Kings Highway Radio: Power Religion and Relevance

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When Jarod and I started discussing the book Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church, we were interested in it because it spoke directly to issues we’ve been discussing on this podcast for over a year now, and because it was such a broad representation of mainstream evangelical thought. It has been all the more impressive to us because, in spite of the fact that it was published in 1992, it hardly seems out of step with the issues currently faced by the church. So many of the seeds that have grown up into struggles over things like politics and conspiracy theories, social justice and critical theory, and the increasing ubiquity of the Word of Faith movement in the American church are seen in the warnings and discussions set forth.

Seen just as clearly are the calls for best practices to replace the questionable and dangerous ones that were and are present throughout the evangelical church. When pastors from Presbyterian, Baptist, Evangelical Free, and other denominations stand together in calling the church to judge its view of power with a biblical lens, we ought to take special notice.

It was a little unusual for a podcast to spend its time digging into a book that is not current, but I hope our point and our reason was clear throughout: the weight of being the church calls us to look back, both to recent and ancient history, and know where we have been, so that we don’t stumble into traps unaware and so that we don’t invent new heresies, or rehash old ones.

I know the charismatic/Word of Faith crowd took the biggest beating during this discussion. It isn’t our goal to anathematize everyone who has set foot in a Pentacostal church. It is, however, our desire to warn of the ease of falling under the sway of false teaching, and that particular movement has been a major breeding ground for them. There, power is sought out of a desire to be closer to God, but it puts power in the wrong hands, rather than calling the church to trust the One who wields power perfectly at all times. That includes the power to endure suffering unto the end.

The thing I think we found most engaging, and what will probably drive our discussion in the next few episodes, is the struggle of Christians to engage with the world in a way that says “I trust God” while not being antagonistic to our neighbors. For so many, being a conservative believer often seems to mean you find yourself clucking your tongue at the latest nonsense being put in children’s programming and getting into fights online over hot button issues. It results in us not spending much time truly “giving a defense for the hope that is within us” because as conservatives we often seem to have no hope. On the contrary, we often operate from this idea that says “Well, the world’s going to hell, I’m going to just dig in here and try to keep my kids from going along with it.”

I am grateful to everyone listening to us as we dig into this, and I hope you will give us feedback as to your own thoughts, either in the comments below or by email. We want to know how we can strengthen believers to truly walk in faith as we seek to grow our own.

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That we may be one

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 CSB

We’ve spent a lot of time on various podcasts talking about the ongoing COVID19 pandemic. Jarod and I have discussed it from perspectives of big-picture government responses, doctors and researchers exploring the spread of the virus and how it may be stopped or treated, and of course, the ways churches have tried to respond to this in a way that balances respect for local government authority and safety of their congregants with the need to gather and worship the Lord. It has produced for so many of us an intense time of longing for a return of the community we’ve been denied for several weeks now.

As all this has progressed, I’ve also watched individual responses and interactions, both close friends as well as far, laymen as well as leaders. I have wrestled a lot with how to speak to what I’ve seen. I’ve started writing many times on different platforms and deleted it, left it alone, rather than speak in anger and frustration or without trying to be fair in considering different viewpoints. Where I’ve landed is honestly not about where one falls on the spectrum of “open it all now” to “not until there’s a vaccine and even then I’m gonna wait a couple weeks.” Rather, my heart has been heavy with frustration more about the way I’ve seen us, believers in Christ, interacting over this.

I’ll be real honest with you people. I am very disappointed with how we as Christians have dealt with this. This experience should be a time for us to shine. Christians everywhere who have any kind of means should be out searching for any neighbors who are just hurting right now whether from lost work or illness or something else and pouring themselves out. They ought to be devoting themselves to service, to prayer, to crying out to the Lord to protect the sick around us and to provide for the poor.

But what I have seen has not looked like that, at least not from so many who have a high degree of visibility. I have seen leaders, godly men who I have looked to for wisdom and truth on so many issues and circumstances, arrogantly reacting unlovingly to everything from gentle correction to news stories. I’ve seen good brothers and sisters who previously had been gentle and sweet to each other now turning against one another in bitterness and division. And it has me deeply saddened and hurt to see so many not walking even remotely in a way that demonstrates the truth of Jesus’ words above: His desire that we would be recognized as His disciples by our love for one another.

Love one another

I’m not going to screenshot stuff. I’m not going to “get receipts” or whatever it is that the gossip-mongers and drama channels say when they dig up the latest dirt on someone with even the smallest amount of clout. Instead, I want to speak directly to each person who takes the time to read this: it is time for us as people who profess to love Jesus Christ to put up or shut up. It is time for us to stop regarding the Scriptures as a series of technicalities that allow us to disobey one thing in order to obey another. It is time, in short, for us to feel the weight of the Lord’s discipline on our hearts and to look to His example in giving up ourselves for the sake of love.

