Monday, August 25, 2014

Ferguson and Changing Social Structure or Infrastructure

At the beginning of my last post, I ticked off a few future posts I want to do.  I failed to mention another one I'll be doing, Lord-willing.  The Sword of the Lord sends me its publication and in the last issue, they wrote a horrible piece, entitled, Renouncing Lordship Salvation.  I'll write a critique of that upcoming.

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I'm not going to comment on who is guilty, whether Michael Brown or Darren Wilson, in Ferguson. What piqued me during this event has been the consideration of whether evangelicalism needs involvement in changing social structure or infrastructure for successful integration of blacks into their congregations.  Put another way and in the form of a question, will evangelical white leaders fail at reaching blacks with the gospel if they don't work in a very public way at making society more fair for black people?  A few ideas sent my thoughts in this direction.

From my vantage point, the most well known black conservative evangelical is Thabiti Anyabwile, and I read what he wrote about the Ferguson situation (here 1, here 2, here 3, here 4).   By the way, I don't think people understand the plight of black America without knowing the division at the turn of the 20th century between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Dubois.  This would require reading Washington's book, Up From Slavery, but even further over twenty years ago I scoured the writings or works of Washington in print that included all of his Sunday evening talks (example) at Tuskegee.  It would also be worthwhile to read the theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his writings and the black liberation theologian, James Cone.  I have read all those out of a curiosity and desire to interpret and discuss the issues rightly.

African Americans made a plain choice to follow the path or ways or instruction of W. E. B. Dubois related to Washington dying at a young age without a successor.  A convenient, albeit unsuccessful, "solution" was chosen, which was to rely on government. Since then, the same mistake has been repeated again and again, reminding me of the adage about insanity:  "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  Old Testament principles about government could be applied successfully, if followed, but those are being rejected for something less sure than a full court heave.

In addition, I had preached in the last few months for five or six weeks mid-week about marriage, including 1 Peter 3 and 1 Corinthians 7, which reminded me of the New Testament approach to societal structures.  If God was amillennial or post-millennial, could Peter or Paul each talk like he does in those epistles?  No way.  Christianity is not designed to change social structure.   I would say that New Testament, biblical, Christianity is ambivalent or agnostic to social structure, and even further than that.  The New Testament takes a more extreme view than even ambivalence.

Calvinist amillennialists or post-millenialists interest me, because of what appears to be an obvious contradiction.  If you think that salvation is totally dependent on God, you're monergistic, how can you connect changing societal structures to reaching a particular segment of the population with the gospel?  And this is where the Calvinist evangelicals are.  They employ rap.  They start food pantries.  They encourage dressing down.  They talk a lot about racial reconciliation.  And contextualization.  This includes the Tim Keller way in New York City with his professorial talks, evening jazz "worship," and no mention of same sex perversion, all key in getting it done there. They speak and act like all these are necessities to help the gospel along.  Be Calvinist if you're Calvinist!

Amillennialists and post-millennialists see the current age as the kingdom of God and so recognize the reign of Christ not just in the hearts of believers today, but impacting societal structure change. They brainstorm the dawn of the kingdom (which relates to Augustine and bifurcation of truth that I wrote about), allowing for mission creep.  It's now not just about the gospel, but commencing functional structures of the kingdom. Amillennialism and post-millennialism trigger the weird cousin of liberation theology, dominionism or reconstructionism.

I believe the position of Anyabwile and those like him in fact hinders the gospel.  Often the same Calvinists who argue that cultural issues, i.e. "non-essentials," which are merely obedience to the Bible or sanctification, the practice of New Testament Christianity, serve to undermine the gospel, hone in on this cultural issue.  They essentially argue that the gospel will fail without the accompanying support of societal structure change.  This is more than a strain of evangelicalism.  It is mainstream.  It does sabotage the gospel, akin to the new measures of Finney.

