Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Government, Gospel and Glenn Beck: What's a careful Christian to do?

Sometimes working in Christian radio it's hard to know what to say. When a local Christian ministry pays to bring in Glenn Beck, it becomes very hard to know what to say. Beck has united conservatives, yet divided Christians. What are we to do with the government, the gospel, and Glenn Beck...

A self professed Mormon, Beck, has a way of making people, especially conservative Christians ask questions. The world hasn't had much time to get to know the television and radio host who has rocketed from obscurity to fame in less time than it takes most people to finish college. Starting his career in radio at a young age, Beck's life story is a winsome one of fall and redemption. A struggle with alcoholism, the loss of a marriage in his addictions, finding faith in a Mormon church, finding sobriety and a rise from obscurity to reporting for CNN, and ultimately to super-stardom as the reigning king of tea party sympathizers. To say he was a man in the right place at the right time would be true, but not sufficient. Beck is a skilled communicator, an inspiring orator, and a passionate journalist, in the purest sense of the word.

In his own words his journey really started four years ago in 2006 when he first started investigating the roots of progressivism. Since that time progressivism has become enemy number one for Beck, who attacks it at every turn in his history lecture like television program, with his ever present and now iconic chalkboard, and in passionate and clever monologues on his nationally syndicated radio show. Since the beginning of that journey four years ago, Beck has found himself with a broad and passionate viewership, the number three most listened to radio show, and an increasingly leader like role in this new conservative movement.

Beck has changed with the times as well, drastically changing the format of his fox news show last year; in his own words, “closing the book” on exposing progressivism and moving to a very reserved almost conversational program block. Increasingly Becks shows have started to feel less like a “news” show, and more like a table talk, or even counseling sessions. In a move that was perhaps most shocking to the news world, Beck threw off the mantle of secularism that had become an unquestioned guest of journalism over the past three decades. Suddenly Americans were seeing a television personality talking personally, pervasively, and passionately about his own faith. Furthermore Beck treats faith with a loving fairness, not the cold calculated specimen like approach that has come to be expected in journalism. And finally to add insult to injury, Beck dared to invoke the name of Jesus Christ in his discussions about faith.

Beck is an understandable breath of fresh air for Christians, who had grown accustomed to treatments of Christ in media, varying from the cold and compartmentalized views of commentators like Bill O'Reily, who claims faith yet says it cannot have bearing on daily decisions, to aloof and passive aggressive like Bill Maher who's treatment of faith can best be seen in the words of Karl Marx who so famously dubbed it the “opiate of the masses”, to the outright venom from those like Rosie Odonell who compared voting Christians, to violent jihadi Muslims. In this atmosphere it should come as no surprise to news executives that real people of faith would be attracted to someone who really talks about faith.

In addition Beck talks about history, another distinctive that is all too distinct in media in our time. Though he has had a few noted foibles in his reporting of history, he has created an ongoing narrative where he has been careful to cite sources, involve scholars, and trace trends. In a world under the tyranny of novelty, Becks love affair with history has been, and indeed should be lauded and emulated.

Indeed much more good could be said about this radio host turned leader. There is much that makes Beck worth following. Even more credence is given to his leadership when we see what he is fighting against. In a time when the ruling elite is largely statist and all but exclusively secularist, one could find a plethora of good reasons to fall in line. Many Christians have done just that. To add fuel to their fire are Becks own statements. On his show when pressed on the subject of his Mormon faith he has emphasized his relationship with Jesus Christ. Saying at one point “Jesus saved me! That's all there is Jesus saved me!” (exclamations added). Many Christians have pointed to this as vindication that Beck believes the truth, and should bear the mantle of a movement. They have argued that Beck is some sort of hybrid, to pardon the flipancy a “Mormon light”. Does it matter? Could we join with Beck if he were a hindu or an animalist? Before we address these questions let us be careful not to dismiss the caution of our brothers and sisters in Christ and try to understand why they might be hesitant to embrace Glenn Beck.

