SESSION 5– TRANSCRIPT
Full transcription of Session 5
- What is your Christian understanding of the meaning of “prosperity” and to what extent is President Trump fostering, or not, such prosperity?
- What is your Christian understanding of the scope of the “gospel” and to what extent is President Trump fostering, or not, your understanding of that scope?
BE QUESTION C
I figured that a number of you would touch on financial prosperity and that I would probably agree with most of everything you would say, which I do. So, I focused instead on the rest of prosperity’s definition, which on my Wikipedia was flourishing, thriving, happiness, and health. I noticed those four things have a lot in common. The most important component of which, and let me be very obvious here, they require life. Where there is no life, there can be no prosperity. I feel that looking at prosperity from that perspective, our country is impoverished. Our country is morally bankrupt. We have allowed over 60 million unborn babies to be slaughtered in the womb. That is the opposite of flourishing, thriving, happiness, and health.
Maybe there’s some unique exception when you kill your own child, so I thought I would research that a little bit, see what the Bible had to say about killing your own family members. In Genesis, the very first murder was what we call brother on brother murder. God didn’t say, “I’ll give you a pass. When it’s all in the family, it’s fine.” The punishment was swift and severe, and God made it crystal clear, it was not okay. Later in the Old Testament, we had the multiple millions of children, there’s no count given, who were sacrificed to the pagan god Moloch. God didn’t say, “It’s okay to kill your children after they’re born as long as you’re doing it for a godly reason,” let’s call it choice. They were punished and they were punished severely. In fact, it says in Jeremiah 32 verse 36, “Child sacrifice was one reason why they were sent into captivity to the Babylonians.” That’s a pretty severe punishment, and I fear that we are on that path.
We have not done enough to stop the onslaught and the slaughter. Like the blood of Abel cried out to God, I hear the blood of those unborn babies calling to us, and I’m always so disappointed when my fellow Christians keep wanting to find and carve out exceptions. But what about this? But what about that? Because, I don’t see God making exceptions. If we ask ourselves how did that life come to be in the womb, in every instance, God placed it there. In other words, regardless of the circumstances of conception, regardless of who the father is, regardless of who the mother is.
I think about the line of Abraham Kuyper, and 40 years ago plus, when I was at Dordt College, already that was a theme that reverberated in many of my classes. There is not one square inch in all of creation of which God does not say, “Mine,” and that includes the womb. The womb is God’s. God is the creator and giver of life, and He says only of human beings, that they are made in God’s image. Every verse I ever find in scripture that talks about humans sets them aside as something special, made in God’s image. It is the highest form of arrogance and idolatry, in fact, to put yourself on the throne and say, “In this case, I get to play God.”
Having said that, for there to be true prosperity, we would have to have a society in which every child was wanted, and it was crystal clear that that child would have a good home. We’re nowhere close to that, and I acknowledge that too. But, we do have to start by providing life because there are an awful lot of people whose life circumstances start off horribly, and that is not the end of their story, the story that God has written for them. One could argue that Mary herself, the mother of Jesus, was a prime candidate for abortion. That was not the plan for life that she had. She said, “May it be to me, as you have said,” when the angel talked to her. I know we’re nowhere close to that. We don’t have the resources yet and we don’t have the mentality yet. But, for there to be true prosperity that is necessary.
I am very, very frightened by Proverbs 6 verse 17. It says that God hates, hates hands that shed innocent blood. That is a warning to all of us, because we are not necessarily guilty of hands that shed innocent blood, but we all have voices. I truly, truly believe that God is watching whether we are speaking up and doing everything that we can to help prosperity come in our country, and that is not the only thing that needs to change. But, surprise, surprise, that’s what I talked about.
Now, what has Trump done? 10 things, very clear specific things. You know I’ve talked before about what he said at the State of the Union address. There’s not one Democrat that would say anything like that, never have, never will. Here’s what he has done. He has cut Planned Parenthood’s tax money by up to $60 million, so that makes it harder for them to go on killing 300,000 plus babies a year. He has appointed pro-life judges who are somewhat doing pro-life things. Even the two that got on the Supreme Court, they’re not that conservative, but at least they’re better than someone that Clinton would have appointed.
He has permitted states to defund Planned Parenthood of Title X funding. He has stopped our tax dollars going to abortion organizations overseas. I believe that’s through the Hyde Amendment finally being correctly applied. He has de-funded the pro-abortion United Nations FPA. He has required health insurance companies to disclose if plan’s cover abortion. He has put strong pro-life appointments in his administration.
