Author archives: Owen Strachan

Christianity Is Neither Left nor Right,” Part 2: Re-envisioning Conscience Issues As Discipleship Issues

by Owen Strachan

September 1, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on the  Center for Biblical Worldview page. Part one of this particular series can be read here.

Many of us have heard for years now that politics is nothing more than a jump ball. Because Christians inevitably disagree over political matters, we should simply ascribe those disagreements to differing consciences and move on. But as it turns out, our convictions matter tremendously. Elections have consequences—sometimes terrible consequences, as we are now witnessing in Afghanistan after the U.S. military’s withdrawal and the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country.

We cannot blink this dreadful situation away. What we can do at present is retool and reload as Christians. We can remember that faithful biblical figures like Esther, Joseph, and Daniel walked faithfully in fallen times. While not swearing unquestioning allegiance to any political party, we can train the next generation to reject the bankrupt “neither left nor right” philosophy. We can do so by lining out several core considerations.

As I will show in this article, numerous matters have been classified as conscience issues when they are actually discipleship issues. Although there are various gray areas in the Christian faith that the Bible does not directly address, the following (often politicized) principles are not gray areas—they stem from the clear teaching of Scripture. Our approach to different candidates and bills may vary to some degree, but our approach to these biblical realities cannot, and it is clear biblical truth that should shape who and what we support in the days ahead.

Life

The Bible is ardently and unequivocally pro-life. It tells us that God created humans in His own image (Gen. 1:27) and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Ps. 139:13-14). It gives us a powerful example of an evil ruler putting children to death and doing so in order to destroy Christ, the incarnate King, in his infancy (Mat. 2:16-18). Christianity is not unclear in the least about protecting babies from the hideous evil of abortion. This is a major priority for us and must be going forward: to do all we can to support candidates and policies that will oppose and ultimately defeat abortion.

For a deeper explanation of how the Bible supports the personhood of the unborn, see FRC’s resource Biblical Principles for Pro-Life Engagement.

Religious Liberty

In Matthew 22:21, Jesus says these monumental words: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This statement undergirds the essential nature of the church. The church is not ruled by Caesar, but by Christ. By extension, Christ’s words teach us that Caesar must do all it can not to encroach on the God-given spiritual jurisdiction of the church. Caesar did not shed his blood for believers; Christ did. In practical form in the public square, this means that government must recognize the need for religious liberty, for citizens to pursue the worship of God without the violation of their conscience. Religious liberty is thus of major importance. In our time, though, it is imperiled. Christians need to support candidates and policies that back religious liberty and will protect our freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech. If these forms of liberty are compromised, all others will eventually be compromised as well.

Property Rights

The Bible tells us in the eighth commandment, “Thou shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). There is much more embedded in this simple directive than we might initially think. If you cannot steal, that means you need to respect your neighbor’s property and possessions. You might think you have a right to them, but you do not. Christians must stand behind candidates and policies that recognize the sacredness of the individual and the individual’s role in broader society.

Limited Government

Jesus was an advocate of appropriately bounded government. (Think about it: the only perfect human backed limited government!) The God-man taught his hearers that God was due worship, and Caesar was due taxes (Mat. 22:20-22). Jesus threw down with this statement, in reality. The Roman emperors not infrequently viewed themselves as divine. But only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was real; all others were just pretenders. From this starting point, we do all we can in a fallen world to back candidates and policies that rightly limit government jurisdiction to its appointed ends. The government is constituted by God to bear the sword, intimidate evildoers, and bring in appropriate taxes in order (by extension) to carry out responsible public works like infrastructure. There are gray areas beyond such mandates, but the Christian is called from a careful reading of Scripture to track with Christ and support a limited government that doesn’t overstep its God-ordained bounds.

