Thursday, March 27, 2008

Slouching Anywhere But There

Bro. Wright makes a nice lead in to another topic.

In the 1880's, in Topeka, Kansas, a young Congregational minister began a series of sermons based on a thematic question, "What Would Jesus Do?"

He is also reported to have been the first one to inscribe WWJD on an adhesive label and apply it to the back of his horse-drawn carriage.

I'm sure you're familiar with the fictionalized message In His Steps, and the minister Charles Sheldon.

A Christian's place in society comprises the heart of the book and the moral decisions dictated by the characters' faith begin to revolutionize the town, and as memory serves, the revolution ripples all over the country, resulting in a wave of societal responsibility and temperance as it relates to alcohol, specifically.

It is a Christian classic and it has spread enormous impact over the last century.

In fact, the philosophy of moral responsibility propagated by Sheldon inspired a theologian named Walter Rauschenbusch, the man generally credited with creating the Social Gospel.

Time marches on. If you've read the book, you'll remember that some of the principles stood upon by the faithful would be enough to brand anyone a hard-line legalist in 2008.

Things change as the world slouches toward Gomorrah.

It's sobering to note the slide from the original Christian left to our current crop. You started out with Sheldon. The next memorable mark is William Jennings Bryan, the silver-tongued orator of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Then we go from FDR to Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, to Barack Obama.

Then throw Tony Campolo, Jeremiah Wright, Cornel West, and, for good measure, former shock rocker Alice Cooper into the mix.

So why blame it all on Sheldon, the original Christian socialist?

You know everyone likes to point to the early church as a model of socialism. In fact, the earliest socialistic thinkers were Christians, or at least deists. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were disgruntled johnny-come-latelys who stripped the idea of the opiate and marketed it on a government scale.

What about that? Well, I think the obvious points to the fact that the communal living of the early Christians was as much of a matter of expediency and a sign of the times as was the gift of unknown tongues. And the tongues of fire.

Anyway, you know what Ronald Reagan said. Socialism only works in heaven where they don't need it, and in hell where they already have it.

But there is a serious question to all of this. Where does good Christian activism, i.e., pro-life, pro-family, anti-pornography meet Christian socialism?

It strikes me that Sheldon may have been spot on.

Initially.

Movements, however, lose inertia. And the coal to the fire becomes anything you can lay your hands on. And the problem with movements is they need self-justification to run on.

You start out, like Charles Sheldon, with a noble premise.

Complications arise when you have to incorporate.

I can say to myself, I need to be more vigilant of the danger of adultery.

Well . . .nothing amiss with that goal.

So I begin to guard my conversation and conduct around any member of the opposite sex.

So far, so good. I have to recognize that Satan always picks your blind side.

My daily devotions take on a theme. Lord, don't let me fall to adultery. Help me to be careful.

I testify at church. "I am determined never to fall to adultery!

"Amen, hear it." all around. Except my wife is giving me the cocked eyebrow. Methinks thou dost protest entirely too much, she thinks.

I start a men's group committed to being faithful.

No, I didn't say it was Promise Keepers.

But. . .

We begin a city wide crusade. Complete with rallies, and prayer breakfasts and I Heart My Wife bumper stickers.

I become the face of fidelity. I give talks, lectures, invocations and go on Focus on the Family.

Soon the concept of well-roundedness becomes confined to the orb of fidelity. I am well-rounded in the sense that I don't commit adultery, I don't lust after other women, and I don't read Cosmopolitan in the checkout line. I am a committed specialist.

Before long, I am something of an authority on faithfulness, and something of a rock star at church events and evangelical functions.

Hundreds of women gaze raptly up at me as I speak on the virtues of monogamy and hundreds of men ignore the snide little question nagging them as they sit beside their transfixed wives.

I am lauded and respected for making a production out of keeping a promise, and more to the point, I am majoring on the minors. No, fidelity is not insignificant, but it is a measure, a symptom of my love for the woman I married, and that whole love affair, when fallen into by two Christians, is a symptom of their love for God.

Or, to put too fine a point on it, I can write a little book on how a certain Old Testament prayer, when incanted today, can lead to a blessed life.

And before you know it, I'm smack in the middle of a boardroom meeting with my lawyer and ten marketing executives discussing copyrights and royalties for coffee mugs.

Humans can't leave well enough alone.

Jesus feeds five thousand.

Let's have a coronation whether He likes it or not.

Peter wants to hole up in a temple on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The Israelites pay homage to a golden ephod.

Charles Sheldon starts with a simple objective and a few decades later you have a bunch of zealots with blinders on drawing up their own Edict of Milan and institutionalizing the concept of being like Jesus.

And guess what? Sooner rather than later, their focus is on the movement.

I mentioned Rev. Wright. The most insidious, anti-christ phrase I heard coming out of his mouth was not "God damn America," or "Jesus taught me how to love the hell out of my enemies."

It was, "Jesus was a poor black man."

I must say this. The exegesis would have been just as poor had he said Jesus was poor white trash, or Jesus was a dirt-poor Irish farmer, or Jesus was an exploited Native American."

Jesus was, as it relates to His understanding of our dust-constructed frame, all of those and much, much more. He cried with and wept with the slave who longed for freedom, He walks in trailer parks, He hungered with the potato farmers, and He stayed by the bedside of every Indian dying with small-pox and walked their Trail of Tears.

But His message was not so small in scope.

The inherent human refusal to look Aslan in the face, or let God out of the box translates into our language in a thousand different mantras. And most of them are completely true within perspective.

The weakness introduced to Sheldon's idea was not one of zeal, it was more one of self-centerdness. It is more to the liking and the bent of our human nature if we can focus on anything, even missionary work, to tune out the still, small disruptive voice.

Oswald Chambers returns again, and again, and again to the sacrament of being in love with God, not with any creed or device, I think because even the concept of being in love with God is subject to distortion when you gaze at it too long.

Don't look at the concept, don't lionize your cause, don't revere your closet, don't focus on your devotion.

Look at Him!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

VERY GOOD.ONE OF YOUR BEST BLOGS TO DATE.

Anonymous said...

Amen and amen...really thought-provoking and well-written...I think I'll forward this to Ravi Zacharias!

Anonymous said...

When you say, "slouches towards Gomorrah," do you mean, "slouches back towards Gomorrah?" Was the world more "Gomorrah" when Gomorrah was still around? Or, is today's world that much more wicked and depraved?

Blake

Nathan Carpenter said...

The reference was to Robert Bork's book, with the selfsame title, which was a play on a phrase from a Yeats poem.
But I'll concede your point if you were trying to make one.
There's nothing new under the sun.
Is the world more depraved? Not necessarily more depraved, but complacency is, I think more widespread than ever.
C.S. Lewis opens it up in "Screwtape Proposes A Toast."

Anonymous said...

Wasn't trying to make a point exactly; couldn't answer the question myself. Complacency and apathy alike.