There’s a new Office for Conscience Protection at the Department of Health and Human Services, and that means that a doctor and other medical professionals who do not want to perform or assist in abortions don’t have to, and yes, they have been forced to. My cousin was forced to perform abortions when he was training to be a doctor. That was non-negotiable. President Trump has allowed states to defund Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funds, and he has canceled a huge contract for taxpayer funded research on unborn babies’ body parts. I think those are incredibly positive things. If you can come up with another candidate that you think would do similarly well in 2020, I’m longing to hear who it is. Because, I am not a fan of Trump, but I am a fan of much of what he has done.
KN QUESTION C
Shalom. Peace with justice for all. Flourishing, beloved community, is the type of “prosperity” that Christian scriptures concern themselves with. I believe it’s more relational than material. We are to rely on God for our daily bread and be good stewards of the gifts were given, for the welfare of others, not just ourselves, and it may be that God blesses us materially, to be a physical blessing to others. But, there are more warnings in scripture about wealth being an impediment to our participation in Shalom, than something that contributes to it. The “prosperity gospel” is quite attractive. But I’d say personally that I’m afraid it is a perverse twisting of the gospel to be more about me and my comfort, than honoring God or others, which becomes idolatry. The prosperity that president Trump seeks, seems to be focused on himself, and maybe it extends to those he believes to be most like him. But even this prosperity is built on the exploitation of others, and is likely owned by it. And that prosperity, I believe, is likely owned by others in ways that enslave him to their interests. It is not charitable, transparent, or vulnerable, accountable to others.
LS QUESTION C
My idea of Christian prosperity is in line with a lot of what’s been said already. Biblical prosperity is not something that is promoted as an important virtue for a Christian. As we are taught by our Lord Jesus, we’re to pray for our daily bread, which has already been spoken about, we are to be content with just bread, we are to be content with the bare necessities. Perfect prosperity is of no value to we as a Christian. I feel that we as Christians have a very incorrect understanding that God is blessing someone just because they are rich or prosperous. I’ll read from Psalm 73 in a bit to speak about that, a truth that is out there, is that blessings are not in things. We spoke about that already, that it’s a false thing for us to think that just because we have great prosperity or anybody does, that that’s God blessing them, there is no such thing as that as a truth.
There is a truth spoken in the Bible for those that God does give prosperity to in first Timothy, “Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded nor trust in uncertain riches but in the living God who giveth us richly all things to enjoy and then that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute and willing to communicate.” Therein is a calling for those whom God does give riches to. Solomon in his wisdom speaks often about earthly things being vanity of vanity, vanity being of no importance to we as Christians. The Bible is ripe with many admonitions and warnings related to riches for a Christian.
Again, something that was spoken of, an early church father spoke about the blood of martyrs being the seed of the church. The teaching is that the church has been and always is the strongest and most zealous for the truth when it has been persecuted, not when it is prosperous. This has been the history of the true church throughout the ages.
Psalm 73 speaks about how we as Christians can look around us and be jealous of those who we think are being prosperous: “I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. There are no bans in her death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men. Their eyes stand out with fatness. They have more than their heart could wish.” So, the Psalmist is looking around him at what the world thinks of as prosperity and him being jealous of that.
And then the Lord leads him to see: “When I thought to know this, it was painful for me until I went into the sanctuary of God. Then I understood their end. Surely thou hast set them in slippery places. I’ll cast them down in destruction.” So, they’re speaking about God giving prosperity to the wicked as a means to bring them to their destruction. That was a slippery slope that they were put on by God.
And again, I already talked about Ecclesiastes, Solomon’s vanity of vanities: “Sayeth the preacher. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit hath the man of all his labor, which he taketh the under the sun?”
From second Chronicles Solomon again: “Because this was in my heart that thou has not asked for riches and wealth or honor, nor the life of thy enemies, neither yet hast thou asked long life. But instead thou hast asked for wisdom and knowledge for thyself.”
Part of First Timothy that I already spoke about is an admonition: “Let us therewith to be content that they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into foolish and hurtful lust which drown them in destruction, for the love of money is the root of all evil.” A verse that’s often misquoted. It doesn’t say money is the root of all evil; the love of money is the root of all evil: “But thou, Oh God, flee these things and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love and patience.”
