I conducted an experiment this weekend that I'll resume in four weeks. I asked folks to send any questions that arise from the weekend message to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm especially interested in what I'm calling "Yeah, but..." questions. It's impossible to deal any given week in a balanced and comprehensive way on many of the topics I address. And that often leaves objections and questions on people's minds that can be barriers to communication. If we had time, a Q&A time could address those questions, but we don't have the time.
Here are the two questions I received.
Question: You mentioned in the sermon how Jesus talked about exaggerations. I've heard people use the "if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out" as a reason to not be Christian or why Christians are unreasonable. How do you counter that in a loving manner?
First of all, I love that you want to counter that in "in a loving manner." That's the only way to do it if the goal is to help people move closer to God and find him.
In situations like this it's always helpful to commiserate first. "Yeah, that kind of statement does sound unreasonable, and I had a hard time understanding it until I realized that it's just a way of making a point. Everyone does this kind of thing in everyday language, and Jesus used everyday ways of saying things to make his point. It's one of things I love about the Bible..."
Another approach that's helpful is to use questions after you commiserate. "Do you think he was being literal? What do you think he meant?" I can't tell you how many times I've jumped to an answer and regretted it. Sounds defensive. And if the issue is a personal one, it comes across as cold and impersonal. So much better to agree with their feelings, if you genuinely have had the same questions or feelings. And so much better to follow it up by asking questions.
Question: Within the last week or so, you affirmed Christians to engage in the political process.
I observe that christian's manner of engaging the politic has increased the perception by the politic as defining our faith by what we are opposed to vs what we are for.
How do you reconcile this position with Jesus' example in actively staying out of politics (give unto caesar, interview with Pilate,....)?
I have a vision of a modern day Jesus, entering into relationship with single moms, pregnant teens, with women elected to abort their unborn, people who are gay. I don't see him leading a rally on the capitol steps against gay marriage and abortion.
How many Christians marching, signing petitions, and voting, have adopted a child, built relationships with a Muslim, homosexual couple, single mom, or almost mom who aborted her unborn?
Sorry, I guess I'm venting more than asking a question. Is engaging in politics evil? No, but it's tempting to sign a petition, attend a rally, and complete a ballot (even one of those complicating ones hanging chad ballots). Perhaps a description of how to engage in politics in manner consistent with Jesus' example would be instructive. Please excuse typos or auto-incorrections as this message is being sent from my mobile.
This question is a great example of a "Yeah but..." question. So thank you for sending this.
I agree it's not a good thing Christians are too often known primarily for what they are against in the political arena. Part of the problem is that we can't control how we are portrayed. And when we take a biblical, counter-cultural position on an issue, those who disagree often choose to portray us in a negative light. But I don't think that's the primary culprit. I believe we have contributed by our own behavior that often doesn't display (a) the fruit of the Spirit and (b) a missional mindset in society.
Regarding Jesus staying out of politics: I think we need to ask, "What would Jesus and the biblical writers say to people living in a participatory democracy/republic like ours? What in the Bible addresses our particular circumstances? And what were Jesus' options in his circumstances?" I think pursuing those kinds of questions yields great results for how we should get involved in our political process.
I've written quite a bit on this in this blog. You can see everything I've written by linking to "Politics" under Categories (right column of the blog). In those posts I provide some constructive ideas for getting involved politically and I discuss the kinds of issues we should be concerned about from a biblical perspective. If you want to take a much deeper dive, also take a look at the "Compassion" and "Impact" categories.
My favorite treatment of this subject is in a book by John Richard Neuhaus called The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. I can't recommend this book enough. I've also greatly appreciated the writing and ministry of Chuck Colson with regard to this subject.
Where I think I may disagree with your perspective is regarding what Christians are or are not doing. Based on my personal experience and research, I've concluded that (a) far more Christians are carrying out ministries of compassion and outreach than they are picketing and rallying on the capital steps and (b) Christians far outnumber non-Christians in concrete acts of compassion toward people who are hurting (also in giving generously to these kinds of efforts). (I am speaking in terms of volunteer help and ministry, not government funded help.) If you've been at Five Oaks for very long you know this is a huge issue for us, and we are very much involved in ministries of compassion. So not only do I like your question; I like your attitude! I trust it's leading you personally to "adopt a child, build relationships with Muslims, homosexual couples, single moms, or almost-moms who aborted their unborn" or to other acts of compassion along those lines.