If You Can Believe In God

. . . you can believe almost anything.

Struck down on Good Friday, Lincoln, like Jesus, was viewed as a martyr who shed his blood and offered a redeeming sacrifice. Orators, editors, ministers, and statesmen across the North exalted Lincoln as the “savior of his country,” and sermons two days later on “Black Easter” and subsequent Sundays frequently compared Lincoln with Washington and Jesus. While Washington was the nation’s founder and father, ministers averred, Lincoln was its restorer and redeemer. While Christ died so that people could enjoy heaven, Lincoln died so they could have a better life on earth.

In making Lincoln the nation’s redeemer, ministers had to surmount two major difficulties: first, that he was fatally shot in a theater, an embarrassingly unsanctified place for a savior during the Victorian era. The clergy rationalized his attendance at Ford Theater, arguing that he had gone reluctantly to please his wife and gratify others.

The second, larger difficulty these pastors encountered was that Lincoln had never explicitly testified to his faith in Christ. While some pastors bitterly regretted that he did not publicly profess faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord, others countered that his actions demonstrated his faith or that he had accepted Christ as his savior in response to his son Willie’s death in 1862, or at Gettysburg in 1863, or at some other unknown time.

In their funeral sermons at Washington and Springfield respectively, the two ministers who knew Lincoln best—Phineas Gurley, the pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, which Lincoln regularly attended, and Methodist Bishop Matthew Simpson—said little about his personal faith. Gurley stressed that he had an “abiding confidence in the overruling providence of God.” Simpson emphasized that the president had “read the Bible frequently, loved . . . its profound teachings,” and sought to follow its precepts. He also claimed that Lincoln had sincerely striven to live by “the principles of revealed religion” and that no other ruler had shown as much “trust in God.”

To repeat, if Lincoln why not Obama?

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Election Analysis

Two pieces caught my eye. The first is Doug Wilson’s (thanks to the always Moscovite Baylys):

1. The first principle is not just that Jesus is Lord. That wonderful phrase is our foundational confession; it is not simply a sweet sentiment to tide us over until the sweet by and by. Rather we must say that Jesus is the Lord of history, and so He is the one who gave this electoral outcome to us. We don’t fully know why He did, but we know that He did.

2. Given the wickedness of key elements in Obama’s agenda (abortion, sodomy, thievery through taxation, etc.) we know that whatever the Lord is doing, it is for judgment and not for blessing. And in Scripture, whenever judgment is pending, or has begun, the appropriate response is repentance — not mobilization or organizing our remaining tatters.

Postmillennial optimism does not mean the world gets better without repentance. It means that the gospel is powerful to save, and when the gospel is preached rightly it comes in the form of “repent and believe.” Repent of what? Repent of our sins. Believe what? Believe in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. . . .

4. Every unprincipled vote, offerred to the bitch goddess of the state on the left, or the bitch goddess of pragmatism on the soft right, or the bitch goddess of ideology on the libertarian right, was simply thrown away. Professing Christians who voted for Obama were either confusedly or rebelliously heaping up judgment for all of us. Christians on the right who voted for Romney for no other reason than that he was “electable” found out that he was not as electable as all that. And Christians who voted for absolute ideological purity (which is, remember, a form of impurity) found out that that kind of purity wasn’t in the running.

5. Consistent biblical thinking required us to be preparing to oppose the proposals of either a re-elected Obama or a newly-elected Romney. In my judgment, opposition to Obama will be much tougher, which is why I would have preferred to have been opposing Romney. But if the Lord has given us the tougher assignment, our responsibility is to take up that tougher assignment with a gladness that submits to His will.

So my predictions of a Romney victory did not proceed from support for Romney. I didn’t want to vote for Romney, and I didn’t. I didn’t want to work for Romney, and I didn’t. I was preparing myself to oppose either Obama and Romney, and would have preferred to go against Romney.

From a truly conservative source comes this from Noah Millman:

Based on exit polls, Romney has captured a percentage of the white vote comparable to the 1984 Reagan percentage. But, to look at it another way, the white vote still dominates the Democratic part of the electorate – over 60% of the Democratic vote came from white voters. Something like 45% of men will have voted Democratic. 41% of those who attend religious services weekly will have voted Democratic. If the goal is increased demographic polarization, there’s plenty of room for either or both parties to pursue such polarization.

