I would like you to imagine, if you will, a tall woman with raven black hair, a full, sensuous mouth, a glint in her eyes, an over-topped bustier, a short skirt, and thigh-high leather boots with heels and lawn tops, and I desire that you would also imagine that this woman has just written a scorching (and very convicting) blog post on why millennials are leaving the church. Or perhaps why young black couples are abandoning white evangelicals. Got it? Something Joy Behar would like us to feel really bad about.
Having gathered up the gist of that edifying word picture, you are at liberty to try to get it out of your mind somehow.
Now I would like you to conceptualize a very common evangelical response to this kind of convicting pronouncement. That fetal-position reaction is what I would like to call evangeliguilt, with thanks to my son for the coinage. You use Twitter as a means of praying on the street corner, asking for God’s forgiveness for your iniquitous complicity in countless micro-aggressions. You ache for your brothers and sisters in the disadvantaged areas of our nation, who are unable to afford, as you are able to afford, any extra espresso shots for their Venti mocha cookie Frappuccino. You have wept for countless hours, or so you claim, over the fact that your great-grandfather used to say nigger toes instead of Brazil nuts, and yeah, he shouldn’t have, about which more below, but your countless hours of weeping aren’t fixing anything back in the 1920’s and they are making quite a number of contemporary things worse. So yes, he talked in ways he really shouldn’t have, and he was still a better man than you are.
Evangeliguilt is a lust that wants to grovel, a lust that needs to crawl. When someone backhands you, there is this craving desire that wells up from deep within that aches to bestow false authority on some false teacher, the one who is berating you with false accusations. Here is one passage (in the Bible and everything) that talks about an early form of this kind of ecclesiastical truckling and lickspittling.
“For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face” (2 Cor. 11:19–20, ESV).
Of course that is not the verse we quote to ourselves when we are in the middle of doing this kind of thing. No, we want to call it something else. We say that we are receiving rebukes from a faithful friend (Prov. 27:6). We convince ourselves that we are not among those who refuse reproof (Prov. 10:7). We love instruction, our rationalization goes, and we are not among those brutish louts who hate reproof (Prov. 12:1). Not us. But it is a rare spiritual vice that does not have a corresponding virtue that people can hide behind.
There is a vast chasm between the one who receives a reproof as any real Christian should (Prov. 13:18), and the man who is trying to atone for something by receiving accusations, and adopting them into his soul. That chasm represents the distance between Heaven and Hell. There is a profound distinction between a lust to grovel that demands to be gratified and a lust to preserve your pride that needs to be mortified. We are living in the midst of a generation of recreants who have confounded the two.
Make some distinctions, people. Jesus told us to bear it when someone strikes us in the face (Matt. 5:39). Paul rebuked the impudence of another set of people for putting up with people striking them in the face. Make some distinctions. Has this become a rant? I suppose you could say that, but I am typing with my fingers, not my fists, and there is no spittle on my screen.
Let’s Get Trump Out of the Way:
Someone is no doubt muttering that I am going to take up a defense of Trump next. No, not at all. Trump is a fornicating blackguard, and he doesn’t understand the economics of trade wars. So no, no defense of Trump. The only thing I would say, relative to that gentleman, and I would say it as I turn to the gallery of evangelical leaders scolding him, is that he is a better approximation of a man than they are. This does not mean that he is as good as he thinks. It means that he has dragged the bar pretty low, and that all of our leaders who are crippled with evangeliguilt—not a few—still can’t clear it.
We are being made to deal with a whole raft of made-up sins, or with genuine sins that used to be committed when your ancestors were sowing their wild oats.
“The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this and every country but his own” (The Mikado)
The pride that fosters self-accusation lies at the heart of all this. You are guilty for being male. You are guilty for being white. You are guilty for being upper middle class. You are guilty for being better looking than you have any right to be. You are guilty because of your stinking privilege.
C.S. Lewis nailed it, as he so often did, when he tagged zero sum thinking as the philosophy of Hell.
“The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses.”
This is the iniquity of socialism. This is the evil of feminism. This is the rot of egalitarianism. And because it is driven by envy, all of it, it is the kind of lust that demands, commands, grasps, and accuses. But there is a corresponding lust—the lust to have demands placed on one, to be commanded, to have graspers wrench things from you, and to be accused. The game wouldn’t work otherwise.
In order to resist temptation properly, we need to understand what it is we are most likely to be tempted by. And what we tend to think is the reverse of the real problem. Our biggest actual threat is usually the opposite of what we think we are being tempted by.
“The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”
And so it is that we have a generation of evangelical pencil necks manfully resisting the temptations that they suppose afflicted Tamerlane, Cecil Rhodes, and Genghis Kahn. Their temptation is actually to give away the store, that bequeathed store being a Walmart the size of Rhode Island, and they think their temptation is to become an aggrandizing robber baron. Their temptation is to give macro-apologies for micro-sins, and as time goes on, the apologies have to grow bigger and bigger, while the sins concerned get smaller and smaller.
