On Equity, Marxism, and Critical Theory

In order to assess the secular movements against racism, we must first understand the foundations of them. I finished my last post stating that the secular battle against racism springs from a desire for equity among people groups. Here I explain what that means.

The term “equity” as it pertains to social conditions is essentially equivalent to the phrase “equality of outcome”. This would be in contrast to the concept of “equality of opportunity”, a different approach to addressing social ills.

Equity, or equality of outcome, seeks to even out the life experience of people groups. For instance, it would be against a capitalist economy where the super-successful are a tiny percentage who control the vast majority of wealth. In search of equity (a more equal distribution of wealth), you would need to put structures in place that prevent the rich from getting richer and the poor from getting poorer, such as higher tax penalties for rich people. Conversely, equality of opportunity aims to make a successful life at least theoretically possible for anyone who is willing to work for it, not giving any advantages or disadvantages to anyone. This image illustrates the idea well:

equality

In a world of “equality of opportunity”, the ideal is that everyone has the same starting place and must go from there. In a world of “equity” or “equality of outcome”, people are given more or less depending upon their perceived ability to reach success.

Understanding this concept is fundamental to critiquing our current battle against racism. This is because one line of thinking would essentially say “the American dream is available to anyone who wants to go out and chase it”, while the other would say “certain people need extra help, while some need extra hinderances, in order to maintain equality among people’s quality of life”.

Even though this blog post is about racism, I begin with economics because one needs to know Karl Marx before they understand Critical Theory and how it is currently playing out in the world. Marx was an economist whose ideas were fundamental to the birth of Communism. Marx essentially looked at the disparity between the rich and the poor and argued that the cause of it was oppression. He posited that the rich got rich by trampling on the poor and making sure they are kept down. He therefore proposed an economic structure that took power away from the rich and gave it to the poor, hoping to achieve greater balance. Essentially, he sought economic equity (equality of outcome).

It is fair to say that history has proven his theory to be a colossal bust. Everywhere that Communism has taken hold, crushing poverty and government tyranny has resulted. This is one of the major things we can learn from the last 150 years of human history.

Instead of dismissing his ideas, many sociologists doubled down on them and actually expanded them. This gave birth to what we now know as Critical Theory, sometimes called Cultural Marxism (some would disagree, but I see both terms as almost synonymous). Critical Theory takes the idea from Marxism that disparity among people is due primarily to oppression. They expand this, however, beyond the realm of economics and into other categorizations of life. For example, not only do the rich oppress the poor, but whites oppress blacks, men oppress women, police oppress citizens, skinny people oppress fat people, and so on.

This is the lens through which Critical Theory sees the world. It identifies a place where there is a difference of outcome, automatically assumes it is a result of oppression, and then seeks to attack the oppressors while empowering the oppressed. If you are someone who pays attention to the news at all, this ought to be something you can see clearly being played out before our very eyes.

This is why, for instance, ideas like high taxation for the rich, white privilege, feminism, and defunding the police are all so popular. These are attempts by the proponents of Critical Theory to level the playing field. It springs from the notion that oppressors need to be attacked and the oppressed need to be empowered.

This is the dominant approach of culture towards the issue of racism. It is cultural Marxism playing out in the real world. Those who adopt this view (aka Woke), believe that white people are fundamentally part of the oppressive system that keeps minorities down, especially blacks. Thus, the whole system needs to be toppled since it is built on a foundation of white supremacy. This is where the concept of systemic racism is born. Racism is built right into the structures of society so that, even if a white person doesn’t think themselves to be racist, they can’t help but be. They partake of a system that lifts them up and keeps others down.

Once again, I think there is strong reason to push back on this line of thinking. The first is that it is built on a foundation of massive, unprovable assumptions. Critical Theory demands the belief that the best way to see the world is through the lens of oppression. Yet I believe there is strong reason to question this. The Communist experiment proved that this concept was flawed as it pertained to economics. Why should we assume it is more accurate in other spheres of life? It also clearly does not take into account the major factor of personal responsibility. Critical Theory assumes that all people want to work hard and make the most of their opportunities. Yet even a cursory glance at life around us proves this assumption false. Some people are able to achieve much with very little, while others with much squander it away. The fact that this reality is completely absent from Critical Theory makes the starting point inherently flawed.

Critical Theory also operates from a point of envy. Though it sounds nice on the surface (“I just want everyone to be equal”), the motives can be much more nefarious (“They have what I don’t, and I want it”). It can be a very convenient way to hide behind covetousness. I would again point to the results of Communism as proof. Communism arguably killed 100 million people in the 20th century. Scripture explains why. James 4:2 says “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” Hostility and murder spring from a coveting heart. Though I would not charge all who adhere to Critical Theory as examples of this, many certainly are. If we know anything about human nature, it is that we are far more evil than we dare believe, and that our own intentions can be incredibly deceitful.

If you want more recent examples, see the looting of stores (including killings) and creation of autonomous zones as examples of peoples thirst for material possessions and power that comes under the guise of fighting against oppression.

Critical Theory also implies that successful people are automatically oppressors. Obviously, we know that many rich people are oppressive and can get away with doing so because of their financial resources. The same book of the Bible I quoted above speaks of rich people oppressing the poor (James 2:6). But this is still a wrong assumption to make, since other rich people are benevolent with their money. I would argue that the Bible presents roughly four categories of people in this regard:

  • Godly rich
  • Ungodly rich
  • Godly poor
  • Ungodly poor

However, this model doesn’t fit into the framework of Critical Theory. In fact, I would challenge anyone to prove from Scripture that Critical Theory is a way of thinking that springs from the Bible. Unfortunately, Christians who adopt this view are simply flinging around the term “justice” to defend their views. I would argue that to defend Critical Theory under the guise of biblical “justice” is an abuse of Scripture and nothing more than slapping biblical language on top of completely secular thinking.