And lastly in Philippians Four, where Paul speaks of what he’s come to understand is important in life: “Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound. Everywhere in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
So, this is all quite contrary to what the world thinks of as prosperity. And I’m afraid often how we as Christians think of prosperity, I don’t feel that it is a virtue for us Christians to seek after great riches in this world. So, obviously I don’t feel the government has any role in spiritual prosperity, which I think is the important thing for us Christians to look at. Relative to prosperity or riches, the only thing I can say about President Trump is that he has, as has already been spoken of, made it much more possible in our economy, if you want to prosper or if you want to have earthly needs taken care of, you certainly have no reason not to have that.
LN QUESTION C
What is my Christian understanding of prosperity? Taking a chronological approach, maybe first to look at some Old Testament principles and then the New Testament up to modern times. Two themes jump out at me in the Old Testament. One is the concept of obedience as a covenantal responsibility. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” In Isaiah, we have the principle laid down that says, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land, but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” So, that’s the principle that gets repeated over and over. It almost seems like it’s formulaic. “Behave, be blessed; Rebel, retribution.” The stories of drought and starvation, invading armies, the period of the judges, the Philistines, or the punishment, then the era of the Kings, when there was idolatry, there would be death and destruction, including the royal line each time, but always a stump was saved and a remnant, which was preserved.
The other strong theme that we hear a lot about in the Old Testament is shalom, and I was impressed with that concept when we were in Israel. Shalom is your home, your wife, your children, your vine, your pomegranate tree, your small flock of sheep and a well. There was peace in the land. “God is good. Enjoy blessedness.” And I think that concept of shalom was based on the idea of adequacy or enough, not more than milk and honey, but milk and honey. Just enough. Proverbs comes along then and says, “Be careful. Wealth is a temptation.” Using advice on how to prosper, it says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard. Prepare for winter and summer. Don’t be foolish. First, work your fields, then build your house. Be faithful and you will prosper.” Not so much as a reward, as a natural law. “This is how it works, and this is how it should work.” Almost as if that concept is prescriptive. And so I think I end with, “Enough so that I may not rob my neighbor, nor too much so that I might forget my God,” out of Proverbs.
Then in the Gospel age, I have more of a struggle. The principles aren’t as clear for me. If you flourish, you can fund missionaries, but we learned that the church really grows during times of persecution. And so the juxtaposition of those two ideas doesn’t settle well in my brain. In my experience, I like to see full employment with full opportunity. I think the disabled and the disadvantaged need to be cared for, but I want to stop short of entitlements, that mentality that says, “Everybody needs to have free tuition,” and all of the other benefits that we’re hearing about today. Also, the principal of sloth and wastage that comes with those who choose not to work. Somehow we have to arrive at a balance, I think, to approach it as Christians and have a good economy, to prosper.
I do think that Trump supports traditional values of work and incentives, not handouts that cripple. I think there’s been some controlling of overreaching regulations, which stifle incentive and some needed competition. I still believe in capitalism, if some of the abuses are controlled, but I think the concept of opportunity still works. Again, I think we need balance. We’ve got competing interests. It’s not an easy answer. I just hope everybody will be willing to surrender their own agenda.
SE QUESTION C
Being prosperous is in my view, directly connected to material possessions and financial flourishing. Christ speaks quite openly and directly about material wealth in the gospels, but I can’t recall Jesus ever declaring material possessions sinful outright. Instead, I think Jesus points to our posture towards wealth. In Matthew six, Jesus declares that we cannot serve both God and wealth. Then He goes on to teach about the futility of worry, specifically worry that is connected to our material needs. Jesus also teaches not to store up our treasures here, in Matthew six. He calls the rich young ruler on to sell all his possessions and then points out the widow who gives sacrificially and not out of abundance.
Broadly speaking, Jesus calls us into action. An action of putting to death all our worldly connections to our identity, which specifically includes our dependence upon and service to our material possessions. I would consider the Christian understanding of prosperity to be an abundance of material possessions that should not be the foundation of our identity or stability, but rather be a gift to be shared for the furthering of the kingdom of God. In our global economy, wealth is connected to labor. Labor produces, the product of labor is sold. The money of the sold product is distributed amongst those who help produce the labor. The Bible speaks clearly and directly against the exploitation of labor for the gain of the already prosperous.
See Isaiah three, Micah three, Amos five and James five for examples. My practical perspective is that our material possessions should come to us honestly. If we have made money off the labor of others, we should find ways to ensure that we have given fairly and respectfully to those whose labor has benefited us. I also believe that we need to be conscious of our need.
Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians 8:7-15 “Now as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness and in our love for you. So we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know, the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this manner I am I’m giving my advice, it is appropriate for you who began last year, not only to do something but even to desire to do something. Now finish doing it so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is access acceptable according to what one has not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of fair balance between your present abundance and their need so that their abundance may be for your need in order that there may be fair balance. As it is written, the one who had much did not have too much and the one who had little did not have too little.”
That’s the end of the passage. I do not believe it is the call of the Christian to expect their government or in our historical context, Donald Trump, to facilitate that fair balance Paul talks about, but I do believe the church has a lot of work to do systemically to relieve the burden of the poor, to meet the needs of those who have nothing. The lack of affordable housing, the abundance of healthcare needs, the high levels of food insecurity and inaccessibility to clean drinking water are an indictment upon the church of which I am a member, a lamenting member who confesses my own complicity in this negligence.
So, as I grow in my action and push the church in movement towards action, I do appreciate and value government policy that lifts up the poor and afflicted, spreading the cost to all citizens so that we may share in the burdens of our neighbors. In an effort to be more concrete and less theoretical, I support policies like Medicare for all because I believe as we relieve the burden of healthcare costs for the lower and middle class, their ability to make ends meet increases.
TA QUESTION C
As a Christian, I believe that prosperity is akin to flourishing, and that God desires that all creation flourish. I think God understands our human weakness for material prosperity, but I don’t think God desires or is pleased by inequities in prosperity or flourishing. National prosperity achieved in part through Native American genocide and the enslavement of blacks, through the exploitation of people and resources—both here and in other countries—is not prosperity that Christians, especially, should be comfortable with or believe is deserved.
One of our conversation partners referred in an answer to a previous question to lies we allow ourselves to believe. I think we allow ourselves to believe lies about prosperity—lies like that we and our country are prosperous because God blesses us and that people and countries suffering a lack of prosperity have brought it on themselves by displeasing God. We believe that God blesses us, God doesn’t bless them, and that’s what God desires: I think that’s a lie. I think we use that lie to rationalize our own selfish prosperity at the expense of others and to let ourselves off the hook. I know I have done that.
As citizens of Christ’s kingdom first and foremost, we should desire and advocate for the flourishing of all creation—not just us, our family members, our community, our nation—but everyone everywhere. We should care about and stand opposed to policies that diminish or prevent flourishing both here in our country and elsewhere.
Selfish ambition is antithetical to the flourishing of all creation, and President Trump is selfish ambition personified. I see little evidence he genuinely cares whether anyone or anything prospers beyond his own “kingdom,” which includes himself, his family and his businesses. His administration may have enacted policies that put more money in the pockets and accounts of some, but I think that’s an impoverished view of prosperity that has little connection to the kind of prosperity Christians should be concerned with.
TM QUESTION C
Prosperity based on biblical teaching is, in my opinion, having enough, actually, a lot of what has been said about Shalom, having enough to take care of myself and my family, and enough to give to those in need. As far as it concerns us here in the United States, I’m going to assume that if you have a job that you can probably live reasonably comfortably. Maybe not in full prosperity, if you will, like most of us do. But, you can feed yourself and house yourself and to have transportation and all that stuff.
Yeah, I think the seasonally adjusted jobless rate just came out and that’s at 3.5%, so that’s, effectively, full employment (I got that stat from the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Basically, there are jobs out there, and for the people who want to work, they have the opportunity to work and live comfortably; not as if they’re in need. If you assume market forces are at work and there’s a scarcity in labor, then for those who don’t have a job that’s capable of supporting themselves, as long as they’ve got basically minimal competency, they should be able to find a new job to improve their own situation in life. I do think that this has been one of Trump’s greatest achievements, and I know for my company that the last couple of years have been some of our highest activity years, and hopefully this year is going to be a really profitable year for us.
I do think that the raw materials, if you will, are there to increase individual prosperity even more if we could eliminate things like consumer debt and especially the student loan crisis that looms over my generation. But GDP has generally been more than during the Obama years: Six out of the last 10 quarters have been higher than roughly the Obama range. I think the economy
reached a plateau under Obama, whether that was his policies or personality or whatever, but I think the economy has expanded greatly and has benefited a lot of people under Donald Trump.