1 Peter 3, the whole epistle, and then 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 both weigh in on the relationship of Christians to social structures.  In 1 Peter 3, Peter could tell masters to sell their slaves or propose they run.  Paul could have done the same with Philemon.   But no, to those under oppressive government, he says, "Submit."  To slaves under masters, he says, "Submit."  To women under unsaved husbands, he says, "Be subject."  He elevates conversion of those in government, of the master, and of the husband.  Peter says, we're strangers and pilgrims in this world, and this is how you act like it.  You don't attempt to change social structure, because that just confuses people as to where your loyalties lie.

From 1 Corinthians 7, we see Paul's message that Christianity was never designed to disrupt social relationships.  Folks at the Corinthian church used their Christianity to justify all manner of social change.  Paul corrects that.  The essence of vv. 17-24 is don't turn Christianity into changing social structure; instead, make sure that everybody understands that spiritual regeneration can exist in any societal situation.  The Bible reveals a right understanding of government and of history, but the New Testament is single in its focus of what Christians should be and do.

We can die a thousand different ways, including that brain eating amoeba in shallow warm fresh water, which most often kills young children.  But Paul had a desire to depart.  Jesus took away the sting of death.  Everyone -- blacks, whites, reds, yellows -- needs to heed what Jesus said: "Be not afraid."  Fear God, yes.  But unscriptural fear fuels bad decisions and then philosophies for so many people.  Anyabwile validates a particular behavior motivated by fear.  When someone trusts the sovereignty and providence of God, like Jeremiah in Lamentations, the mercies of God are new every morning, great is His faithfulness.  That's the message people need to hear.  Not anxiety.

The gospel defeats fear.  Fear of death is a tool of Satan.  And the fear of man brings a snare, one common for evangelicals.  It should be repudiated, but there is a fear of the charge of racism.

Changing social structure merely rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic.  You might have the best arrangement, but it's a waste.  Instead, we should be manning the rescue boats.  We're strangers here.  When Jesus comes, He Himself will change the social structure.  Until then, that practice might seem tempting, but don't go there.   Instead, let's act like we don't belong here.

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As an aside.

For the most part, America rejects, shall we call it, the Honey Boo-Boo subculture, whose appeal is not acceptance, but felt superiority.  The culture at large (white culture?) scorns that subculture, mocks it, deservedly so.  Booker T. Washington also proposed the repudiation of the inferior -- you read that in his 'Sunday evening talks' at Tuskegee.

In this case, black America should join in the disavowal of its own Honey Boo-Boo, rather than embrace and defend.  Evangelicals should stop pandering to this destructive practice with their Christian rap and hip-hop and Jesus Junk and so much more other "Christian" Honey Boo-Boo (this is how they say you get multi-ethnic; not the gospel).   Think of what Peter revealed about conversion in 2 Peter 1:3-4:

[H]is divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:  hereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Salvation elevates us.  We become partakers of the divine nature.  Jesus came to bring us to Him not lower Himself to our level.  He became a man, yes, but a perfect man.  He has called us to glory and virtue, not the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Booker T. Washington said "build a better brick."  Build a more beautiful brick.  But first admit the ugliness.  Turn it down.  Shun the Honey Boo-Boo.

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A further aside.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  Yes.  Buuuuuuuuuut.  Your church might shrink from a lack of diverse worship styles.  Those styles are not the power of God unto salvation, just the power unto shrinking your church size.  Of course, those are genuinely saved people that are leaving, that you could keep with worship styles.  The gospel has saved them, but they've got to have their way on a few things, and you've got to make sure they can have it.  There is nothing wrong with what they don't like, but they've got to have what they want as saved people by the power of the gospel.

