Looking the Horse of Grace in the Mouth

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In the cartoon, looking a gift horse in the mouth is the way of wisdom. As a default pattern for responding to the grace of God, it leaves much to be desired.

As promised, I want to continue my discussion with Scott Aniol over the issues surrounding what it means to Christianize a nation (Christian nationalism), or a group of nations (mere Christendom). Scott reviewed my book, and I responded to that review. Naturally, this prompted him to answer, and here I am once again, grinning sheepishly. And also, in case you missed it, my friend Jared Longshore made a contribution here. My only warning is that if you click on all the links, you may learn something. In addition, on this very same theme of mere Christendom, I would recommend that you check out this interview of mine over at the Babylon Bee that just dropped yesterday.

What Christian Consensus Means

I will start where I believe there is simply a misunderstanding or confusion of some sort. I most emphatically do not believe that we can start with a formal and external acknowledgment of the lordship of Jesus Christ. Scott says this:

As I have been stressing since the initial tweet that sparked the recent debate, the bottom line comes down to which comes first: (a) public and formal acknowledgment of Christ’s Lordship or (b) internal acknowledgement of Christ’s Lordship.

Scott Aniol, What If We Win?

While I am happy to debate our disagreements, I do have some trouble with debating our agreements. I do not believe that a public and formal acknowledgment comes first. Life simply does not work that way.

So my answer to Scott on this first point is a response that I need to divide into two parts. The first part, here, is where I believe Scott and I agree, but for some reason he doesn’t think so. But the second part, at the end of this post, will tease out an area where I think there is a true theological reason for our different approaches. I will end by challenging that baptistic assumption, which I hope to do charitably. But first, let’s emphasize the areas where we don’t need to differ.

Echoing Francis Schaeffer, I have often argued that the kind of mere Christendom that I have in mind would need to ride on the back of a broad and deep Christian consensus. This, in its turn would have to rest on the genuine (internal) faith of tens of thousands of Christian people. Now whenever you have a critical mass of genuine believers, and it starts to shift the majority opinion in any given population, there will be people who are attracted to it for reasons other than a true heart regeneration. These will be the formal Christians, the nominal Christians, and so on. They join the church because it is a good place to network with their sales team. That does happen.

But the formal external Christians are the free ride Christians. They do not build Christian cultures, although they are certainly willing to live in them. The Christians who build robust Christian cultures, societies, structures, universities, and so on, are always the Christians who really mean it. Good King Josiah was a good king, and we celebrate his reign, but his reforms did not long survive his death because they were simply top-down reforms. Lasting reformation has to come from the heart, and large numbers of genuine believers have to be involved.

And so the pattern will look something like this. 1. True Christian evangelism, hot gospel preaching, church planting, apologetics ministry, and the planting of other Christian institutions (like colleges, publishing houses, and such); 2. Unbelievers of various sorts are attracted to this, and for various reasons. Some grow up in it, some like living near Christians for assorted reasons, others are simply opportunists, and so on. The true believers (who supply the real energy) and the nominal believers (or go-alongers) supply some additional after-the-fact support; 3. The society overall confesses that they are a Christian people. This confession is like all societal affirmations—a mixed bag. The 1892 SCOTUS decision that determined that America was a Christian nation (Holy Trinity v. the United States) was a decision that was made possible by boatloads of robust Christian churches filled with real Christians, along with other boatloads of unbelievers who had a thin grasp of what being a Christian even was. We have the same breakdown today—Christians who are going to Heaven when they die, and Christians who answer to that description whenever Gallup asks them a question.

But I believe that I made this really very plain in my book.

“So we are in the grip of our folly. Folly has us by the throat, and no one can breathe. Now a fool can be saved from his folly, about which more in a minute, but a fool cannot evolve out of his folly. There is only one way out. Nothing will serve but a new man.”

Mere Christendom, p. 249.