Without question the most pressing matter on the minds of most Christians who would shy away from Beck is Mormonism. Mormonism is no laughing matter. It is has been the fastest growing bastion of falsehood in the last American century. Most Americans are largely ignorant of it's written doctrines and distinctives which has given way to a marketing slogan from the Later Day Saints that says in paraphrase, “we are just distinct Christians”. Can we believe this? Can there be a salvation in Mormonism, perhaps a Mormonism light? Lets consider some of the basic tenants. Mormons believe that God is not all powerful, not triune, nor is he eternal. He grew into Godhood through having spirit children. Both Jesus and Satan are spirit children of God, Jesus being given a body through God physically coming to earth from another planet to impregnate Mary through a physical sexual relationship. Christ death on the cross was not a true death, nor was it for the remission of sins. On first hearing most Christians are taken aback by these doctrines. And well we should be. It becomes apparent very quickly, if one holds to any of these basic LDS doctrines the Gospel begins to crumble.

One might very well say that Beck is not a Mormon theologian, therefore aught we not judge him on his own words rather than those of the Mormon Church? Yes and no. Before we take a look at the yes let's consider the no. Beck has openly and unabashedly affiliated himself with the Mormon church on multiple occasions. His affiliation is not accidental, or even subtle. In addition Beck prides himself on being a reading man. He often calls viewer to find the truth, and to know what they believe. Do we allow ourselves to think that Beck has used a different standard with his own beliefs? If he has it is to his shame! If he hasn't we cannot sever his ties to the Mormon Church! On the one hand how can we extol a man who has not followed his own words to know deeply his own faith. So much of Beck's message is one of deep devotion to faith, can we take his words if he has not made the effort to know his own faith? If this is not the case and Beck has deeply studied his faith, than how could he be both devoted to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and publicly associate with the group that preaches that Jesus came to earth as the product of an incestuous relationship of a demigod with a Jewish girl? We should not be quick to dismiss these questions, nor should we shy away from asking them. The Bible is clear we are accountable for our associations.

What of Beck's own words? We'll take a look at some of these in just a moment, however first let's answer the question. What of it? If the enemy of my enemy is my friend should we have any care what his faith is? Again both yes and no.

In his wonderful and still applicable book, “the City of God” the great theologian Augustine points out two cities to which we has citizenship; the earthly city and the heavenly city. Each citizenship comes with responsibilities inherent to it. Augustine skillfully lays out the perils of mixing or misunderstanding these two cities and rights of citizenship. In this earthly city we can stand along side many of different faiths to defend justice and righteousness. Right scales are an honor to God, regardless of the religion of the recipient. Standing together against things like abortion, injustice, and tyranny is beyond important. However we have a second, and indeed greater citizenship that is our first priority, and it is with this citizenship that my concern for Glenn Beck deepens.

At this time we'll take a deeper look at the words of Glenn Beck. Some are quick, because of statements from Beck on Christ like the one mentioned above, to pull his influence quickly into the realm of the second city. They say he has spoken truth. Has he? Truth can be tricky, in that a little truth with no context, can quickly become no truth at all. Beck has said Jesus saved me. When he says this what does he mean he has been saved from? Does he mean the same type and essence of salvation that you or I might? These might seem like needlessly picky questions, however if eternity is on the line, need we be any less than sure? Others have done a wonderful job of taking a comprehensive look at Beck's statements on faith (1), but to clarify Becks statements on Christ let's consider his words from the recent Constitution Challenge Rally held in Rapid City (10/26/10). After a one hour speech that I found largely inspiring and informative, Beck saved statements on faith for the last. He spoke of invoking the name of God, referring to the story of Moses in Exodus chapter 3.

1Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.2There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.3So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up." 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses! And Moses said, "Here I am." 5 “Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. 7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." 11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 12 And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." 13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am .This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "

You would be hard pressed to find another passage in the old testament so dedicated to God's identity. How did Beck interpret God's identity in our lives. If you can forgive a paraphrase as no transcript has been released to my knowledge, Beck said this is God's offer of power to us. It is our chance to invoke God's name to fill in our identity “I am a teacher, I am a father, I am Good!”. A God who by his power empowers us to change our identity for the better. Certainly that is a type of good news. But is it The Good News?

