Category Archives: Church

AN AUSSIE WHO KNOWS AMERICA BETTER THAN MOST AMERICANS

This is the third book I’ve read by this author. All have been terrific.

Sayers has a real knack for putting things in a fresh perspective. He effectively uses history and global trends to illumine the topic at hand. In this book, it is how the church can wisely address living between eras, what Sayers describes as a “gray zone.”

There are many invaluable insights to be sure in this book, but many times I found myself launching in a direction that the author probably did not intend, but I nonetheless found fruitful.

Highly recommended!

CHURCH SIZE: TOO BIG TO SUCCEED?

From my newsletter, “Moore’s Musings”:

For the first time I am taking a departure from the regular format for “Moore’s Musings.” In light of my previous comments about “megachurches,” I wanted to list some of my other convictions about church size.

Instead of sending this out two weeks after the previous “Moore Musings” I took an additional two weeks to gather my thoughts. Preaching regularly at a wonderful church outside of Austin also limited my time a bit in working on this edition.

I would not characterize my thoughts here as tentative, but perhaps provisional is an apt word to use. Tentative is too weak, but provisional underscores that my thoughts are still open to further reflection and correction.

I learn much from those who disagree with me, especially those who are gracious in doing so! By all means offer your pushback, thoughts, or questions. You can contact me either by email or post your comments on my blog at www.twocities.org. Your comments via email may be included in future blasts, but I won’t give your name unless you approve.

Away we go…

I have been thinking about the size of churches for many years. Since I have ministered in small, medium, and big churches, it seemed time to make my views more public. I believe the topic merits more attention than it gets. I should add that the recent scandals in several megachurches, as awful as they have been, didn’t influence my thinking below.

Here then are a series of miscellaneous and compressed thoughts on church size:

*I no longer believe the size of larger churches (somewhat arbitrarily set as 300 or more regular attenders) is neutral.

It is common to hear the argument that the size of a church is neutral. Size is likened to a baseball bat. As the logic goes, it is stated that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a baseball bat. Yes, you can kill someone with a baseball bat, but manufacturers like Louisville Slugger didn’t have that kind of slugging in mind when they made their bats.

I think size not only can but does present unnecessary obstacles that make being a body of believers much more challenging. How can a large group of people fulfill all the “one another” commands of Scripture when it is easy to be anonymous?

I have adapted the typical baseball bat analogy to highlight my concerns about big churches. Imagine having a huge baseball bat. Many are impressed by the massive bat. It effortlessly crushes homers. The person wielding the bat is very nice. Many on the field are in awe of the bat and the batters that are privileged to use it. Bats that big would change the complexion of the game we know as baseball. It would no longer be baseball as we have come to understand and love the game. So yes, I question whether thousands gathered together in the same place are still really “doing church.”

*I am keenly aware that small churches can have big problems, while big churches may have smaller problems. I have observed both. This undeniable reality doesn’t affect my concerns about big churches. Read on to see why.

*Small churches can have autocratic leaders who do much damage. Big churches can and do have autocratic leaders, but small churches may feel more vulnerable to tolerating a dictatorial leader since more qualified pastors are unlikely to be attracted to ministry in a small church. I have wondered aloud on different occasions why pastors generally (I know a few exceptions) feel “called by God” to move to a bigger church.

*Because of their size, and even more so if the church is not part of a denomination, smaller churches can get isolated and so make themselves more vulnerable to ungodly influences and unbiblical fads.

*I do have concerns about house churches, many times an overreaction to bigger churches. I have been very involved in both big and small churches, but never participated in a house church. My concerns about house churches mainly revolve around the problems of autonomy and their vulnerability to self-appointed leaders who are not qualified to lead. I have heard a few horror stories. I know there are some healthy examples of house churches, but I think their independence presents obstacles to the best kind of spiritual growth.

*With small churches you don’t have the structural issues that impede being known. A small church is not magically healthy simply because it’s small, but at least you don’t have to fight the structural challenges that come with bigness.

*Small churches don’t have structural impediments to reflecting the family ethos mentioned in the Bible. Like the previous point, small churches don’t automatically do this just because they are small. They must have godly leaders who are committed to functioning as a family. In some healthy small churches, I have seen all ages mixing in an organic way. I have never seen it done very well in bigger churches. In bigger churches you find specialty ministries that sequester the old from the young and vice versa. It’s why you have the sixty-plus old folks in Sunday school classes with names like the “Sunset” class.

