Jesus. He knew that human relationships could potentially take the place of Christ, and that is why he warns us to worship Christ alone. Jesus and the Apostles also knew how easily human sexuality can be perverted and corrupted. Christians are to love the Lord passionately, while keeping relationships in proper perspective. Therefore, Christians are yet again atheistic by refusing to worship the god of relationships, instead, worshiping the God of the universe.

And what about the god of work? Perhaps the most disguisable, but most common deity set up by man is the exertion he puts forth to further his career. Though hard work and advancement in vocational abilities can be used to bring glory to God, often man will shift his focus from the pursuit of God’s glory to the more immediate self-gratification of climbing various sorts of corporate ladders. It becomes necessary for the Christian to adopt an atheistic view of the god of work as a self-serving being if he is to be a conduit for the glory of God. Therefore, the most prodigious career path that can be taken lies not in the genre of trade one desires to pursue, but the motivation with which one pursues it. If the final result of hard work is monetary success and social prestige, the Christian has conceded to the god of work and is a servant to it. Yet if he relentlessly seeks to bring glory to God – and sees that as his chief purpose - the means of hard work can be extremely useful in such an endeavor.

To this list of gods could be added the gods of false ideas, of false religions of all stripes and types (all ‘isms’ that are not true), the god of tradition, and the god of science as the explanation of all things meaningful as manifested in the scientific method as the lens by which all truth is analyzed. Christians respect many of the aforementioned ideas and issues. Yet, when it comes to making these ideas and issues ultimate reality we choose to disbelieve. So, move over Hitchens and Dawkins and make room for the new atheists on the block who do not believe in any of the gods you suggest have usurped the One True God in who we believe!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review of Gabe Lyons' book, The Next Christians

Review of Gabe Lyons’ book, The Next Christians
What’s Missing from Gabe Lyons’ book, The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith?
Dr. Kevin Shrum

Gabe Lyons’ book, The Next Christians, is an excellent read. It is provocative. Having consumed his co-authored book, unChristian, I read Lyons’ new literary offering with great anticipation. Lyons argues several points in describing what the next generation of Christians will look like in word and deed. First, Lyons argues that the old forms of Christianity in Western civilization, especially in ‘Christian America’, are passing away and are being replaced by what Lyons calls ‘next Christians’ with new modalities of cultural engagement. I agree.

Second, he argues that these ‘next Christians’ are guided by the goal of ‘restoration’ as they seek to restore all things as intended in God’s original creative purposes. Lyons views the ‘kingdom of God’ as the restoration of all things to their intended purposes.

Finally, Lyons argues that these same ‘next Christians’ are guided by a concept he calls the ‘power of the ought.’ That is, ‘next Christians’ focus on how things ‘ought’ to be rather than how things really are – they are more hopeful and positive than previous generations as they engage culture through restorative means. The driving force of the life of a ‘next Christian’ is pursuing how things ‘ought’ to be rather than focusing on the negatives of the present. In the end, Lyons states that when ‘next Christians’ begin to act in this restorative, ‘oughtness’ manner the embarrassment of wearing the Christian label will be removed, thus, paving the way for a new era of evangelism, missions, even conversions.

Lyons proposes that the means by which ‘next Christians’ engage the culture will be multifaceted: they will be provoked by what they see, but not offended; creatively involved, but not critical of culture; called, but not rigidly employed; grounded, yet not distracted; in community, not alone; and, countercultural, but not relevant. In other words, ‘next Christians’ will creatively engage the world in seeking the goal of kingdom restoration in every area of influence – among individuals as well as the media, politics, business, art, music, etc.

But after reading The Next Christians, and even re-reading parts of the book several times, I walked away asking myself, ‘Why do I sense there is something missing in this book? Who doesn’t want to restore things? What believer among us would openly say they don’t want to engage the culture, or help the poor, or help the sick?’ Again, I asked myself, ‘What’s missing from this otherwise excellent book?’ Let me answer my own questions with a set of questions that were provoked by Lyons’ book.

First, when did the goal of Christianity become removing the ‘embarrassment label?’ I understand Lyons’ concern over embarrassing Christians if he means the silly and cheesy attitudes and behaviors some Christians display in public and private. Yet, the ‘taint’ of being a Christian will never be completely removed because the gospel itself is both offensive and redemptive, cold-blooded truth and warm-hearted mercy, inconvenient precept and massive amounts of grace. If Lyons is referring to the embarrassment that comes from some non-Christian words and deeds offered up by Christians, then I concur. But if he is suggesting that the ‘embarrassment’ or ‘oddness’ of wearing the label of ‘Christian’ can be fully removed due to the nature of the subject itself, he is sadly mistaken and has forgotten what Jesus said (Jn. 15:18), “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.”

