Not long before the 2008 election, we received at the church building a copy of a DVD produced by the World Video Bible School and featuring Dave Miller of the Apologetics Press entitled The Silencing of God: The Dismantling of America’s Christian Tradition. We received the DVD from a “church of Christ” in Tennessee, no doubt a liberal one. I want to emphasize this: a church felt compelled to spend their resources to send this DVD out to a good number of churches, and the WVBS and Miller also felt that it was worth the investment of time and resources to present this DVD.
The premise of the DVD is that America is losing its “Christian values,” and Miller spends the vast majority of his time demonstrating how many of America’s founders and monuments and other representatives show a “Christian heritage.” The concern of the DVD is that we are in the midst of a “culture war,” and that Christians must labor diligently to fight that culture war to “preserve America’s Christian values.”
The material presented in the DVD betrays its Christian Americanism roots. Christian Americanism has many different features, depending on the context, but especially within the Evangelical community, it features a belief in God’s election of America, the need for America to be a “Christian nation,” and the belief that such is how America began.
Again, I would like to add that this is a feature commonly seen within the Evangelical community. I am pleased that, in general, members of churches of Christ do not entirely buy into Christian Americanism, because Christian Americanism is not New Testament Christianity.
Much could be said about Miller’s distortions of history and current situations, let alone the dangers of his presuppositions and perspective. Future discussions will highlight some of these concerns, which are quite significant.
These concerns must serve as secondary compared to the major concern:
What are we doing here in America? What is our goal? How is that goal achievable? And how does a DVD with this type of presentation, being sent out using precious resources, really advancing these purposes?
There were two quite telling difficulties with this DVD:
1. Miller copiously cites American authorities in various ways. You hear of Americans up and down, left and right, and all over the place. Yet never once does Miller attempt to justify his presuppositions regarding America being a “Christian nation” from the Scriptures. Not once does he ask the question, or even seek to answer the question, of whether America ever has been, is, can, or should be a “Christian nation,” and what such a statement would even mean.
2. The need to promote the Gospel to those in America is only brought up toward the end of the final section of the six hour DVD, and then only for a few minutes. Granted, Miller does say that it is the “#1 thing” that Christians can do to “solve” the situation, but this DVD is by no means an evangelism-minded tool.
The purpose of the DVD is to “inform” Christians about the “Christian heritage” of America the “Christian nation,” to scare Christians into taking political action to try to return America to the way it once was (at least, the way the mythical America of the past was), especially in regards to the “two critical issues of our day,” abortion and homosexuality.
Is this really a profitable use of time? Is this really the way a church should be spending its resources?
Can anyone be saved by the United States of America, its ideals, or its legislation?
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
God is quite clear about His power to salvation, and it was not Caesar. It was the Gospel. The promotion of the Gospel is all-important. It is the only way that souls can be saved.
What is the way that morals can be reformed? What is the way to “turn people back to God”? Through laws? When has that worked?
Furthermore, what is the value in extolling a particular presentation of the past that is as mythic as it is factual? Wise is the Preacher:
Say not thou, “What is the cause that the former days were better than these?” For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
We cannot turn souls back to God by re-creating eighteenth and nineteenth century America. We can only turn souls back to God by recognizing the situation we are in, recognizing what God has revealed, and promoting in word and deed what God has revealed in the midst of the people of our own day.
We can all agree on one thing: it’s not 1788 anymore, nor is it 1825, 1931, 1950, or 1985. It is 2008, for better or worse. We have moral plagues in our midst today; they did back then, too. Life has its difficulties today; it did back then, too. It is folly, according to the wise Preacher, to dwell upon the past as it if were these rosy golden days compared to the present. On the one hand, it idolizes the past into a role it never really held and it does not deserve. On the other hand, it hinders us from recognizing what we must do now to deal with the situations of now.
And what do we have now? A culture that moves too fast, having ambiguous beliefs and morality. A culture that too often forgets about God and anything truly spiritual, and seeks instead that which ultimately cannot satisfy. Is there much to complain about regarding modern culture? Absolutely. But there has been plenty to complain about with every culture that has ever existed. Merely complaining about culture profits nothing.
Neither, quite frankly, do political emphases. What can possibly be accomplished via the government? You can certainly make every sin illegal, but that does not make anyone a Christian. It does not guarantee that a single soul will be saved.
This does not mean that there is nothing to be done. There is plenty of work to do, and little of it is helped by such a DVD, and the attitudes fostered by the substance of the DVD militate against it.
Yes, we must represent the light of Christ to the world in our preaching and practice (Matthew 5:13-16). We must represent that distinctive salt, so very different from the world. We must not conform to this world but be transformed in the renewing of our mind to the image of Christ our Savior (Romans 12:1). We must know the Scriptures of God (2 Timothy 2:15).
But we must also interact with our culture. What good does it do to declare war on culture when our war is
not with flesh and blood but with the spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:10-18)? How can we possibly expect to promote the love of Christ if those in our culture perceive us to be their political enemies?