Worship styles are said to be non-essentials (worship styles are the kind of non-essentials you need a 75% rule for).  This is the one area that Paul didn't know there could be disunity (1 Cor 1:10).  It is essential that they are non-essential.  You could lose people if you don't have diverse non-essential styles.  It is essential you try to keep those saved people in your church, who will leave over those non-essentials.  The power of the worship style is greater than the power of the gospel.   Salvation perseveres except in the impossible-to-overcome trial of not getting the worship style you want.  They themselves say that worship styles are non-essential, which is why they'll leave if they don't get what they want.  On the other hand, the people who believe there is sacred music, who don't think styles are non-essential, since they are worship, it is essential they see worship styles as non-essential.  They are factious if they will not allow for multiple, diverse styles, because they don't care if supporters of diversity will leave the church.  They must see worship styles as non-essential

The 47% need government programs and hand-outs to stay in one party, so there will be programs that redistribute wealth and there will be hand-outs.  You can be very upset at that, because of what it does to the country.  A large percentage of church attenders need their worship style to keep coming, to stay in the church, so there will be diverse worship styles.  The former is pandering, because that is government, but the second you've got to act like it isn't, because that is only church.

When I recently watched a chunk of the Strange Fire Conference, a couple of speakers said that the entrance to the Charismatic movement was the music style.  That received "Amen"s.  But worship styles are non-essential.  They are only an entrance to the Charismatic movement, even though they are amoral.  Get it?

16 comments:

Michael Alford said...

"By the way, I don't think people understand the plight of black America without knowing the division at the turn of the 20th century between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Dubois."
This may be one of the most insightful things you've ever written, sir. I was on my way to Memphis to preach once and some how got lost and wound up in the middle of a government housing project called something like "The Booker T. Washington Memorial Government Housing Project". I thought it was possibly the most ironic thing I had ever seen in real life. There really were two paths among black intellectuals, and the fact that so many blacks chose the Dubois path set them on a path to be exploited for decades to come.

d4v34x said...

Be Calvinist if you're Calvinist!

Hear! Hear!

horace said...

I'll respond to some of the major points raised in this article:
"I'm not going to comment on who is guilty, whether Michael Brown or Darren Wilson, in Ferguson. What piqued me during this event has been the consideration of whether evangelicalism needs involvement in changing social structure or infrastructure for successful integration of blacks into their congregations. Put another way and in the form of a question, will evangelical white leaders fail at reaching blacks with the gospel if they don't work in a very public way at making society more fair for black people? A few ideas sent my thoughts in this direction."

I wouldn't say that they necessarily would fail at reaching blacks with the Gospel, but at the very least certain religious quarters would do very well to acknowledge existing problems including those of race in America and rebuke those who engage in inaccurate and hateful racial rhetoric.

"African Americans made a plain choice to follow the path or ways or instruction of W. E. B. Dubois related to Washington dying at a young age without a successor. A convenient, albeit unsuccessful, "solution" was chosen, which was to rely on government. Since then, the same mistake has been repeated again and again, reminding me of the adage about insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Old Testament principles about government could be applied successfully, if followed, but those are being rejected for something less sure than a full court heave."

"Rely" on government in what way? Certainly, you cannot deny that it was the federal government's actions (brought about by activism and pressure by the black community and their white allies) that resulted in the end of segregation both in public facilities run by the state and local governments along with private businesses. If you mean direct government aid, most government social programs (with the exception of affirmative action which I oppose) has been in the form of race-neutral programs-you don't have to be black to be in Medicaid for example. It merely disproportionately benefited blacks because blacks were poorer than average in the United States. And it appears this combination of civil rights legislation and social programs has benefitted the black community-poverty rates fell dramatically in that demographic well into the 1980s when it began to stagnate and more recently reverse. The more recent reversal of the fortunes of the black community however appears to be due to factors such as the economic recession.

"Calvinist amillennialists or post-millenialists interest me, because of what appears to be an obvious contradiction."
Why are you putting amills and postmills in the same group here. It seems to me that the amills if anything are closer to premillennials in thought-the world can end at any moment. The main disagreement is if the Church is the Kingdom of God.

"If you think that salvation is totally dependent on God, you're monergistic, how can you connect changing societal structures to reaching a particular segment of the population with the gospel?"
Because Calvinists are not fatalists. Since you've read lots of Calvinist theology, I don't believe you will attempt to straw-man them in that way.

horace said...