It’s not that Christians should go looking for a fight (a.k.a. the idiot, Pastor Fred Phelps) or that we should be intentionally rude, prudish, and arrogant because we “have the truth!” We are to live in humble peace with all men if at all possible, doing good to all people, especially to fellow believers (Gal. 6:10). Yet, the offensiveness of the gospel cannot, must not, be removed. It is offensive to live the gospel because of the gospel itself, which tells us that we are sinners by birth and by choice; that left to our own devices we remain under the condemnation of God; and, that no amount of beauty, art, social engineering or cultural engagement can change my sinful heart. The gospel of Jesus Christ alone redeems, forgives, makes righteous.

The gospel is embarrassing because the gospel graciously and audaciously announces, if you will, the ‘Emperor has no clothes,’ that we are destitute sinners, uncovered before a holy God, albeit we are ‘abercrombie and fitch’ wearing rebels. If our goal is to make wearing the label ‘Christian’ ‘un-embarrassing’ then we have more problems than the biblically illiterate Christians who fill many of our churches. We may have a problem with the redeeming, offensive, gracious, stumbling block of the gospel itself (1 Cor. 1:18).

Second, is the goal of the kingdom of God restoration or regeneration? I’m not trying to split theological hairs here, but there is a difference between these two words. When using the word ‘restore’ Lyons seems to be arguing that the goal of the gospel is to put things as they were prior to the sin of our first parents. While an admirable goal, is this really the consummate, overarching goal of the kingdom of God and the gospel? Is this a burden we can bear? Does restoration have more to do with cultural and social renewal than personal regeneration? Is this kind of restoration even possible? The reason restoration may be a well-intended, but misguided goal is that until God makes all things new (Rev. 21:5) we remain locked in a world under the curse of sin. We will never be able to ‘restore’ things as they were. Restoration will lead to frustration because ‘Humpty Dumpty’ has fallen off the wall and cannot be put back together.

Yes, we feed the poor, visit the homeless, fight injustice, dig wells, and engage culture in positive ways. But if restoration is our goal then frustration will be the outcome because the needs of restoration will continue to increase exponentially. Maybe this is why Jesus said that the poor will always be with us (Mt. 26:11). It’s not that Jesus was applauding poverty, hunger, homelessness or trying to retard the need to meet these needs. Instead, he was simply recognizing the ‘chronic’ nature of things that are broken because we live in a broken world. The Christian does feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and ministers to the broken – all in the name of Jesus (Mt. 5:38-42). But, is our goal restoration?

Maybe our goal as believers should be regeneration. Regeneration is the making of a new person in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), with a new nature, new desires, new purposes. It is the removal of the curse of sin through the power of Jesus Christ. Regeneration makes us new internally and prepares us for that which is eternal. It is the transformation of a person in Jesus Christ. Regeneration does not ignore the social or physical conditions of the individual, but is mindful that ‘real, eternal’ poverty is that of the heart and mind and is the direct result of the curse of sin. Maybe it’s just me, but the word ‘restoration’ leaves me frustrated. It reminds me of liberalism’s desire to do good, but without the gospel.

Having participated in helping feed the poor, clothe the naked, and assist in remedying human suffering, I am keenly aware that a new heart and mind is the ultimate goal of the gospel. How sad it would be to feed the hungry and not give them eternal bread. How sad it would be to clothe the naked only to miss being the conduit by which God clothes the sinner in his righteousness. How sad to dig fresh water wells, only to withhold the life-giving water of Jesus Christ.

Third, is the goal of Christianity the transformation of culture or the transformation of the individual? This is the ‘chicken or the egg’ dilemma. Which comes first? Who among us would not want to transform the community? Who would resist the opportunity to renew aspects of culture so that they comport with God’s purposes? In fact, wherever Christianity has been strong culture has reflected this gospel influence. But is culture our target or human transformation? I suppose one could argue that the two cannot be separated. Even the Reformers (Luther & Calvin) sought to remove the line between the sacred and the secular so that all work was God’s work. So, the cultural influence of the gospel is not to be ignored.

Maybe I can ask the ‘questions of my discomfort’ with Lyons’ argument this way – Did Paul go to Rome to change the culture or preach the gospel? Was his trip to the Areopagus an endeavor in cultural enlightenment or an occasion to preach the gospel? Did the early church set out to engage the culture or to preach the life-transforming gospel so that individuals could be changed who would then live out that new life in cultural engagement? Did Paul ever protest the injustice of abusive tax rates that affected all people, especially the poor (I wish he had)? Was Jesus, Paul, and/or Peter a cultural crusader or a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Again, cultures have been and will be transformed and unjust systems will be altered as the gospel takes root deep in the human soul. But if we make the restoration of culture the first and primary goal – the main goal – then I fear that the church will end up frustrated with the outcomes and disconnected from the ‘essential’ nature and purpose of the gospel.