The Bible nowhere argues for equity, or equality of outcome. Was it not God who richly blessed Abraham? Was it not God who chose Israel to be his people? The Biblical picture is that our life circumstances are made up of a combination of God’s providence, the choices of others around us, and our own choices as well. God determines when and where we are born (Acts 17:26). Our parents and our communities make choices that affect our lives. And lastly, we make our own decisions in life which operate on the principle of reaping what we sow. The Bible doesn’t outline how God’s people are to be revolutionaries against the system, but what it does do is teach us how to live out a Kingdom ethic in the midst of a corrupt and broken world. These are not the same thing.

We need to know these things because seeking godly solutions requires properly defining the problems. The foundation of Critical Theory is flawed and unscriptural; therefore we ought to reject its solutions. Racial tensions are not properly and fully explained by stating that white people oppress black people and thus the answer is to reverse the paradigm of power. Rather, racial tensions spring from sin in the human heart that requires the healing balm of God’s love. It completely baffles me that believers are attempting to fight the battle against racism while leaving the most potent weapon at home: the gospel. Do we not know that only Christ can change the human heart? That only Christ can unite people? If we feel that we can fight the battle against racism without consulting Scripture, without recognizing the need for concepts like sin, forgiveness, sanctification, and the imago Dei, then we are fooling ourselves.

The Church needs to recognize that we have a unique voice in this discussion. We operate from a worldview founded on Scripture, not on Marx. I fear that we are knowingly, and unknowingly, adopting worldly patterns of thought. Until that changes, we fail to be the light that this world so desperately needs.

On White Privilege

“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.” – Reni Eddo-Lodge

Let’s talk about white privilege. White privilege is, much like systemic racism, a bit of a nebulous term and one that is thrown about quite a bit these days. The basic idea is that being born a white person in Western society immediately grants you certain privileges just by virtue of being white. Put another way, your life at least isn’t made any harder because of your skin colour.

Like other things I have said about racism, the idea of white privilege is nuanced. I reject the oversimplification of white privilege but recognize that it still exists as a reality. Let me explain.

White privilege is undoubtedly real to a certain degree. For instance, the city I live in is predominantly white. To my recollection, I’ve never had a racist act committed against me in my life. This, however, is not true for some of my friends who are black or asian. Thus, I think it is fair to say that my skin colour affords me some degree of privilege. Of this I readily acknowledge.

However, that’s about all I’m willing to concede about white privilege. Much of the additional baggage that comes with the term I reject, and on good moral and logical grounds I might add.

For instance:

I reject the idea that I should apologize for being white. The trend of white people bowing down before blacks and making atonement for the sins of their ancestors is insanity. Not that being humble and willing to admit our faults is anything bad—in fact, it is necessary in a Christian worldview. The problem however is that there is no need to repent for the sins of others. It is fundamental to a Christian worldview that people are accountable for themselves, and that God will judge each person according to their works. I honestly don’t know if anyone in my own family lineage has a link to slavery. Well, actually, I’m willing to bet that if we go back far enough, all of us have a heritage connected with slavery and other horrible atrocities that we want nothing to do with.

It seems like white privilege is the new “original sin” in this secular religion of wokeness. From a Christian point of view, you are born with an inherent guilt (sin) that you need cleansing from through faith in Christ. In the secular view, you are born with inherent guilt (whiteness) for which you need to be cleansed through wokeness. This is a false gospel and antithetical to the Christian worldview.

I would add one more thing here. If a person feels uncomfortable with the actions that someone else has committed, the biblical response is not to confess guilt yourself, but rather to pray for them. We call this intercessory prayer. An example of this in Scripture is Job, who prayed for his children and offered sacrifices to God on their behalf for their partying lifestyle (Job 1). It’s not that Job felt responsible, but he pleaded with God on their behalf out of love.

I reject the idea that white privilege (or lack thereof) is the best way to understand people’s situations. Like I mentioned already, white privilege is real. Yet it is only one component to the complexity that makes up a person’s life circumstances. Many, many, many other factors will lend a person towards privilege or not, such as:

  • Country of birth
  • Talents
  • Family wealth
  • Educational opportunities
  • Attractiveness
  • Health
  • Character of their parents
  • Intelligence
  • Personal connections
  • What they were exposed to as a child

The list goes on. All of these factor into the equation of a person’s access to privilege. I would argue that perhaps some of these factors are actually far more important to the outcome of life for an individual than the colour of their skin.

In other words, white privilege is real, but it is not nearly sufficient to explain the world around us.

Who has more privilege? Me, as a white man? Or Tiger Woods? LeBron James? Barack Obama? Oprah Winfrey? They have access to resources that far outweigh anything I might be able to accrue because of my whiteness. And you know what? Good for them! That’s fine with me, because I’m not a victim. I’ve been dealt the hand God gave me, and I will not covet the one he gave someone else. Every person has a unique set of circumstances they are born into, some of which are advantageous, and others disadvantageous. It has always been, in my mind, a healthy perspective for someone to not allow themselves to be controlled by their circumstances, but resolve to work with what they have to live a worthy life for God and others.

Lastly, I reject the idea that my privilege, whatever level it may be, is inherently bad. Terms matter, and what the world calls privilege the Bible calls blessings. This absolutely, positively, does not mean that being white is a blessing. That’s a disgusting way to think. But what it means is that in whatever way God has granted me a smooth path in life, for it I am grateful.