*Speaking of specialties, Johns Hopkins University was the first research university in America. Many separate departments with their own specializations. Many good things have come from specialization. With respect to Johns Hopkins, their early adoption of more rigorous research methods in medicine thanks to the inspiration of European scholars, yielded many benefits.

Specialization, for good and for ill, has affected all areas of life including the church. It is why we put modifiers in front of pastor: senior, executive, associate, adult education, discipleship, evangelism, youth, and more. These areas of specialization dull us to the indispensable character qualities all pastors should have. C.S. Lewis wrote how modifiers can kill important words:

As long as gentleman has a clear meaning, it is enough to say that So-and-so is a gentleman. When we begin saying that he is a “real gentleman” or “a true gentleman” or “a gentleman in the truest sense” we may be sure that the word has not long to live…[1]

*Individualism is a big problem in our culture and in the church. Mature Christian growth does not come from being individualistic. Where is it easier to hide and be the person you want to be: a big church where you can be anonymous or a small one where your presence or lack thereof is noticeable?

*Big churches usually have a hodgepodge of unrelated ministries. A church I served in for five years had an annual “ministry fair.” About seventy distinct ministries of the church were offered as possible avenues for growth. We in leadership pretty much left it up to everyone to figure out where they should get involved. That kind of chaos with multiple choices does not produce mature Christians.

*I Peter 5 assumes the leadership knows the congregation and the congregation knows the leadership. At the big church I was at in the 1990s, the elders realized the body largely did not trust them. What to do? They decided to be greeters for a few weeks so people could get to know them. I kid you not. The relationships between the elders and the body did not improve.

Even if the elders are qualified men, how is it possible for them to know and be known by thousands?

*In the pastoral epistles, Paul assumes that one who is engaged in pastoral ministry is an elder. The interesting thing is that it is difficult to find “Bible-believing” churches where every pastor is an elder. I have scoured hundreds of church web sites. When all the pastors and elders are listed, it is almost never the case that all pastors are elders. Why is this if Paul assumes that all pastors are elders? I already knew the answer but decided to ask a few biblical scholars and pastors. The answer: the elders are typically afraid that the pastors will wield too much influence on the body. Fear of a voting bloc is the way some put it. And yes, it seems bigger churches are more prone to this fear.

*Larger churches tend to fast track membership. The large numbers seem to demand it. We had four weeks at the big church I served. I told the elders that an unprincipled Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness could become a member at our church. This certainly could happen at any size church, but when you have large numbers wanting to be members you feel the pressure to fast track the process.

Much more could be said, but this is already too long. If you have read this far, please receive my thanks, and do consider offering a comment or question.

Moore’s Musings is free, but tax-deductible gifts to Two Cities Ministries are most appreciated.

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Dave Moore

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[1] From C.S. Lewis’s essay, “The Death of Words,” As quoted on www.cslewis.com/language-and-the-meaning-of-words.

MOTHER OF MODERN EVANGELICALISM

I already knew a fair bit about Henrietta Mears prior to reading this book. My familiarity was due to the stories Dr. Bill Bright used to share about Mears. Bright along with Billy Graham and a coterie of other notables, fell under the spell of Mears.

Dr. Bright highlighted various things about Mears but sadly failed to emphasize her desire to offer rigorous education to Christians. Mears believed it was scandalous that schools offered detailed instruction while the Christian education in many churches was haphazard and superficial.

J.I. Packer used to regularly say that the glaring need of the church was for catechesis or Christian education. I very much agree with Packer here and Mears modelled what this would look like.

Not only were thousands involved in the various Sunday school ministries of First Presbyterian, Hollywood, but Mears provided depth, ministry to the whole person, and engagement in all sorts of ministries.

This is a well-written and compelling account of Henrietta Mears’s approach to Christian education in the local church. We desperately need to listen to her today!

BULLIES AND SAINTS

I have read many books on history and the history of the church. Church history was also my minor or cognate field of study in seminary.

There is much to like about John Dickson’s Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History. Sometimes instead of a regular review, I like to offer five things I appreciated about a book. Here goes with Bullies and Saints:

*Dickson is balanced in laying out the good, bad, and downright ugly or evil. He does not fall prey to either the cynic on one hand or the hagiographer on the other hand.