Fourth, why did Lyons’ book leave me with the sense that the gospel itself is missing. I’m not suggesting Lyons doesn’t believe the gospel. In fact, he pays homage to the gospel as the power of God in Jesus Christ to save. Yet, Next Christians reminds me of the contours of liberation theology where the gospel is ‘gutted’ of its righteousness, repentance and faith are downplayed, and the true gospel is replaced by a deed-based gospel that has as its goal the restoration of cultural means. The assumption is that as Christians engage culture sinners cannot help but be changed. It’s kind of like conversion through cultural osmosis. This is why Lyons discounts other Christian modalities, i.e. the Insiders, Culture Warriors, Evangelizers, Blenders or Philanthropists and replaces them with Restorers who will enact Christianity like no previous generation. Maybe this is why I felt that when I finished reading Lyons’ book I had just finished a Tony Robbins book dressed up in Christian garb? Good, practical suggestions for engaging culture – you bet, but with no or little gospel.

Which leads me to my fifth and final question – Does Lyons perpetuate the common sin of postmodernism that C.S. Lewis described as ‘chronological snobbery?’ In essence, is Lyons suggesting that our Christian predecessors got it all wrong and now, at last, our generation will finally get it right? Is Lyons writing with hubris when he intimates that we should completely throw off the shackles of our forefathers and foremothers and embrace a new brand of generous, orthodox Christianity that is less gospel-orientated and more focused on cultural restoration and personal self-help? Is Lyons arguing that previous generations of Christians did not take their faith with them to work, to play, into the arts, into media outlets, etc.? To quote Lyons, the goal of the restorers is “to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love” as if no previous believers ever attempted this before 1975.

Maybe what we need to restore is the gospel itself. Maybe we need a more clear presentation of the gospel, not less. Lyons suggests that the ‘Restorers’ are commensurate with the Reformers of the 16th century. Really? Calvin and Luther (and disciples) did radically transform many aspects of culture, i.e. education, politics, art, etc. Yet, what Lyons misses is that the cultural transformation brought about by the Reformation happened only after an aggressive and all-consuming recovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Reformers discovered that it was not culture that was at risk of being lost, it was the gospel?

Maybe we have heard too little of the gospel? Maybe our problem is not cultural engagement (Christians have always engaged in cultural commerce for better or for worse). Maybe our problem is that we haven’t been gospel-centered enough. Is it possible that in our efforts to engage culture we have unraveled the gospel itself to accommodate our cultural engagement? Maybe we haven’t been embarrassing enough in our gospel convictions that transforms the soul, our ethics, and our goals and that then causes us to pay our taxes, feed the poor, clothe the naked, confront sex-trafficking, and other social sicknesses. This kind of thinking will keep us from having an appearance of godliness, yet not knowing the power of God (2 Tim. 3:5).

Lyons raises the prospect of William Wilberforce as an example of positive, Christian cultural engagement, a man who almost single-handily helped banish slavery in England. With this example I couldn’t agree more. However, what was the driving force of Wilberforce’s life? While he wrote many letters, Wilberforce wrote only one book, published in April 1797, “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of This Country Contrasted With Real Christianity.” And what was this book about? It was a commentary on the New Testament doctrines of grace as the sole basis for human renewal and cultural engagement. The basis of Wilberforce’s life and work was a strong, overt conviction in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wilberforce’s source of cultural engagement was not first and foremost the abolition of slavery, but the liberation of sinful man through the power of the gospel. If Lyons is true to his own example, I’m all for being a part of the ‘next Christians.’ But if Lyons means by restoration the renewal of culture by downplaying the embarrassing gospel, then I fear he will get neither the cultural or individual restoration he’s looking for.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ is Important

Why the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ is Important
Dr. Kevin Shrum

I am often asked, ‘What is the connection between the virgin birth and the birth of Jesus Christ? Why was the virgin birth the means by which God invaded the world and not another? What does it mean? Does it have any significance for us today? And does it really have any significance for God’s plan of salvation?’ The summary answer is that the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is important to God’s plan of salvation – but why?

The constant questioning of this miracle is connected to the protests against affirming the truth of the virgin birth. Critics have charged that the virgin birth is a mythical concept borrowed from ancient mystery-religions that predate Christianity; it is a borrowed concept that is not really true but that illustrates the birth of a deity. The problem with this argument is that Jesus’ divine nature does not depend on the virgin birth; it was simply a unique way to introduce God into history.

Others have noted that the texts in Isaiah (7:14; 9:6) that prophesied of this event refer not to a virgin but to a young maiden. The implication is that the ‘virgin birth’ was a literary technique/device used by the biblical writers to note that something special was taking place, but with the assumption that Mary would be impregnated the ‘normal way.’ Of course, this was a surprise to Mary who herself asked the angel Gabriel, “How will this be (to conceive a child), since I am a virgin?” (Lk. 1:34) Some have even gone so far as to assert that Jesus was the illegitimate child of a Roman solider who violated Mary and that the ‘virgin birth’ concept simply covered up this travesty. Even some within the ‘believing community simply ignore the virgin birth asserting that it has no real significance.