I can for certain say that by far the most meaningful way God has blessed me is with incredible, hard working parents who taught me about God. This is a privilege that not all others have had, and I wish it were different. Yet I will give thanks for the blessings God has given me, and the challenges, while aiming to use the resources God has given me to make something of my life. This is what privilege is all about. If you have something to be thankful for, give thanks. If you have plentiful resources, give back. If you have challenges to overcome, persevere. But using white privilege as the dominant way to understand the world is a line of thinking that is based on coveting, ingratitude, and just plain ignorance of the facts. Reality is always much more complex than any broad-brush can cover.

Let me circle back to the quote at the beginning. It said “White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.” It appears we are just turning the tables around. White people are now structurally discriminated against, because we are seen as inherently racist whether we recognize it or not. On top of that, our whiteness is seen as a problem first and foremost. There is a term for it when people are categorized wholesale simply because of their skin colour: it’s called racism. The inevitable outcome of the white privilege narrative is just racism in a new form. We are simply replacing one racist ideology with another.

I propose that we submit ourselves to Scripture. God’s Word cuts through all the clutter and makes things clear. We are to do unto others as we would want them to do to us. It’s really that simple. We get into problems when we start to create new categories and put people into boxes. All of this springs from the concept of equity, the idea that all people deserve equal outcomes, a line of thinking born in Marxism and adopted by popular thought. That will be the topic of my next post.

On Listening to Black People

I will reiterate once again, right off the bat, that I am a pastor and not a politician. Some might assume that because I am speaking on political issues, I am wrongly diving into the world of politics when I should be staying in my lane of Christian ministry. I would counter back that what is often labelled a political issue is one that is actually a moral, spiritual, or worldview issue. Such is the case here.

It is increasingly being espoused that white people need to shut up and listen to people of colour when it comes to the issue of systemic racism. Lest you think I am being too poignant in criticism, consider exhibit A:

shutup

The line of thinking here is that since white people are the beneficiaries of privilege in our Western system, they don’t get to have a voice at the table. They built the table and own it, after all. If white people want to truly understand how the system is biased in their favour, they’ll need to listen to the stories of people of colour who are on the losing end of the stick.

On paper, this theory sounds good. We should listen. Scripture tells us to be good listeners. We are often far too quick to share our own thoughts without taking the time to hear where other people are coming from. This is a principle I can get behind.

  • My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19)
  • If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
  • A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2)

However, there are two major problems with the line of thinking that white people are morally responsible to shut up and listen.

The first is that it fails to take into account that truth is truth no matter who is espousing it. Ideas stand or fall on their own merit. Truth is not determined based on who is making a specific truth claim. Something is true or not even if it is shared by someone who may be generally untrustworthy. As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

On these grounds, white people do have a voice to contribute. Frankly, we all do. And our voices matter not because of the colour of our skin but because our ideas deserve to be presented for scrutiny by others. This is true for everyone. No particular person or people group are uniquely owners of the truth or above criticism. I would therefore conclude that to tell white people to shut up and listen wrongly assumes that only people of colour correctly understand reality and that only white people are skewed by personal bias.

I would say that better advice than “white people need to shut up and listen” would be that “wise people will listen to other people who have different opinions and experiences than they do”. This is true for all people, regardless of race. We should be those who care about the truth, not identity politics.

A second flaw in this thinking is that it assumes that all black people speak with one voice. This is demonstrably not true. One would think from watching the news or scrolling through social media that all people of colour think exactly the same and have the same story to tell. There is a word for it when people make wholesale assumptions about someone based only on the colour of their skin—it’s called racism. Thus, I would dare say that those who promote the specific silencing of white people are perpetrating the very racism they claim to denounce.

When someone says we should listen to people of colour, I want to come back with, “which ones?”

How about Larry Elder?

Or Voddie Baucham?

Or Samuel Sey?

Or Thomas Sowell?

Or Monique Duson?

Or David Webb?

Or Darrell Harrison and Virgil Walker?

Or Lil Wayne?

All of these people, and countless others, have a differing perspective than the mainstream media does on issues related to race. One would suspect that this would be perfectly fine, since people are entitled to their opinions. One would also suspect that this would be completely expected, since not everyone thinks alike. Yet it is still surprising to many, and abhorrent to some, that not all people of colour are on the same page.

If you haven’t watched any of the videos I’ve posted, take 30 seconds to watch this one:

What this clip demonstrates is that discrimination exists not only across races, but across ideologies. Ayanna Pressley, the speaker in this video, is categorically excluding people because they do not see things as she does. Or, more accurately, they do not see things as she demands they do. Her premise is essentially that marginalized people groups should all think and desire the same things. This is insulting and prejudicial to those who disagree with her line of thinking.

Why is it that when someone challenges the mainstream narrative, they are rebuked? If you are white (as I am), you must be racist. If you are a person of colour, you are a betrayer to your own people. (There are other words used but I won’t repeat them here.) Or, maybe, you are just an independent thinking person and not a pre-programmed robot based on your particular convergence of race, gender, sexuality, and the like.

Let me circle back to the beginning. What does all of this have to do with Christianity? I would argue three things.

First, we are people who care about the truth. From a biblical perspective, truth matters. More poignantly, the truth will set you free. We should not adopt a cultural worldview based on lies and half-truths that are twisted to fit a particular agenda. It is the devil himself who uses deceit to manipulate people and bring destruction. We desire for people to live godly, fulfilling lives. In order to do that, truth must prevail.