*There is a responsible engagement with the best scholarship, yet the book remains accessible.

*Dickson is a lucid writer who knows how to find the telling anecdote or illustration.

*Unlike some Christians, Dickson does not go back to the past to find talking points he already agrees with. He allows the strangeness of the past to speak to him and by way of extension, us.

*It is the kind of book that a Christian could comfortably give to a thoughtful non-Christian. I think many non-Christians would be pleasantly surprised by Dickson’s fair-mindedness.

FED UP WITH CHRISTIANITY? REMEMBERING WHAT MATTERS

These days we find a growing number of people deconstructing their Christian faith, while others say they no longer believe or have deconverted. The former lops off things that are deemed excess baggage to the true faith, while the latter is a full-fledged leaving of the Christian faith. We could debate whether those deconstructing are also deconverting, but that is not the purpose of this piece. Rather, my desire is to call us to remember what we seem to have forgotten. We Christians need to make a few things mainstays of our faith lest we keep losing our way.

I have my own frustrations with the American church, but I prefer to remain within the historic Christian faith among a community of thoughtful friends. Loyal and wise friends are indispensable to a healthy walk with God.

I often jest that I am a serial doubter, but it is hardly a joke. Doubts about certain teachings of the Christian faith have nagged me for four decades. My first book on the Christian understanding of hell was borne out of a personal struggle. Though I wrote that book nearly thirty years ago, my struggle with hell persists. I assume it and other questions will continue to plague me until the day I die. I take encouragement from Christian, the lead character in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Not only did Christian get waylaid by Doubting Castle, but at the end of his life this true believer’s last steps were fraught with terror. Christian and his friend Hopeful are crossing the final river before entering the Celestial City (=heaven). Christian is struggling with all kinds of doubt about whether he will make it across the river. Ironically, Christian is confident Hopeful is going to make it safely to the other side because Hopeful always had a sure and steady faith. Things are different for Christian. He is convinced that he will drown. Hopeful seeks to encourage Christian by saying that the river’s bottom can be “felt and that it is firm.” That is not immediately apparent to Christian, but he finally finds the river is indeed “shallow and solid.” With indescribable joy, but quite different experiences, the two friends arrive safely on the shores of heaven.

To put it crudely, just because you are a true Christian does not mean that you will die with a smile on your face. Heaven is yours, but you just may go through one final trial to get there. Not easy words to hear, but true ones. Anyone who has been around for the last days of a Christian’s life knows that there can be intense suffering both physically and sometimes even spiritually.

I believe in eternal security, but that does not necessarily mean that one’s pilgrimage here on earth will be free of struggles, fears, or even doubts. I am encouraged that my God promises to hold me regardless of the doubts that at times assail my sanity and stability.

Again, my motivation in writing this piece is not to describe the dynamics per se of deconstruction and deconversion. Plenty of ink has already been spilled in that regard, and even if you have not read about these things, you probably have a family member or friend who is a poignant testimony to this growing trend. My purpose in writing is to remind us of some things that are not getting the attention they deserve.

In keeping with the theme of sanity and stability, it is good to remember that there is a difference between Christianity and what Christians will say the Christian faith entails. This is especially acute since many “Bible-believing” Christians (as all the polling data shows) have minimal engagement with the Bible. Biblical illiteracy among those who tout their high view of Scripture is something I have witnessed in several places over nearly four decades of ministry. It is stunning when self-professed Christians mix a toxic brew of ignorance and arrogance. They may not know much, but some of these folks still demand that you listen to them. I am old enough to know I need not listen to such nonsense.

Here then are four areas that I believe we Christians must remember to take seriously. The erosion of all four is found broadly in places that name the name of Christ. All four of the following areas offer a powerful prophylactic against the temptation to deconstruct and/or deconvert. All four of these are also indispensable for the rest of us!

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CHRISTIAN EDUCATION?