For us moderns, the virgin birth is difficult to understand because, as one gentleman said to me, ‘I think it was impossible for Mary and Joseph to control themselves; there’s no way they would stay pure until Jesus was born.’ It seems to me that this is a case of projecting 21st century morals onto 1st century people.

Let me give four reasons as to why the virgin birth is important.

First, the virgin birth affirms the unique nature of Jesus as the God-Man. The virgin birth gives clarification to the great doctrine of the dual nature of Jesus Christ – He was both God and Man fully and simultaneously in the incarnation. With an earthly mother and a heavenly Father (Lk. 1:35-38), the unique birth of Jesus fulfilled every prophesy concerning the coming of the Messiah (Mt. 1:22) – that he alone would be God and at the same time man and that God had come to rescue His people from their sins by doing so in human likeness (Phil 2:5-11) so that he could identify with them in every facet of life and temptation (Heb. 2), yet remain the perfect sacrifice for sin (2 Cor. 5:21). This is why Jesus was given two names at his birth – Jesus and Immanuel (Mt. 1:21-25). The one referring to his human connection to the deliverer Joshua and the other describing exactly Who it was that had come to deliver us – God himself.

Second, the virgin birth affirms that the One who has come to save sinners is holy. In fact, Luke 1:35 reminds us of the angel’s response to Mary’s inquiry as to how she would become pregnant having been with no man, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” Wow! The term ‘holy’ refers not only to the ‘other nature’ of Jesus Christ – he is God – but to the purity of his coming. Though scandalous to the outsider and uninformed, there is no taint of impurity with Joseph or Mary. Joseph was tender and pure toward Mary until after Jesus’ birth (Mt. 1:25) when they produced more children the natural way (Mt. 12:46; 13:53-56). Further, Mary’s purity of heart is exhibited in her Magnificat – song of praise (Lk. 1:46-56). While Catholics may reach too far in asserting Mary’s ‘Immaculate Conception’ as sinless woman, along with Jesus’ own sinless perfection, we can squarely affirm that Mary and Joseph were holy – set apart vessels – for the coming of a holy, sinless, and perfect God. The virgin birth places the emphasis on the Holiness of God and the purity of his coming.

Third, the virgin birth not only affirms Who it is that came to save us, but that God alone did it. The term and title ‘Immanuel’ is astonishing (Mt. 1:23). The virgin birth reminds us that it is not just another Judge, King, or prophet who has come to fulfill God’s redemptive plan – it is none other than God himself who has come. No other Judge was born this way; no other King was manifested in this way; no other prophet appeared on the scene of history in this manner. God did not send someone else to do his redemptive business – He came himself through a virgin. The virgin birth reminds us that God did it. This is why in Luke 1:37 the angel Gabriel told the stunned and surprised Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” The virgin birth of Jesus Christ has the fingerprints of God all over it. Who else would save sinners this way but God?

Fourth and finally, the virgin birth affirms Luke 1:37 – that God makes the impossible possible by connecting promise and fulfillment. This verse reads this way. The angel told Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” This is a direct quote from Genesis 18:14. Do you recall the scene? God had called Abraham and Sarah to be the progenitors of a new people, yet they were old and barren. But, God supernaturally enabled Abraham and Sarah to have a child naturally. In doing so, God fulfilled his promise of a child who would be the down-payment in a redemptive plan that would culminate in the birth of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus Christ is often referred to as the Son of God, the God and Father of our Lord and Savior, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The power of God to make the impossible possible was also fulfilled in Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk. 1:5-25). They, too, were old and barren, yet God gave them a child, John the Baptist. Like Isaac, John the Baptist was a naturally produced child enabled by the supernatural work of God so that God alone would get the credit (Lk. 1:64). The virgin birth of Jesus was the summa of God’s miraculous work – God came to earth in a supernatural way (Mt. 1:23) – “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” What is most important about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is that it reminds us that God did what seemed impossible – he came among us, fulfilling his promise to save sinners, making unholy things holy. This is the importance of the virgin birth.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Immanuel: Gift or Gift-giver?

Immanuel: Gift or Gift-giver?
Kevin Shrum

Christmas is upon us once again and the Malls are filled with Christmas consumers. Personally, Malls make me break out with hives, but to each his own. Give me a book, a cup of coffee or conversation with people I love and I’m good to go. Simplicity is on my radar this year!

I’ve been rethinking this whole Christmas thing, again. So, here’s my question, when the Bible uses the term ‘Immanuel’ in Matthew 1:23 to describe Jesus is it referring to Jesus as the gift of Christmas or to the gifts that He brings to us as Savior? Let me play my hand early – I think that even in the Christian world we place too much emphasis on the gifts of the Giver rather than the Giver of gifts.