The Gospel as it is delivered to us in the scriptures has a much different take on our core problem. We are not good people with an identity crisis. We are sinful, enemies of God (Rom 3:10-16). We need to be saved, not from mediocrity, poor fatherhood, or even alcoholism, but first and foremost we need to be saved from the Righteous justice of God. A justice that must be exercised against all men, as much to vindicate the sins done against us as the sins we've done to others, and foremost to vindicate God. This righteous justice is called hell. It is the place we deserve to go. All other problems are just symptoms of the cancer that eats at our souls. We are sinners and we need a savior. Before we can ever talk about better lives, we need to be right with God, or life isn't worth living. The good news is that Jesus paid for these sins. Paul sums it up in the following verses in Romans 3.

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

This rightness with God, and the freedom in life that comes with it comes through repentance and complete submission to Jesus Christ as savior and lord. That is the Gospel we preach. Is that the gospel that Glenn Beck preaches?

I would submit, at best, it is very hard to tell. At the very least we need to know that “I AM” the holy YHWH did not reveal himself to Moses so that you might be a better I am, but rather to call out a people, to bring to earth a savior, that we might all worship the great “I AM”

So what do we do with Glenn Beck? We pray that he will find true gospel and have the boldness to proclaim it. We lovingly press these questions to bring clarity to light as it pertains to the gospel, knowing that eternity is in the balance. We use his words as opportunities to bring the true gospel to light. We stand beside him as often as conscience allows in matters of social change.

But we may never, again I say never, blur the gospel to avoid a disagreement. May a movement, an ideal, even the country itself be damned before we damn the world by forsaking the Gospel.


(1) www.albertmohler.com, http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=4080

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Who is oppressing whom?

I don't often do formal apologetic writing. I leave that task to others better informed and equipped for the task. However, every once and a while I see an argument that must be addressed as one person or another attacks faith with often presumptuous, vitriolic, and often uninformed arguments. Often because we don't have the research to prove such a statement is wrong, we end up bending to ridiculous and unfounded statements. One of these often leveled against Christians is that religion has been used to control and kill. It is itself at fault for things like the inquisition and the crusades.We often find ourselves backpedaling and apologizing in grand strokes for historical movements we hardly understand just to retain some semblance of perceived "witness" within a conversation. Certainly we need to admit our faults and sins to the world, but does it help to apologize inordinately for situations that are highly involved, and guilt perhaps incorrectly assigned. I say resoundingly no! The true church must be honestly defended in truth, or our witness is useless. If we do not believe the true church a better state of affairs than the world, then we have no reason to witness at all. Now the highly politically fueled background of the crusades, and shared guilt with the advancing Muslim world aside, I found this quote by former presidential advisor Richard John Neuhaus incredibly helpful in brining some sanity to otherwise diaphanous discussions about historical guilt.

Those who belive the record of the secular enlightenment is spotless compared to that of the church are essentialy in denial. Those who tell the story this way overlook the fact that in three hundred years the inquisition had fewer victims than were killed in any given afternoon durring the years of Stalin's purges and Hitler's concentration camps

Monday, October 18, 2010

Does Your Church Do This?

Coming Soon I'll be launching a new feature on KLMP the Light radio. It's called the Book-Nook and its a chance for our listeners to hear from authors as we discuss important new books. Our first book is "What is a healthy Church" by Mark Dever. Mark is an author and pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church on, you guessed it, Capital Hill in Washington DC. He's also the founder and leader of Nine Marks Ministries, who's purpose is to help churches become more healthy. Is your church a healthy church? I found this passage particularly interesting...

"If a healthy church is a congregation that increasingly displays the character of God as his character has been revealed in his Word, the most obvious place to begin building a healthy church is to call Christians to listen to God's word... Fundamentally this means that both pastors and congregations must be committed to expositional preaching...Sometimes people confuse expostional preaching with reading a verse then preaching on a topic loosely related to that verse. Yet when a preacher exhorts a congregation on a topic of his choosing, using biblical texts only to back up his point, he will never preach more than what he already knows... Expositional preaching reqires more than that. It requires careful attention to the context of the passage, because it aims to make the point of the biblical text the point of the sermon. When a preacher exhorts a congregation by preaching a passage of Scripture in context-where the point of the passage is the point of his sermon- both he and the congregation will end up hearing things from God that the preacher did not intend to say...When [this isn't done] it hampers growth, ensuring [the people] will never mature beyond the level of the pastor. The church will slowly be conformed to the image of the pastor, rather than the image of God."

Who are we conforming to? Who are we leading others to be conformed to?