In a podcast interview for my most recent book (Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians), the host asked if I was finding it easier these days to persuade Christians about the importance of learning. The host thought my need to persuade others might not be as great these days because all the present challenges both in and out of the church are so obvious and alarming. Perhaps I was seeing greater eagerness to learn about the Christian faith. Sadly, I responded that my need to persuade Christians to learn is as great as ever. Instead of the present challenges making Christians more eager to learn, I am finding that many are content to stay in their safe silos where one can supposedly be protected from the complex challenges of our day. The promise of pseudo safety trumps the embarrassment of being superficial. Fear trumps the risk of learning. And true learning is risky because you will find out how much you don’t know. When our youngest son taught philosophy, he told me that his number one priority was to convince his students how little they knew. Such exposure is embarrassing, so it is easier to hunker down in echo chambers where learning is limited.

I have asked different Christian groups whether anyone can give me the biblical texts that describe the proper boundaries of “faith, hope, and love.” In other words, what are the Bible verses that describe the difference between biblical faith and presumption, hope and wish-fulfillment, love, and a secular version of therapeutic well-being. Other than my wife, I have found most admit that they can’t do it. If the biblical boundaries of “faith, hope, and love” are not clearly understood, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know how pervasive the ignorance must be on other important Christian teachings.

The late J.I. Packer “mourned the eclipse” of Christian education (he used the word catechesis). Packer believed that its low priority was a main contributor to “the deepest root of immaturity that is so widespread in evangelical circles…” I agree. I believe our downplaying its importance makes people vulnerable to leaving the Christian faith for poor, but understandable reasons.

There are several factors that may lead to deconversion, but there is one that has not sobered enough Christian parents. I’ve seen it up close in a Christian school context, in parachurch ministry, and in pastoral work. It is a surefire recipe for disheartening your children about the Christian faith. They may still walk with God, but parents can make things more difficult for their children by failing to address an all-too-common problem.

It is not uncommon to find parents who desperately desire their children to be grounded in the Christian faith, but they themselves are apathetic. Years ago, while I was teaching at a Christian school, two high school seniors complained about their parent’s lackluster approach in following Jesus. One asked, “Mr. Moore, my father wants me to love Jesus first and foremost, but he is consumed with his brand-new BMW. What should I do?” The other said, “When I come home my mom makes it clear that I need to get studying Latin, but she is reading Glamour magazine.”

By the grace of God, children may still walk with God despite their parents’ hypocrisy. On the other side of things, I know parents who continue to grow in the “grace and knowledge of the Lord” despite having spiritually wayward children. These parents inspire me.

The late Dallas Willard used to say that he had a tough time finding churches who were committed to building disciples or apprentices of Jesus. People of all ages need to be formed in a more serious and comprehensive ministry of Christian education. Most of the Sunday school classes I have observed don’t come close to doing the job. Neither do the small groups I have observed. The research on small groups by the eminent sociologist, Robert Wuthnow, confirms my own observations. Focused attention must be given to equipping Christians to be lifelong disciples or learners. Church leaders need to provide an atmosphere where this sort of expectation is the normative path for all Christians. It must be an environment where everyone has the freedom to pose their most difficult or troubling questions. This assumes that churches have qualified leaders in both training and temperament.

I recently saw a quote being retweeted by those who heartily agreed with it. The quote came from a pastor I hold in esteem. He said, “The vast majority of Christians are educated past their level of obedience. If you would just do what you already knew, your life would change.” This pastor (and those who retweeted his quote) believes the answer to the spiritual doldrums is to stop putting such an emphasis on learning. What is needed is to get off one’s spiritual duff and go do something with what one already “knows.”

It’s a popular sentiment that I have heard a number of times before, but it misses some critical truths. For one, most American Christians don’t really have a good understanding of their faith. Again, the polling data shows this and my own varied experience over nearly forty years of teaching confirms it. In addition, the Bible makes clear that true knowledge of God leads to love. Finally, we should promote obedience but obedience that honors God is fueled by a maturing knowledge of God. The best love for God (and for human beings) is borne out of a deep understanding of who it is we are loving.

Consider the rigorous preparation of an NFL football player or of someone in the military who is headed to the front lines of battle. Why should we Christians settle for so much less in our own preparation?

MANY CHRISTIANS ARE NOT DESPERATE

I have read several books that seek to motivate Christians to read the Bible. What I believe is the biggest impediment to being an avid reader/student of the Bible has never been mentioned in any of these books. I am waiting to see it. It is this: if you are not putting yourself in situations where you need the resources of God or else you are keenly aware you will sink, you are not going to be an active learner of the Christian faith. You may be in that small percent that likes to learn for learning’s sake, but true Christian learning is meant to be lived and shared. Let me give one example.