“At the same time, when this cold, very cold law is resurrected in the body of Christ back from the darkness of the tomb, it comes to us as burning love. And this is why the message must be cold law and hot gospel”

Mere Christendom, p. 252.

“The reason there can be a hot gospel is because in the cross of Christ, the hot wrath of God was poured out upon Christ, and He took it all onto Himself. The word propitiation refers to the fist of the Father, striking the Son, so that you might be struck down in Him and raised again to life in Him. ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2) . . .This is gospel, this is grace. This is forgiveness and cleansing. This is the foundation of a mere Christendom.”

Mere Christendom, p. 257

The words at the tail end of that last quote are the last words in the book. “This is gospel, this is grace. This is forgiveness and cleansing. This is the foundation of a mere Christendom.” Now I can understand why Scott, not sharing my postmill faith, might believe that this isn’t going to happen. But it most certainly is what I believe is going to happen, and it is utterly inconsistent with how Scott understood and represented my views up above. The foundation of a mere Christendom is NOT an external, formal acknowledgement of anything. You cannot have the fruit without the tree.

Okay, Okay. A Little Postmill Exchange Couldn’t Hurt

In his first response, Scott said that there wasn’t the slightest hint in the New Testament epistles that we were supposed to Christianize the nations. I responded with a series of texts, and Scott answered by pushing the fulfillment of those texts past the Eschaton. Thus far, all we have is an illustration of the power and authority of paradigms. As the saying goes, what my net don’t catch ain’t fish.

But let me give a brief exegetical explanation with regard to one of the passages I used, that being Romans 15:12. That is, I would like to explain why I think Paul’s citation of Isaiah in his letter to the Romans is pertinent to this discussion.

Keep in mind also that I regard the master key to all such passages to be the Great Commission. Jesus told us to disciple the nations, to baptize them, and to teach them obedience to everything He commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). I read all the New Testament passages that regard the conversion of nations in the light of that mandate. That being the case, I see them as being fulfilled prior to the Final Coming of the Lord. This is the command He gave to us, for us to fulfill in the power of the Spirit, between His ascension and His return in glory. And if He told us to do it, then it must be possible for us to do.

But there are other time stamps as well. Take Romans 15:12 example. In Romans 15, Paul is defending his first century mission to the Gentiles. Where does he get off, going to the Gentiles the way he does? In response, he cites a number of Old Testament texts that buttress the legitimacy of what he is doing in that moment.

Christ came as a minister to the circumcision (Rom. 15:8), and so that the Gentiles would also come to Him (Rom. 15:9). Paul then quotes several passages in support (2 Sam. 22:50; Ps. 18:49). He then cites another one—Deut. 32:43. He then quotes another one (Ps. 117:1), all in defense of what he is doing in the first century as an apostle to the Gentiles. Then he comes to the passage I want to focus on . . . Isaiah 11:10, the passage about the root of Jesse.

“And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.”

Romans 15:12 (KJV)

Now what is the context of that passage from Isaiah? Here it is:

“And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; To it shall the Gentiles seek: And his rest shall be glorious.”

Isaiah 11:8–10 (KJV)

Please note the time stamp that I have so helpfully underlined. The Isaianic glory will begin to take shape, and in that day the root of Jesse will serve as an ensign for the Gentiles, as a rallying point for them. Had that day been inaugurated during the lifetime of Paul, apostle to the Gentiles? It most certainly had. It is not on the other side of the Eschaton at all.

Defending the Cheeky Bit

While Scott appreciated my tone overall, he thought I was being a bit cheeky when I described a situation in which a Baptist evangelist had led a magistrate to the Lord, and the magistrate had then asked for spiritual direction on some matter of public policy. In my imaginary scenario, I had the evangelist reply that such answers were not in his job description because “this world is not my home,” after which he then departed.

Scott objected to this, with some justification, and outlined the ways in which he would respond, answering the magistrate’s questions.

“I would show him that his authority has been given to him by God, and that when he punishes evil that harms others, he is an avenger who is carrying out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. He is a deacon of God for the good of all people, not just the people of God.”