Second, we should love people. When you call someone insulting names because they do not see things as you do, you slander them. Slander is also a tactic of the devil. When the poisonous tongues of some lash others into silence or obedience to the cultural demands of the day, they are living out a demonic strategy rather than one from God. If we are to love people properly, it means treating them with dignity and respect. It means we should listen to them an engage them as an individual made in God’s image who has unique experiences and perspectives.

Third, we should not endorse an anti-Christian agenda. I shall likely write on this more in the future, but the current cultural conversation around race issues is laced with Marxist ideas that pit people groups against one another and foster division, hatred, and violence. As Christians, we should not look to the world to understand racial reconciliation. We have the Word of God. The Bible ought to instruct our thinking about these issues more than anything else, yet the world rejects God’s wisdom. Why should we turn to the world for answers to problems of sin? That’s insanity. We must cling to the worldview laid out in Scripture and believe in the power of the gospel to bring peace to our world one soul at a time.

On Racism and the Christian

I am trying to walk out the principle of James 1:19, which says “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” After much reflection, listening, and prayer, I feel it is time to speak.

Let’s begin with the obvious. Racism is a damnable sin, as I have written about before. I hope and trust this statement is no surprise to you. As a follower of Christ, racism falls into the category of hate for others and partiality, both sins in Scripture. We are called by God to love others, even those unlike us. On this point, I hope all Christians can happily agree.

However, this is not the end of the story. We are living in times when the basic definition of racism is being changed. Racism is no longer simply treating others as less-than because of the colour of their skin, it has morphed into something much more complex than that.

Enter the idea of “systemic racism”. Systemic racism differs from “basic racism” in a few important ways. (I use the term “basic racism” to mean the traditional or simple definition outlined above.) A few key differences:

  • Basic racism is largely individual; systemic racism is collective or social
  • Basic racism is easily identified; systemic racism is more difficult to define
  • Basic racism flows from any race to another; systemic racism only flows one-way

Let’s take a minute to examine these concepts individually.

Individual vs. Social

Basic racism occurs when someone is treated less-than because of the colour of their skin. For example, Lexico.com defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.” From a Biblical perspective, racism is a form of prejudice or favouritism. James 2:1-12 strictly forbids favouritism, classifies it as a “sin” that springs from “evil thoughts”, and demonstrates that it is breaking God’s law to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Granted, that passage uses a rich/poor example rather than race, but the principle applies the same.

Systemic racism, on the other hand, is more nebulous. Systemic racism focuses on societal structures that are based upon, and reinforce, racist ideals. It does not necessarily require the presence of a specific racist, specific victim, or specific act. It can exist apart from these things because it is built into the system and structure of society, so much so that we hardly even realize its presence.

Easy vs. Hard to Identify

For the reasons above, basic racism tends to be easily identifiable, while systemic racism is less definable. For example, if a white man calls a black man the N-word, it’s not hard to point at that and say “that’s racist”. On the other hand, systemic racism is hard to identify because it can exist without any specific qualities of racism being present. For example, a black man can be struggling to make ends meet, and one can simply point to “systemic racism” as the cause, even apart from any identifiable racist person or act.

All Can Be Racist vs. Only Some Can Be Racist

A final distinction is that anyone can be racist in the “basic” sense of the word. A white person can be racist towards a black person, and vice versa. In fact, a person of any race can be racist towards a person of any other race, in any number of combinations of races that exist on planet earth. This is because racism is simply treating someone else poorly because of their skin colour; thus, racism is an equal opportunity sin.

But not so with systemic racism. In systemic racism, only those who are considered to be the beneficiaries of the system can be racist, because racism implies the use of power over others. Thus, for simplicity sake, in Western culture only white people can be racist, while other minority groups can’t be, because they are the ones on the losing end of the system.

Systemic Racism and Critical Theory

This is the current thought-structure being forwarded by the culture. The question is, should a believer in Christ adopt it? Many would criticize me for even attempting to answer the question, since I am a “white man of privilege in North America”. Who am I to judge the system I benefit from, they might argue. Yet this is precisely the problem with this line of thinking. Allow me to explain.

The concept I am attempting to outline here is known as Critical Theory. Critical Theory is a form of Marxist thought that can be described as a worldview. It essentially works like this…

Step 1: Single out a sphere of life.

Step 2: Identify differences of outcome in that area.

Step 3: Divide those who are doing well from those who are not into separate groups.

Step 4: Assume that those who are doing well are oppressors and those who are not are oppressed.

Step 5: Attack the oppressors and empower the oppressed, thus toppling the system.

Sound familiar?

In terms of racism, the idea is basically that white people are the oppressors and black people are the oppressed. This is the one-size-fits-all explanation that details why black people are killed by police, stuck in poverty, and treated as outsiders, while white people benefit from their white privilege and knowingly or unknowingly support a system that keeps them on top.

Does this line of thinking correspond to reality? Is it biblical? I believe the answer is nuanced.

On one hand, there is at least some merit to the concept of systemic racism. It is without a doubt that the country in which I live (Canada), as well as the United States, has a history of white people trampling on other people groups through use of force. At least some of these injustices have had attempts to be addressed (such as land treaties, emancipation, etc.), and it is up for debate how successful these efforts have been on the whole.

On the other hand, Critical Theory paints with such a broad brush that it fails to take into account many other important factors, such as generational gaps, group subculture, integrity, and work ethic. As a simplified illustration, even in a society where there exists a perfectly equal playing field in terms of opportunity, there will always be a difference in terms of actual outcome. The success of a person might be far more tied to their character and the fact that they bust their butt in school or at work than it is to the system they exist in. It is possible for those who are handed an easy path in life to ruin it by poor decisions, while another person is born into hardship and fights their way out of it.