If you share your faith on a regular basis, you will come across non-Christians wanting to know all kinds of things like why we Christians only honor the books that are in our Bibles. Why are these books so special? Didn’t powerful bishops in the fourth century use their power to ramrod the books of the Bible they wanted for inclusion in the canon? I have found few Christians able to give an answer to this question. Why is this? It’s quite simple and it is not because you must be a scholar to have a satisfactory answer. Rather, there is no urgent need to know this sort of thing if you steer clear of talking about Jesus with non-Christians. The engagement I find most common among Christians who do read their Bibles is to gain personal inspiration for the decidedly private faith that they are interested in living.

Christians have admitted to me that they avoid ministry opportunities to bear witness due to fear that they will not have a good answer to a non-Christian’s question. Nobody likes to be stumped, especially over a subject where good answers can be found.

I have various areas of disagreement with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), but I am indebted to how this ministry instilled the importance of putting yourself in places outside your “circle of confidence.” Early on, I was talking to people from different religions and cults. It motivated me to find better answers which then served as a catalyst to go out witness again. I was desperate to find better answers. Again, too many claiming the name of Christ aren’t desperate for better answers because they are not putting themselves in situations where they must bear testimony to why they believe what they believe.

I have some ideas for how churches could create a greater sense of desperation, but space limits me. Suffice it to say, pastors and church leaders would find it time well spent to brainstorm ideas for helping those under their care have more of a sense of desperation. They must first assess how desperate they are themselves.

Imagine if those tempted to deconstruct or deconvert saw an abundance of Christians seeking to live supernaturally. Imagine if those tempted to deconstruct or deconvert observed many Christians saying no to American consumerism and individualism. Instead, these Christians were eager to trust God in faith-stretching endeavors all while displaying an attractive joy and confidence in the truth. I believe it would make those tempted to deconstruct or deconvert reconsider what they might lose by doing so.

MAKE CHRISTIANITY BEAUTIFUL AGAIN

Another thing I jest about, but it too is deadly serious, is that if I had to believe everything I hear on Christian radio, I would have to bail on the faith. Fortunately, I do not have to believe these things. Fortunate too that there remains some great music and lyrics on Christian radio, but buyer beware!

Other examples of “Christian art” too easily fall under the category of kitsch. Whether fiction, art, or music, too much is sentimental, superficial, and sloppy.

In the areas of biblical studies and theology, we have lots of competent people doing excellent work. I am grateful for these faithful Christians. Our large library bears testimony to the value my wife and I place on such scholarship. In general, I would give high marks to these scholars and the rest of us “conservative” Protestants when it comes to describing and defending the Christian faith. However, I would not give us high marks on how well we Christians demonstrate the beauty of biblical truth.

My favorite writers of the past, people like Augustine, Pascal, Bunyan, Chesterton, Lewis, and Edwards, appreciated both the truth and beauty of God. We need to learn from them. Showcasing the beauty of the Christian faith along with its truthfulness would make people less tempted to deconstruct or deconvert.

Along with the need for more robust learning/discipleship and being in touch with our desperate need to grow, beauty provides a gracious power that addresses needs that we are not always aware we have. All three of these things are critical, but none have any lasting value if we fail to remember that Jesus is central to everything.

WHERE DID JESUS GO? LOVING FADS, LOSING JESUS

A few years back I went to the graduation ceremony for those who completed a rigorous drug rehabilitation program. The testimonies of the graduates were stunning tributes to a great and gracious God. When the ceremony was over, I asked the founder a few questions about the program. He said people did not have to be Christians to participate. They did need to commit to be in a small group where members slowly read and discussed the gospels. What he next told me is one of the best things I have ever heard about Jesus. He said, “They are not always convinced that Jesus is who he claimed to be, but they want him to be.” Seeing how Jesus treated people with dignity and respect was compelling for these addicts. The beautiful compassion of Jesus captivated them.