Scott Aniol, What If We Win?

I approve of Scott’s answers, and endorse them heartily. But this is what he missed. The point of my “cheek” was not to say that all Baptists must necessarily refuse to answer the magistrate’s question. My point was that if and when they do answer the question, they are doing so as Christian nationalists.

If that newly-informed magistrate came out the next day at a news conference, and said to the cameras that he was instituting a series of reforms because God had given him authority, and that he intended to fulfill his role as a deacon of God, as outlined in Romans 13, for the good of all the people, and that he wanted to take a special moment to thank Evangelist Scott for the spiritual direction he had provided in these matters, I can tell you exactly what would happen. Even though I am not a prophet, or the son of a prophet, I can predict that the very first thing that would happen is that Michael O’Fallon would call him an integralist, the media would dub him an ayatollah, and I would text him a private message saying something like, “welcome to the high mountain air of public calumny.”

Here it is, There is no way to contradict the lusts of the current revolutionaries in the name of God without being represented as a Christian nationalist. Just get used to it. It is a phrase we can work with, unlike the other epithets we are called—such as white supremacist, racist, misogynist, and so on. Anyone who in the service of God stands in the way of these people is going to be tagged this way.

If Scott believes in the living God, as he does, and he stands against these lusts on parade, as he does, the bad guys are going to come after him in this way, whatever texts he cites. He may point to common grace, he may point to natural law, he may point to Lewis’s Tao, he may point to Leviticus, and he may point to the Sermon on the Mount. It doesn’t matter. For myself, I point to all the aforementioned texts, and I cheerfully accept the label.

Getting a Bit Personal With the Baptists

I mentioned this at the top, and now here we are.

I am not trying to get entangled in an unnecessary debate, but there is also no way to talk about these things without . . . you know, talking about them. I do believe there is a deep-seated reason why Baptists struggle with the issue of a national profession of faith. That is because they have a deep tendency to be suspicious of all professions of faith. This particularly happens with children.

Scott said this in his article:

“Credobaptists do not believe anyone should formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship until after they believe it.

Scott Aniol, What If We Win?

I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church when I was ten. I grew up in conservative evangelical and baptistic circles. I know the nominal Baptist world, and I know the world of committed believing Baptists. The more seriously Baptist parents take their commitments, the more likely it is that the passage from Scott’s article I just quoted is going to be amped up a bit.

What do I mean? I mean that credobaptists do not believe anyone should formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship until after they REALLY believe it. And there is almost always a little dark cloud of doubt hovering over that word really. Was I really born again? Did I really mean it? Am I really among the elect?

And this hobbles Baptist parents when their dutiful six-year-old comes to them and professes faith in Christ. Did he really? And so the response is one of waiting to make sure. Gotta check it out. We need to wait for more fruit. But what does this do? It helps to instill in the kid a basic hermeneutic of doubt. Instead of teaching the children to believe, which is our assigned task, we teach them to doubt, which was not the assigned task.

And before anyone writes to me indignantly, I know that there are Reformed paedo traditions that do exactly the same thing. The only difference is that they whack the poor hapless children around the head, neck and shoulders with a different sacrament. Instead of withholding baptism, they withhold the Lord’s Supper. And the reason? “We are not sure about you, kid.” Little wonder that such children develop their own set of uncertainties as well. “I thought I loved Jesus. But my parents and the elders are obviously unsure of that. I guess I should be unsure as well.” Big mistake, kid. Jesus said that adults need to come into the kingdom like children, not the other way around (Mark 10:14-16).

Baptist theology teaches everybody to make sure to look that gift horse in the mouth. They keep doing it, even when it is pointed out that the gift horse is actually the horse of grace.

And this hermeneutic of suspicion carries over to the magistrate. He professes faith in Christ. Did he really?

Yes, really. The angel said so.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

Luke 2:10 (KJV)