On What Authority Rests Your Faith? And Whose Business Is It?
Posted by Job on December 23, 2008
This is another attempt to get a handle on the controversy surrounding Rick Warren’s speaking at Barack Obama’s inauguration. First, let me get something out of the way. As to my opinion of Rick Warren’s speaking at Obama’s inauguration, let me say that truthfully I have no opinion. Why should I? Rick Warren is a self – admitted member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and openly advocates the idea that the work that he does for this body makes him a better pastor, a better Christian, and the world a better place. Barack Obama? His wife is a former leader of the Chicago chapter of the Council on Foreign Relations, whose members and/or people knowingly and willingly working to advance their agenda include such people representing the right as Newt Gingrich and George H. W. Bush, such people representing the right as Clinton and the aforementioned Michelle Obama, celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie, and pastors such as Rick Warren and T. D. Jakes.
Also, consider that one of Barack Obama’s early advocates: Rupert Murdoch, whose entire career as a pro – business race – baiting conservative would seem to have made him an Obama opponent. Well, Murdoch, actually 100% literally the world’s biggest pornographer in that no one, not Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt or the mafia, more widely distributes or makes more money off pornography than does Murdoch, has lucrative and mutually beneficial business ties with Rick Warren. So now, right on the heels of the release of Rick Warren’s new book, already a bestseller, which Warren calls “the most clear definition of Christianity – of what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be saved – of anything I’ve ever written“, comes the announcement that Obama is making Warren his inauguration speaker. So I ask of you … what is there to think of this other than to say that for Warren and Obama this is just business as usual?
Now this could have been an opportunity for a great many Christians to take a longer, deeper look at Rick Warren, his theology, and his associations. In other words, apply the same to Rick Warren as so many conservative Christians did to Barack Obama’s liberal and black liberation theology, and with Jeremiah Wright, Saul Alinsky, William Ayers, Michael Pfleger, ACORN etc. Really, the Council on Foreign Relations and Rupert Murdoch are just part of a much larger picture with Warren, which tends to indicate that he – and Obama – are merely players in a much larger game. So, then, who are the game masters and ultimately the puppet masters? And who is ultimately the head behind the puppet masters? These are questions that Obama’s tapping Rick Warren – and Rick Warren’s accepting – should raise.
But instead, we had this convenient explosion of protests from angry homosexuals and their advocates. The result has been a great many conservative Christians to take the position that if the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, ACT UP, People for the American Way, and other such groups are attacking Rick Warren, then he can’t be all bad. “The enemy of the enemy is my friend”, right? Well, I should remind you that this slogan originated in the Middle East, and radical Islam opposes homosexuality (and abortion and rock music and pornography and separation between church and state) too.
So, we have Obama able to use Rick Warren to advance his agenda, and Warren to use Obama to advance his. And, of course, whoever is using both Obama and Warren to advance their own agenda is getting what they want too. The reason for this is that similar to Billy Graham before him, a complete and total lack of prominent people, people of position, esteem, influence, and reputation, willing to criticize Rick Warren. Whether they are conservative, evangelical, traditionalist, or fundamentalist, you cannot find a single Christian leader willing to incontrovertibly and without qualification oppose the fellow. Oh they will criticize him from time to time when they are forced to confront something disturbing that Warren does or says. But they will not ever deal with the fact that Warren as a matter of routine procedure does and says disturbing things.
They also will not apply what scripture says about Christians, especially pastors, who routinely say and do things that are unscriptural, Christians who glorify and revel in their things unscriptural, and take pleasure in others who do unscriptural things just as they do. Scripture calls those people in need of severe rebuke at the very best, and on balance false Christians and heretics and those allied with them synagogues of Satan.
Now I admit, I had a glimmer of hope that Republican – leaning Christians would start to closely examine any pastor who aligns himself with a president that has stated that his first act in office would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. But the very convenient Proposition 8 homosexual marriage controversy rendered that moot. And as I mentioned earlier, the lack of well known Christian pastors and theologians willing to publicly and directly take on the Rick Warren problem is exactly what allows a sort of “jury nullification” to be applied to Warren and his theology. Which, of course, leaves us right back where we started. Which is that I have no opinion on Warren giving the inauguration blessing other than “business as usual.”