Mind you, I am deeply grateful for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. In fact, there is no salvation apart from these attributes of salvation. Yet, I think too often we so focus on the gifts God gives us that we lose sight of the real gift – God Himself. It’s kind of like people who speak as if they would be just as happy going to heaven to see grandpa and grandpa, maybe even Paul and Timothy, without having any concern for seeing the Lord. Let’s be clear, heaven will not be heaven if Jesus is not present, no matter how much silver and gold and famous and/or loved people are present. And, Christmas is not Christmas without THE gift of Christmas – Jesus Christ Himself.

Maybe this is why the Spirit used the Word ‘Immanuel’ when inspiring the biblical writers in both Isaiah 8:8 and Matthew 1:23 to describe Who it was that had arrived in such an unceremonial, humble way – it was none other than ‘God with us.’ And here is the best part, if you get Jesus you get all of His benefits. If you focus on His benefits, i.e. forgiveness, mercy, grace, reconciliation, without taking Him first you receive neither Him nor His benefits.

My prayer this Christmas season is that more of God’s people will renew their love for Jesus. In doing so, they will receive the ‘good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ (Lk. 2:10-11) Jesus is Christmas, He is the gospel!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Is It Always the Pastors Fault?

Why Is It Always the Pastor’s Fault?
Dr. Kevin Shrum
When it comes to church health and life, why is it always the pastor’s fault when things don’t go well at church? Pastors are constantly told that the church rises no higher than its leadership. This is partly true – bad leadership, bad church; good leadership, good church. But it can also be true – good leadership, rebellious church. Why is there no category for bad church vs. good church? Why is the pastor always to blame and not the congregation as a whole? The pastor is also told that they receive a disproportionate amount of credit, so they should expect to receive their fair share of criticism. But we all know that leadership and church life are more complicated than this. Here are some reasons I have observed as to why some in the church believe the pastor is always at fault…

…because sometimes it is their fault. Let’s be honest. Some pastors are to blame for the life and health of the church they pastor. Bad attitudes, laziness, pettiness, and other attitudes and behaviors contribute to the ineffective leadership that causes the church to spiral out of control. So, the pastor is sometimes to blame.
…because we’re easy, public targets. But there are other reasons for the sometimes sorry life of the church that cannot be laid at the feet of the pastor. For example, the pastor is an easy target for the disgruntled and unsatisfied. Who else is there to blame than the one who represents the face of the church? You guessed it - the pastor. It’s hard to blame an impersonal building, a statistical budget or a systematic program. It’s even difficult to blame a group, i.e. deacons, elders, etc. It’s much easier to blame a person, one person, usually the pastor.
…because it’s easy to project on to the pastor one’s own failings. Sometimes the pastor gets the blame because he becomes the screen upon which church members project their own ecclesiastical disappointments and personal failures. It’s often easier to blame others – especially the pastor – than it is to deal with ones’ own sin and/or disobedience.
…because truth comforts and confronts – and people like only half this truth. A pastor who preaches God’s Word will find himself in hot water from time to time because truth not only comforts, it also convicts and confronts. It is perfectly natural to resist this kind of Word-produced, Spirit-induced, conscience-driven conviction. The accusation that the ‘Pastor is getting rather personal’ in his sermons or that ‘he should mind his own business’ becomes the impetus to strike out against the one who delivers the truth instead of allowing the truth to lead us to repentance and continued spiritual growth – shoot the messenger rather than receive the message.
…because there are personality issues involved. The church is made up of all kinds of people with differing personalities. This makes church interesting. It can also produce friction, especially if we expect everyone to be ‘just like me.’ Personality differences should remind us that our unity is found in the person of Christ, not in flattening out all of the personality issues that exist within the church. The pastor may have a different personality than I do, but this should not be a reason to criticize. A personality difference does not constitute a personality defect. God often uses interesting, sometimes quirky, all-the-time willing people to do His will.
…because there are style issues. In addition to personality issues there are also style issues. People do common things in different ways. This is especially true in the church and it is especially true in pastoral leadership. Style differences ought not to produce conflict or criticism.
…because spiritual warfare exists. A serious explanation for the conflict that often exists between the pastor and the church membership can be credited to spiritual warfare. Individuals are accountable for their own actions and attitudes. But we cannot be naïve. Satan and every demon in hell do not want to see the pastor and the people cooperate together for the cause of the gospel and the kingdom of God. The more Satan and his demons can tempt God’s people to turn on each other the more the work of the kingdom of God is inhibited. When conflict comes between the pastor and his flock, most of the time, it can be traced directly to Satanic/demonic temptations.
…because of an unwillingness to submit to biblically authentic leadership/authority. Authority is the new four-letter-word. Yet, the pastor is biblically commissioned to lead the church with biblically prescribed authority. This authority must not be personality-driven or solely positionally secured. Instead, the pastor has authority only in so far as he operates within the parameters of God’s Word and God’s truth. His authority is Word-driven, humbly expressed in proclamation and service to the people he shepherds. However, even with this kind of affirmation of pastoral authority, we live in a world where the autonomous self has reached its zenith and where submission to authority or to be held accountable is unthinkable. When the pastor exercises Word-driven pastoral authority some bristle with contempt. When push comes to shove, the pastor is often blamed for the conflict. Hence the pastor is to blame, but never a stiff-necked people.
…because churches don’t become like they are overnight and they don’t become how they ought to be overnight. When a church calls a new pastor the expectations are high. When things don’t go as expected the pastor is blamed. The pastor did not deliver what was expected. Conflict arises and the pastor is to blame. Again, sometimes pastors are to blame – we can act too quickly and impulsively. However, many times there is a failure to recognize that churches have personalities just like people. These ecclesiastical personalities are not developed overnight and they do not change overnight. To blame the pastor for failure to change the personality of a church overnight, a personality that took years to develop is shortsighted.
…because it makes good cover for disobedience. God’s people can be fabulously faithful. God’s people can also be unbelievably disobedient – ditto for pastors. Like the relationship between Israel and Moses, sometimes God’s people want to kill their leaders to cover their own lack of obedience, sometimes leaders want to dispose of their followers, and sometimes God judges both. Sometimes people use their disobedience as a cloak to criticize the leadership of the church for their lack of commitment.
…because of accumulated bitterness and blame. Finally, sometimes the pastor becomes the target for undeserved and unsolicited blame because of the accumulated sins of God’s people. While it is true that a pastor can make bone-headed decisions, it is equally true that conflicts, bitterness, envy, hatred, jealousy, and sinful attitudes can accumulate over the years that then get poured out on the unsuspecting pastor. Fair or not, the pastor can become the place where people purge the poison of their souls.