Biblical Sexual Ethic and God-Defined Identity

The Bible begins, in social terms, with a marriage in a beautiful garden ceremony, the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:21-25). Out of the gate, Scripture exalts the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman. It never wavers or shifts from this starting point (Mat. 19:5-6). Nor does it shrink back from showing and declaring the wrongness of homosexual and extramarital sex, gender-bending, and forming one’s identity according to one’s unredeemed lusts and impulses (Deut. 22:5; Rom. 1:18-32). Christians should support candidates and policies that advocate for the biblical sexual ethic, recognizing that we are free to back non-Christians in the public square who agree in broad terms on these matters.

True Biblical Justice

Today, justice is corrupted. As I have covered elsewhere, so-called “social justice” is not about encouraging true equality (often called equality of opportunity) but a false one (often called equality of outcome). Social justice seekers often end up opposing private enterprise, traditional society, and the free market.

A society driven by social justice will end up with no justice at all. Our judicial system, for example, will judge people in reparative terms (softening sentences due to an offender’s tough background, for example), not moral terms (holding them to account for their actions). Biblical justice is impartial, moral, retributive, and anchored in the character of God himself (see Lev. 19:15; Ps. 82; Rom. 4-5). Christians should stand with candidates and policies that advance true impartial justice, not social justice, and this includes both justice in our own country (in the courts) and also foreign policy that will, we pray, yield some measure of justice and opportunity abroad.

The Free Market

The Bible supports the payment of workers what they are due (1 Tim. 5:18). It emphasizes hard work, thrift, wise investment, the multiplication of resources, and cheerful giving (Prov. 6:10-12; 12:11; 13:4). Christ himself taught the parable of the talents, a spiritual lesson that depends upon the reality of exponential growth of the value of tangible resources (Mat. 25:14-30). In sum, the free market is supported by the Word of God, which frames all economic activity in theocentric (God-centered) and ethical terms. In history, the free market has been an incredible engine of flourishing, lifting whole countries out of poverty when embraced and allowed leash. Christians should line up behind candidates and policies that encourage the free market.

Conclusion

Probably the first response some readers will have is this: “I agree with you on these principles, but I struggle to find viable mouthpieces of my Christian convictions.” This is an understandable response. We are not in a perfect world. We Christians have no perfect political candidates before us. Different parties and movements fail in certain respects. Further, Christians not infrequently are catered to in the runup to elections and then forgotten once candidates take office.

But I submit this: we have two duties. We must oppose what is evil. And we must stand for what is good. The Lord does not expect us to form a perfect Christian political party, nor find perfect political candidates. The Lord expects us to do the best we can with the hand we are dealt. We should do everything we can to oppose policies of corruption and evil. We should do everything we can to promote biblical truth in the public square and back candidates and policies that come the closest to aligning with our convictions.

This will never—I repeat, never—be easy. It will always be messy. It will often be frustrating. But it is necessary, nonetheless. We have no guarantee of saving America; we know our identity as believers is ultimately the new heavens and new earth. But until we can put that zip code on our envelope, we must be salt and light in this place and in this season (Mat. 5:13-14).

Like Esther, we have been placed here for such a time as this. 

For further consideration of how Christians should think about politics, see FRC’s resource Biblical Principles for Political Engagement

Owen Strachan is the author of Christianity and Wokeness (Salem Books). A Senior Fellow with the Center for Biblical Worldview at FRC, he is Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary and hosts The Antithesis podcast.

Christianity Is Neither Left Nor Right,” Part 1: Why This Phrase Is Misleading

by Owen Strachan

August 11, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on the Center for Biblical Worldview page.

It is a phrase so common today in evangelical circles that you barely notice it anymore. “Christianity is neither left nor right.” Thoughtful people say it. Unthoughtful people say it. Many say it, but hardly anyone evaluates it. It’s an important question, though: is this phrase true?

Before considering its truthfulness, we need to consider how the ubiquitous “neither left nor right” claim is used. Typically, we hear it a great deal come election season. Instead of getting entangled in partisan politics, many Christians lamenting the divisiveness and mean spiritedness of the season choose to opt out entirely. Regardless of whether they are right or wrong, “neither left nor right” seems to give them an out.

