“Lesser” or “Never,” but Together: Evangelicals and the American Presidency

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Dr. Daniel Akin, President of SEBTS

Followers of Jesus find themselves in a unique and difficult situation when it comes to this year’s presidential election. Many of us see no qualified candidate for whom to vote. At present, that is my personal conviction and position, something I have been clear about on multiple occasions and through various channels. I cannot, as I currently see things, vote for either of the major party candidates. My conscience will simply not allow it, even as I consider the voting process to be a wonderful blessing and privilege we all have in America.

There are also faithful followers of Christ, many who are close and dear friends of mine, who feel they can (and even must) vote for a “lesser of two evils” candidate. This is because so much is at stake, particularly Supreme Court appointments. I can understand and appreciate and respect their position. This is a very difficult moment for all of us, and we should be both fair and honest about this reality.

The 2016 election is important, but it is too often divisive and open to unhealthy rhetoric. At Southeastern, we want to pursue the loving and civil discourse for which our school has come to be known. We know that brothers and sisters in Christ can hold and express differing positions even as they love and respect one another.

As a picture of this, I have asked two of our ethics professors, Drs. Dan Heimbach and Mark Liederbach, to share their personal positions and approaches to this timely and increasingly crucial question. They are brothers, friends, and colleagues, and they regularly show grace and respect for each other even when they have different perspectives.

Why Evangelicals Should Not Sit Out the 2016 Presidential Election

Dr. Daniel Heimbach, Senior Professor of Christian Ethics at SEBTS

The 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign season has just entered the general election period, and American evangelicals now face the repellent prospect of voting for one of the major party candidates—both of whom we think is terribly flawed and dangerous—or sitting out this election either by not voting or symbolically voting for a write-in we know has no chance. I am writing to explain why I think we must vote for one of the repellent major party candidates, and why I believe sitting it out is not what God desires. All Christians want to be Christ-like and faithful to the Word of God. But we differ sometimes on what that is. I will explain why being like Christ and following his teaching leads me to think we must not sit out this election. But I respect those who love the Word of God and reach other conclusions. The important thing is desiring to honor God and willingness to be corrected by what he says.

 God does not call Christians only to vote for political candidates who reach minimal levels of acceptability. Rather he calls us to be a good influence within real world limits (Jer 29:7), which in our case means voting for a comparatively “better” candidate over a comparatively “worse” one from among those our governing system makes available. Candidates are never sinless and some are positively wicked. But that does not make those voting for an available candidate complicit in his or her flaws.

Dr. Daniel Heimbach

Dr. Daniel Heimbach

Jesus paid taxes supporting the highly immoral Roman government occupying 1st century Judea (Matt 22:15-22). That did not make Jesus complicit in its failings and neither will voting for one of the available candidates in this election, even though both are flawed and dangerous.

I think sitting out this election is a version of the mistake Jesus warned not to make in the parable he told about a field of wheat mixed with tares (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43). In that parable Jesus addressed how Christians should live in present society, and he warned against taking an all-or-nothing approach toward bettering life in common with unbelievers. The field represents mixed society under present world limitations (Matt 13:38). And, while God plans a perfect world to come (Matt 13:41), he does not make Christians responsible for reaching that perfection. Rather, for now, he only wants us to be a good influence while accepting present world limitations that are far from ideal. We are wheat, not tares. But we must accept living in mixed society with them and not weed them out (Matt 13:29-30).

We can strive for better candidates in the future. But in the 2016 Presidential race, that process is over. Our major party candidates are selected, and now all we can do is promote or undermine which is elected. Whether we vote in this election or sit it out, we must realize that whatever we do will affect the outcome. There is no option with no impact at all. Now the only way we have of influencing this election for the better is to assess which candidate is less flawed or dangerous, and then to vote for that candidate. I believe that is what Jesus expects. I believe that is what he would do in our place. And I believe that is the truest and best way to please God in this election.

Why Evangelicals Should Exercise Conscientious Objection in the 2016 Presidential Election

Dr. Mark Liederbach, Dean of Students and Professor of Theology, Ethics and Culture at SEBTS

When it appears neither of the two candidates running for president provides a positive option, questions abound about the proper way for Christian to think about voting.