In one of my pastorates one particular gentleman in the church was getting the better of me. If I said it was up, he said it was down. If I said it was blue, he said it was yellow. As I read the text for and then preached my message he would sit in the back of the church and nod his head from side to side in negative disapproval. He spread rumors about me, my wife and family. He was disruptive in the church. I was to blame for everything. And I didn’t even know what I had done.

Then one day I received a great piece of advice from a godly deacon. As I sat under a large Oak tree in his front yard I poured my heart out to him about what this man was doing to me, my family, and the church. He listened attentively. When I finished he said to me, ‘Son, that boy was like that before you got here, he’ll be like that while you’re here, and he’ll be like that after you’re gone. Don’t worry about it.’ In other words, I wasn’t to blame. He went on to tell me to claim whatever mistakes I would make as a pastor, but not to take the blame for all things. In that moment God lifted a heavy burden from my shoulders. While I can be part of the problem as a pastor, I can also be an even greater part of the solution. There’s enough blame to go around.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Islam and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Sunday, October 17th, is upon us.

Dr. Greg Thornbury will preach in the 10:45 a.m. service on 'Islam and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.'

I will preach in the 6 p.m. service on 'One God, Two Sons, Three Nations, One Lord: Tracing the Roots of the Conflict in the Middle East.'

The Praise Team and Choir will sing at both the 10:45 and 6 p.m. services.

Childcare will be provided for both the 10:45 a.m. and 6 p.m. services.

I hope you will make plans to attend both services.

In Christ
Kevin Shrum
Inglewood Baptist Church
3901 Gallatin Rd.
Nashville, TN 37115

Friday, October 1, 2010

Freedoms Vanishing Act

Freedoms Vanishing Act
Dr. Kevin Shrum

Maybe it’s just me, but I hear the encroaching hoof-beats of that dark and mysterious stallion otherwise known as Big Brother-Big Government-Statism. And I don’t think I’m overstating the case. While the ever-present, ubiquitous state and federal governments increasingly squelch human freedom and liberty by confiscating and/or limiting our unalienable rights, the regulation of everything we do from what we eat, to what we buy, to what we say, to where we can or cannot build and live, to what we think continues to grow. Rather than enjoying the freedom that come through self-regulation, self-moderation and self-interest, a small, but growing group of elites do not trust the common man with his/her own freedom. Freedom and liberty are vanishing right before our very eyes.

By definition, and contrary to popular opinion, freedom is not the freedom to do as one pleases without regard for self or others. The reason this is not true freedom is because this kind of freedom usually ends up in some form of bondage to ones chosen vice. Freedom becomes bondage if abused (Gal. 5:13). True freedom is defined by doing what one ought to do; it is a matter of self-imposed regulation based upon a set of eternal truths rather than state-imposed regulation. And the state is more than happy to accommodate our willingness to abdicate our freedoms for a porridge made of state-regulated guarantees. While there is a role for government to regulate those who will not regulate themselves (Romans 13:1-7), this regulation should be limited, specific, and reluctant.