"And this is where the Calvinist evangelicals are. They employ rap. They start food pantries. They encourage dressing down. They talk a lot about racial reconciliation. And contextualization. This includes the Tim Keller way in New York City with his professorial talks, evening jazz "worship," and no mention of same sex perversion, all key in getting it done there. They speak and act like all these are necessities to help the gospel along. Be Calvinist if you're Calvinist!"

Which Calvinists are you talking about in particular? Only a handful fit the portrait you draw of them. Certainly John MacArthur is Calvinist but also pre-millennial and sounds exactly like you in regards to "changing social structures". Even many amillennial and postmillennial Calvinists argue one should focus on preaching the Gospel which is the way to advance the Kingdom. BTW, Tim Keller does think homosexual behaviour is a sin.
Also this raises some questions:
-Are you opposed to food pantries and other aid to the poor? Do you believe Scriptural commands to assist the poor only apply to those in the Church?
-Do you believe that there are no racial problems in the United States? If you don't think so, do you believe the Church should not address this problem one way or the other?
-What do you mean by "contexualization"? Certainly some forms of contexualization are inevitable-you'll change the language you are speaking depending on what nationality you are speaking the Gospel to.
-What do you mean by "professorial talks" and why is that necessarily a bad thing?

"Amillennialists and post-millennialists see the current age as the kingdom of God and so recognize the reign of Christ not just in the hearts of believers today, but impacting societal structure change. They brainstorm the dawn of the kingdom (which relates to Augustine and bifurcation of truth that I wrote about), allowing for mission creep. It's now not just about the gospel, but commencing functional structures of the kingdom. Amillennialism and post-millennialism trigger the weird cousin of liberation theology, dominionism or reconstructionism."

Again I don't see why amillennialists should think so. And if you are going to complain about evangelicals focusing on social issues, the ones most guilty of it are Arminian premillennial dispensationalist evangelicals/fundamentalists of the Jerry Falwell or John Hagee type who man the ranks of such blatantly political organizations such as the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition, have preachers that openly endorse candidates on the pulpits, and demand an aggressive foreign policy in favour of Israel to "commence functional structures of the Kingdom" .

horace said...

"I believe the position of Anyabwile and those like him in fact hinders the gospel. Often the same Calvinists who argue that cultural issues, i.e. "non-essentials," which are merely obedience to the Bible or sanctification, the practice of New Testament Christianity, serve to undermine the gospel, hone in on this cultural issue. They essentially argue that the gospel will fail without the accompanying support of societal structure change. This is more than a strain of evangelicalism. It is mainstream. It does sabotage the gospel, akin to the new measures of Finney."

I wouldn't say that they would argue that the Gospel fails as opposed to that there are logical consequences in actions in response to the Gospel as the lordship salvationists argue. You aren't going to be rampantly committing adultery if you are saved and you shouldn't be lynching blacks either.

"1 Peter 3, the whole epistle, and then 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 both weigh in on the relationship of Christians to social structures. In 1 Peter 3, Peter could tell masters to sell their slaves or propose they run. Paul could have done the same with Philemon. But no, to those under oppressive government, he says, "Submit." To slaves under masters, he says, "Submit." To women under unsaved husbands, he says, "Be subject." He elevates conversion of those in government, of the master, and of the husband. Peter says, we're strangers and pilgrims in this world, and this is how you act like it. You don't attempt to change social structure, because that just confuses people as to where your loyalties lie.
From 1 Corinthians 7, we see Paul's message that Christianity was never designed to disrupt social relationships. Folks at the Corinthian church used their Christianity to justify all manner of social change. Paul corrects that. The essence of vv. 17-24 is don't turn Christianity into changing social structure; instead, make sure that everybody understands that spiritual regeneration can exist in any societal situation. The Bible reveals a right understanding of government and of history, but the New Testament is single in its focus of what Christians should be and do."