My main problem with Rick Warren’s theology? It is simple. Who is Jesus Christ? Our Lord and Savior. Not only is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Lord comes first. Jesus Christ was our Lord before He ever was our Savior. And even if Jesus Christ had never been our Savior, indeed had God decided never to redeem mankind (or perhaps had mankind never needed redeeming) He would still be our Lord. The Lordship of Jesus Christ, indeed the Sovereign Lordship of Jesus Christ, is spiritually and logically prior. The authority of Jesus Christ comes not from being Savior. It comes from His being Lord. It is because Jesus Christ is Lord that we can call upon His Name and be saved.
The problem with Warren and those like him is that they offer a Jesus Christ that is Savior without truly being Lord. They offer an incomplete picture of Jesus Christ which results in being a false Christ. Jesus Christ is only the helper, provider, and friend, sort of like a best buddy. Jesus Christ the Ruler, Leader, and Judge is left out. (So if Jesus Christ is only the lamb, who is the lion? America’s economic and military machine perhaps?) It is so easy to look at Revelation and see how chapters 4 – 20 apply to the overt non – Christians, the world that is, who rejects Jesus Christ as Savior and say “none of that is going to happen to me” if you are a Christian. But in doing so, are you forgetting that Revelation chapters 1 – 3 applies to the church? Those three chapters lead Revelation because judgment starts in the church. It does not start in the world. And that fits the gospels and the epistles that precede Revelation, and also the Old Testament before the New Testament. Those things were not given as warnings to the world. The Old Testament was given to God’s people Israel. The gospels and the epistles were given to God’s people the church. The warnings, judgments, etc. in the Old Testament, gospels, and epistles were to the Old and New Testament saints, not to the heathen.
So the only purpose of Revelation 4-20 is to show what will happen to the heathen. The rest of the Bible is for believers – or should I say partial believers – who fail to obey. It is for Ephesians who have left their first love. It is for those in Pergamos who follow Balaam and the Nicolataines. It is for Thyatirans who follow the Jezebel doctrines. It is far those in Sardis who do not repent and strengthen the things which remain before they die. And it is for the lukewarm Laodiceans. These are all people who profess Jesus Christ as Savior but who by word or action reject Him as Lord. As a result, the professed Christians that reject the Lordship of Christ in Revelation 1-3 will receive Revelation 4-20 and miss out on Revelation 21-22. For them, it will be as if they never professed Jesus Christ as Savior at all. And in truth, they never will have, because Jesus Christ is not your Savior if He is not your Lord.
And the result of doctrines, theologies, movements etc. that profess Jesus Christ as Savior without making Him Lord? For such people the Bible is no longer the authority. For these people, the Bible is only AN authority. It is a reference. A source. Something from which to draw footnotes. But it is not THE authority. Such people may reject the notion of the Bible being the singular authority in all things out of hand. Others may profess it while not living it. And there are the many shades in between. But the root is the same: Jesus Christ is their Savior without being their Lord. For those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord have seared in their minds and hearts John 14:15, and diligently study, meditate, and strive to heed the Bible to live up to John 14:15, and when they discover that doing so is impossible, they have no choice but to take refuge in the cross to relieve, cover, and fix up their brokenness in light of their failure. Those are the Romans 7:7-25 people.
Otherwise, where does the authority come from? In trying to categorize the Protestant Christian landscape (and for the most part exempting the largely liberal mainline denominations) there seems to be three basic groups. Fundamentalists are basically known by their rejection of modernism (the intellectual and ideological movement that began with the Englightenment and ended with World War II, or as others say began with the French Revolution and ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the age of reason, science, and rationality). For them, the authority appears to be received tradition. That old time religion is good enough for them! What if the old timers were wrong on things like, say, consuming wine in moderation as Jesus Christ incontrovertibly did? Or even ideas that really aren’t that old like dispensational premillennialism, or didn’t even originate with fundamental Christianity such as trying to use religiosity or religious – tinged secular activism to transform an unregenerate society into a society that they perceive to be more like the one which gave them their tradition? Well it is still good enough!
Evangelicals are known for their embrace of modernism. After all, God is a God of order, God made creation to reflect His orderly nature, which makes the faith by which we come to know and experience God entirely rational. Right? I am not going to attempt to belittle evangelicalism by making flailing attempts to point out where this thinking leads. (I will, however, say to open practically any major work of evangelical systematic theology written after 1970 and see for yourself!) I have to ask this question, however: is it an issue of whether a member of a church shows no interest in theological things, or if they have no interest in spiritual things? Or are theological things, especially if this theology is propositional and deductive in nature, and spiritual things one and the same? It would appear that for evangelicalism, then, the ultimate authority is reason and rationality, even if for no reason other than mainstream evangelicalism is hesitant to deal with Biblical matters that do not lend themselves to reasonable or rational discourse. For messy things like that, concepts like “Christian values” step up and fill the void. Failing that, you have “the proper meaning of this Bible text must necessarily be limited to the single meaning that the speaker intended the hearers to understand in that day and time, and the single meaning that the hearers understood the speaker to be communicating in their cultural context.” Or for that matter “those things were only for the apostolic era forthe church’s foundational purposes and were not meant for Christians coming thereafter.” (Never mind that there is not a single Bible verse that anyone can point to that actually says this!) For what are we supposed to be contending? For the jargon now delivered to the saints, or for the faith once delivered to us?