What magicians are to blame for our vanishing freedoms? Granted, those who believe that government is the arbiter of all things good are partly to blame. These magicians of freedom hold to the truth that the ‘collective’ – the state – best represents the people. With slight of hand and thought, they have convinced many that there should be equal opportunity for all and equal outcomes. That is, no one person or group of persons should be allowed to excel to any significant degree over any other person in society no matter how well they use their freedoms and opportunities – personal accountability is out, equal-outcomes are in.

Rather than the state securing our freedoms, the state must regulate individual freedoms to insure that no one person or group experiences un-equal outcomes. Individual achievement is literally flat-lined. To risk and succeed is deemed unfair and uncivilized. The use of one’s freedom to pursue self-interest and to gain thereby is considered selfish and too individualistic. The horizon of freedom must be flatland and not mountainous, where individuals have the opportunity to stand out like the majestic and multitudinous peaks of the Himalayas.

But there are other magicians behind freedoms vanishing act. What is so troubling at this time in our history is that many individuals are willing to give up their freedoms for certain personal securities or rights, i.e. jobs, insurance, housing, social security, individual security, etc. These ‘silver-lining’ issues come at a great price – the loss of individual freedom. In other words, many individual Americans are to blame for their own ever-increasing loss of freedom. We, the people, have become the magician’s assistant.

I believe the issue of freedom will be the key issue both now and in the years to come. Freedom is risky. Yet, we must be kept free to try and succeed or to try and fail only to try again. We must be free to say and think what we will without fear of reprisal, save for that small number of exceptions like yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. We must be free to worship, to gather, to create, to associate, and to produce within the confines of our own self-interests that are regulated by a moral and ethical center rather than an outwardly imposed regulation.

Do not let the term ‘self-interest’ scare you, morphing its meaning into some kind of selfishness. I am using the term ‘self-interest’ in the classic manner used to describe the basic belief that it is my individual responsibility to seek my own shelter, my own food, and my own way in life and in the life of my family. Historically, freedom used in this ‘self-interested’ manner has usually benefited the entire community. Communities don’t create things, individuals do. Communities benefit most when the self-regulated, free members of that community are allowed to freely create, produce, and seek their own self-interests in responsible ways. When the community becomes the definer of individual self-interests then freedom is killed, creativity is hampered, and responsibility is transferred to outside forces.

I can hear the push back already, ‘But what about those who abuse their freedoms and, as a result, abuse the freedoms of others?’ Yes, it is true that there are many who will abuse their freedoms without self-regulation, i.e. individuals, businesses. This is why we are a nation of laws, laws that are not meant to punish the whole of society through the arbitrary limitation of the freedoms of the majority, but laws that are specifically directed toward the people who abuse their freedoms. Punishing the whole by limiting their freedoms is like punishing the whole class because one or two individuals messed up.

‘But, what about those who are truly unable to use their freedoms to help themselves?’ i.e. the disabled, the genuinely poor, etc. Every society has a certain degree of individuals that for one reason of another are unable to fully actualize their freedoms. This is what has made America great – we have used a degree of our freedoms as a nation to assist those who are unable. Check out this truth – the freest nations are also the most benevolent.

The problem in recent decades is that we have used our greatness as a nation to not only assist those who are unable to help themselves, but those who are unwilling to help themselves. We have made unwillingness a disability, an excuse to discredit the virtues of individual responsibility, accountability, and risk/reward.

Our vanishing freedoms will continue to diminish if we continue to allow the magicians of our culture – both state and self – to con us into thinking that freedom is abnormal, self-centered, and unfair. Freedom to do what we ought to do is better than freedom used to do whatever we want to do regardless of how it may affect others. Self-regulated freedom is better than state-regulated freedom. And state-regulated freedom is no freedom at all because when the state controls our freedoms is vanishes right before our very eyes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism and the Common Man
Dr. Kevin Shrum

America is an exceptional nation. One would be hard pressed to find another nation in history that has been as productive, creative, progressive, wealthy, benevolent, equitable, and, yes, blessed as these United States of America. While we have had our fair share of ‘black eyes,’ our founding documents and socio/political processes have provided a way for self-correction so that eventually we usually get things right.

American exceptionalism is now in question, however. Some would suggest that America has seen her last, best days. Others argue that we no longer deserve to be considered exceptional, especially in this new era of globalism. Still others have morphed our ‘black eyes’ into arguments that suggest America doesn’t deserve to be considered exceptional – it must now apologize and pay for her past failures; we do not deserve to be considered a super power, or as exceptional, or as being in a class by ourself; America has been arrogant long enough and it’s time for her to be brought to her knees. I, for one, beg to differ. Though we wobble at the moment, if we can recover the nature and scope of what has made us exceptional the future looks bright and hopeful.