BE QUESTION D
Literally, the word gospel means good news. What is that good news? Christ came to save sinners. In his salvation, we see two parts. The justification part, those of us who are reformed understand as being, I am made right with God just as if I never sinned. We like calling Jesus our savior. But, there’s a second part to salvation. True salvation also consists of sanctification. In there, we almost see the word “saint.” We are to become more and more Christ-like, and I feel like that’s the part, the scope of the gospel that has been overlooked by all of us at some point in our lives. I feel like it’s been overlooked by what I would describe as the more liberal or progressive churches.
Jesus needs to be the king of our lives, and that means that we have to surrender everything to him. There is not one part of our lives, to quote Kuyper again, over which he does not say mine. That has many, many applications, and there are a number of places listed where what the fruit of the spirit should be: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. I might’ve missed one. But there are also grocery lists of sins and it says, “Do not be deceived. They will not inherit the kingdom.” Now, that’s God’s business who will inherit and who will not. But, I should’ve brought a big picture I have at home. It says broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are they who find it. Narrow is the way, narrow is the gate that leads to salvation.
Part of the gospel is saying that we need to confess our sins, repent of our sins, and literally turn away from our sins. There are many words that talk about how our sin nature has to be abandoned. We have to put aside the flesh, and so part of the gospel is saying it’s not okay to stay living the way that you were. I see a huge acceptance of the idea that it wasn’t right when we had all these legalistic requirements. That kind of destroyed the heart of the gospel. But, it also wasn’t right when people are allowed to stay living in sin as if there’s no consequence for that. I feel like that’s where the scope of the gospel is being cut in half by the modern church.
Now, how does that apply to Trump? This is not a very good segue because I was modifying what I was going to say even as I was listening to everybody else. I decided to hit on that because nobody else did. There really wasn’t one person that talked about the need for ongoing daily repentance. It’s not judgmental to say what the Bible says, or it’s interesting how those who are very busy telling me I can’t judge, what is that if not a judgment? Let’s be honest, we are the judge, and God will judge our judging. Here’s what I will go on to say now about President Trump, because rather than being vague, I don’t like him, I don’t think he follows the gospel, imputing all kinds of motives to him. Let’s agree that we’re doing lots of judging. I will simply list specific things that he has done, and then we can judge whether he has in fact facilitated the gospel to some degree.
In 2017, the first year of his first term, President Trump signed an executive order to advance religious freedom, restoring the ideals that have undergirded our nation since its founding. The president has taken action to ensure Americans, and organizations are not forced to violate their religious or moral beliefs by complying with Obamacare’s ungodly, unbiblical, contraceptive mandate. That benefited Dordt College when they had a big lawsuit and they were successful, and it also benefited the bunch of nuns and others as well, perhaps. The Department of Health and Human Services has established a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, I referred to that earlier, so that you are not forced to assist with abortions if you prefer not to.
This year, the administration has finalized a rule providing more flexibility for federal employees whose religious beliefs require them to abstain from work on certain days, and the administration has stood for religious freedom in the courts in things like the Phillips case, in the Barronelle, if I’m saying her name correctly, the florist case. That is something that a democratic administration wouldn’t do because they would be bending over backwards to protect the rights of the rights. The United States has also provided humanitarian aid to help Christians who suffer at the hands of ISIS and to help refugees fleeing persecution.
Fun fact, statistically, Christians are the most persecuted around the world right now. If you look at places like China, Korea, the Coptic Christians, I’ve got a couple of good friends who are missionaries there. That is unreal, and all of you have probably seen the videos of ISIS beheading Christians. There is massive persecution, which, as we know, is the blood of the church spreading. I have to say, the blood of the martyrs does spread the church, but it doesn’t take away the fact that that persecution is something that we should be protesting.
There is a religious freedom alliance the administration supports. It’s an alliance of nations dedicated to confronting that religious persecution as it occurs around the world. The administration has dedicated $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics. The Department of Justice has hosted its Summit on Combating Antisemitism (probably the second most persecuted group throughout history and probably right now has been the Jews). Those are all specific concrete things to counter the attack of, he doesn’t do anything and it’s all about him.
I’m going to end with a quote of what President Trump said, and I believe it truly comes from his heart, and again, we have to be careful to allow people to speak and to let them sometimes be accepted at face value. I try to picture any of the 15, 16, 25 whatever it is, Democratic candidates at this point for the 2020 election saying this, which Trump has said and repeated. “All children born and unborn are made in the holy image of God.” That may not be the gospel, but I think Trump saying it is very good news for unborn babies.