If you are new to this blog and podcast, you may not know that I spent the better part of last year working through the concept of unity in the Christ for the church. If God is willing, I am not done doing that either; Jarod and I are making plans for other projects that will involve this central and critical topic. If there is one thing that I hope is clear from all that, it is this: unity involves both a definition of what we are unified around, as well as a clear view of what walking in that unity looks like.

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t look like: it doesn’t look like “owning the libs.” It doesn’t look like your favorite TV or radio host Snarky McSmartAleck who cracks wise in precisely the right way that lets us look at those who disagree with us and go “Yeah, ya big idiots!” It doesn’t look like screaming like a lunatic about the president, no matter who it is. It doesn’t look like circular logic that begins with the conclusion you desired in the first place. And it doesn’t look like assuming the worst about your brothers and sisters.

“Aren’t you kind of doing that now?” you might ask. But I don’t want to assume anything. I just said: many of the people (on both sides of this fight) are men and women I respect and love. They aren’t people who are normally across the ideological or evangelical divide from me, but those who I have always regarded joyfully as fellow servants of Christ and brethren in the faith. And it is my desire that all of us in Christ, no matter where we fall within that aforementioned spectrum, would recall to mind that the one with whom they are speaking is like themselves: human firstly, saved by grace secondly, an heir of a greater gift by the blood and the Spirit.

No excuses

Firstly: are you serving? Are you giving, and asking, and looking for those around you who are hurting? Or, are you so busy thinking about the fear of government takeover that it prevents you from seeing the hurting before you? Are you so driven to argue that it prevents you from listening and considering?

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul speaks of the truth that even thought he had the right to the same kind of life that others in the church had, he desired to surrender those rights for the sake of those who he so diligently sought after for the sake of Christ. And he was willing to follow the path of Jesus in giving up all of himself for the sake of Christ’s people. He knew what he needed in order to live. He knew that God was aware of that fact as well, and he trusted fully to the Lord for those things. Yet he was willing to sacrifice it all if it meant Christ would be glorified and hearts would be transformed.

So at the end of this frustrated and frustrating exercise in responding to a whole myriad of arguments, the question I want to put before you the reader and myself is: how are you dying to yourself for the sake of Christ in the midst of this? Is the way you speak to and of others during this time showing a heart that trusts that God is a better provider, or do you cling to His gifts even as He tugs them away? Are you more fearful about losing your freedoms than you are about dishonoring the name of Christ before unbelievers?

I’m not saying I’m flawless in this. But this is certainly weighing deeply on me, and I hope more people will stop bickering and complaining and start thoughtfully considering the best way we can live in these deeply uncertain times with the only certainty that matters. We have an eternal weight of glory before us that ought to press in heavily on the way we consider these things.

Don’t mishear me: I am not saying it’s bad to disagree. I think that disagreements had properly, with love and gentleness, and with our hope fixed squarely on the eternal, are a reality of this world. Even if we agree in faith, we are going to disagree over earthly matters that the Bible doesn’t speak to. You can’t flip to a page and see “Oh, well, it says right here how to handle this outbreak” except perhaps in the sense that Levitical law speaks to quarantining in certain situations.

But you can see how to disagree, and my desire is that those who actually take the time to read this post will perhaps slow down and think about the questions I’ve raised. Brothers and sisters, it is my hope that we can disagree in love and unity, and serve our neighbors faithfully. Let us turn our efforts to love, service, prayer, and repentance, as we ought to, and seek to give glory to Jesus as the one who stands in the way of life, even when death and fear lurk.

Kings Highway Radio: Power Religion and Power Politics

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After making a few references to it before, we are finally starting our discussion of the book Power Religion: The Selling out of the Evangelical Church? The book is actually a collection of essays from various authors, edited by Michael Horton. The book is from 1992 so some of the specific references in the book are a little dated, but the issues they discuss are very much applicable today.

We are starting with part 1, made up of essays by Charles Colson and Kenneth A. Myers. The topic is one that is perennially hot amongst American Christians especially in years like this one, where a presidential election is looming and in the midst of ongoing strife. For many years Christians have been trying to make headway in “the culture war” politically, and have been feeling defeated as they see the nation trending away from Judeo-Christian values and towards secular humanism and a more hedonistic view of pleasure and self-seeking.

Blunted weapons

But this is not what Jesus has called the church to devote its resources towards. We aren’t to take up the same methods used by the world to try to change the world. Jesus didn’t come to raise up an army and drive out the Romans, so He could establish an earthly kingdom. Rather, He defeated death itself by dying on the cross, the king becoming a humiliated and executed servant for the sake of His people. We are called to live and work like Him, while the world looks on in confusion that someone so great would give up His position for such lowly people. Our testimony of the blood of Christ is our greatest weapon of conquest.

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