Where do we begin to trace the exceptional nature of America? Nations, by definition, are philosophical and political constructs – a nation is an idea expressed through her people. Though our constitutional construction is part and parcel of why America is exceptional, it must be remembered that nations are actually constituted by people. In essence, American exceptionalism is rooted in the exceptional nature of her people. What makes the American people exceptional in particular and, in turn, America exceptional as a whole?

First, American exceptionalism is grounded in a certain set of core values. These core values are faith in God – specifically the Judeo-Christian worldview, though not all are Christians or are required to be – belief in the sanctity of life, the free pursuit of liberty and happiness, family, work, personal responsibility, industrious work, free markets, and freedom. It has been to these core values that Americans have ‘tethered their souls’ for the better. And though there have been times where we have strayed from these values, it always seems that we have had sense enough to return to these values at pivotal and critical times in our history.

Second, Americans have an exceptional degree of common sense. In other words, Americans are not elitists who hold to ideas that are purely theoretical, hypothetical, cute, fanciful, and that may not work in reality. Americans have been characterized by a basic sense of right and wrong that has given us a stability and strength that is rather uncommon, i.e. boys marry girls and vice versa, hard work makes a difference and deserves to be rewarded, there is a right and wrong, etc. To the chagrin of many of our European friends, Americans are not philosopher-kings, but are common people with an exceptional, uncommon sense of right and wrong, good and bad, truth and untruth.

Third, American exceptionalism is rooted in the belief that the family is the basic building block of a civilized culture. Families – two parent and single parent homes – provide a place of stability, love, nurture, and moral education. Threats to the family such as infidelity, divorce, abuse, confiscatory taxation, and same-sex marriage produce civil instability. America has been exceptional because her laws and societal structures have favored family success. The degree to which we honor and support the basic family unit is the degree to which we will maintain our exceptionalism.

Fourth, American exceptionalism is characterized by personal industry and hard work. By in large, Americans are hard working people. We get up early and stay late. We find ways to work smarter, faster, and more productive. Many of the great inventions we have come to enjoy did not come out of a sterile laboratory but in the field of labor as necessity proved to be the mother of invention. Americans makes things work because Americans work. Though we have always had a portion of our culture that has lived off the whole, by in large, Americans work hard, we even play hard. As such, hard work should be rewarded, honored, and encouraged. The laborer should be allowed to not only earn his/here wage, but should enjoy the rewards of his/her labor. Penalizing work and its rewards has never worked in America. It kills incentive, creativity, and productivity. Hard work has made us exceptional.

Fifth, Americans have developed an exceptional understanding of fairness. It is a fairness that is not rooted in pluralism, multi-culturalism, or any kind of ‘ism’, i.e. racism, ageism, etc. The American sense of fairness does not come from legislative mandate but from personal choice to be a good neighbor. Most Americans are fair because it’s simply the right thing to do. Americans can be bigoted, racist, and narrow-minded. Yet, by in large, most Americans are fair because they themselves want to be fairly treated – the good neighbor principle of doing good to others as you would have them do to you.

Sixth, American exceptionalism was planted and rooted in freedom. Americans have come to know an unusual degree of freedom, unlike many of the nations of the world. The ‘American experiment’, an experiment in freedom, has been unbelievably successful. American styled freedom has been an experiment in the belief that the common man can be trusted with the free exercise of liberty and that freedom is not a right granted by the state, but a gift granted by God to be used wisely and prudently.

Because we are free we have been allowed to pursue our own self-interests that usually produce benefits for the whole of society. There are times that we have abused our freedoms because we have detached freedom from responsibility. However, Americans, to a large degree, seemed to have figured out that freedom used responsibly produces amazing results. To arbitrarily limit the freedoms Americans so enjoy is to fly in the face of the declaration that announced the launch of this free nation: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

Seventh, American exceptionalism is grounded in the concept of self-regulation. That is, rightly thinking, common sense, free Americans do best when they practice self-regulation – in essence, they practice self-imposed limitations on their own behavior and freedom. It is called personal responsibility, prudent behavior, moral comportment. Yes, we are a nation of laws for those who are law-breakers. Yet, Americans function best when they regulate and guard their own behavior rather than waiting for the state to decide what is right and wrong and, as a result, impose laws that may squelch the free exercise of personal responsibility and individual accountability. Laws are necessary. But self-regulation is best.

Finally, American exceptionalism has been characterized by a unique concept of community. There is something unique about what it means to be an American. Call it the ‘melting pot,’ America has a way of absorbing people from all cultures, assimilating them into the great American experience of freedom and liberty. And while it has never been frowned upon to respect one’s heritage, America has known greatness because people from all parts of the world have come to her shores seeking freedom and opportunity, willing to buy into the unique and exceptional nature of a free republic where common sense and decency, faith in God, and a willingness to work hard has produced the greatest nation in the history of the world. We deny and demote American exceptionalism to our own peril. Let America be true to herself, let the common man be responsibly free, and let the rest of the world follow!