“Thinking Christianly” about Race, Money and Politics
Francis Schaeffer (1912 – 1984) wrote 23 books. He viewed the last book he wrote – The Great Evangelical Disaster (Crossway 1984) – published just months before his death, as a kind of theological last will and testament to those of us who had come under the sway of his teaching. This book has the feel of the last chapters of Deuteronomy (31-34) in the Old Testament to it, Moses’s farewell speech to the people of Israel, or the Farewell Discourse of Jesus in the Upper Room with His Disciples in the Gospel of John (13-17), or 2 Timothy, the New Testament letter that presents itself to us as Paul’s swan song. The totality of a teacher’s teachings gathered up and reduced down to their essence, a reminder of why the things that have been said mattered, and an argument for why they will continue to matter after the teacher is long gone. That’s what The Great Evangelical Disaster was to Francis Schaeffer, and it explains why he called it the most important thing that he wrote, and I don’t disagree. Speaking as someone who has been reading Francis Schaeffer with both real benefit and genuine appreciation since 1970 (that’s 46 years!) I think The Great Evangelical Disaster is the best “front door” into his body of work.
I mention all of this because it was in The Great Evangelical Disaster that Francis Schaeffer prophetically named the “three great weaknesses” that he observed have chronically plagued North American Christians and North American Christianity for generations – the matter of race, the use of wealth and the confusion of God with country.
First there is the matter of race, where there were two kinds of abuse. There was slavery based on race, and also racial prejudice as such. Both practices are wrong, and often were present when Christians had a stronger influence on the consensus than they have now. And yet the church, as the church, did not speak out sufficiently against them. (382)
Second, there is the question of the compassionate use of wealth… this means two things: first, making it with justice; and then using it with real compassion. (383)
Third, there is the danger of confusing Christianity with the country… we must not wrap Christianity in our country’s flag, and second we must protest the notion of “manifest destiny” that would permit our nation to do anything it chooses. (383)
Race is in the news these days because of the recent shootings of Black men by police officers in Tulsa and Charlotte, just the latest in a long string of troubling stories about race, power and violence. Money is on my mind because we’ve just entered the stewardship season in the life of the church I serve. This is the time each year when the dots between what we say we believe and value and how we spend our money get consciously connected. Politics dominates our national consciousness right now because in less than six weeks we will be voting for a new President. And Francis Schaeffer, right before he died, warned us that these are three things that we who are Americans and Christians have never done very faithfully. So, in my blog over the next few weeks I intend to do what Francis Schaeffer said we who are American Christians don’t do particularly well, and that’s to do some “believing thinking” on race, money and politics.
Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today, in his September 2016 editorial calls it “a God moment.” He explains that many Christians are spiritually “sensitive” to the way that “circumstances fall together in a way that suggests that God is at work in our lives in fresh way,” and he says that he believes that that “we are currently experiencing a new ‘God moment’” on race.
God is shining his burning light on how our nation and our churches are fractured by racial division and injustice. In the past two years, we’ve seen image after image of injustice perpetrated against black Americans. We’ve studied this ate statistics. And more important, we’ve heard the anguished cry of a suffering community that is understandably hurting, angry, and demanding progress. We see more clearly than ever how racism is embedded in many aspects of our society… (And we have to admit that) we have been slow to hear what the black church has been telling us for a while. And in all of this, we hear God calling his church to seek justice and reconciliation in concrete ways.
What he’s talking about here are what I was taught were “Kairos” moments.
“Kairos” is an ancient Greek word meaning the “right or opportune moment.” It refers to a special period of time that opens up within the regular routine of one’s life, during what’s known as “Chronos” time. A “Kairos” moment is when something divinely crucial is happening in one’s life, or in the life of the whole world.
The core conviction at work in the notion of “Kairos” is that God actively and persistently builds special moments into our lives when we are brought to the brink of faith decisions through experiences of special insight and invitation. In the Evangelical tradition this is what is meant when somebody says that they have been brought “under the conviction of the Holy Spirit” about something. In the Quaker tradition there is a strong teaching about “days of visitation” when they say that God shows up in people’s lives with an unmistakable intensity, making available to the visitant an opportunity to take the next decisive step in their journey of faith, taking them deeper in and further along in their experience of life with God. Kennon Callahan said that it’s God who is at work in what we are thinking about when we’re stuck in traffic, or stopped at a red light, or when we’re up in the middle of a sleepless night. God uses these interruptions and inconveniences to clear the space in our heads and hearts where He can then pose His invitations and challenge our presuppositions. Personally, I experience my own strongest sense of “Kairos” when something I am reading and pondering scores a direct hit on something that’s actually happening in my life and/or world. I sit up and pay closer attention when the questions that my experiences and observations of life are posing get answered immediately with the things that are being formed in me spiritually through what I am currently reading and considering.
And so, with the questions of race, money and politics being asked with such intensity and urgency these days, and with the earnest warning of the Evangelical “St. Francis” (Schaeffer) that these are each areas on the journey of faith where Christians like us have previously tripped and consistently fallen, I am sensing that these are topics demanding some of our very best “believing thinking.” So, in my next posting, we’ll start with race.
Next “Soundings” ~ “Race, Christ and the Christian”