The point is that Critical Theory is only, at best, an oversimplified partial explanation. It is, at worst, a disgusting and hateful ideology that is centred more on lies, victimhood, and revenge than on truth and justice. I believe I can see both at play in the culture at large.

My main point is this: life is complex. Circumstances are unique. People are individuals. It is just as wrong to use a generic outline such as Critical Theory to explain the world around us as it is to function as a literal racist on basic terms. Critical Theory, taken to its most extreme, says to all white people “you are guilty and complicit whether you realize it or not” and to all black people “you are oppressed and a victim whether you realize it or not”. These are not true, at least in any universal sense. To accuse all white people as being “part of the problem” may very well be tantamount to breaking the ninth commandment, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). It also strips the perceived victim of any personal responsibility.

We are guilty of sin when we make assumptions of others in these matters. The very justice we are seeking itself can become a gross injustice when we divide people into groups and ascribe to them wholesale moral qualities. Naturally, any believer in Jesus should want to see justice in this world. When a case of injustice arises, we should seek to rectify it. But what we cannot do is ascribe to people groups generic accusations that fail to take into account the details. This is not judging with right judgment.

If we are going to move towards racial reconciliation in any meaningful way, then we must care about the truth. Sometimes the truth does not fit our own agenda or worldview. Sometimes the truth is nuanced. Sometimes only God knows the truth. But we cannot live by half-truths and trample over those who desire a more accurate perspective. This goes for all people on “both sides of the issue”.

I would like to close with this. Again, I am writing primarily to believers. Do you believe 2 Timothy 3:16-17? That passage says:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

What I mean is, do we believe that Scripture has the answers? Is it sufficient to equip us for good works in this world? I believe that it is. If you are found confused by these issues and the worldviews presented, bring it back to the basics. Cherish the gospel. Know that Christ changes hearts. Love people. Show grace. Treat all fairly. Forgive. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. If you allow God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to guide you, you have all you need to live a life honouring to God.

An Appointment With Death

Now that things are opening up on the downswing of COVID-19, my schedule is starting to quickly fill up. All of the appointments that were skipped or canceled because of the pandemic are now being re-booked and each day is getting busier and busier. Doctor, dentist, haircut, bank, school —you name it—appointments are back and all of our calendars reflect it.

Yet there is one appointment that was never cancelled to begin with and won’t show up on our calendars: our appointment with death.

We don’t like to talk about death. It’s a subject that makes us too uncomfortable. This is understandable emotionally but irrational logically. Each one of us is going to die. That is an absolute certainty. So why do we avoid thinking about it? Why do we secretly pretend like it isn’t going to happen and keep our mind occupied with other things?

I wonder if our theology of death is weak. You don’t have to be a Christian to know that death is coming for you, but you do have to be a Christian to know that death is an appointment on our calendar. By “appointment” I mean it is a fixed day and time that somewhere in the future our path will cross with, and then we will die. Until then, however, death is no threat.

Consider it from the vantage point of Scripture. Reflecting on the unborn baby within the womb, the Psalmist also sees in the creation of life God’s destiny for each person.

Psalm 139:16

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. 

I don’t know if God has a literal book (ie. calendar) that he writes the number of our days in. I do, however, believe that God has literally predestined us to live a certain number of days on earth. Once that number is full, we die. Such a truth makes death no less predictable from our earthly vantage point, but makes death completely predictable from a heavenly one. Before we are even born, God set our appointment with death and nothing we do can change it.

Understanding that God is in control of our destiny ought to bring us great comfort. It means that the responsibility to prolong our lives is not ultimately in our hands. It means that before we reach our appointment with death, we are untouchable. We will die when God chooses for us to die and not one day sooner. It should allow us to live our lives responsibly and without paranoia. When we get in our car, we should put on a seatbelt. But if we die in a car crash, that is in God’s hands. We should wash our hands and limit exposure to germs, but if we catch COVID-19 and die from it, that is in God’s hands.

Until you reach your appointment with death, you can’t die. The sustainer of life will ensure it. Nevertheless, it is wise to be ready for that day to come. It could be today, or it could be decades from now. Either way, put your faith in the one who can save your soul and rest in the fact that your destiny is in his hands.

Acts 16:31

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

On M.A.G.A. and the Desire For a Better Country

Make America Great Again.

Donald Trump’s famous slogan is just as divisive today as it was when it first premiered almost four years ago. There are a lot of points to debate:

  • What does a great country look like?
  • Who is the one to get us there?
  • What steps need to be taken for improvement?
  • Was America ever great to begin with?
  • How do you define “great”?

Yet the genius of the slogan is that it speaks to a desire we all have: that things would be better than they are right now. Deep down we all know the world is not as it should be. We long for a brighter future and to leave a better world behind for our kids to inherit. This kind of desire for a better country is understandable, admirable, and good. I would even argue it is noble and godly.

Yet here is the catch: for those of us who are believers in Christ, what is the proper way for this longing to express itself? What is the appointed end of the better country we are looking for?

My fear is that many Christians have fallen into the trap of trusting in politics to bring us closer to the better country we all desire. I believe that Trump succeeded in tapping into that longing for a better country and used it for political means. To be clear, I am neither endorsing nor dismissing Trump as president. I really don’t care either way. But I am very much interested in the psychology behind the success of MAGA and how it plays into our spiritual lives.

In case you really don’t grasp what I’m getting at, consider it in the context of God’s people from the past and their own desire for a better country.

Hebrews 11:13-16

These all [the followers of God listed in chapter 11] died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. 

Notice the emboldened phrase. God’s people, both past and present, have always desired a better country. They have always longed for a homeland where God reigns over all and his just rule stretches from border to border. The difference, however, is that the saints of old understood that longing to be heavenward, and I think far too many present-day saints are looking merely to accomplish these things on earth. The desire is right, but the fulfillment is askew.

