War, Peace, and Easter

I am not a pacifist.

I believe that war is sometimes necessary in a fallen world.

As I think of my ancestors, I remember the multitude of men who fought and who even died in military service. My Grandfather Lloyd Babb was a decorated soldier who did tours of duty in World War 2, Korea, and two in Vietnam. I think I justly feel some pride at his ability and willingness to serve in this way.

However, war can also be terrible. I think of my 3rd great grandfather Levi Parks Keith. He served in the Illinois Cavalry in the Civil War. He, like many others, succumbed, not to bullets or cannon, but to disease. In the midst of the Civil War, Levi grew ill. Here is how my cousin described the story as it came down to her:

My father related a story told him by his father, James Mason Keith. Grandpa said the only memory he ever had of his father was when he lay on his death bed. Levi was sick in Missouri and wanted to come home. They put him on a train for Crothersville, IN. This was the winter of 1863. The family met him with a wagon, filled with hay and lots of quilts, and took him home to Paris, Jennings Co., IN. This is how Grandpa remembered him, and this is where he died on 2 Jan. 1864.

Levi left behind four young children and his wife Charlotte. This is so often the legacy of war.

If you research your ancestry, one thing you will quickly find is that you don’t have to go very far back in time to find farmers. Most of my ancestors were farmers of one sort or another. Even those who weren’t farmers farmed.

There is a whole different glory in farming than there is in war, but there is a glory nonetheless. I was reminded of this recently as I labored to remove a small stump of a relatively small tree from my yard. It was hard, grueling work. It made me appreciate what my ancestors had done in clearing this continent for productive farming. Continue reading “War, Peace, and Easter”

White Evangelicals & Race

Christian rapper LeCrae. LeCrae decided that he was going to distance himself from white evangelicalism. This saddened me. I’m not judging what LeCrae has done. I know that he is far from the only person who feels this way. This reminds me of the sad reality that white evangelicals and evangelicals of color in the United States are not as close as they could and should be.

That said, I do understand it. I can understand particularly why African-American evangelicals would feel like they don’t belong in white evangelicalism.

This has led me to think about my behavior as a white evangelical. Do I do things that make white evangelicalism unwelcome for my brothers and sisters of color?

But this issue seems so big. What can I do? Especially, what can I do concretely? I came up with a few ideas. Here are a few things that I think I should do in regard to the race issue. I’d be interested in hearing what your thoughts are on this issue and what white evangelicals should do.

  1. Listen. James 1:19 says, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” For example, when my brothers and sisters speak about racial injustice, I want my first reaction to be to listen rather than to speak or react emotionally.
  2. Be honest about the history of the relationship of African-Americans and Whites in this country. A lot of it is very bad. I want to try to understand how this has worked out in my own area, family, and church and be honest and open about it.
  3. Continue reading “White Evangelicals & Race”

Humility: A Healing Balm for Political Discord

You don’t have to be an astute observer to recognize the intense political discord in our nation. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are merely dramatic examples of that phenomenon.

Long before Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, however, Americans were becoming less and less capable of even talking with those who disagree with them strongly. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, and Gabe Lyons in their book Good Faith state: “Our research shows that having meaningful conversations is increasingly difficult for many of us. This is true not only on an individual level but also society-wide” (Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016], 17. Check out the book to see their research on this point. For one example, they report that 87% of evangelicals don’t feel comfortable having a religious conversation with a Muslim!).

Social media has only made this worse. In a recent interview, NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggested that with social media present, there is little hope of healing our political discord: “So long as we are all immersed in a constant stream of unbelievable outrages perpetrated by the other side, I don’t see how we can ever trust each other and work together again” (read the whole interview here.)

Strong ideological opinions and religious views always seem to lead to conflict.

This is not surprising. If someone believes that their viewpoint is absolute, then shouldn’t they seek to give it political prominence? Wouldn’t it lead to an attempt to dominate all others in the name of one’s absolute?

Some suggest that we can deal with this is to abandon our strong religious and ideological perspectives. At the least, we should just not talk about them. This is just what many people have chosen to do. As Kinnaman and Lyons explain, “An uncomfortably large segment of Christians would rather agree with people around them than experience even the mildest conflict” (Good Faith, 18).

But there are significant problems with this. First, pride and not the views themselves are the real problem, and pride is just as likely to assert itself in other areas. Rejecting strong ideological and religious views could simply lead people to fight over their own economic interests or preferences without any recourse to values that could connect opposing parties.

Second, it leaves some of what makes us most human out of our political discourse. To be human is to think of bigger things: God, beauty, morality, and a vision for things being better than they are.

Third, how can we ask people to embrace views that are simply contradictory? As John Dickson in his insightful book Humilitas puts it, “Can we seriously ask Buddhists to accept as valid the Hindu doctrine of ‘atman’ or eternal soul when the Buddha himself rejected the idea and taught that there is no soul, and ultimatley, not even a self?” (Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011], 165).

Is there a way that people of strongly divergent views can come together in a democracy in a way that is productive and provides helpful discourse?

Yes, there is. The answer is humility. Humility is a healing balm for our political discord. Continue reading “Humility: A Healing Balm for Political Discord”

The Progress of the Church in History

What progress can the church expect to make in history? What are the prospects of the church before Christ returns?

There are several places in Scripture that indicate a progressive growth in the kingdom of God before Christ’s return. For example, Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed: “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Mt. 13:32).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel envisions a kingdom that breaks all other kingdoms. It “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (2:35).

I believe that it is very hazardous to predict the future, even with the images that the Bible gives us of the future. Most who have tried to do it in any detail have been totally wrong. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons.

That being said, I predict that Jesus will return on October 25, 2134. Just kidding. Not going to make that sort of prediction.

However, I do think that history has shown us enough for us to believe that these images of progressive progress do tell us something about the direction of history. The movement of history seems also to teach that the kingdom will continue to make progress throughout history before the consummation.

Consider the early church. It grew from a small group in Jerusalem to a multitude of congregations throughout the world.

From there, the church continued to grow until it overran the Roman Empire and displaced the pagan religions there.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian missionaries went out and brought the Gospel to those who had overran the Empire. The conversion of “barbarian” tribes continued throughout the Middle Ages. Continue reading “The Progress of the Church in History”

Easter: Think Bigger!

The are several problems with the common perception of life after death. Here’s what people think: when we die, our souls go to heaven to float around there forever. This is only partially true.

When we die, our souls do continue to exist (Phil. 1:21), but our ultimate hope is in the resurrection of our bodies. Our hope is that Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). With the ancient church, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (The Nicene Creed).

A second problem is that people think it is only our individual bodies and not the whole creation that will be redeemed. But the vision of our destiny in the Scriptures is one of a redeemed world (e.g., Is. 65:17–25). As the Apostle Paul says, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21). Continue reading “Easter: Think Bigger!”