The End of Stubborn Piety, and a New Beginning.

“[R]ising anxiety, suicide, and deaths of despair speak to a profound national disorder….”

Donald Trump with Jerry Falwell, Jr. at Liberty University in Virginia

I just read Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why? By staff writer for the Atlantic, Derek Thompson. I find The Atlantic to be full of insightful articles, even when I don’t wholeheartedly agree with them. This article is no exception.

Thompson recalls those enlightened 19th century pundits who predicted the death of God and advances in “scientific discovery and modernity” that would lead to widespread atheism. Thompson is a skeptic, himself. While Europe has largely gone the way the pundits predicted, The United States has resisted that prognostication – at least until recently.

Thompson blames “America’s unique synthesis of wealth and worship” and “stubbornly pious Americans” for the United States not going with the flow of the Enlightenment ascent of man from the superstitious dark ages into the light of science and reason.

While the rest of the western world has been drifting away from religious affiliation, and religion altogether, the United States seemed impervious to those forces working on the rest of the western world – until recently. Things began to change in the United States in the 1990’s, and that trend continues.

The article borrows heavily from Christian Smith, a sociology and religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, for figures and figurings of the reasons why. The shift is clear, though, and the statistics bear it out, that religious affiliation and interest in religion in the United States is waning and going the way of the rest of the western world.

“According to Smith, America’s nonreligious lurch has mostly been the result of three historical events: the association of the Republican Party with the Christian right, the end of the Cold War, and 9/11.” Smith goes on to provide some explanation for how these “events” have triggered the change. He says,

“The marriage between the religious and political right …. disgusted liberal Democrats, especially those with weak connections to the Church. It also shocked the conscience of moderates, who preferred a wide berth between their faith and their politics.”

Thompson’s article got me thinking. He is right about the trend away from religion in the United States. We don’t need data to tell us that. The “nones” are increasing while the committed believers are decreasing. That these observations come from “outside the camp” doesn’t make them false.

Thompson’s explanations for the reasons why this is may be more of a mixed bag. He (naturally) views the changes through a naturalistic lens. He may be right about some of the cause and effect, but he (naturally) isn’t likely to see the more spiritual side of those things.

I “grew up” spiritually during the mid to late 80’s when the marriage between religion and the political right was consummated. I fell out of step with it, and lost track of it, when I went to law school in 1988. Apparently the honeymoon went well.

I count myself (even today) as an evangelical (though I search for a different label). My spiritual upbringing included the experience of the courting of the religious right of the Republican Party. (Or was it the other way around?)   

Law school, however, challenged even my most sacrosanct connections, and the cares and concerns of fatherhood and providing for a growing family distracted me from other relationships. It was all I could do to hold onto God during this time, and the truth is that He mostly held onto me.

Perhaps, that was a blessing in disguise, as I didn’t grow into the religio-politico affiliation that seems to characterize a large segment of the evangelical church today. I am a more distant observer of that relationship today, so I think I have some objectivity left.

I agree (partially) with Thompson’s assessment that the congruence of the religious right and the political right changed the political landscape. It also changed the religious landscape. Perhaps, more than we might care to acknowledge.

Continue reading “The End of Stubborn Piety, and a New Beginning.”

Separating the Church from Babylonian Morality in the Race Discussion

If we fall into a politically partisan conversation, the Gospel takes a back to secular politics.

The following thoughts and observations come from and are inspired by a conversation between Preston Sprinkle and Dr. Ed Uszynski. (See Episode 877: Race, CRT, and Evangelicalism of Theology in the Raw.)

Sprinkle and Urszynski are in agreement that Christians generally are doing a poor job of grappling with the issue of race in the United States. Most Christians are vocal in their criticism of secular solutions, but few Christians are really engaging with the underlying issues.

Critical Theory, CRT and Marxist ideology and terminology are fueling the discussion in the secular culture. Identity politics, systemic racism, police brutality is the language commonly used in the secular world to frame the discussion. Whether Christians are condemning these concepts or aligning with them, Christians are not offering much in return.

In the podcast, one the two men (I can’t remember which) said that we should have different language inside the Church. We should have Gospel language that addresses injustice.

“We should have a theological understanding of the concept of justice…. We should be immersed in care and concern for vulnerable populations, regardless of color, regardless of gender, regardless of background. We should be robustly able to think about what it means to care for the least of these, to watch out for people who are being taken advantage of…. That’s a biblical idea that we should be deeply immersed in theologically and biblically.”

That, however, isn’t happening in most Christian circles. People who are engaging in the conversation are engaging in it with the secular terminology and don’t recognize that we need to separate ourselves from that secular perspective. We are defining ourselves in relation to secular concepts, rather than driving the conversation from a biblical perspective with biblical concepts and biblical terminology.

Christian are either adopting CRT in church, which is the primary, secular approach, or Christians are rejecting CRT without offering a Gospel orientated alterative. People address CRT (by opposing it), but they are largely not addressing or effectively engaging the race conversation on a theological level.

“We have done a horrible job, generally, in embracing, and believing and obeying the rich theological theme of what the Kingdom of God is designed to look like and how it is designed to function in terms of its multiethnic backbone.”

Continue reading “Separating the Church from Babylonian Morality in the Race Discussion”

Distinguishing Biblical Justice from Social Justice I

Self portrait of beautiful girl in shanty town.