As for emergents or the emerging church? It is known for its embrace of postmodernity. Among postmodernity’s claims is the idea that definite truth either does not exist or is unknowable. All that exists is perception, and perception is basically the product of one’s cultural background, preconceived notions, and other biases, and as a result one person’s opinion is as good as another. (Of course, no postmodernist actually believes this insofar as they actually go about pretending as if 1+1 may or may not be 2, and they certainly believe their own opinions and values to be true, so in truth postmodernism is actually more of a place of first and permanent resort when challenged.) So what is the authority? Me. What I believe. What I believe to be true, or more accurately what I believe to be right. And even when I am proven wrong, it is no big deal because hey, no one’s perfect anyway. It isn’t as if it makes me a bad person or anything!
Now consider that one of postmodernism’s criticisms of modernity is that it is individualistic. Postmodernity claims to be about building, indeed restoring, the sense of human community. So it is not merely individuals running around with their own individual human opinions. Rather, postmodernism gives groups of people the ability to more or less coalesce around the same truth, meaning, or interpretation. (You believe the same thing that I do? Sweet! Let’s hang out!) Now the truths of various communities will inevitably diverge, but that is not what is important. What is important is the shared consensus of these communities, which is that there exists no single truth that can be imposed upon them, and more importantly no authority with the right to impose it. This authority may have the power, mind you. But they don’t have the right. Any authority that exercises its power to impose a definite truth on any person or group is by nature totalitarian, oppressive, and illegitimate.
So, then, can the postmodern Christian still be conservative, evangelical, or orthodox? I am going to leave aside the games that postmodernists play with language, their tactic of co – opting vocabulary by giving words different meanings to make people believe that they agree with them (sort of like how when Christians and Mormons refer to Jesus Christ as the Son of God both groups mean totally different things!) for a minute.
Instead, to strictly deal with the question, the answer is yes, the postmodern Christian can have almost entire points of agreement on evangelical and fundamentalist Christians on theology and doctrine. However, this is only because the postmodern Christian personally chooses to. The postmodern Christian is totally free to pick and choose based on his own ideas of interpretation, his own ideas of true and untrue, his own ideas of right and wrong, which Bible interpretations to accept and reject, which doctrines are true and false, what things to emphasize or ignore. The rule of faith? Nay, the rule of what I think is right. Which ultimately becomes the rule of what I and my community of like – minded believers think is right. (The community of like minded believers is extremely important, because there is indeed strength in numbers.) And anyone who comes around and says different, anyone who tries to impose their personal notions of truth on me, is a small minded hypocritical judgmental Pharisee.
So this brings us back to the many evangelicals, fundamentalists, and other theologically conservative Christians who are willing to allow Rick Warren to reside within the sphere of what they consider to be acceptable merely because Warren professes the historic creeds, confessions, and doctrinal statements, and moreover his social and cultural beliefs are well within the conservative Christian consensus. They are looking at the fact that Rick Warren professes the right beliefs alone while overlooking – willfully I might add – that Warren’s authority for his beliefs are none other than Warren himself. (And yes, that does explain why despite his profession of orthodox beliefs his actions are so disturbing.) They do this because in their evaluating Warren – and more importantly their deciding what to do (or what not to do) about him – their authority is the fundamentalist or evangelical consensus. They are already tolerating things that are abiblical or questionably Biblical within their own spheres. So long as it remains in their sphere, it is fine. So Warren is just something else. Admit it: Warren falls right within the fundamental or evangelical spectrum. And as long as he does, there is no need for anyone whose authority is the fundamental or evangelical consensus instead of or in addition to the Bible to oppose him in any meaningful way.