I’m not a political analyst. I don’t want to be. But I am a pastor and spiritual leader, and I can’t help but see more and more believers being drawn into politics in ways that seem unhealthy. Politics has its place in this world, and Christians have their role in it. But we simply cannot drift from engaging in politics to trusting in politics. There is a massive difference. The former is valuable and good, the latter is idolatrous and wrong. I cannot judge the human heart. Only God can do that. But I certainly have my concerns and I don’t think they are unfounded or exaggerated.

Here are a few questions to reflect on:

  • Do you get more fired up talking about politics than you do spiritual matters?
  • Do you feel defeated when the “wrong” politician is elected, or the “wrong” law put in place?
  • Do you think that you could fix the country if only people would adopt your ideas?
  • Do you find yourself looking up and saying, “come Lord Jesus”?

To some extent, we are all probably guilty of thinking of these matters in a worldly fashion. Yet we cannot allow this to happen, because what the world really needs is the gospel of peace and light of hope that comes from Jesus Christ. Sadly, we know that this world is broken beyond human repair. We can never fix it. Thus, we set our eyes on a heavenly country that will fulfill the longings of our hearts and we can finally be home.

Never forget that we are “exiles on earth”. We are strangers passing through a foreign country. Our passport may declare a physical nationality but our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). May we take the longing for a better country and cause it to fuel our faith in a future that is eternal and secure, a place where we will never again think “it shouldn’t be this way” but rather, “this is what it always should have been like”.

When Should Christians Engage in Civil Disobedience?

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly raised some interesting questions for churches and Christians. Not only are there obstacles to the mere survival of some churches (via financial loss or difficulty in maintaining an online presence), many congregations have struggled with how to obey Scripture’s command to gather together as believers in the midst of a government that is mandating social distancing protocols. Most local churches have largely taken one of three approaches: online services, modified gatherings (like drive-in church), or straight-up disobedience to the government and gathering as usual. A number of churches have made headlines for holding services when told not to and there have been charges laid and arrests made.

We could debate wether the government is overreaching in these orders or not. That’s not the point of this post. I do, however, want to ponder over the question, when should a believer willingly break the law? What does the Bible have to say about this?

The Default Mode

We should start by taking the stance that Scripture overall supports obedience to local government. A number of passages could be referenced, the most direct and thorough of which is Romans 13:1-7,

[1] Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. [3] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. [5] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. [6] For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. [7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

This passage is all-the-more powerful when one remembers that it is spoken of in the context of the tyrannical Roman Empire, which was known for corruption, a lack of accountability, and a general disdain for religion. Even in the midst of that, Christians are exhorted to obey the government, pay their taxes, and just generally be good citizens.

Jesus himself also refrained from challenging the government, even when baited to do so (Mark 12:13-17). The New Testament as a whole encourages a posture of obedience to the government, even going as far as to pray for those in power over them (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Examples of Civil Disobedience

Given all of this, one might assume that it is never ok for a believer to break the law. But such a position lacks nuance, as there are a number of incidents in Scripture where God’s people disobey civil authorities and are commended for it.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew midwives refused to follow through on Pharaoh’s orders to kill all the male children they deliver (Exodus 1:15-17). Daniel refuses to pray to the king and is thrown into the lion’s den for his disobedience (Daniel 6). The three Israelite servants will not bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue and are cast into the fiery furnace as a result (Daniel 3).

In the New Testament, the disciples on more than one occasion are told to stop preaching the Word of God and are jailed and beaten as punishment (Acts 4-5). They reject the orders of silence on the grounds that they ought to obey God rather than mere men and continue their public ministry anyways.

In Summary

Thus, there must be at least some instances when disobedience is warranted. Though relatively rare, these instances seem to be in the categories of (1) forced idolatry, (2) stopping evangelism, and (3) direct involvement in the murder of innocent people. I say “relatively rare” because these situations are rare in the Bible and for the most part in Western Society; however, they are not so rare in the wider scope of world history or even in current areas of the world today.

So let’s bring this home. Should churches disobey the government amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and more importantly, do they have biblical justification for doing so? My take is no and no. Although it does concern me that the government has the ability to shut down churches at will (since I fear that power being abused in the future), I do think there was a valid purpose for doing so. The government was not trying to stifle Christianity or the gospel, and Christians can still make use of other means to continue to share the message of Christ. Additionally, these lockdown orders are temporary, not permanent law. As far as I can tell, it is an unfortunate situation all around but not necessarily one that should call for Christians to break peace with the law and willfully disobey it. In short order, things will begin to return to some sense of normal and gathering as God’s people will once again be an available option. Until then, churches should continue to make wise use of technology and prepare for a future that is going to be full of all sorts of other pressing questions.

5 Tips for Families Stuck at Home

Many of us are stuck at home in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. This has made things pretty challenging for families with young kids. I’m in the throes of this too! How can we make the most of these weeks at home, without going completely insane? Here are a few ideas for you.

#1 Lower your expectations

Life is not as usual, so our expectations shouldn’t be either. When people are facing difficult times, we tend to be more lenient on them. Don’t forget that this is hard on your kids just as much as it is hard on you! Your younger children simply won’t be able to express it as clearly as you or I can. We know that our elevated tension is coming from being stuck at home too much, losing personal space, and just being at each other more than normal. But our children aren’t mature enough to understand or articulate that, so try to relax your expectations. If they spend more time than usual in front of a screen—oh well! It doesn’t make you a bad parent. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Be realistic about things.