Just to be clear, are you opposed to the Church itself fighting for social change or are you opposed to Christians in generally advocating social change even if in a lawful manner? And again as a lordship salvationist you will agree that the Gospel will produce changes in people-they will stop rampantly committing adultery or drinking themselves to a stupor or picking pockets. Similarly will they not stop seeing certain people as less than themselves solely because of their skin colour? Will they not refuse to shoot at peaceful protestors when ordered to do so by the government (incidentally this raises the interesting question of whether you think the American Revolution was justified)? Will men not stop abusing their wives?

And you don't seem to be opposed to Christians engaging in at least some forms of political/social action. You think Christians should fight certain sins such as legalized abortion or gay marriage and engage in at least certain political action such as voting to do so. After all some Christians (such as the Anabaptists whom you claim descent from) thought that being "pilgrims and strangers" in the world meant you don't engage in any sort of poltical action or fight in carnal wars.

horace said...

"We can die a thousand different ways, including that brain eating amoeba in shallow warm fresh water, which most often kills young children. But Paul had a desire to depart. Jesus took away the sting of death. Everyone -- blacks, whites, reds, yellows -- needs to heed what Jesus said: "Be not afraid." Fear God, yes. But unscriptural fear fuels bad decisions and then philosophies for so many people. Anyabwile validates a particular behavior motivated by fear. When someone trusts the sovereignty and providence of God, like Jeremiah in Lamentations, the mercies of God are new every morning, great is His faithfulness. That's the message people need to hear. Not anxiety.

The gospel defeats fear. Fear of death is a tool of Satan. And the fear of man brings a snare, one common for evangelicals. It should be repudiated, but there is a fear of the charge of racism."

Yet many Independent Baptists are also fearful. They are afraid of "socialism" in America (nevermind that Obama is a neoliberal social liberal in the mold of Bill Clinton) for example. This is of course ignoring the numerous blatant conspiracy theories popular among this denomination such as our regular commentator, Titus who has a blog peddling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

"Changing social structure merely rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic. You might have the best arrangement, but it's a waste. Instead, we should be manning the rescue boats. We're strangers here. When Jesus comes, He Himself will change the social structure. Until then, that practice might seem tempting, but don't go there. Instead, let's act like we don't belong here."

The same points I asked above apply here. After all you believe Christians should have opinions and do things besides just verbally preaching the Gospel, reading the Bible and/or praying-that they should engage in secular action.

In regards to your last point, I agree not all cultures are equal in value and quality. While I'm not a big fan of hip hop or rap (my music of preference being Viennese waltzes or German volkslieder) and without getting into a digression on this issue, I don't think that necessarily playing rap or hip hop is pandering as opposed to just creating worship music in those styles.

Anonymous said...

"Peter says, we're strangers and pilgrims in this world, and this is how you act like it. You don't attempt to change social structure, because that just confuses people as to where your loyalties lie."

Excellent. You can still help the poor without any regards to change of the social structure. On the other hand, when sinners are saved from their sins, it certainly affects "social structure", but it should be evidenced in a changed life to the glory of the kingdom of God and his church rather than glorying in the world and its affairs.

Anonymous said...

"After all some Christians (such as the Anabaptists whom you claim descent from) thought that being "pilgrims and strangers" in the world meant you don't engage in any sort of political action or fight in carnal wars."

As you said, CARNAL wars. Add to that political action and you get a Christianity that is in love with self and the world and has very little to do with the sufferings of Christ and the divine nature.

Anonymous said...

"While I'm not a big fan of hip hop or rap (my music of preference being Viennese waltzes or German volkslieder) and without getting into a digression on this issue, I don't think that necessarily playing rap or hip hop is pandering as opposed to just creating worship music in those styles."

How can you create music for and toward the Lord God with the devils sound or is it that you do not believe that the devil has counterfeit music?

You are kidding, right?

horace said...

"How can you create music for and toward the Lord God with the devils sound or is it that you do not believe that the devil has counterfeit music?"