In Tim Larson’s fascinating book, Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England, he mentions various Christians (including pastors living in the Victorian era) who deconverted from the Christian faith. Several did so due to the attacks on the Bible by the “higher critics.” That part of the story has already been told by A.N. Wilson in his influential book, God’s Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization. What had not been well known is that a number of these deconverts came back to the Christian faith due to a fresh engagement with the Bible. They found that the Bible has a thicker, more realistic view on reality than the views promulgated by the skeptics. Several reconverted after finding the Christian faith described life more accurately than the descriptions of the most ferocious critics.

It is far past the time for American Christians to settle for a faith that could easily be gathered from a collection of pithy quotes on bumper stickers. Jesus and the faith that centers on him is true, compelling, worth giving our life for, and beautiful.

If you pay careful attention to the conversations of American Christians, you may start to wonder what happened to Jesus. Jesus supposedly undergirds and empowers all that we do, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to what most of us talk about. He is assumed to be central to everything, but our conversations seem to be animated by ministry strategy and leadership principles along with a host of other things. Things like ministry strategy and leadership principles have their place, but if we are not “growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus” we are in deep waters. We might end up being unlike Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress. We may be drowning, and we may be unaware of the danger.

A few months back, my own pastor preached a terrific sermon from Colossians. Peter made it crystal clear that Jesus is central to everything. He winsomely teased out some important implications that flow from this reality. Preaching that reminds us of the central place of Jesus is always critical. I’m afraid that it is not common these days. Alan Jacobs said pastors could legitimately warn their congregations every week about the dangers of technology. In the same vein, pastors should regularly make it clear that Jesus is central to everything. If the person, work, and yes, beauty of Jesus are not clearly brought before the body of Christ on a regular basis, we should not wonder why so many wander (I Cor. 14:8).

As Rev. 2:4 tells us, we need to remember from where we have fallen and “go back and do the things we once did.” Repentance that leads to remembering what really matters is the answer for all of us, whether we be the person who is deconstructing our faith or the larger amount of us who still sit dutifully in church pews but are increasingly not sure why we remain.

David George Moore is the author of the recently released Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians. Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians: David George Moore, Carl Trueman: 9781684264605: Amazon.com: Books

I am grateful to David Campbell who read an earlier version of this post. Several of David’s suggestions made it a better piece. Any errors in judgment and/or style are mine alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO DETERMINE A CHURCH’S SPIRITUAL VITALITY

My good friend, Tim, asked me how I determine the spiritual vitality of a church. There are many important questions to ask, but the two below have always cut through the fog for me. They have never failed in giving me a good idea of a church’s true health.

*What does your church’s ministry of prayer look like? How does the weekly schedule show its priority? How many attend? What is prayed about? Is there a godly desperation manifest in the prayers?

*Is there an emphasis on comprehensive discipleship/Christian formation? Does it address a full-orbed list of areas like aging and apologetics, theology of work and missions, etc.?

AFGHANISTAN: WHEN “REALISTIC” LOSES ITS PERSUASIVE POWER

Note to readers: This post does not address who is to blame for the debacle we are witnessing in Afghanistan. If that is your interest, you have ample things to read elsewhere.

“Let’s be realistic…” Three words that remind us that we have set our expectations too high. Three words that remind us that the real world is full of pain and suffering, so we better adjust our assumptions accordingly about how life really works.

But realistic can also be a cheap dodge from moral responsibility. Invoking the need to be “realistic” can protect us from the critical obligations of a moral life. And this moral life is messy and difficult whether we are looking to address our own life or the life of a country like Afghanistan.

It seems utterly irrational to hang onto a plane when it is taking off, but we Westerners make our judgments far too hastily. When King David numbered his troops and the non-military men, he fell under the discipline of the Lord. God gave David three possible options for his punishment. Let David’s response sink in deeply: “…I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” Like the terrified Afghans, David knew full well how ruthless people can be.

From the comforts of our homes, it is understandable why we Americans feel helpless in offering anything of lasting benefit to the Afghans. I know the feeling. I wonder what I as a sixty-three-year-old man living in the safety of the American suburbs can do. It seems crazy to think I can do anything of consequence. Yes, I am terribly sad over the ghastly images I witnessed of those desperate people in Afghanistan, but then my inability to do anything screams with a clarity that seems undeniable. And inability eventually leads to a cold logic that says I have no real responsibility. It is a brutal calculus, but it permits me to go to go to bed with a clean conscience.