KN QUESTION D
Christian understanding of the scope of the gospel, and to what extent is president Trump fostering or not, your understanding of that scope? I looked at the beginning of each of the gospels, where Jesus kind of pronounces what the good news is. I won’t re-read those passages, but this is my reflection, based on those. The scope of God’s good news in Jesus Christ, the scandalous. Matthew announces Emmanuel, God with us. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, proclaimed the Kingdom of God has come near. John declares the logos became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory full of grace and truth. We don’t find God. God becomes one of us. God acts, becomes flesh, uniting spirit and body, not because of anything we do, but entirely because of who God is. This is the very good news, that God loves and comes to us, broken, wandering, rebellious and self-absorbed as we are. In response to God’s loving initiative, we are called to believe, and to be transformed by this entirely different reality of God’s loving presence among us.
If anything limits God’s activity, God’s presence among us, it is our denial, or our refusal of God’s loving presence through our insistence on deserving it, preferring to believe that some qualify and others do not. This refusal to accept God on God’s loving terms limits the transformational impact of God’s reach into our lives and the world, and Jesus often calls this blindness in the gospels. God insists on meeting us in our need alone, where different gifts are liberated in service to one another. Even those that our judgment and fears have alienated us from, untouchables and enemies who become the very interdependent body of Christ.
If God’s love does not extend to everyone, to all of creation, it is neither good, nor news. But if it does extend to all of creation, if God has become one of us, then we are transformed as we die to ourselves to be found with others, and God’s loving embrace, joining and God’s loving reclamation of the world. This gospel is totally good, especially for those in greatest need, as well as entirely and believable, especially for those of us who are self sufficient. We would sooner throw the grace and truth of Christ presence with us off a cliff, or nail it to a cross, then lose ourselves to the love of God, and the rabble that God’s of scandalously loves. In this framing of the gospel, President Trump, and I don’t have any… I don’t know, I struggle with this, like I said before, regarding what the separation of government and church, and such as, but in this framing of the gospel, President Trump, is also loved by God. Yet, he publicly embraces an unredeemed blindness of self-interest in disregard, contempt, abuse, hatred, toward anyone who impedes the further inflation of his ego.
It is my assessment, which I am somewhat uncomfortable with and ready to be challenged on, that coupled with the power invested in an unchecked abuse of his office, I believe President Trump is damning this world that God loves every day.
All of us struggle to receive, and live in God’s loving embrace, but president Trump seems to be sprinting in the opposite direction on steroids, feeding on the attention it brings him. And I would say that’s particularly in the way that he is quick to self-aggrandize and disparage others. If I were concerned with the things God is concerned with, I wouldn’t give his antics as much attention as I do, but as a citizen of the U.S., in the world, I do think we need to stop empowering him.
LS QUESTION D
My idea of the scope of the gospel? I looked at it, I didn’t put as much thought into what scope meant, but I looked at it as what’s the purpose of the gospel? So, I see the problems of this world, as in poverty or sickness or oppression or whatever we may speak about, are all symptoms. The root cause of those symptoms is sin. The only answer or the remedy to this root cause is the gospel of salvation.
The social gospel only seeks to put a bandaid on the symptoms, but it does not solve the root cause of the problem, which is sin. It is not the purpose of the church to work to eliminate social ills, but instead to preach the word of God which brings his people to faith.
The purpose of the gospel flows out of our thankfulness to God when we are saved from our sin. Matthew 25 is often spoken of, and it was not written as a blueprint for salvation through works or through social works, nor should it be employed as such. It is not an argument for preaching the gospel through our actions alone, but rather that our actions authenticate the gospel we preach.
And those actions must be prioritized towards those who suffer, our fellow believers, so please care for other believers because Jesus commanded us to. Realize that a lack of care for fellow believers may point to a lack of our saving faith and preach the gospel with words because they are always necessary.
This is not to say that we are not to love people and to live justly and to care for them and minister to people who have been treated unfairly, unkindly and mercilessly. As Christians, of course we should do that. We are to be known by our love, love to one another and love to the whole world and we are to be as Christ, caring for them, meeting their needs. But this is the result of salvation. The question is: Is the social gospel a part of the saving gospel? Or is caring for people a result of the gospel?
If we have a non-biblical view of the kingdom of God or of eschatology, meaning the end times, such as pre or post millennial, we will have an incorrect view of the purpose of the church. A post-millennial view often leads people to think that the church’s mission is to Christianize the world.
