In view of John Piper’s newest book, Desiring God has produced a short documentary cataloguing his growth from a full-fledged racist to the father of an African-American daughter. It is worth your time to watch because it very concretely details the implications of the gospel in all areas.
Beyond doubt, the Bible for many Americans is, as Martin Marty phrases it, an “icon” as well as an object of study. With no American group is this more the case than with evangelicals… Evangelicals, by reputation and self-definition an antiliturgical folk, have nevertheless made a formulaic phrase, “the Bible says” (or its variants, like “my Bible says”), an all but essential part of the sermon. The iconic place of the Bible accounts for the fact that so many evangelicals profess belief in scriptural inerrancy, yet know little about the book’s actual content. It also helps explain why many different bodies of evangelicals continue to insist that they follow “the Bible alone” and are not influenced by historical or cultural conditioning, as they go their mutually exclusive ways in doctrine and practice.
– Mark Noll, Between Faith and Criticism
Glenn Beck is a regular topic of discussion on this blog (see here and here). My reservations about Beck are numerous (both political, ideological, historical, and theological). Recently, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally has gained much attention. Some have lauded Beck for showing courage to stand for America’s “founding values” and others have cautioned evangelicals to be careful with whom they partner (at this point the essay by Russell Moore is genuinely helpful). Not only has Moore weighed in but Doug Wilson and Scot McKnight have offered some commentary on the situation.
One denominational side note that I found disappointing was the alliance of Richard Land (president of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) with Beck as part of his multi-faith “black-robed regiment.”
Outside of Moore, Robert Parham has proven to be the most helpful. He not only provides insightful commentary about the dangers of civil religion and generic, theistic alliances, he does so with ample quotations from the actual event in question (“Restoring Honor” on August 28, 2010).
Fox News host Glenn Beck muddled biblical references with fragments of America history, recreating a pottage of civil religion that says America has a divine destiny and claiming that a national revival is beginning…
Beck said, “We can disagree on politics. We can disagree on so much. These men and women don’t agree on fundamentals. They don’t agree on everything that every church teaches. What they do agree on is that God is the answer.
It is insightful to note that the definitions of god provided by these various clerics are so broad that god is probably not even a sufficiently meaningful category. Whose God?
No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck’s civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.
He treats the “American scripture”—such as the Gettysburg Address—as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.
What is important to Beck is belief in God—God generically—not a specific understanding of God revealed in the Biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.
Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic…
I have seen a lot of discussion about Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 (we’ll save the debate over the appropriateness of such an event at the Lincoln Memorial on such a significant date for another time).
One of my good friends mentioned how moving it was to see thousands of people singing Amazing Grace. I could tell she was shocked when I responded with caution and skepticism rather than whole-hearted affirmation.
The more I have examined this event the more I am convinced that it is nothing more than an ecumenical, atheological, universalitic form of the often seen idolatry of patriotism. While some well-intentioned evangelicals may have been involved in this event, Beck presented nothing more than a moralistic, patriotic call to everything but the Biblical gospel. I heard no mention of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus or the call of Christians to love their enemies and sacrifice their preferences for the sake of the gospel. It is no surprise that Beck, a self-identified Mormon, would miss the mark on the gospel.
For many undiscerning evangelicals Beck’s morality, Biblical references, and theistic language is enough to convince them He is on God’s team. Unfortunately, as his Mormon theology and alliance with clerics of various faiths demonstrates Beck is not a believer in the Trinitarian articulation of the Christian God. One can support Beck’s politics but be very wary when he begins using theistic language about “returning America to God.” Whose God?
The best and most well-reasoned response I have read is by Dr. Russell Moore. Everyone should read his measured response (some lengthy excerpts are included below):
Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.
Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah…
Mormonism and Mammonism are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They offer another Lord Jesus than the One offered in the Scriptures and Christian tradition, and another way to approach him. An embrace of these tragic new vehicles for the old Gnostic heresy is unloving to our Mormon friends and secularist neighbors, and to the rest of the watching world. Any “revival” that is possible without the Lord Jesus Christ is a “revival” of a different kind of spirit than the Spirit of Christ (1 John 4:1-3)…
It’s sad to see so many Christians confusing Mormon politics or American nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not pessimistic. Jesus will build his church, and he will build it on the gospel. He doesn’t need American Christianity to do it. Vibrant, loving, orthodox Christianity will flourish, perhaps among the poor of Haiti or the persecuted of Sudan or the outlawed of China, but it will flourish.
And there will be a new generation, in America and elsewhere, who will be ready for a gospel that is more than just Fox News at prayer.
“It seemed to me,” Franzen says, “that if we were going to be elevating freedom to the defining principle of what we’re about as a culture and a nation, we ought to take a careful look at what freedom in practice brings.” The weird thing about the freedom of Freedom is that what it doesn’t bring is
happiness. For Franzen’s characters, too much freedom is an empty, dangerously entropic thing… No one is freer than a person with no moral beliefs. “One of the ways of surrendering freedom is to actually have convictions,” Franzen says. “And a way of further surrendering freedom is to spend quite a bit of time acting on those convictions.”
These are provocative and jarring statements for those of who are rapidly devoted to our independence. As a nation we often centralize the virtue of freedom. After all, it is our freedom that is central to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I can anticipate the objection from my Christian friends: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). No matter that such a verse is often taken out of context. Remember that Paul urges everyone to use their Christian freedom as a means to sacrificial service (Galatians 5:13).
Freedom for most Americans means freedom from — from responsibility (e.g., marriage, family, employer, rules, etc.), from tyranny, from authority. As American Christians most of us have uncritically imbibed this idea that freedom in the Christian life is freedom from sin, freedom guilt, and freedom for fear. All of these things are true. As Christians we are free from many things. However, to define freedom as merely from is incomplete. We are free for.
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness… But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Romans 6: 18, 22).
How can freedom lead to slavery? Freedom from sin leads to willing submission to God. “I have been bought with a price” and, therefore, am willing to serve God. I am free to serve God and to serve others. Jesus willingly sacrificed his heavenly status and comfortable position for my redemption (Philippians 2). Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for him? Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for others?
Self-sacrificial love that values the gospel above all personal fulfillment and comfort is the greatest testimony of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.