The question is not whether you can win in the future on the basis of demographic polarization. The question is what the consequences would be – for the demographic groups in question, and for the country as a whole.

In my view, the fact that black and Hispanic voters overwhelmingly prefer the Democratic party hurts black and Hispanic voters more than it hurts the Republicans. Republicans don’t need to court these voters – these voters need to court the Republican Party. The fact that highly religious white voters overwhelmingly prefer the Republican party hurts highly religious white voters more than it hurts the Democrats. The Democrats don’t need to court these voters – these voters need to court the Democratic Party. And polarization on the basis of identity hurts the country more than it hurts either party.

Trench warfare is bad for privates – they get slaughtered going over the top – but good for generals – the front lines don’t move much, so nothing is likely to happen that will get them canned.

One way of reading between these posts’ lines is to say that Wilson’s theological interpretation is not conducive getting what (and some Christians) wants. If you continue to treat political elections like those of a synod or assembly’s moderator (as if), you going to be one of those privates who gets slaughtered in trench warfare. In other words, if you continue to conflate the kingdoms and promote Christendom, you’re actually get a politicized church and a sacralized state. Why a Reformed church consisting of members who enjoy quiet and peaceable lives is not enough, I do not know.

Baseless?

I am not in the habit of making political predictions, nor do I follow the polls or pundits sufficiently to feel comfortable doing so. But I did tweet on the eve of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare that if the President’s plan was upheld, then he would lose the November election. The reason is that the Supreme Court’s decision would energize the GOP’s base at a time when its November candidate is hardly inspiring too red meat conservatives.

Obama had no control over the Court’s decision or timing (on the eve of the election), but he has had some say in other matters that are also energizing social conservatives, such as immigration or gay marriage, and for some reason the Obama campaign doesn’t seem to worry about riling up all of those people who listen to Rush, Sean, Bill (Bennett), Michael (Medved), and Hugh (Hewitt). Maybe these guys are the smartest people in the nation. Or it could be that they are tone deaf to Red State politics.

A further indication of Obama unwittingly helping Romney came yesterday with the news that Wheaton College is joining with the Catholic University of America to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. In an interview with Christianity Today, Wheaton’s president Phil Ryken explained why despite the timing this should not be construed as a partisan political act:

Wheaton College is not a partisan institution and the effect of our filing on any political process has played no part at all in any of our board discussions on the issue. The timing of things is driven primarily by the mandate itself. Wheaton College stands to face punitive fines already on January 1, 2013, and I am welcoming incoming freshmen in two weeks. It’s already an issue for us in terms of our health insurance and what we provide for this coming academic year. Although we wanted to wait for the Supreme Court decision out of respect for the legal system, we do not believe that we can wait any longer.

I too regard this as simply the prudent action of a college administration in response to unwise federal policy. And that is what is remarkable. Wheaton College is hardly part of the Religious Right. Ryken is no culture warrior. In fact, if anything the college is as uncomfortable with the GOP as many evangelical colleges and universities (compared to the 1980s). And yet, Obama and company have put Christians, with all sorts of reasons to be sympathetic to him, on the defensive at a time when they may revert to Republican habits of vote.

Odd.

Theonomic Dreaming: President Obama Gets Religion

One of the recurring criticisms of 2k is that it denies the authority of God’s word for the civil magistrate. In some cases, the assertion is simply that the state should enforce both tables of the law. But since God’s word is filled with teaching that is binding, the anti-2k view does not lead necessarily to a narrow view of God’s law – as in only what Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. In fact, among the theonomic critics of 2k, the laws of Israel are as much part of God’s law as the Decalogue.

So, let’s see what happens when President Obama is having a quiet time (after recently speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast where he gave his testimony: “My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years”). He orders one of Max Lucado’s books sold by his former church in Chicago, where Jeremiah Wright was pastor, and begins to read through parts of Scripture on his own. He comes to the conclusion that murder is absolutely wrong and that abortion in many cases seems to be at odds with God’s law. He calls for a meeting of his cabinet to address the matter, calls the Speaker of the House about drafting legislation, and may even decide to address the nation during prime time.