#2 Get outside every day

A lot of fun places to go are no longer accessible, but just playing in the yard or going for a walk or a drive is still an option. Try to do at least one of these every day. You’ll be amazed how much some fresh air and change of scenery will do. Where I live, people are putting up Easter eggs in their front windows so families can drive around the city on a scavenger hunt. Great idea!

#3 Start thinking long term about school

It is likely that school is done for the year. It’s time for parents to start thinking about homeschool. You might have no experience with homeschool either as a teacher or student. That’s ok, just make an outline and then experiment with it. An idea is to create a daily schedule to follow from Monday to Friday, so that there is some consistency and learning still happening. Kids need structure, and so do we. Sketch out something that generally reflects a school day, but with more flexibility and less need for prep on your end. You can even post it up on the wall of your living room. Something like:

  • 9:00 – 9:30 Math sheets (google your child’s grade and print them out)
  • 9:30 – 10:00 Free time
  • 10:00 – 10:30 Reading
  • 10:30 – 11:00 Recess outside
  • 11:00 – 11:30 Colouring / drawing / painting / craft / music
  • 11:30 – 12:00 Free time
  • 12:00 – 12:30 Lunch
  • 12:30 – 1:00 Science (You can use Youtube videos like this or this.)
  • 1:00 – 2:00 In your room quiet hour (do whatever you want!)
  • 2:00 – 2:30 Phone a friend
  • 2:30 – 3:00 Life skills (bake something, do laundry, play “store” and count money etc)

Then just call it a day. Let them use the iPad or watch TV so that you can get some other stuff done. You can create any structure you want! Just try and see what works for your family and adjust as needed.

#4 Remember, your kids are watching you

Our children are paying more attention to us than we realize. This is a good chance for us to demonstrate to them that peace and hope come from the Lord. If our children see us obsess and panic, they will intuitively believe that they should too. But we can show them that even when things are difficult and scary, we can still know that God is in control. This is an important season to influence our children, because they will remember how we handled this. Our best teaching moments are how we act in the face of challenge.

#5 Have family church

Is it weird? It is awkward? Is it hard? Yes, yes, and yes! But having family church on Sunday morning is a great way to show our kids that church is important. If we wait until service resumes again at our church buildings (which could be weeks or months away), we imply that worship only happens in a location. We also imply that it’s basically an optional thing we do only if it is convenient. Commit to having church as a family on Sunday morning.

Here’s how we have tried it at our house. We start our “service” at a specific time. I assign a job to each child. My oldest daughter is our “worship leader”. She picks songs that we normally do in Sunday school and have a dance & worship party in our living room. The songs are available from Right Now Media or Youtube, so we play the video on the living room TV. Next I will read a passage of Scripture, something short and simple from a child-friendly translation of the Bible. I might ask one question about it and have a brief conversation for a minute or two. Then we bring up the Bible story videos from Orange that our church sends out each week. We watch the video and take another minute or two to discuss it. Then, my son takes up an offering. We donate the money to someone who can use it (this is separate from my own monthly offering to the church). Last, my wife will close in prayer. That’s it! As an added bonus, we open the “Cafe” (our church has one normally) and I’ll take orders from the kitchen for a drink and a snack. The whole thing lasts about 20-30 minutes. The adults can watch the online sermon video later on.

Again, you can tweak and experiment with things as needed. It will be pretty crazy the first few times you do it, but remember, we could be doing this for a while, so just start with something and modify as you go. You might just find a formula that works well for your family.

Good luck parents! We are all in this together!

The Super Easy Guide to Voting for Christians

We sure know how to complicate things, don’t we?

When it comes to politics these days, things are a big, hot mess. It is unfortunate that many Christians are being sucked into that mess without seeming to have any unique voice or perspective on the matter that differs from that of the secular world. Christians should engage in politics, yes, but we should do so differently than unbelievers.

The Bible has a lot to say about our engagement with secular government. Actually, check that—it really doesn’t have a lot to say, other than a few overarching principles. You could probably point out 10-15 direct passages that address the matter. And that is precisely the beauty of God’s word on this issue. It doesn’t overcomplicate things. The Bible doesn’t get super-political because it doesn’t need to, and neither do we. We can come at this from a different angle than everyone else.

Here are a few big-picture things the Bible has to say about this subject:

1. Pray for government officials…so you can chill out

I bet most people never pay much attention to the second part of that passage. Here it is in total:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

The Bible doesn’t just tell us to pray for those in authority, it also tells us why. It is so you can “lead a peaceful and quiet life”. When I look at the way the world handles politics, it is anything but peaceful and quiet. Unfortunately, Christians don’t often seem much different. I’d be willing to bet it is because we don’t actually pray about these things. We argue and fight about them instead, just like everyone else. That’s a shame, since God’s desire is for us to lead peaceful and quiet lives that come from trusting God in all things, including our governing officials. We seem to really be failing in this matter miserably.

2. Vote your conscience

I won’t quote the whole passage, but Romans 13-14 is where this principle is drawn from. There is no political party that perfectly embodies Christian values. Therefore, Christians should weigh the options against Scripture, pray about it, and then vote according to their conscience. This means that Christians will come to different conclusions regarding the same issues, and that is ok. That is literally the entire point of Romans 13-14. Where there are grey areas, we are to act according to our conscience, encourage others to do the same, and leave it to God to sort that out. We are not to judge or look down on a brother or sister because their conscience dictates they vote for the party you oppose. “It is before their own master that we stand or fall.”

Read. Educate yourself. Mull things over. Pray about it. Discuss with other thoughtful people. Then, vote what your conscience tells you to, and let other people do the same. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

3. Leave the results in the hands of God

We are ultimately not in control of human history. God is. We say that all the time as Christians, but we don’t always act like it. In the end, it is God who raises people to power and brings them down.