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Dr. Mark Liederbach

There are some who would make the case that it is better to vote for the “lesser of two evils” candidate. Otherwise the chance to advance an agenda may be lost, or more negatively stated, the opportunity to slow a decline would be wasted.  Such a position is not the same as mere pragmatism, though it is possible to construe it as such. Giving the benefit of the doubt to right-minded Christians taking this position, we should understand that there is a genuine desire to honor the Lord by using the gift of a meaningful vote to promote good or limit evil.

On the other hand, there are those that would make the case (including myself) that there comes a time when a person’s conscience will simply not allow a vote to be cast for either candidate. This position is sometimes critiqued as a form of misguided “perfectionism” in which the voter refusing to choose one of the two leading candidates is afraid of being complicit with evil. Critics will then point out that in a fallen world everything is tainted by evil, thus a demand for such “perfectionism” is not simply unrealistic of any candidate shy of Jesus himself. When taken to its logical extreme, such an argument would make life unlivable.

I beg to differ.

While it can be argued that the “lesser of two evils” choice is sometimes necessary, such a decision assumes that only option A or B has value.  It also assumes that a clear “lesser of evils” can be determined.

But there is a third option, and it would be wrong to describe it as “throwing away a vote.” That third option is called “conscience.”

A choice to follow conscience arises when the two presented options both have such evil positions, platforms and legacies that a voter cannot in good conscience support either one. In that situation the voter can still choose to go to the polls and vote for other offices (Senate, Governor, etc) with a clearer choice, while abstaining from voting for the particular office that offers up wretched candidates (in this case President).  Such a decision can be good and wise because it honors the right and privilege we are granted to participate in our governing process while also having the backbone to say: “The time has come when I cannot face my Lord with a pure heart by voting for either of these candidates.”

In this particular election, one candidate is in the midst of likely corruption and supports an agenda that includes abortion, gender confusion, legalized euthanasia and legalized marijuana. The other has built a life on the back of gambling, pornography, bigotry, divorce, abortion and amassing a fortune by preying on the poor.

These two evils don’t seem to have a clear “lesser.”

One can support a party platform (if the voter thinks one has long-term benefits) by voting for other offices while simultaneously abstaining from voting for one of the two most wretched candidates in history.  There are times when conscientious objection grounded in an ethic of worship is the more responsible choice.  I believe this election cycle is one of those times.

A position that argues “Never Hillary & Never Trump” may not be popular, but it may well be the highest act of worship a Christian can offer.

Conclusion

I am so grateful for these two men and the gift they are to our students. My hope and prayer is that this is a model for all those who live together under the Lordship of King Jesus. We can lovingly and graciously express our views, even when we disagree, and then join hands as we continue about the business of fulfilling the Great Commission until King Jesus returns! In all of this we must remember and never forget: our hope is not and has never been in a president. It is in a King.

Scott Kellum: What is the New Testament Canon (Part 4)?

[Editor’s Note: This is the final post (originally appeared on Aug. 10, 2012) in a four-part series by L. Scott Kellum, Associate Professor of New Testament & Greek at Southeastern, on the New Testament canon. In this post he writes on the collection of Acts and the General Epistles and addresses some lingering questions: who “chose” the NT; can we adjust the canon? His answers provide a helpful apologetic for trusting in and proclaiming the NT. ]

This is my final post regarding the NT Canon. I am sure we will continue the conversation for many years. My prayer is that it has been profitable to the reader and, in some sense, provocative. In this post I want to briefly discuss the rest of the NT documents and clean up a couple of remaining matters.

While we don’t have all the writings of the first and second centuries, the evidence so far suggests an early recognition of the bulk of the NT canon. The following seems a reasonable description. The Synoptic Gospels were written and received rapid acceptance in the churches as the authoritative source of the words and deeds of Christ. Roughly contemporaneous with them, Paul’s letters began circulating as a collection, probably soon after Paul’s death. Shortly after the writing of John’s Gospel, the Gospels were gathered and published as a fourfold Gospel canon. This leaves the question about Acts, general epistles and the Revelation.

Most modern Christians are surprised to find out that the Acts and General Epistles generally circulated together as a codex much like Paul and the Four Gospel Codex. Regarding the manner in which the Acts and the General Epistles were gathered and published and by whom, less can be said with confidence. However, it is likely that the collection of these books was in some way related to the fourfold Gospel codex. When Luke is separated from Acts, it is unthinkable that Acts was simply set-aside without plans for publication. I think it likely that the Acts/General Epistles was published soon after the Gospel Codex with the same canonical implications.