Is that enough for the critics of 2k, or do they want President Obama to go farther and read the New Testament as well?

So let’s say the President continues to read the Bible daily and comes to the conviction, after counsel from nearby pastor, Mark Dever, that infant baptism is sinful. He knows that many churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, practice infant baptism. But he still believes that God’s word teaches only people who have made a credible profession of faith are eligible for baptism. So he calls another round of meetings with cabinet officials, members of Congress, and church leaders to begin to draft legislation that would prohibit infant baptism. Let’s also suppose that he gave the churches a year to stop their practices and if they did not the government would shut down all congregations that still used a baptismal font.

This scenario is not so hard to imagine since Presbyterians in Scotland and Northern Ireland experienced from Oliver Cromwell the kind of repression that President Obama might visit on Reformed churches if he got evangelical religion. According to Crawford Gribben, The Irish Presbyterians Puritans:

In May 1653, the English elite decided to remove the leading Presbyterian ministers and lay families [from Northern Ireland] by force to a remote part of Ireland. This plan, the goal of which was described as sending Presbyterian “to hell or Connaught”, was so breathtaking that it was never actualy carried out. Leading Catholics were removed instead.

The fact that this plan was adopted by leading Irish Independents shows the betrayal that existed at the heart of the Puritan alliance. . . . These Puritans believed that, with the end of the Stuart monarchy in the execution of King Charles, the fourth monarch was being swept away, and would be replaced by the millennial kingdom of God.

The Fifth Monarchist vision of the kingdom was grounded in Old Testament law. They believed that the coming kingdom . . . would see the restructuring of civilization. All over the world, nations would be brought into submission to King Jesus, who would govern them with a “rod of iron”. The evidence of his rule would be that the nations would abandon their old laws, and be governed instead by the laws of the Bible . . . . English policy in Ireland was governed by this type of millennial interest. (pp. 101, 103)

Is this the kind of magistrate that anti-2kers want? Is this the kind of eschatology that anti-2kers affirm? If they don’t, how do they distinguish between a magistrate that enforces only part of God’s word and one who follows Scripture in everything, both national and ecclesiastical policy? I know I have raised this point in other ways before. But it does seem mightily selective to think that magistrates need to pay attention to sexual sins but need to mind their business when it comes to liturgical infidelity.

Can you really have a godly magistrate without having a ruler with powers that restrict the church? Is it really possible for the separation between church and state to apply only to the first table of the law and not to the second also? If Israel is the model, and if Old Testament Israel was biblical – duh – then those questions would seem to answer themselves.

Has President Obama Been Reading the Baylys?

Sometime ago, to ridicule two-kingdom theology even more, the Baylys ran a post on whether the resurrection has any public policy implications. Apparently, Obama took the bait and issued remarks at the White House Easter prayer breakfast that outlined the implications of the resurrection for civil society. (By the way, how do you spot the difference between a religious and a political prayer meeting? Depends on whether they are serving eggs.)

Obama said (thanks to Touchstone):

I can’t shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter’s meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ’s sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.

For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world — that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.

We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.

And such a promise is one of life’s great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs — by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.

It’s not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered — by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.

Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging — watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.

“Father,” He said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God’s children.

So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption — through commitment and through perseverance and through faith — be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.

To borrow a line from Tonto, who is this “we” and “us” to whom President Obama refers? Does it include Jews, Buddhists, and non-Christians, does it merge Mormons into generic Christianity, and does it speak for Roman Catholics and Protestants? This is the sort of universalism in which civil religion always traffics if Christianity is going to serve a religiously plural society.

And what of the theology behind these remarks. As much as I like the priority of the forensic, when Obama says that redemption makes for virtuous character, for the president grace simply seems to be the door prize for contestants who don’t live up to be good and decent folks. People rightly faulted President Bush for trivializing Christianity when he used it in public speeches. Obama may be more eloquent but he is just as guilty of taking something that is sublime and holy and reducing it to having us all get along. Getting a long is a good thing. Christianity is profounder than that.

And yet, if Obama were on the right side of gay marriage and abortion, I suspect readers of the Baylys would be happy to see such policy implications of the resurrection.