Here is the irony. Suppose Warren were to come out and say that abortion and homosexuality are the state’s business or the culture’s business that have nothing to do with the church. That the church should mind its own affairs, which is to win converts and disciple new members, and let the state and culture manage theirs. Now such a position would be far closer to the New Testament writings and what the New Testament figures actually seems to have practiced than the many peculiarities of fundamental or evangelical Christianity. Yet, were Warren to start promoting such an idea, that would be when some prominent Christians would have occasion to oppose the fellow. Why? Because the idea that Christians should find some active means of opposing the drift and tide of our government and culture away from the traditions and norms of the past is well within the fundamental or evangelical mainstream, so stating that the Body of Christ should concentrate its energies on Jesus Christ’s sheep, both lost and found, would place Warren out of this mainstream despite the very real possibility that such a position may be Biblical. (At the very least, the position would be worthy of serious reflection, study of scriptures, and doctrinal debate.) So, by remaining nominally anti – abortion and anti – homosexuality (nominal in that he makes public statements to that effect, but don’t expect to see him at a pro – life rally or handing out gospel tracts at a gay pride event very often) Warren basically remains in the evangelical or fundamental good graces no matter what else he does. How can fundamentalists and evangelicals oppose Warren’s deviations when they have or suffer other ones? It is only if your final authority is the Bible that you have the position to consistently oppose deviations, no matter who exhibits them and or what area the deviations exist. This is not to say that you will go around using that position on a constant basis because there is such a thing as Christian charity, humility, and a desire for unity that will cover a multitude of faults. But these things do not apply to people who because of a multitude of consistent errors in their statements and practices cannot truly be called Christians, and this is certainly the case with one Rick Warren.
That is why the little criticism of Warren that exists concerns his embrace of such things as environmentalism and global warming. Pardon me, but can you show me the Bible verses that command Christians to be anti – abortion anti – homosexuality activists and not anti – poverty pro – environmental activists? I have been through the Bible several times and seem to have overlooked them. Maybe the reason is that I mostly adhere to the King James Version, perhaps? Because what I have seen in my readings of the New Testament is Jesus Christ and the epistle writers speaking to the issues among believers. Their dealing with unbelievers was limited to sharing the gospel with them so that they might become believers. For homosexuality, disposing of unwanted children, and other forms of sin and immorality were pervasive throughout the heathen Roman Empire, yet the only thing that the New Testament manages to say about the world outside the church is Romans 13’s commandment to generally respect the government. Not transform the government (or the culture), mind you, just to respect it, as the Bible calls lawlessness and sedition sin.
Again, in this Warren is no different from the last generation’s Billy Graham. Around the time of the Vatican Council II, Billy Graham just up and decided that Roman Catholicism was perfectly fine. After that came a flood of other pronouncements from Graham, culminating in his statement to a major newsmagazine that he was no longer certain that Jesus Christ was the only way to heaven. (Please realize that such has been the position of the Roman Catholic Church since the Vatican Council II; Roman Catholicism is officially pluralist, even if conservative Catholics don’t like talking about it much.) So many fundamentalists and evangelicals declared themselves shocked at Graham’s statements. Why were they? Like Warren today, Graham had long been saying and doing worrisome things. And like Warren today, no one of any prominence was willing to rise up and take Graham on. So, Graham’s attack on the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ was just swept under the rug, just as everything else Graham said and did in rejection of the fact that the Bible declares Jesus Christ to be Lord. After all, can it be denied that the position of the Roman Catholic Church is that the church is lord on earth, and the pope is the head of the church?
So really, this is not about Rick Warren or Barack Obama. It is about you. On what authority rests your faith? Is it based on received tradition? Is it based on reason, rationality, and proposition? Is it based on what you believe and decide to be right? Or is it based on the Bible? Now of course, I am fully aware that we worship God and not a book. (After all, the “New Testament church” – meaning the early, apostolic church – didn’t even have the complete New Testament in canonical form, but they most certainly had God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit!) But are not God’s Commandments to us contained within this book? And how can we say that God is Lord of our lives if we make His Commandments subservient to tradition, reason, or the imaginations and high things that exalts themselves against the knowledge of God of our own desperately wicked and deceitful above all things hearts?
So worship a book? No. Worship and praise God by striving to obey the Bible? Yes. So what, then, are we to make of people who refuse to even try? Who make excuses for this refusal for themselves and for others? Well, to be honest, that is just business as usual, as most of the epistles were indeed letters describing how to view and deal just such people in local congregations, and before those the law, the prophets, and the writings of the Old Testament addressed those very same such people in Israel.
So then, Christian, what business is yours? Is it the business of your God, your Savior, your Creator, your Lord? Or is it the business of the world, that is, business as usual? The answer to this question is determined by whether the Word of God is your ultimate authority.