This idea was first promoted by Abraham Kuyper. This idea that the gospel is a means to save people from their sins got replaced with trying to fix the ills of society without fixing that root cause. Sin. As a side note, I have been in Amsterdam. The Christianizing of that society did not work. There is nothing Christian in Amsterdam. Here are some verses that speak about what I think the gospel is: from Matthew Four, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”; from Matthew 16, “Then Jesus said unto his disciples, if any man will come unto me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For so whoever will save his life shall lose it. And whoever shall lose his life for my sake will find it.” From Romans One, which is a great verse on what the gospel is, Paul says “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” The next part of this passage gives a definition of what that gospel is: “For it is the power of God unto salvation. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith as it is written, the just shall live by faith.”
Also, in Romans 10 we read, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent.” So, these verses speak about what the purpose of the church is; it is to preach the gospel. And as we saw earlier, the gospel is to bring people to repentance, to bring salvation, salvation being forgiveness of sin.
Again, I struggle, as we spoke about earlier, how this fits in with Trump and the government. Because I certainly do not feel the government has any purpose in my view of the gospel. The only thing I would feel positive about what Trump has done, as he certainly has not made it impossible for the church to preach that gospel. You do not have to look very far in this world to see many countries where that is not true anymore. Therefore, I give great thankfulness and eternally grateful for that.
LN QUESTION D
Christian understanding of the scope of the gospel. I struggled with the meaning of the word “scope.” But I think that’s probably what makes the whole inquiry worthwhile, because it’s a simple concept until you begin to think about it. So, does the scope mean how would I apply the gospel or how effective is the gospel and in what arenas, or what is in fact the meaning of the gospel by those who receive it? So, I messed around with the meaning of scope for a long time, but I finally settled on an answer. Beginning, again, chronologically in the old Testament, Micah 5:8, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk with your God.” Originally in Israel, this was in-house because it was their job under the covenant to let the world know that the world may know that they were to be a testimony worldwide to God’s work within their nation.
But then we come into the New Testament era. In James 1:27 we have a similar concept. “Religion that God accepts is to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” It did occur to me as I read that that we do usually read the first half of that verse, “Look after the orphans and the widows,” and “To prevent one’s self from becoming polluted” hasn’t been a major concern for most Christians in recent memory, but that’s beside the point. In the New Testament era, we have the Great Commission. As some people now interpret the Hebrew, the Great Commission is: “And as you go, be my witnesses, teaching them to do all that I have shown you.” And I think that has evidenced itself historically with Christianity being involved in the construction of hospitals, benevolent societies, charities, schools, colleges, training centers, mission, work, disaster relief, third-world assistance, and that is then to assist, but not to dominate or destroy culture, hopefully.
Besides using scripture to try to decide on the scope of the gospel, I also like to think about people and institutions. The people I would point to would be Mother Teresa. She basically took the position that the institutional church doesn’t really get the job done, and the social gospel doesn’t work, but it makes us feel really good. Her idea is what’s been coined as a phrase, “Faithful presence.” Each one, save one, each one, be kind. If God wants to prosper that work, he will because he is able to do it all. So, as long as we’re faithful, faithful presence would be the concept that I would really endorse. In terms of institutions, I think locally of Atlas, Bethany, Bethesda, Habitat, JFA. All of those efforts are within the scope of the gospel to spread the love of Jesus to everybody that needs help.
President Trump is providing verbal and regulatory support for the private sector to exercise their vision of assistance, not wanting bigger governmental intrusion and control. I like that idea. Everybody likes to talk about who’s in the swamp and who’s cleaning the swamp. I see the swamp as that large bureaucracy of unelected administrators and huge government agencies who want to run our lives because they’re smarter and better than the rest of us, and I’m not sure that they’ve made a lot of progress when I look at education, health, justice initiatives. I wonder if it isn’t time to go back and try the private sector again, and that’s the attitude and the situation where each person having a faithful present might be able to work. I say, just give us each room to live out our convictions to do our part as we go to reach those who need to hear about Jesus.
SE QUESTION D
In my view, the scope of the gospel is wider than the imagination of the church. Even the early church was wrapped up in determining who was in and who was out, having to be lured away regularly by Paul and Peter from the temptation to draw dividing lines. The world has a way of calling us toward division. Division based on certainty of a moral code, citizenship status, political position, and even on ridiculous things like social media memes about the color of a dress. The church is called to unity, to let go of our differences and embrace our mission. This does not mean to going to a homogenous state of being, but rather to go forward with all our diversity of thought and being, staying defined as ourselves while staying connected as followers of Christ. We are one body with many parts.