“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21)

And, he doesn’t always raise up the most “wholesome” people. It was God, after all, who said “I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people. They will march across the world and conquer other lands.” (Habakkuk 1:6) The point is that God has a plan in all that he does, and his plan is not always the same as ours. He uses both the godly and ungodly alike to achieve his purposes. So if the political leader you thought was a disaster gets into power, you can know that God did that, and he has his reasons for doing so.

4. Focus more on your own personal life and God’s church

It is valuable and worthwhile for Christians to be involved in politics. It is not, however, good for believers to think anything political is the answer. To accomplish his global mission, God did not establish a government, an army, or a politician. He established his Church. The Church, made up of believers across the globe, is God’s chosen vessel to bring his kingdom to earth. Therefore, we should be way less worried with what the government is doing than with what we are doing to share God’s love with the people around us. Do we love our neighbours? Do we give generously? Do we help those in need? Do we share the gospel? Do we participate and contribute to our local churches? Do we get involved in supporting global missions? We should focus on that more, because that’s where God is working. That’s where the power is. And no force on earth can stop God’s Church.

In the end, the one thing Christians should not be doing is freaking out and fighting over politics. I don’t believe Scripture gives us that option. It might be the natural thing to do, but we are called to be supernatural people. Our hope in God causes us to live different lives, the kind that demonstrate peace because of our trust in him. I hope that we can see more of that from our brothers and sisters moving forward.

Holiness is Love

In Christianity, we have our own set of words that no one else seems to really use in any other area of society. Sanctification, anointing, stewardship, and the like, are terms that we often throw around regularly. Another one is holiness. I think we have used that word so much that we have lost what it really means. When people think of holiness, they often think of Christians who never swear, watch Pureflix instead of Netflix, can cite the Bible on demand, and withdraw at length for prayer and solitude. They might picture a monk somewhere, dressed in simple garb and free of worldly distractions while staring into the sunset, meditating and praying.

While those things might be fine and well, they don’t necessarily equate to holiness. Holiness, at its core, is very simple. Holiness is love. Or, more specifically, holiness is pure and genuine love for God and others. That’s it! We don’t have to make it much more complicated than that.

If you’re not convinced, let me take you on a tour of the Bible and show you how this idea that “holiness is love” is all over the pages of the Word of God.

…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13)

Follow the logic of Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians. He prays that they would “increase and abound in love…so that [God] may establish your hearts blameless in holiness”. Think of it backwards. How does a Christian establish their hearts in holiness? Answer: increase in love for one another.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

Circumcision was a big deal to the Jews. It was the sign that they were God’s covenant people in the Old Testament. New Testament Christians are not required to undergo circumcision anymore, but the point is that you can have all the outward signs of being a follower of God, but if you don’t have love as the result of your faith, it counts for naught. All your external religious actions may garner the praise of others, but without love, it’s a waste.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)

A similar idea is shown here in 1 Corinthians 13. You can have a mighty impressive Christian resume—miraculous abilities, impressive Bible knowledge, incredible faith, generosity, and even martyrdom—but if love is not what is underneath it all, God isn’t impressed. Other people would look at such a person and be in awe of their holiness. God thinks it’s “nothing”.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

How do you show God that you love him? Is it by years of service, or passionate singing, or fervent witnessing? No—it’s a matter of obedience. Most people would consider obeying God’s commands as seeking “holiness”, and it is. But this verse shows that holiness/obedience is really just love for God in action.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Evil could be considered the opposite of holiness. And what is at the root of all kinds of unholiness? The love of money—or, put another way, a lack of love for God and others. Lack of love leads to unholiness.

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy 4:9–10)

Once again, a lack of love leads to unholiness. Demas sinned because he lacked love for God and others (in this case, Paul), and loved the things of this world instead.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34–40)

Most would say that obeying God’s commands is the pinnacle of holiness, and that just might be true. But what it is to obey God’s commands? According to Jesus, it really just means loving God and people. That’s the whole point of the Bible.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8–10)

Again, all of the commands are really just one command, to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Why not steal? Because that’s not loving the person you are stealing from. Why not commit adultery? Because that hurts people and isn’t loving. Every command from God is really another way of saying, “love God and people in all you do”. That’s holiness.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13–14)

And again, the whole point of the commands in the Bible are to say, “love people”. Obeying God (aka holiness) means loving people.

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

Paul gives Timothy a bunch of instructions in the book of 1 Timothy. What is the point of it all? What is Paul hoping to see as a result of Timothy’s obedience to these instructions? Love. The aim of every command of Scripture is love. That’s what Christianity is all about.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12–14)

As God’s “holy” people, we should try to grow in good character qualities like compassion, kindness, humility, and the like. But “above all these” we should grow in love, since that brings all these qualities together. So, when we try to grow in holiness and the various good qualities God desires for us, we are really only trying to do one thing: grow in love.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3)

The Thessalonians had two things happening: a growing faith and a growing love for each other. That’s because these two things are inseparable from each other! It’s impossible to grow in your faith but not in your love for others. These two things are inextricably linked together.

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (1 John 2:10)

How can a Christian avoid stumbling (aka live a holy life)? Love your brother. As long as you are loving others, sin is impossible.

Here’s the takeaway point. As Christians, we are called to walk in holiness. Don’t get too caught up in the details. It simply means we need to grow in love for God and others. And how can we do that? The very first passage we looked at was a prayer to grow in love. That seems like a great place to start. Pray that God would increase your love for him and others, then go out into your life and be holy. Let that love overflow.