Jeff Christopherson on Politically Partisan Evangelicals and the Undermining of the Gospel Mission

Jeff Christopherson is an author and Chief Missiologist of the North American Mission Board(NAMB). He also serves as Co-Executive Director of the Send Institute, a partnership of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and the North American Mission Board.

If the social media experiment was intended to connect and enlighten the world, it appears to have failed, and failed spectacularly. Our social connectivity has actually produced a more disconnected, isolated and polarized society. We have become more entrenched, angrier, and observably much, much dumber. Political, cultural, and—yes—theological echo chambers have only served to exhaust any semblance of critical thinking and extinguish any light for truth. Now we have two-dimensional caricature memes encrypted with sanctioned code words that are regurgitated and reprocessed as digital graffiti and online gang colors designed only to flaunt our tribal affiliation and embolden our venomous nests.

When it comes to mission, we know our sides, but we seem to understand little else.

Square in the middle of this social morass, a hefty subset of evangelicals have staked their sacred ground. The seamless convergence of cultural politics and religious identity has provided the climate for darkness to flourish with full permission from the very people who are commissioned to bring Jesus’ light. But sadly, this isn’t a new thing. This marriage of an exterior religion shrouding an interior darkness has often been recorded throughout church history in the most shameful seasons of our past. Another chapter appears to be in order.

Here is a question. What happens to the mission field when partisan evangelicals collectively turn their missionary platforms into ideological troll farms? What happens to the mission field when our highest calling is to leverage a profound cultural angst into a vitriolic nationalism? What happens to the mission field when those with whom we disagree become cultural enemies to vanquish rather than friends and neighbors to love? What happens to the mission field when an aberrant version of Jesus is formed in our own image and weaponized online as a parochial wrecking ball? What happens to the mission field when evangelicalism’s good news has nothing to do with the gospel?

This happens:

The trajectory of the religiously unaffiliated continues to climb at unprecedented rates, while the great evangelical prize—political significance—will continue to erode.[1] Our preferred weapon of cultural engagement, politics, will, as Jesus taught, be turned and used against us in full measure.[2] The mission field has been torched by our own hand, and the utility of evangelical voting bloc will no longer be desired.

It’s a lose-lose scenario by any measure.

So, how do we clean up the toxic swamp that is today’s evangelical reputation? In light of all the public vitriol, how should we, as evangelicals, understand our own mission field?

Here are four thoughts to consider:

1 – Christian Beliefs have Public Power

The very essence of the gospel is a transference from brokenness and darkness to a heavenly kingdom. This spiritual, physical, relational and ethical miracle is God’s handiwork inside a submitted life. It is always an inside job with external implications. The very act of submission changes ‘belief’ from a theoretical noun of intellectual ascent to an active verb of obedience. So, the gospel requires a fundamental shift from ‘owning’ beliefs to ‘living’ beliefs. It is in the obedient living of our faith that spiritual power is issued.[3]

Bruce Ashford observed that, “Whatever your religion is will necessarily affect your public life. It will shape the way you do whatever political engagement you do, and if it doesn’t, then it’s not really your religion. So, for me it’s not a question of whether we should or not, it’s just the fact that it does. We should recognize that, and seek consciously for it to be Christ that shapes our engagement, rather than some false God.”[4] A robust theology rooted in the Lordship of Christ over all things compels believers to direct all of their activities toward Christ-honoring worship, including those in the political realm.

2 – Blind Affiliations Can Only Compromise Christian Beliefs

The public flip-flop of evangelicals on the importance of personal character within public office has created a tsunami of an integrity crisis within larger evangelicalism. The collective perception that public figures are held to account by evangelicals, or given a free pass, adjudicated solely on the color of the candidate’s brand is difficult to dance around. The moral inconsistency of our positions only leads a watching world to conclude that our religious convictions—the essence of our faith—is up for sale. It’s a venal dogma.[5]

Rather than clear alignment between evangelicals and any political party, Tim Keller suggested that believers should have some commonalities with both political parties but should be uncomfortable aligning themselves completely with either.[6] A blind capitulation to a political party as a play for power always leads to spiritual compromise. The Christian revolution started not with a grasping powerplay, but with an open-handed emptying of power.[7] Scarred palms are the symbols of an uncompromising kingdom insurrection. Perhaps it’s our way forward.

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Source: Christianity Today