My wife and kids gave me a new wallet for Father’s Day this year. It’s leather and has my initials etched into the front. When you open it, Proverbs 28:1 is engraved on the inside.
“The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
I love Proverbs 28:1, and I’ve said many times I hope to live my life in such a way that it would not be untoward for this Scripture to be etched into my tombstone.
For a New Testament equivalent, I think of what the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:6-7.
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
On this question of boldness and timidity, I want to talk about an article from The Gospel Coalition sent to me yesterday by my neighbor two houses down, JP Chavez. Titled ‘After Roe, Choose Compassion over Culture War,’ the article is written by a James Forsyth and was published Tuesday. Let’s go ahead and read through it, and think through it together.
The central question to my mind here is whether “compassion” strictly speaking is the best word to describe what American Evangelicals urging an end to festivities already are really after. Could such actually be a euphemism for a spirit of fear – specifically a fear of man?
I think so.
Really, now – if this is not a time to celebrate, when would be? And what is being alleged about those who have been fighting for years and for decades for the abolition of abortion in this country? They did so from selfish motives, and cared more about winning the Culture War than they did compassion for hurting people. This is not just, and it is not true. In fact, it’s a kind of slander and bearing of false witness which I take personally and deeply resent.
Also, why do those who are offended right now get a pass on their own feelings of anger or despair, even while those celebrating have aspersions cast on them?
Consider also Proverbs 11:10.
“When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices,
and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.”
But will we shush even the Scriptures here so long as someone can call what is being described therein a “Culture War”?
That is to say that the Supreme Court decision last Friday went well with the righteous. Therefore, it is appropriate for the city to rejoice – i.e., to celebrate.
So also and inversely, a cause célèbre of the godless in America suffered a major defeat concurrent to the victory of the righteous last week. Legalized abortion may soon perish as a result. Why then this unnatural chorus from TGC and the likes of James Forsyth telling us all not to shout with gladness?
I think here of what the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The not just muted but even muting response from too many American Evangelical establishment types like James Forsyth is related to our general abandonment of two key categories of profitability which Paul references here – namely, reproof and correction.
That is, the kind of Christianity favored in the mainstream in our day is too convenient. It is designed to cater to the Zeitgeist. It is purpose-built to affirm the status quo instead of challenging it or calling it to repentance.
In its dogged insistence on positivity and encouragement, this kind of Christianity prefers teaching and training generally. But it only likes that kind of teaching which flatters by offering psychologization of our sin. And this is what it calls compassion and love and empathy and gentleness and lowliness.
Meanwhile, this kind of Christianity strongly disfavors rebuke and direct calls to repentance of sin, except where the American Church has been a long time marinating in the notion that the chief sin of which we can be guilty and need to repent is judging between good and evil.
Put another way, the power of positive thinking has many in mainstream, establishment positions of leadership in the American Church preferring only the first half of verses like Proverbs 11:10 – and even then only insofar as we do not get into the inverse implication of references to “the righteous.” That is, to say that there is such a thing as “the righteous” implies also that there is such a thing as “the wicked” in this world, particularly in our midst.
But what can this kind of Christianity make of what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 13?
“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, 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.”
The trouble comes in this Biblical passage, and all others like it, when we reject distinctions between “what is good” and those behaviors engaged in by “the wrongdoer” – namely, the wrong that they do.
Yet distinguishing between these two categories is precisely why the righteous are celebrating the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade – because such is a big step in the direction of our nation properly categorizing good and evil again.
The wicked are naturally upset about this. They don’t particularly care for being told what they do is wrong, or that they should stop, or that they will be made to stop, or that they will suffer negative consequences if they refuse to stop. So they say it is not compassionate to tell them they’re wrong, or to tell them to stop, or to threaten consequences. And when they say such things, they reveal still more about their attitudes and affections, as well as why they are rightly called “the wicked.”
Or how else can the governing authority do justice? Can the governing authority do justice if we are all muted in our belief that there is any such thing as wrongdoing, or that evil should be both curbed and punished?
For that matter, where an institution markets itself as ‘The Gospel Coalition,’ how can there by any “good news” where there is not also a clear and accurate explanation of the preceding bad news that we would need saving from?
It is precisely because of our awareness of the bad news that the good news is in fact received by us as good. But if there were no such thing as wrongdoing, we might be very confused by what Paul writes to the church in Rome. We might suppose the governing authority bears the sword merely for decoration and ornamentation, or for old-time’s sake.
Yet Paul clearly says the governing authority “does not bear the sword for nothing” because, correctly interpreting the double-negative and solving for X, the governing authority does bear the sword for something! And that something is nothing other than defending the innocent against the privations and predations of the wicked and corrupt.
But if the governing authority bears the sword to protect the wicked even as they prey on and shed the blood of the innocent, that is the gravest of injustices. And if an end being brought to that long-standing trend is not to be celebrated, then I don’t know when we ever would celebrate anything at all.
For an apropos counterpoint to Forsyth’s muted prescription at TGC, consider Kevin DeYoung’s excellent entry at WORLD – ‘When Roe was overturned.’ In it he posits a hypothetical in which Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa commemorated the destruction of the Death Star by engaging in a lot of painful introspection and hard questions about whether they were any better than Darth Vader and the Empire. And wouldn’t A New Hope have been so much the better a film if they’d had a theological struggle session to replace the open cheering and subsequent award ceremony for the heroes of the Rebel Alliance?
DeYoung is of course being sarcastic to make an important point to a hard-headed people because it’s madness and folly and an injustice to those celebrating the end of Roe v. Wade to shame them and allege that they lack compassion and care only about the Culture War while at the same time giving only sympathy and downplaying for hardline, stiff-necked proponents of infanticide offended that five decades of Roe v. Wade have now finally come to an end.
Men like Forsyth here will shush us, saying we still have a lot of work to do. And they’re right about that last part at least! But a lot of the work we still have to do involves rectifying the one-side and truncated gospel of positive thinking, self-talk, therapy, and the stubborn insistence that only encouragement is Christianity, but correction and rebuke are not.
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I listened to a sermon Sunday, the Minister said we need to be quite and careful in our response about the reversal. His tone and words shocked me. Then I sought out other sermons online and couldn’t believe that some didn’t mention it or seemed to be treading lightly as to not offend pro choice church members. I got a little sick and sad.