I won't get into a whole debate on the music issue since Pastor Brandenburg probably can utterly destroy me on it, I disagree that rap or hip is the "devil's sound".

Anonymous said...

"I disagree that rap or hip is the "devil's sound".

If you have read your bible, the devil perverts EVERYTHING that is true, right, holy, just, of good report, virtuous as well as every attribute of the Lord God that makes him glorious, beautiful, and lovely.

If you read your bible, you will find when Moses came down to the party, they had music playing and were dancing around their new found Baal idol. It cost them 3,000 dead bodies and some sore stomachs. You learn something of the devil in Ezekiel 28:13 in that "the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created". In Daniel 3:4-5 that "a sound" emanated from instruments prepared for the worship of another Baal idol to the glory of man.

I am probably not going to convince you scripturally of the obvious, so I will use "plainness of speech".

Hip hop, rap, rock and its forms are of the devil and if you desire to "crucify the flesh and the lusts thereof", I would suggest you stay far far away from the "filthiness of the flesh".

Jim Camp said...

My $.02,
Some of the IB I know have gone what I would consider emergent (Actually they just went to rock music, contemporary services, new bibles, & threw out all convictions - Probably not actually emergent, but it will be in 25 years).
The funny part is how many of them now "mow grass for Jesus". They do lawns at all the local city parks in order to fulfill Matt. 5: 16, or at least they seem to think that this is fulfilling the vs.

I struggle to see the Apostle Paul walking around the town market place picking up trash, hoping someone notices what a spectacular Christian he is?! Or Peter pulling weeds in front of the meeting place of the Jerusalem Pharisees?!
In fact, I can't find anything like this inane folly in the NT. I suspect that every last bit of this will be wood, hay, & stubble.

horace said...

Certainly I don't think volunteering work is a substitute for the Gospel, but such civic engagement both provide good witness and is an example of Christians being "salt of the earth".

Jim Camp said...

Dear Horace,
I don't want an internet debate, but I struggle to see any justification for any of this. If I may illustrate. I think the idea behind Joel O style books (Your Best Life Now)is abominable. Jesus Christ died on Calvary to forgive man's sin and rescue us from eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire, & all these people can find in the Bible is that God wants us happy???!!! I see the "mowing grass for Jesus" groups as on this level.

The Lord Jesus sent out 2 groups to preach the kingdom (12 then 70). Imagine the discussion if they had returned & explained that they did not know if demons were subject to them in Christ name; but rather that the local park was spotless now.

The Lord Jesus commissioned the local assembly to preach the gospel to every creature & baptize converts. Again, no mention of such ridiculous & godless activities as staging flash dances in malls.

It is obvious right & of God to do good to all men. Helping a stranded motorist, taking up a pounding for needy family (When is the last time you heard that expression?) is right & honorable. To pretend that this is somehow fulfilling the great commission is flat wrong & balms the conscience of disobedient, worldly Christian.

Ryan Hayden said...

This post fascinated me. When I was in college, I worked for a teen program for the Boys and Girls Club. Often, I was the only white person in the building. I also worked in inner city bus ministry for a number of years. I've always been really interested in the racial divide in America.
In my opinion, the most harmful thing that black american culture has done is to center it's identify in victimhood. You saw that come out in full force in Furgeson. Nothing get's black americans excited like another peice of evidence that they are victims.
This victim identify removes from many the incentive to take responsability for their own lives and outcome. It removes all proactivity. I firmly believe that black america would fair much better if they focused on personal responsability (like Washington) and not on their plight as a people. All they are doing is giving themselves an excuse.
But maybe that's just my "white privelege" talking.
That being said, there are real problems in the inner cities. There are children, who, through no fault of their own, are raised in an enviroment of drug abuse, attend poor schools, and see violence every day. I've seen it. I think Christians ought to care more about those problems than we do. That's not the gospel, but it is important.

horace said...

Kind of hoping for a reply regarding my points from either Pastor Brandenburg or someone else.