Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This past Sunday, on CBS Sunday Morning, we heard Nancy Giles comment on the Republican Party debates.

She began with the statement, “I watched the two Republican Party debates and something weird is going on in the audience.”

Next the scene shifts from her to the moderator who says to Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, “Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.”  The camera moves to Governor Perry and we hear the audience cheering even before he can reply.  Ms. Giles expresses her shock and dismay:  “Applause for the number of people executed in Texas?”

Next we see Congressman Ron Paul speaking disdainfully of “this whole idea that we have to take care of everybody …”  The moderator says, “But congressman, are you saying that society should just let him (the uninsured person) die?”  And before Ron Paul can even speak there are shouts of “Yeah” and light applause from the audience.

Ms. Giles declares clearly that she hasn’t been to church in years but she does remember the questions, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and “Something about ‘Thou shall not kill.’”

She wants to know why no candidate, “some of whom claim their spirituality as a guiding force in their politics” did not challenge the audience about what she terms their “bloodlust.” ( Both candidates do, I believe, claim to be Christians.)

She remarks on her respect for freedom of speech.  She says that this has nothing to do with party affiliation, but she can’t imagine applauding the idea of death – of either sort mentioned.  She speaks of the fact that many on death row have been proven innocent – even in Texas, where there recently was a stay of execution of one man  because of racist remarks by a psychologist at his sentencing hearing.  She questions Ron Paul’s “do no harm” oath as a doctor.

She speaks of the fact that there “are more colors” in the United States than simply Red States and Blue States and wants to know what the clearance process was for the audience.  She hopes they were not representative of the entire Republican Party.

I’m sure that Ms. Giles will be renounced (or ignored) by many as simply some left-wing basher of Republican candidates (As though they don’t do enough bashing of each other. – Uni).  Or she will be criticized for not speaking up on other issues.  If we can attack her and politicize her moral pronouncements we can feel safe from the demands they place on us!

But though she was critical of the candidates, her main criticism was of the audience and of the candidates’ failure to rebuke their “bloodlust.”

And I’m sure that many of my Bible-loving friends will jump on the fact that Ms. Giles misquoted and/or misapplied both Scripture passages she used.  This will be, for some, a good excuse to ignore what she said.

Well, yes, the Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly that, “We are our brother’s keeper.”  “Am I my brother’s keeper?” was Cain’s reply to the LORD when he was questioned about the death of Abel, whom he had just murdered.  But I believe the implication is that Cain was expected to be his brother’s keeper.  And what about the command to “ … love your neighbor as yourself,” found in Leviticus 19:18 and repeated throughout the New Testament by Jesus and His followers?

And yes, the verb translated “kill” in the KJV “Thou shalt not kill” should be translated “murder” and does not apply to judicial acts or acts of war.  But the LORD Himself said, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11; 18:23, 32).  So how can we?  And Jesus told us that even anger with our brother is murder (Matthew 5:21, 22).

I fear that the reactions of the audience at those debates may be symptomatic of where the blending of politics and religion is taking us.  I fear that many of my Christian friends and acquaintances might have reacted in similar fashion had they been there.  I hope I’m wrong.

Ms Giles admits that her Christianity is at best weak, yet she can somehow see the contradictory behavior of people who claim to be followers of Christ behaving more like those who crucified Him.

Brother and sisters, it ought not to be this way.  I’m afraid though, that whether or not our behavior is similar to that of the audiences, we may be perceived this way, that (as Paul said of the Jews of his day), “The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of (us)” (Romans 2:24).

Monday, September 19, 2011


A few Sundays ago, our pastor mentioned in his sermon that many consider the doctrine of the security of the believer a “dangerous doctrine.”  (He doesn’t.)  I leaned over and whispered to Uni that any teaching about God’s grace could be considered a dangerous doctrine.  On the way home she called to my attention that a person sitting next to her in Sunday school class had used these same words about something I had said in my teaching.  This person’s dispute was, I believe, based on his misunderstanding of the Trinity and the Incarnation that had come up in class.

Though I was (and still am) troubled by what seemed a judgmental statement, it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of teaching dangerous doctrine or some such thing.

I suppose teaching, studying or even reading the Bible might be considered dangerous for at least two broad reasons:  it challenges (or threatens) a person’s thinking; and, it challenges (or threatens) their behavior.  This is true whether they consider themselves and their fellows as Christians or not.  In fact, most of the flak I have received has been from those who consider themselves Christians.

I believe that much of evangelical Christendom has become fearful of thinking through our theology, as well as our ethical positions.  We let the “experts” dictate what we are to believe in both areas.

I understand that fear; I have taught Bible and theology for years and many times I have played the role of “expert.”  I have even “pulled rank” in some theological/doctrinal disputes.  But I have also tried to teach my students to think, to be like the Bereans mentioned in the book of Acts who “were more noble minded …, who received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures every day, to see if these things (Paul’s teachings) were so” (Acts 17:11).

Some doctrines that are considered dangerous by many Christians (most of these are closely related):
·        The security of the believer (the one my pastor mentioned).  We’re told that if people believe they are eternally saved, they will feel free to live the way they want to.
·        Election.  I’ve been told that if my salvation is totally God’s choice – if He chose me before I chose Him – that makes us robots.
·        Salvation by simple faith, trusting Christ’s work alone, without a “commitment” on the believer’s part.
·        “Grace giving” – the teaching that the believer is not under the Old Testament obligation to tithe.
·        Any teaching of the believer’s freedom from the Old Testament Law.
·        Any concessions to modern science at all; any attempt to reconcile current scientific discoveries with scriptural teaching.

I’ll not attempt to deal with these issues here.  I’ve had much to say about most of them throughout this blog.

Most of these have to do with grace.  And grace is threatening to one who likes structure and order.  Grace gives us the freedom and responsibility to make choices; it doesn’t simply give us rules to live by.

Grace is also threatening to some pastors.  It’s difficult to shepherd the flock when they are allowed to think through issues on their own.  For some it’s much easier to tell people what to think and how to behave.

But it’s that danger that in many ways makes following Christ exciting!