Those involved in “America’s Trilogy of Spiritual Terror,” as Miller puts it in the DVD, are not our real enemies. Satan is our real enemy. We are to show love and mercy and compassion on those who have been deceived by his schemes, for we were once no better (Titus 3:3-8). But we cannot show them love and mercy and compassion when we are demonizing them to justify ourselves.
We must understand culture in order to evangelize culture. Both Peter and Paul knew this. Peter stood up before the Jews and demonstrated to them how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the promise of Scripture in Acts 2. Paul did the same thing for Jews in Acts 13, and in Acts 17 used pagan authors to demonstrate the truth of God in Jesus Christ. Peter would not have been able to appeal to the Jews unless he knew how Jews thought, felt, and for what they hoped. Neither would Paul. Likewise, Paul would not have known how to present the Gospel message to the Greeks unless he had some understanding of Greek thought and culture, whether it was provided by his educational background or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit or both.
Does this mean that we are changing the Gospel? By no means. It is the same message, just presented differently to a different audience. Does this mean that we must accommodate to culture? Again, by no means-we must not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:1). But we must live in this world and interact with the people of this world in order to show them the love of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:10).
In this we have the example of our Lord and Savior. We did not see Him come to the earth to stand in a synagogue and condemn all those sinners and the “Jewish Trilogy of Terror” of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians. We do not see Him preach how unless they understood what God had said about two specific issues (to the exclusion of all others) and acted upon it that everything they knew would be lost. We do not see Him calling for a “culture war” against complacent Hellenistic Judaism in order to return to the “glory days” of Ezra or the Maccabeans or some other such group. No, He did none of these things.
Instead, He ate with all those nasty sinners.
And it came to pass, as he sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.
And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, “Why eateth your Teacher with the publicans and sinners?”
But when he heard it, he said, “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:10-13).
Who are the publicans and sinners? Well, in modern terms, the “abortionists and homosexuals” who are so strongly condemned in the DVD. People who know that they have sinned and that they need redemption. The religious authorities are not eating with Jesus here. They believe that they are “whole.” They believe that they are “right with God” because they are part of “God’s chosen nation” and they abhor the sinfulness of the people.
And yet they are blind-blind to their spiritual condition, deceived by their arrogance and liable to condemnation (Matthew 23, John 9).
Who did Jesus come to call? Not the righteous, but sinners. That should cause all of us to pause, because we all know in our heart of hearts that while we may not have aborted a baby or committed homosexuality, we have lied at times for our own advantage. We have held on too strongly to worldly ties, including love of country. There have been times when we should have taken an opportunity to love, show mercy or compassion, and to play the role of the neighbor, but have not done so (Luke 10:25-39, James 4:17). Whether we would like to admit it or not, we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). That is why we all need Jesus.
But it is often easier to deceive ourselves by our own “righteousness” and fall into the same trap as the well-meaning yet condemned Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14, Titus 3:3-8). We must avoid this.
Therefore, it is not wise for us to spend all of our time condemning culture, especially when we create an idyllic picture of the past that likely never existed. It is our job to point out to all men how culture deviates from God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2), and leave the ultimate condemnation to God (James 4:12). Whenever we speak about culture, we must equip those who hear with understanding so that they can more effectively promote the Gospel to people within the culture so that we may accomplish God’s ultimate end: the conversion of souls.
Toward the end of the DVD, Miller asked the question of what Jesus would be concerned about if He were to return today. The insinuation presented indicated that Miller believes that Jesus would be quite concerned about abortion and homosexuality. Far be it from any of us to presume what concerns God or what does not concern God beyond that which is revealed in the Scriptures. In Matthew 25:31-46, we see a significant element of Jesus’ concern at His return: whether or not the “least of these” were clothed, fed, visited, and the like. His concern will also be with the saved and their number (Hebrews 9:27-28). Only when obsession exists over a few specific issues-to the detriment of other issues and the big picture itself-can we imagine that Jesus’ concern would involve two moral deviancies in a sin-sick and dying world.
The tragic irony of all of this is that the World Video Bible School has also come out with a DVD entitled Searching for Truth, which attempts to guide an interested person in six lessons to a basic understanding of the Gospel and their need to obey God. If the particular church in Tennessee really wanted to advance God’s Kingdom by distributing a DVD, that one could actually profit the Kingdom. Instead, they sent out a politically charged DVD with a particular Christian Americanism perspective in contradistinction to New Testament Christianity that is hardly likely to lead any soul to faith in Jesus Christ according to the Bible. Instead, it will likely antagonize and divide without any real opportunity to show the blessings that can come in Jesus Christ.
Let us not get so wrapped up in our particular political perspective, national worldview, or anything of the sort that we forget about God’s most pressing need: the promotion and advancement of His Kingdom (Romans 1:16).
Ethan R. Longhenry