I confess that I’m guilty of drawing lines. I’m guilty of deciding where God’s redemption is possible and or impossible. I’m guilty of prescribing my own ideas as to who Jesus is rather than being curious about how God is at work in the world already, and where I can be an active partner with God in that work. Politicians win on division. They call us into their tribal camps. They tell us to follow them and to mock the other tribe. Look at these deplorables. Look at those snowflake libtards. This is where my deep skepticism rests. Why would I follow any of these people? I see lost folks seeking power to gain control of the world and create order in their own way, in whatever way seems wisest to them. Why would I sign on to any of these policies? Is this the gospel I seek with all my heart? No, I think it’s a distraction, but perhaps there is hope.
Perhaps God is at work in government and my cynicism is a blinder. Perhaps God can and wants to redeem governments. I honestly have no idea and I lack the vision to see it, but I do trust Jesus. I trust that Jesus continues to incarnate love and peace in ways and in places I never imagined were possible. So why not trust that if anyone could redeem such a beast as government, it would be Jesus. How could this happen? Who is doing this work? How could we engage in the work of redemption and hold fast to our convictions? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am curious.
Ultimately, I believe the gospel is finding freedom in Christ through transformation. This is the call to discipleship, a life of self-reflection, authentic community and alignment with the way of Christ, a way of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, so that we may begin living our lives as Jesus would if Jesus were living in our lives. So wherever there is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, I will celebrate. Wherever they are lacking, I will get curious about how I can show up in that moment or space and work to incarnate these fruits.
TA QUESTION D
I think the message of the gospel is reconciliation and love, and I think the scope is boundless. As a Christian—particularly as a Christian in the Reformed tradition—I believe there is no part of creation, human or otherwise, that God does not will to flourish and seek to reconcile to God’s self and God’s perfect plan. “Every square inch,” right?
I think a picture of the gospel in action is in Matthew 25 where Christ makes clear that sharing the gospel starts with meeting practical, material needs: providing food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothing to the naked, presence to the sick or imprisoned.
The needs expressed in Matthew 25 are literal, physical needs, but I think they apply figuratively as well: A person can have enough food and drink but still be malnourished emotionally, relationally or spiritually. Welcome for the stranger can mean shelter for a visitor from another country, but it can also mean acceptance for someone who is strange, different or marginalized. Clothing the naked is akin to offering dignity to someone who feels shame. And visiting the sick or imprisoned can apply to those who are heartsick or imprisoned by metaphorical bars.
President Trump feigns knowledge of the Bible to score political points, but I see little evidence he understands or feels called to live according to the gospel either personally or in his public life. Now I know that presidents swear an oath to the Constitution, not to Scripture. Nonetheless, even while they did it imperfectly, I believe some past presidents had a more authentic faith than Trump—Jimmy Carter, George H.W. and George W. Bush and Barak Obama all come to mind—and I think they genuinely tried (and often struggled with how) to bring their faith to bear in their public life. I don’t agree with a lot of Vice President Pence’s policy positions, but I believe he would be a more gospel-minded leader than Trump. Trump’s “gospel” seems to be one of me, mine and money. And nothing else—certainly not the selfless sacrifice Christ calls us to.
That said, as I’ve acknowledged before, some of this administration’s policy achievements—like the prison reform measures that have been enacted—do align with my understanding of where and how God is at work in the world to bring about reconciliation and redemption. I don’t think a gospel impulse led to those reforms, but I celebrate them nonetheless.
TM QUESTION D
As I said before, I don’t know that I see president Trump as a particularly religious or Christian man, so I don’t necessarily believe that he’s doing anything to embrace the gospel. He’s done some policy regarding religious freedom, and Mike Pence is a strong man of faith, but I don’t think that Donald Trump has cracked open a Bible in a very long time. I do want to say that I believe that Christianity has a strong place in the history of the United States, and it’s been used both for good and for evil in our past. It has, however, been a major building block of our culture.
I believe that there is a concerted attempt by parts of our society to weaken the tie that our faith has to our society. I think it’s a bad idea. I won’t say, on this note, that I don’t want other faiths included in our culture. I think that’s what makes us a great society, but incorporating other religions doesn’t necessarily mean Christianity needs to be given up or apologized for. I’m no philosopher, so I’m dealing purely in hypotheticals here. I do have a little trouble reconciling my belief that we can live in a pan-religious society with my understanding of how difficult it is to find common ground with those whom we disagree so fundamentally.