The same is true of some pastors and Christian leaders. Instead of wading into hard issues that can be controversial in churches, a good number of pastors today use “neither left nor right” to disentangle themselves from the entire shebang. They’re not there to win an election, after all; they’re called to preach the Word and help the church fulfill the Great Commission.

In one sense, this is a commendable instinct. No one should want a politicized church where the gospel is sidelined for a worldly message. No one should embrace the hijacking of a pulpit. The church truly does have the highest calling: to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20). Preaching the truth of God from the 66 inerrant books of the Bible is the fountainhead of this grand vocation. Church leaders have to work very hard to prioritize this otherworldly emphasis, lest it get lost.

But a question naturally emerges here. If a church wants to honor the Great Commission, what does such an emphasis consist of, exactly? It’s worth looking at the Commission directly to remember the specific words of Christ to his disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

The eternal Son, given “all authority” by the eternal Father, issues a definitive mandate for his people. They are to go everywhere, all over the earth, and make disciples. They are to baptize these Spirit-born believers in the triune name. This is where many modern evangelical presentations of the Great Commission stop. The whole Christian enterprise, therefore, seems to be about missions and evangelism. But although the Great Commission starts there, it does not end there. Christ next unfolds the duty of transformational teaching: “teaching them to observe [or obey] all that I have commanded you” (emphasis mine).

What an explosive reality this is. It reframes all our thinking on discipleship. Discipleship is not about simply getting someone to pray the prayer, with no regard for how they will later live and think. Discipleship is about leading people into a life of grace-driven, comprehensive obedience. Every last charge of Christ, all that he has commanded, is to be followed. Nothing is too small. In Great Commission discipleship, everything matters.

What does this discussion mean for “neither left nor right”? It means that this phrase needs very careful appraisal. If everything Christ—and the biblical authors—have taught is to be observed (within a new covenant framework), then we need to recognize that Christian discipleship is not fundamentally a minimalist enterprise. On the contrary, it is a maximalist enterprise. Christ has claimed all of life. He owns the rights and has the title to the cosmos in his pocket.

Consequently, there is no part of life for the Christian that is sealed off from Christ. We are not living our own self-directed life; we are living the life given us by God for the glory of Christ. All that we have, we have from God, and we have for God. We live life coram deo—unto God. We work for God’s glory. We raise children for God’s glory. We give to missions for God’s glory. We engage in politics for God’s glory. We speak up in the public square for God’s glory. We think for God’s glory.

Yes, you read that last sentence rightly. Thinking, and building a Christian worldview from the Scriptures, is deeply doxological (meaning “glorifying to God”). Such a commitment is not driven by self—by what you and I want to believe. That is how the world lives. The Christian’s commitment is driven by God. We are called to observe all that Christ has commanded. We are not intellectual free agents with a “get out of hell” pass in our wallets. We are slaves, servants, and priests to God (1 Peter 2:9-10).

In my next post, I’ll explore the implications of these truths. The preceding discussion is all groundwork for what is to come. In that post, we’ll look at several issues that show us where Christians line up biblically on different matters. For now, though, it is enough to remember that believers do not opt out of hard ethical, theological, and political issues. We do not have the option of obeying some of what Christ has commanded. Further, we cannot find our identity in the world, nor in staking some sort of holier-than-thou middle ground that will mean no one dislikes or disagrees with us. We have a charge from God. We must holistically obey the teaching of Christ and the biblical authors, all of them inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is not optional. This is a mandate.

Where Scripture speaks, we listen. Not only that: leaning on the grace of God, we obey.

Owen Strachan is the author of Christianity and Wokeness (Salem Books). A Senior Fellow with the Center for Biblical Worldview at FRC, he is Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary and hosts The Antithesis podcast.

Opposing Modern History’s Most Persistent Bad Idea: 5 Ways Marxism Is Influencing Us Today

by Owen Strachan

July 21, 2021

Karl Marx’s ideas continue to be popular, despite the fact that a 100 million body count and an unmatched catalogue of misery follows them like a funeral procession wherever they go. Like the NFL coach who has only failed wherever he’s gone yet somehow keeps getting jobs, Marx’s ideas never work but remain perennially popular for the young and the naive. This is sadly true today; we can clearly identify how a Marxist framework is influencing our society, and decidedly for the worse. 

