Chuck Colson is what we mean by Evangelicalism

Today I begin teaching a series at the Christian Formation hour at church on “I Am An Evangelical.” I am an Evangelical Christian, that is. Even the best of seminary educations and the most scholarly of all seminary profs could not convince me that Evangelical was too broad of a term and better left behind in order to find my way into what I considered a room too small. I am a Baptist, an Arminian Baptist. And yet I find in my heart a deeper identification that is primary to me – belonging to that great cooperative movement among Bible-believing Christians who teach the necessity of the new birth, hold fast to Holy Scripture as inspired of God and infallible, focus on the cross as the means of atoning for sin, and the continuing mandate to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth because without explicit faith in Christ all are lost.

I am an Evangelical because of men like George Whitefield and John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, the former two being Anglican and the latter a Puritan Congregationalist. And I am an Evangelical like Chuck Colson who passed yesterday at age 80, being struck by a brain hemmorhage while he was at the lectern. Through them Christianity burst beyond the bounds of denominationalism and the narrow confines of precisionist confessionalism and to transform nations.

In one of Whitefield’s more famous sermons, he asked:

“Father Abraham, whom have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians?”

“No!” the people roared.

“Any Presbyterians?”

“No!”

“Any Independents or Seceders. New Sides or Old Sides, any Methodists?”

“No! No! No!” the crowd shouted in reply

Whitefield called out, “Whom have you there, then, Father Abraham?”

Heaven replied, “We don’t know those names here! All who are here are Christians– believers in Christ, men who have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony . . .”

Whitefield concluded, “God help me, God help us all, to forget having names and to become Christians in deed and in truth.”

This is my heart. I believe more than what all Christians agree is the core. I believe as much as I can about all that I can about Jesus Christ. I want to know and love more than I now know and love.

But as Wesley said, “If your heart is as my heart, then take my hand.”

I extend this hand to the Roman Catholic laity, as Colson did and got large bruises for it, (particularly from RC Sproul and the Neo-Puritans who could never understand that Roman Catholics could be included in the Great Hallway of Faith),  who believe themselves to be cast solely upon Christ for salvation and love him wholly and completely, though the Council of Trent be, in my view, highly defective and damaging to assurance in Christ and clear views of justification and sanctification.

Colson represented the best of Evangelicalism, and his book, Born Again, is one of the most clear models of conversion that our 20th and 21st century spiritual literature has produced. His Prison Fellowship Ministries demonstrates the outworking of the love of Christ in the soul. Colson was a Baptist, as am I. He practiced a faith that was more specific and at the same time broader than a mere Evangelicalism. And yet he built coalitions for Gospel ministry beyond the narrow borders of denominations to stand as one before the dark night of western civilization.

Colson was the 20th and 21st centuries version of William Wilberfore, the Evangelical British politician who fought and won, on his deathbed, the great war against slavery. In many of the decisions I faced as a pastor and Christian, I often first asked, what would Colson do with this? He was focused enough to think biblically and thoroughly. He was no sentimentalist. But he was broad enough to seek the the whole tradition of Classic Christianity, orthodoxy, as it were.

One person has said that Colson was our Apostle Paul of modern times. I agree. As one of the elite he met Christ on his Damascus Road and did a 180. From Nixon’s White House to following Christ in prison and then living out his faith serving the most rejected and humbled of peoples, prisoners, here in America and across the globe.

I will reread Born Again soon as reminder of what happens when any man, any woman, any boy and any girl meet the resurrected Jesus as the Savior and Lord of all. Well done, Chuck Colson. May your tribe increase.

A New England site for you dog lovers

From the Boston Globe, 4/14/12

Founded by the late picture-book author-illustrator Stephen Huneck and his widow, Gwendolyn Huneck, Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury is a must visit for animal lovers. Huneck is best known for his series of picture books based on his black lab Sally (“Sally Goes to the Beach,” “Sally Goes to the Vet,” and “Sally’s Great Balloon Adventure,” to name a few) and for his singular woodcut artwork. Set on 150 acres on a private mountaintop and free and open to the public, Dog Mountain has hiking trails and ponds and visitors are encouraged to bring their dogs. The grounds also have a gallery and Dog Chapel, a churchlike space, where dog lovers can come to remember and celebrate pets loved and lost. A welcome sign at the door states: “All Creeds All Breeds No Dogmas Allowed.” (www.dogmt.com)

Two recommended resources for responding to American debt and the banking criminal class

I first recommend MIT professor Simon Johnson’s interview on the Leonard Lopate program here. He seems to do a pretty sane job of handling the way America has handled the national debt for its 200 years. Bottom line: keep debt below 50 to 40% so that there is room to take on increased debt in times of war or severe depressions that decrease revenue. To go below 40% is to create austerity and diminish economic activity. To have debt in in the 50% range, assuming that the money is being spent in the right ways, is to foster economic growth in such a way that normal taxation will pay the debt. In other words, we aren’t just simply passing it on to our children but handing to them an economy which can generate enough jobs that normal taxes will do the job.