Finally, the Book of Revelation, written in the mid to late AD 90s by the aged apostle John, circulated independently from the rest, likely due to its late production, likely after the publishing of the rest. As a result many questions regarding Revelation lingered.

There were also questions among the orthodox about 2 Peter, Hebrews, and 3 John in the minds of some. Furthermore, some highly regarded other works like the Shepherd of Hermas. In broad generalization, we can describe the questions like this: “Why is this book in the Canon” or “Why isn’t this book in?” Notice that there is an “in” that is constant. That there were questions are only natural and, in fact, reflect the ability of people to have differing opinions. The same types of questions show up in the 16th century as well. Questions in the minds of some, however, do not necessarily reflect widespread chaos regarding the NT documents.

So who chose the NT? The Fathers regarded the NT as “handed down to them.” This is the appeal of the third Council of Carthage in AD 397 and the second-century bishop, Serapion, among others and it is telling of the orthodox attitude. C. E. Hill in Who Chose the Gospels suggests (I believe rightfully) that if you had asked the early church “who chose the NT,” they would have responded, “no one.” They would have considered the question much like “How did you choose your parents?” The documents were handed down to them from the apostles, of whom, as Serapion stated, “We receive as Christ.”

Finally, there is a question regarding if we may adjust the Canon. My answer would be, no. If these were considered the New Covenant documents, then only a newer new covenant would instigate a new canon. We were right to expect a New Covenant, because the OT promised it. There is no indication in Scripture that another covenant is forthcoming. Furthermore, the New Covenant is so expansive in its scope (through eternity) that there is really no room for a newer covenant. No reason exists to expect a new covenant or new scriptures.

What if we actually found an unknown apostolic document, say, 3 Corinthians for instance?  Would its apostolic status force us to adjust the Canon? Absolutely not! Certainly such a discovery would be wonderful. However, because the Pauline collection came from Paul’s retained copies, the exclusion would not have been accidental at all, but by Paul’s choice. That fact that these are missing from the Canon says something about their origin and value among the apostles and their followers. Second, let’s not forget that as evangelicals we should trust in the sovereignty of God. Evangelical Christians may have great confidence in their NT. Let us then, as Augustine said, tolle lege (“take up and read”).

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On Christianity and Politics

Now this is a fetching discussion. In his recent “Public Square” column, R. R. Reno reflects upon the reasons for Christian political involvement.[1] He begins by posing the question: “If we believe in the sure triumph of Christ, why do we allow ourselves to be drawn in to the very unsure world of political conflict?” (p. 3) In response to the question, he notes, “The Lord’s Prayer gives a straightforward answer: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (p. 3) Thus, he encourages Christians to have a “double-mindedness” about our citizenship and thus involvement in the civitas: we are citizens of heaven called to serve the King who owns final victory, yet we serve him here in this world–a world that is still groaning and thus largely (sinfully) opposed to the King’s rule. In the article, he goes on to argue that we should be politically active but only with Christ as the center of our hope; otherwise, our political involvement devolves into a sort of political pornography.

Reno’s article caught my attention for several reasons, but foremost because the winter of 2012 is a particularly good time for Christians to reassess their motivation and strategy for political involvement. As I see it, beginning in the early 20th century, evangelicals pretty much abdicated their responsibilities in many sectors of public life. They withdrew from the public realm and lost most of their ability to be faithfully present in the arts, the sciences, the academy, and to some extent the political realm. In fact, I think one of the major reasons we lost our voice in the political realm is because we did not value other related realms such as the arts, the sciences, and the academy. When we devalue or desert Hollywood (the arts), Harvard (the academy), and MIT (the sciences), we lose any sort of plausibility structure we might have had in the political realm. As a result of the fact that we no longer have any real voice in our culture at large, we have found our political “toolbox” reduced to only one tool: political coercion. And, once we have reduced ourselves to coercive activism, we have almost lost.

In light of this situation in which we find ourselves, what can we affirm about political involvement? For the purposes of this blog, I want to argue that we should focus on a broader topic: Christian cultural involvement (politics is shaped by the broader culture and, in turn, shapes culture itself). At least five principles should guide our cultural involvement. [The text below is pasted from the manuscript of a forthcoming book, Gospel & Mission, which will be released by Baker Academic in 2014.]