As I do in greater depth in my brand-new book, Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel—and the Way to Stop It, I want to show in this short piece how neo-Marxist ideas are harming us all. Here are five key neo-Marxist formulations that are influencing us today.

1. “You are an oppressor if you are white.”

Marx structured all of society in terms of two groups: “every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes,” he and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto. He applied this theory economically, but today, his paradigm has been appropriated by some sociologists in their attempts to explain racial conflict. According to Critical Race Theory (CRT), white people are structurally oppressors of people of color. Having white skin means you’re automatically part of a movement of oppression. This vision of “white” people, racial Marxism, means neo-Marxism is truly neo-racism.

2. “You are oppressed if you are a person of color.”

According to CRT, people of color are fundamentally oppressed by white people. People of color do not live in a fair and prosperous order; they live in an environment framed by “white supremacy.” Robin DiAngelo defines such a culture as one “that positions white people and all that is associated with them (whiteness) as ideal.” According to woke voices, this condition terrorizes people of color, leaving them without agency, without justice, and without hope. Instead of teaching people that their freedom and destiny are in the hands of “white” oppressors, we do better to teach them to reject such a view, and take agency in their own life. Can “white” people wrong others? Absolutely. Is every “white” person a “white supremacist”? Absolutely not. 

3. “The way forward is revolution.”

Marxism talks a big game about lifting people out of squalor. But none of its tenets actually dignify the individual. Instead, Marxism denies the uniqueness of the individual, making them a mere pawn in a broader societal battle, one that ultimately causes only more suffering for the people it supposedly strengthens. The brutal forms of societal change that Marxism specializes in were on vital display last summer, when under the banner of social justice, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and many swept-up citizens destroyed businesses, ruined neighborhoods, and caused numerous deaths. No gentle new order, this. But what else would we expect of a Marx-influenced movement?

4. “I know who you are without knowing you.”

Marxism trains people to think they know others without knowing them. If you see a white person, you know who they are, according to wokeness. You know they’re privileged; you know they’re guilty of “white fragility”; you know they’re an oppressor, even though they may well try to deny it. Racial Marxism is just like economic Marxism: it tells us we know people without knowing them. But this is baseless. In order to know someone, you need to learn about them as an individual and figure out what makes them tick. You can’t run a stereotype scan on them. You need to treat them like an actual human being, which the humane system of redemptive Christianity not only allows for but encourages.

5. “We can achieve utopia in this life.”

This is truly the primary reason why Marxism continues to recur despite its abysmal track record. People are suckers for a utopian vision. As I make clear in Christianity and Wokeness, we all feel pulled to one in some sense, even though Christians should know that this world is not going to become perfect outside of divine agency. Nonetheless, Marx’s ideals, like leftist “progressivism” more broadly, hook fresh generations of catch all the same. People in the West continually believe, in fresh cycles, that Marx’s ideas will surely work this time around. That mythic boost never happens, however. Violence and bloodshed invariably explode, and yet this formulation continues to get traction in each generation. It is a repeat performance as comedic as it is tragic.

In sum, Marx’s vision looks so promising to so many. But it is far better to realize that Marx’s utopia is not possible. It would be a much better idea to accept a world in which one must make and accept “tradeoffs” rather than casting about for a perfect cure-all to every problem that ails us. If we could get people off the drug of paradisical statism, we would help them tremendously, queueing them up to appreciate the free market, free speech, free governments, and a free church. In yet simpler terms, we would liberate them—at least for now—from the clutches of history’s most persistent bad idea: Marxism. 

Owen Strachan’s recent interview about his new book on Washington Watch with Tony Perkins can be viewed here.

Owen Strachan is a Senior Fellow for FRC’s Center for Biblical Worldview. A graduate of Bowdoin College, Dr. Strachan is the author of Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel—and the Way to Stop It, Provost of Grace Bible Theological Seminary, and host of The Antithesis podcast.

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