As Board member of the predominantly evangelical ministry, Administer Justice, a faith-based legal aid organization, I am concerned for Justice. That’s what the ministry is about.

Some skepticism is apparent among evangelicals and other conservative (or orthodox) Christians, however, about the biblical propriety of justice. To be more accurate, the concerns lie with the idea and movement that is labeled “social justice”, but the caution bleeds over into a focus on justice, itself.

Forgetting, for the moment, that a form of justice has been promoted that is divorced and disassociated from orthodox, conservative Christianity, is there any question that our God is a just God.

“His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14).

God is intimately and preeminently concerned about justice and expects us to “do justice”.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause,” (Isaiah 1:17)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

And this biblical sense of justice isn’t just limited to the exhortations of prophets in the Old Testament. Jesus was very clear in His view of justice when he said,

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others….” (Luke 11:42)

Lest we risk being counted among the Pharisees, we need to take his words to heart. We should not neglect to do justice. We should get about doing the justice God commands us to do.[i]

At the same time, the phrase, “social justice”, carries with it connotations that we rightfully consider with caution. Though we can agree on many of the evils that are the targets of social justice – hunger, poverty, human trafficking, abuse of the elderly and so on – there are some key differences we should recognize between mere “social justice” and biblical justice.

For one thing, secular social justice focuses only on the here and now; whereas biblical justice focuses both on the here and now and eternity. The secular notion of social justice that is based on “civil rights” and “human dignity” has its roots in the idea that all people are made in the image of God, but it has been severed from those roots.

Social justice divorced from the idea of a just God is “grounded” in a currently persuasive social construct created by people that is not rooted to an eternal or timeless truth. That means there is no assurance that the same construct will continue to be persuasive in 500 years, or 100 years, or even 50 years.

But it goes deeper than that. I am not going to attempt a definitive treatise of the differences. I am going to highlight some basic differences with the help of J. Warner Wallace[ii] with the hope of bringing a little clarity that will help Christians take seriously God’s call for us to do justice without getting “off the path” into the secular weeds.

Continue reading “Distinguishing Biblical Justice from Social Justice I”

Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part I

Jesus and the early church focused on preaching the Gospel and doing justice

alone sad child on a street

I am involved in a faith-based, legal aid organization that provides legal services and holistic help to people who live on the margins of our society. We call it “Gospel justice”, which is the title of a book written by Bruce Strom, the founder of the organization, Administer Justice. (See Gospel Justice)

I am aware of the skepticism with which Christians, and conservatives, generally, view “social justice”. While many Christians of the more liberal stripe (and liberals generally) embrace social justice, more conservative and orthodox Christians have learned to disassociate from social justice.

Labels, however, aren’t ultimately we are very helpful when it comes to nuanced understanding. We also have to be careful here that we don’t mix politics and the faith to the determent of the Gospel. This is true on both sides of the political aisle. Our politics shouldn’t define our faith.

We follow Jesus on what turns out to be a rather narrow road that doesn’t often follow the paths the world has beaten. Thus, I have been thinking for months about writing on the topic of social justice. I guess it’s time I do.

Continue reading “Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part I”

What Does Archaeology Have to Do with Racial Justice in Modern Times?

A new voice is rising up that is reconnecting social justice to the truth of scripture

The Dead Sea Scrolls on display at the caves of Qumran that located on the edge of the Dead Sea in Israel.

“These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord.” Zechariah 8:16-17

A major archaeological discovery was made recently in some remote caves in the Judean Desert. Among the discoveries were, coins from the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt, the skeleton of a child dating back some 6,000 years, and a 10,000-year-old exceptionally well-preserved basket. (From 2,000-year-old biblical texts found in Israel, 1st since Dead Sea Scrolls by Rossella Tercatin for the Jerusalem Post, March 16, 2021.)

These items were found in “the Cave of Horror” in the Nahal Hever area of the Judean Desert. The Nahal Hever is an intermittent stream in in the West Bank, flowing from Yatta to the Dead Sea. At the head of the stream are two caves, the “Cave of Letters“, and, further up, the “Cave of Horror“.

Though the caves are hard to access, looters have raided them over the years. Archaeological efforts many years ago netted portions of the Book of Numbers, Psalms and Deuteronomy. Until recently, people might have assumed all artifacts to be found in those caves had already been removed.

The Greek scroll of the minor prophets found at Nahal Hever may even be the most significant find to date. Some date these fragments in the 50 years before Christ, and others date them in the 50 years after Christ. We don’t really know, but scholars seem to agree that the fragments come from “an early revision of the Septuagint in alignment with the Hebrew text”.


Modern archaeological finds continue to affirm Scripture and the continuity of Scripture through the ages. Poignantly for today in these times, the discovery of the scroll of the minor prophets found in the Nahal Hever speaks to an age old theme.

The passage in Zechariah 8 quoted above was found among the fragments. From old, from ages and ages past, we find that God desires truth and justice from His people.

“Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates.”

I am reminded that God’s desire for justice and truth from His people is the same today as it was then. I think about these things after listening to the Disrupters podcast in which host, Esau McCalley, spoke to the political strategist, Justin Giboney. As they were talking about faith and politics, I realize that justice and truth continue to be priorities for God, and only the circumstantial details have changed.

Continue reading “What Does Archaeology Have to Do with Racial Justice in Modern Times?”