The first principle is that culture activity is ordained by God. God created a good world, and followed up his creative activity by giving humanity a good command to bring out the hidden potentials of his creation (Gen 1:26-28; Gen 2:15). This command teaches us that cultural activity is a fundamental aspect of human life and a way in which we image God to the world. In a fallen world, this means that cultural activity is a way that we can promote God and the gospel.

The second principle is that cultural activity is marked by a great antithesis. After the fall, humans have always lived in the midst of a great struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and Satan, and between truth and error. The invisible realities, represented by certain principalities and powers, are always manifested in visible, tangible cultural realities. The New Atheism, for example, is certainly underlain by invisible realities, but also makes itself known in tangible human culture. The atheist denial of Christ’s lordship manifests itself sometimes in a false story of science, in which we are told that Christianity historically proven an impediment to scientific knowledge, and other times in an errant epistemology, in which we are told that empirical science is the only reliable avenue for gaining true knowledge about the world. Likewise, destructive postmodernism is underlain by invisible realities, but makes itself public in philosophical treatises that deny the possibility of objective knowledge and promote moral relativism. This great struggle between light and darkness cuts across the entire creation and every human culture. Christians should resist this comprehensive assault on our shared cultural life. We should fight it tooth and nail, not only from the pulpit, but in the arts, the sciences, politics, business, education, scholarship, and sports. We should resist it in an openly and robustly Christian manner.

The third principle is that cultural activity takes place within ordered realms which have their own creational design. Human cultures can be divided into a variety of realms—such as art, science, business, politics, and education—which each have their own creational design and God-given integrity. However, because we live in a fallen world comprised of sinners, these realms will be to some extent corrupted and directed toward wrong ends. The prince of darkness seeks to hijack these realms to use entirely towards his own ends. We as Christians, therefore, seek to redirect these realms towards their proper end and creational design. To the extent that we are able to do so, we glorify God and provide our neighbors a preview of what it might be like when God rules on a renewed and restored creation.

The fourth principle is that cultural activity takes place under the absolute Lordship of Christ. This principle builds upon the others, and emphasizes Christ’s lordship over all aspects of creation and human life. Christ is the creator and King over all things, and one day will restore all things. He is not merely the Lord over my “heart” or my quiet times; he is Lord over my work, my leisure, and my civil life. He is not merely sovereign over local church gatherings; he is the Lord over artistic, scientific, political, entrepreneurial, and scholarly endeavors. No piece of our (“secular”) life is to be sealed off from Christ’s lordship. Every square inch of it belongs to Christ and ought to be made to honor him. Missional Christians not only proclaim the gospel with words, they promote it in their cultural activities.

The fifth principle is that the architecture of a truly Christian cultural mission will involve answers to at least three questions. In any given cultural realm (e.g. art, science, politics, business, sports, homemaking, academics), three questions must be asked. The first question is, “What is God’s creational design for this particular realm of culture? The second question is, “In what ways have God’s designs for this realm been misdirected and corrupted by cultural idolatry?” The third question is, “In what ways can we redirect this realm and work for its healing?” As missional Christians, we should always be seeking to answer these questions, no matter which culture, or realm of culture, we find ourselves in. In so doing, we will be able to live redemptively on this earth, pointing upwards to God the King, backwards to his loving creational design, and forward to his inbreaking kingdom.

In conclusion, missional Christians do not seek to escape from their earthly existence, but to transform it in light of the gospel. “The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and a mythological hope,” writes Bonhoeffer, “is that the Christian hope sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way.”[2] Missional Christians recognize that the gospel is always proclaimed, and the Christian life is always lived, within a cultural context. Instead of chafing against this reality, we may participate in the joyful work of making working out the gospel’s implications in those cultures, allowing the gospel to critique them and bring them under the scrutiny of God’s revelation, and seeking to redirect them toward God’s design. “We await the return of Jesus Christ,” writes D. A. Carson, “the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth, the dawning of the resurrection, the glory of perfection, the beauty of holiness. Until that day, we are a people in tension. On the one hand, we belong to the broader culture in which we find ourselves; on the other, we belong to the culture of the consummated kingdom of God, which has dawned upon us.”[3] God restores his creation instead of trashing it and expects us to promote the gospel within our cultural context rather than attempting to withdraw ourselves from it.


[1] R. R. Reno, “The Public Square,” in First Things (Nov 2012), 3-7.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, trans. Reginald Fuller and others, rev. ed. (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1967), 176.

[3] Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited, 64.