The cause of all this—despite that moniker evangelical—is failure to understand what the gospel does. Nothing ties a Gordian knot the way generational sin does, and nothing cuts through that kind of knot the way the gospel does. But it has to be the gospel, the kind that brings no condemnation in its train, and not the kind of “gospel” that brings in craven desires on the part of nice, respectable people to win the applause of the world.
One of the reasons why there is such resistance to the recognition that Scripture teaches that it is a sin to be a soft man is that in evangelical circles we want to be led by soft men and, as it turns out, soft men want to lead us. The KJV gives us a rendering of two distinct sins which the ESV folds into one.
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind” (1 Cor. 6:9, KJV).
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” (1 Cor. 6:9, ESV).
But the sin of male softness, what Paul calls being among the malakoi, can operate in hetero spheres as well as anywhere else. Metrosexuals are malakoi. The guy who rents a dominatrix for a lunch hour session is a malakos. The one who, without any examination, grants moral authority to every demand for an apology is a malakos. And no, the meek are not malakoi. The meek will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). Again, we must make distinctions.
Back to the Brazil Nuts
When people talk about the kind of thoughtless and patronizing rudeness that whites used to rain down on the heads of blacks, I can add my voice to the testimony. Nobody is making it up. I grew up in segregated schools that were then forcefully thrown together, over the objections of white Christians. I knew about the resultant white flight, and how many private Christian schools started. I remember the black lawn jockeys. I remember black babies being referred to as pickaninnies in casual conversation. I heard people I knew and respected referring to black people in disparaging ways, not because they were personally trying to disparage anyone, but rather because it was embedded in the language of the time. The structures of that time really were racist. I for one am not yearning to bring back those “good old days.”
But what happens when you try to deal with sins of this nature through hyper-sensitivity? Instead of dealing with it through the gospel of absolute grace? What you do is cast out one demon, and you get seven others, far more terrible and worse. You get what we are dealing with today.
These people that I am referring to, these casually racist people, would not have tolerated for one minute the slaughter of 13 million black children in the name of some hallucinated constitutional right. They would have defunded Planned Parenthood for resurrecting the sale of black flesh—it seems markets for human bodies are okay provided the victims are babies, and you kill them first. The thing that this evil generation needs to get through its thick head, and thicker heart, is that these casually racist people, warts and all, were far and away our moral superiors.
The Gospel in Oak Barrels, Smoky and 150 Proof:
The gospel is not mass-produced beer, looking for all the world like a lemonade in a can, named something like Maiden Aunt. The gospel is not some foofy little umbrella drink, delivered to you poolside. The good news of salvation has a kick to it. We should learn to take in the gospel the same way we take our whiskey, which is to say, straight. If the gospel were a whiskey, it is the kind that will loosen your teeth.
Christ is the incarnation of the one true God. He took on a human body so that He would be able to die, and He wanted to be able to die so that He could die as a propitiation for the sins of His people. God took every vile thought, word and deed that was ever committed by any of the elect, placed them all on Jesus, and poured out His holy wrath on Jesus because Jesus was completely identified with those sins. God imputed all our sins to Him, and then He imputed Christ’s righteousness to us. Christ died, was buried, and rose again from the dead, and He did not do any of this so that you could continue to feel bad about whether the deceased chicken in your sandwich had a sufficiently happy life.
So in order to grasp this gospel, we have to grasp the fact that Almighty God is the only one with the authority to define sin. We do not get to define sin. Whenever we try to define it, it is so that we might try to steer and manipulate fellow sinners with our ginned up and manufactured sins. But trying to manipulate people with imaginary sins is a sin, which means that it is something God told us not to do. It is not a sin to drink beer. It is not a sin to have had racist great-grandparents. It is not a sin to believe that women should want to be wives and mothers. It is not a sin to work hard and make money. It is a sin to make up sins. It is also a sin to clutch at historic sins after God has forgiven them.
Justified Means No Condemnation:
The death of Jesus means that God intends to put the world to rights, and it means that He intends to do so from a platform of sheer, unmerited, unearned, absolute grace. He straightens everything out after the pronouncement of not guilty.
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31, ESV).
If you want racial reconciliation, you have to start with forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the pinnacle we appointed to climb. Forgiveness has to be the foundation we build from. If you want men and women to reconcile their long grievances with each other, you have to begin with forgiveness, you have to start with pardon. The very first step is the no condemnation stage. If you want rich people to stop being supercilious and snooty, you have to offer them an absolute pardon first. If you want the downtrodden to stop being envious, you need to begin with an offer of absolute pardon.
There are people who, at this stage of gospel offers, become very worried about moral order. They might be kind people, but they are kind Pharisees. Won’t people take advantage of this? As Luther once put it, let them.