Monday, May 24, 2010

At His (Glenn) Beck and Call?

Author's Note: Matthew Paul Turner asked me to write this response to the video linked below. My response was originally posted at his blog, Jesus Needs New PR. There was a good bit of discussion in the comment section there, if you are interested.

OK. It makes my wife nervous when I wade into these kinds of discussions, especially when I do it publicly. Now, for the record, I claim no affiliation to any political party, as I think political parties tend to demand a level of allegiance that I’m not willing (or at liberty) to give.

That being said, this most recent clip of Glenn Beck “teaching” us about social justice and partnership is abhorrent in my opinion. Of course, it would be merely ridiculous and laughable if I were simply judging it based on content alone. But that’s not the only issue here. What bothers me is the blatant attempt to co-opt Christians for a political agenda (as well as for ratings). What bothers me more is how wildly successful it’s been. To that, some of you might say, “But isn’t that what they are arguing against?”

Yes, it is. And that’s the hypocrisy of it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think scripture mandates government-enforced socialism or communism (which are not the same thing). However, it should be noted that under the Mosaic Law, redistribution was actually mandated in some ways i.e. “leaving the edges of your field unharvested for the poor,” and the “year of Jubilee”. But scripture doesn’t advocate unregulated free-market capitalism, either.

The theme that I read over and over again in scripture is God’s concern with what kind of a people we are becoming–both collectively and individually. Are we becoming the kind of people who actually care about the other person…the poor and the oppressed…the widow and the orphan?


Are we becoming the kind of people who find ways to demonize and devalue other people, so that we can justify hoarding wealth and resources for ourselves?

Do we look for ways to baptize selfishness, or is the unconditional love of God that we’ve accepted making us more loving and generous people? Is grace something that we merely accept, or is it something that we embody?

Do we care more about the government trying to take our “hard-earned money” to help the poor and oppressed than we care about the fact that they are poor and oppressed?

Do we use one verse (out of context) from Second Thessalonians to justify our way out of more than 2000 verses of scripture that deal with our responsibility to the poor and oppressed?

(SIDE NOTE: Did you realize that the prophet Ezekiel identifies the “sin of Sodom” as the fact that they were “arrogant and overfed” and that they “did not care about the poor and the oppressed”?)

Are we so troubled by the plight of the poor and oppressed that we wrestle with the complex nature of the problem and the inadequate solutions offered by political leaders on all sides, or are we suckers for T.V. personalities whose confident, righteous-sounding rhetoric gives us ways to justify our selfishness, greed, and/or prejudice?

You see; the term “social justice” was coined because the word “justice” became obscure over time. That happened because the legal, punitive meaning of “justice” began to dominate society’s understanding of the term. But in the Bible, the dominant meaning of “justice” is more akin to what is currently meant by the term “Social Justice.”

(Glenn Beck badly mis-characterizes “social justice” in the video clip.)

Sadly, we Christians have a very pervasive tendency to remake God in our own image instead of the other way around. And we use Scripture as a tool to prop up what we already want to believe rather than allowing God’s story to change our hearts.

That’s why it saddens me to hear Jerry Fallwell Jr. and George Lillback happily lend their support and “wisdom” to Beck’s propaganda. In this clip alone, they oversimplify issues that are deeply complex (Biblical and otherwise), and even poorly reveal the actions and words of historical figures (like Rauschenbusch, for instance, which will be clear to anyone who has actually read his works) and concepts they cite. I’m unclear if their actions are because they haven’t taken the time to adequately research these issues, or if they think they’re serving some “greater good”.

To me, it seems they’ve allowed themselves to be co-opted and used. Multiple positions could be intelligently and compellingly argued by people of faith, if they would simply admit the complex nature of the argument. Instead, we get people passing themselves off as experts to support what is little more than political, social, and media propaganda.

Sure, I’m disturbed by the fact that Glenn Beck is presuming to tell people where they should and shouldn’t go to church. But you know what bugs me the most? The fact that so many Christians actually buy into Beck’s message. Where’s our discernment? Why are respected Christian leaders standing next to him and supporting his propaganda?

And why in the world do so many people of faith feel the need to be at this man’s beck and call and serve his agenda rather than the agenda of Christ?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

O Me of Little Faith (Book Review)

Note: This review was originally posted on my friend Matthew Paul Turner's blog. Be sure to also check out the follow-up discussion at Jason Boyett's blog.

I have always enjoyed Jason Boyett’s writing. I became familiar with him when, on a whim, I picked up his “Pocket Guide To The Apocalypse”. His good-natured sarcasm, combined with the fact that he takes the time to “know what he’s talking about” had me at “Hello”. Since then, I’ve read several of his other “Pocket Guides” and I follow his blog. When Boyett announced that he was releasing a new book with the provocative title, “O Me of Little Faith”, it would be an understatement to say that I was interested in reading it.

Now that I’ve read it, I must confess that Jason Boyett has created a problem for me. On one hand, he seems to have unknowingly written his book about me. I am a confirmed doubter. For me, faith and doubt are like eternal dance partners. It seems to me that “faith” is more closely related to words like “trust”, “confidence”, “hope”, “commitment”, and has less to do with words like “certainty” or “convinced”. I can’t turn off the questions. I don’t generally find books on apologetics helpful. I resonate with the man who cried out to Jesus “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief” in the gospel account. On the other hand, not everyone is like me. I’ve found that some people aren’t given to such incessant questioning, and that the things that are issues for me aren’t issues for them.

So here’s my problem: Jason Boyett has written a beautiful, hopeful, gut-wrenchingly honest book for people like me. I can’t even begin to tell you how refreshingly helpful it was, and how much life it breathed back into my faith. But, at the same time, I realize (as Boyett seems to) that for people who aren’t like me, this book could be devastating. He doesn’t shy away from hard questions, and he doesn’t answer them. He doesn’t defend the status-quo. He doesn’t whitewash problems. He makes no attempt to win any debates. He speaks with poignant honesty as one who is deeply committed to hope. I can’t recommend this book to every Christian I know. However, I know that I will, without hesitation direct my fellow faithful doubters to this beacon of hope. It is a well of living water that I will return to again and again.