The other resource in Matt Taibbi’s article Bank of America: Too Crooked to Fail. Taibbi outlines the deeds of this criminal banking class. It’s amazing. I have read Taibbi on our economic situation for the last three years or so as he tracks the outrages of the banking class. His metaphor describing Goldman Sachs has had staying power – a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

I remain convinced that it much easier for Christians to pay attention to race and poverty and any number of other social issues and miss completely one of the major source of suffering in America, the manipulation of our markets that ruin the middle class and continue to confine the impoverished to generational indebtedness. Sadly to say, I have been around enough very wealthy church people in my time to get to know first hand how condescending so many of them are to the poor and how much they think the poor deserve to be poor. They have found the means of personal wealth accumulation by pushing pencils on paper and whoever pays the price for manipulation of markets is a sucker. Their philanthropy is tax dominated and their right to run things unquestioned. What they find to be true in the market place they also think should be true in the church. And most churches are as gullible to this kind of manipulation as people who don’t have the money but yet play the lottery. They think they might be hitting it big but what is in fact happening is a transference of wealth from the poor to those who already have, a transference of power from the people to an oligarchy.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he put essentially working class people in the apostleship.

Winsome Words 4/5/12

It was deep into his fiery heart
he took the dust of Joan of Arc,
and then she clearly understood
if he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
but must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?

Leonard Cohen, Joan of Arc

Here come all the whacko Easter stories

It’s Easter so Time, Newsweek, etc., have to do the latest Jesus resurrection “scholarship.” This usually means they interview scholars who do not believe there could be a resurrection and are on all kinds of rabbit trails to find the real Jesus.

At Christmas they usually talk to the Jesus Seminar scholars, some of the most irrelevant “scholars” there are in Jesus studies.

One would think they are interviewing the best and the smartest. Think again.

So when you see Jesus on the cover of these weeklys, think “sales” and “profits” for the magazines. If you want the latest scholarship on Jesus, save your money.

Usually Ben Witherington. If it’s news, Ben is always a trustworthy resource in sifting through the “latest findings” and helping you take a better look. He is particularly helpful in tracking Bart Ehrman’s most recent attempts to discount the trustworthiness of the Bible as a historical account. As a UNC grad himself, I think Ben takes personally that Ehrman’s scholarly platform is Ben’s alma mater. Ehrman is a former Evangelical who has taken the u turn into atheism and uses his ability as a text critical scholar to discount the reliability of the Biblical text. Witherington is as skeptical of Ehrman as Ehrman is of the Bible.

My Sunday School Teacher Died Today

Just received the news.  Mrs. Toyer, age 95, passed this morning, April 3, at 6:40 AM

Mrs. Toyer was my Sunday School teacher from my earliest years, a missionary from China returned after the 1949 Communist revolution. China’s loss would be my gain. The memories I have are bright and clear. A modest Mennonite and missionary, I can yet see her standing before us kids with an open Bible that looked bigger than she was and flannel graph figures, telling the amazing story of Jesus. She could make that flannel board scream. She would flip over new scenes and put up and take down the figures without losing a moment. It was all smoooooooth. I still remember watching her hands doing all that work without her eye ever leaving the class. Who needed TV or dvd’s with Mrs. Troyer up front!! I can’t ever remember being taken out of her class for acting up, which is not something I can say about the rest of my time in church.

And then after church at the potluck dinners, I learned to pray, asking God that some of Mrs. Troyer’s curry would still be left. He often answered that prayer. Sometimes he didn’t. The other Baptists beat me to it.

Since I was age 5 until just recently I got a birthday card from Mrs. Troyer in the mail. That’s 55 years!!! And not just a card. Handwritten notes on all sides of the card. She used up everything. Nothing wasted. If there was empty white space on a card, she put it to good use. And then she started emailing. She was no technology coward.

Mrs. Troyer loved my mother and dad. I think that was her best gift to me. My mom was sick a lot. Mrs. Troyer cared. And when mom was in the hospital, Mrs. Troyer’s mom came to the house and ran the place. I mean, ran it. I couldn’t throw anything away. She would get it out of the trash, store it and reuse it again. Seriously, if I wanted to throw something away, I had to do it so she wouldn’t know.

Baptists are often accused of being a bit difficult. But, like my dad, I never heard an unkind word from her. It was all good and it was all smiles. The smiles went deeper than mere temperament. They seemed to come from her faith, her unshakable confidence in Christ.

And it was about Christ for her. Some people are just nice. Well, she might have been that, too. But her niceness was a “Christ nice.” Her faith in him was the thing. I remember the missions bulletin board she kept in her home. It was full of missionary pictures with indications of what field they served on. Her love for service to Christ was all, and she served all who served him.

She will be buried on Good Friday. The day Christ died. This makes sense to me. She died in Christ. She died for Christ. She died with Christ. And now she lives in Christ. Dreams come true. Faith fulfilled. Courage rewarded. Fight won. Race finished.

I salute you, Mrs. Troyer.