Realpolitik is a fancy word that describes geopolitical decisions being made based on pragmatic realities instead of allowing our moral outrage or ideological commitments to set the agenda. For example, our government (and this is true of both sides of the political aisle) understands that calling the Chinese to task for their abuse of the Uyghurs is impractical because it would hurt our economic interests. Our government can certainly offer some periodic outrage over the Uyghurs, but everyone knows, including the Chinese, that we are simply grandstanding for a hollow sound bite.

Realpolitik reminds us that America cannot be the police force for the rest of the world. It is a terrible thing to admit, but in our big and complicated world it is hard to gainsay. We Americans must simply nod in sad resignation that this is the way things are and carry on with our own lives.

During my days of college ministry, I recall hearing about a study that explained why people get more animated with lesser causes like saving the whales. Nothing wrong of course with wanting to save whales. The author of the study said people get exercised with lesser causes because the more important ones seem impossible to address. The lesser causes give us a sense that we are making some difference in the world.

It’s understandable why we are tempted to pass on bigger problems, but perhaps the crisis in Afghanistan is one we can do something about. Perhaps we are too easily invoking “Let’s be realistic about Afghanistan…” to escape things we can do.

What are those things? More than the stifling “Let’s be realistic…” will allow. Fresh brainstorming among those who know and love the Afghan people ought to be encouraged. “Let’s be realistic…” will hardly provoke the kind of creative, out of the box thinking about the issues that most vex us. “Let’s be realistic…” may also be a bogus excuse to do little to nothing when other possibilities exist, the kinds of things that only come into view when one is committed to thinking with moral clarity.

 

 

THE TEARS WERE NOT EXPECTED

Late last night, I was overcome with grief. The tears were not expected.

It is impossible to digest properly all that happened yesterday. As I write in my forthcoming book Stuck in the Present, we need the longer view of history for that, so I am heeding my own counsel.

Stuck in the Present: David George Moore: 9781684264605: Amazon.com: Books

Over the years, I have heard warnings to not take the American experiment in democracy for granted. It is sturdy in one sense, but still fragile. I remember hearing that each generation of Americans must commit to it. I thought it was good to issue such a warning but was never too worried. No longer.

Have things been this bad before in America? An argument can certainly be made for that and the antebellum period is the one historians typically mention.

Are our cluster of present problems unique to the more modern period of American history? Again, I think the 1960s offers another example of serious strife and deep division.

My deepest sadness, however, is not over our country’s present chaos and strife.

My deepest sadness is over the state of the Christian faith in America.

For many decades I have witnessed Christians who are apathetic about knowing God’s Word, loving one’s enemies, an unwillingness to suffer for Christ in the most modest of ways, prayerlessness, and much more. 

Most Christians are poorly prepared for times of crisis. We love the church programs that meet our insatiable desires. We adore our celebrity pastors. We are biblically and historically illiterate, but more than willing to offer our superficial opinions on the most vexing issues of the day.  

This sad state of affairs is due to a lack of making long-term discipleship and serious grounding in the Christian faith our priorities. These simply do not take place in many churches (or parachurches for that matter). We have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind. We should not be surprised where we find ourselves.

Things are not going to be any better by avoiding these realities. Things also might not be any better if we face these realities but at least we will have been faithful.

I pray for God’s mercy, but I do not find myself too sanguine. My lack of “optimism” is not because the culture is so bad. Rather, it is because many of us Americans claiming the name of Christ have become dull of hearing.

God’s Word makes it clear that Christians can lose their influence (Mt. 5:13; Rev. 2:4,5). We are kidding ourselves if we think this is not happening right now.

All of us who claim the name of Christ need to ponder and consider Peter’s dire warning:

Indeed, none of you should suffer as a murderer or thief or wrongdoer, or even as a meddler. But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?… (I Peter 4:15-17)

I added this in the reply link, but will also add it here:

Again, to underscore the biggest point of the post: Yes, shock over the events of yesterday, but I am much more worried about the state of Christianity in America. And my concerns go way back before Trump or any other politician.

We must look at ourselves!

 

 

WE NEED EACH OTHER!

Part of my note to a friend:
Trying to find the tension point or balance of not being easily duped or disillusioned is not easy.  We need God and being with a diverse group of fellow Christians with different gifts to navigate these issues.  Again, we need the church at her best!