How Covid revealed the blind guides of society and Christendom

During my college years my parents held two season tickets to Colorado Avalanche hockey games. I lost count of how many games I was lucky enough to attend in those years, but it had to be in the range of about 50.

On one particular occasion, after years of sitting in the exact same seats, a man came strolling down the stairs in the middle of the play and stopped at our row.

“You’re in my seat,” he said flatly.
“Um, I don’t think so,” I said as diplomatically as I could. “What seat number do you have?”
“Row 13, 1 and 2. That’s my seat.”
I produced my ticket and showed him where I, too, had one that showed row 13, seat 1.
“Are you sure that’s what yours says?”
We went back and forth a couple more times, me not moving and him insisting I was in the wrong place, seemingly at an impasse. The people around us grew annoyed as he stood in the aisle and blocked their view of the ongoing hockey game.

Eventually his wife sheepishly got his attention and pointed back to the signage at the top of the section. He was at the right row and seat number, alright, but he was in the wrong section. Problem solved.

It was at this point he turned to me and said, “You can stay there.”

Not “My bad, man, I had the wrong spot,” or “Oops, my mistake.” The assuredness with which he had told me I was in the wrong seat remained unwavering despite his mixup. In his mind, he somehow remained the authority in the situation and ever so graciously granted me the right to stay in my seat. The one that was mine all along.

It was such a weird interaction that I still vividly remember it, even though it was a decade ago. Who goes through life like that?

Then Covid came to town, and I realized that he’s not an anomaly. No, it’s how the majority of people operate.

After two years of nearly every single covid narrative being proven wrong – “lockdowns work,” “masks work,” “shots protect the people around you,” “if we act right we can make a coronavirus disappear,” “you’re a racist conspiracy theorist if you think it came from a lab,” “natural immunity must not be factored into response,” etc. etc. – the government and media carry on without a single mea culpa. People were banned from social media for saying things that were proven indisputably true, things that even government officials now acknowledge. No apologies are forthcoming.

Vaccine Passports are being retracted all over. Mask mandates are being repealed in some places and flaunted by the people who instituted them in others (hello, LA Super Bowl). Washington Post boldly floats a headline that “Mask mandates didn’t do much.” They have the gall to say the science changed. They have to, because to admit otherwise would be to admit it was all done in vain. It did not change, though.

With all the bravado of the man in the wrong section at a hockey game, they inform you you can take your mask off, aren’t required to get a shot to enter a building, can see people again, can go back to church, and so on. Stop trusting them. Stop letting them tell you what to care about, what to be afraid of, and who to hate.

Further, the religious leaders who lambasted their fellow Christians who have now been proven right in nearly every way have yet to acknowledge this. They called their brethren conspiracy theorists. Labeled us as unreasonable. Said they were embarrassed of those who kept going to church. Ironically, they threw around the accusation that we’re “anti-science.”

Now that the dust has settled, those who threw around such accusations are not acknowledging their missteps and taking those words back.

No, they will continue to carry themselves as authorities and lecture others. As my hockey-watching challenger said “You can stay in that seat,” they say “You can get back to the work of the church” and “You can take that mask off.”

I’m all for everybody getting on the side of truth together. But you don’t get to lead a horde of people in the wrong direction for 2 years, realize you’re wrong, and sprint back to be the head of the pack in the other direction. It’s time to take a step back and figure out what just happened and reflect on those mistakes so you don’t turn on the brethren again.

Book Review: “Fault Lines” by Voddie T. Baucham, Jr.

I recently got access to an early copy of “Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe” by Voddie T. Baucham, Jr. Since I’ve long found Dr. Baucham to be a compelling speaker and writer, and this issue is one that demands our attention, I put a pause on my reading list to see what he had to say.

The short review: this is a desperately needed book, written by perhaps the best man for the job.

It’s no secret that race discussions of recent years have created a major “Fault Line” in both society at large and churches specifically. Writing as a black man who has the cultural experiences of South Central Los Angeles, white neighborhoods in Houston, and now Zambia, Africa, has an education in both sociology and theology, and has clout in the world of Christendom, Dr. Voddie Baucham may be better suited than anyone to offer the dissenting opinion on Critical Race Theory (CRT) in evangelicalism. The first few chapters explore Baucham’s personal background and his experiences navigating racism and racial division, affirming that he certainly has the experiential knowledge some consider a requirement for offering an opinion on race matters (something the author rejects and labels “ethnic gnosticism”).

Much of what Dr. Baucham says builds on the foundations others have set with regard to CRT, Intersectionality, and Social Justice, but his compilation of the arguments along with quotes directly from the sources (Kendi, DiAngelo, et. al.) makes for a good introduction to the current “antiracist” movement. It won’t break any ground for the reader who has spent time researching CRT, but for those who are new to the topic it’s a good primer, and for those who are somewhat familiar it will shore up their understanding of the ideas being promoted.

The truly controversial section, I suspect, is where “Fault Lines” begins to get into specific applications of the questions at hand. Police shootings and the narratives surrounding them are examined with penetrating questions that challenge the CRT framework. The book also explores some of the more popular responses to claims of racism, such as abortion in minority communities and black on black crime. Baucham does not merely parrot them as the “gotcha” talking points they are often used as, but digs in to the question of their validity in the discussion. 

For me, the greatest value is in the way the book examines the issue within the church world. I believe the case Dr. Baucham makes is a strong one, that CRT will continue to drive division because it is incompatible with core ideas like the Gospel and the sufficiency of Scripture. CRT is not just an analytical tool for helping us understand racism. It is both a worldview and a competing religion, as Baucham demonstrates, and the evangelical leaders who have jumped on board seem unaware of the Trojan horse they are wheeling in to their churches and to Christendom as a whole.

I pray this book reaches open hearts and minds and helps heal divisions before they grow any wider. But, I’m pessimistic. I think it’s far more likely to be read and championed by those who agree and ignored or spurned by those who don’t.

In any case, it offers a well-researched, well-argued alternate view to the prevailing narrative of the day. Even if you don’t end up agreeing with the conclusions, it provides valuable insights into the side of the argument that is often either under-represented, prevented from speaking, or argued poorly.

4 stars out of 5, highly recommended

To preorder Fault Lines on Amazon, or for more info, go here. The book release date is scheduled for April 6.

Key quotes

  • Those belonging to the social-justice crowd present themselves as the only ones pursuing justice, to the exclusion of all who disagree with their assessments—who, by that definition, are pursuing injustice. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current struggle is that it mischaracterizes Christians that way too. On one side are “compassionate” Christians who are “concerned about justice.” On the other are “insensitive” Christians who are “not concerned about justice.” This is wrong. (page 5)
  • Families are at odds. Marriages are on the rocks. And I don’t believe the fracture in this fault line is yet even a fraction of what it will be.
    No, I am not writing this book to stop the divide. I am writing to clearly identify the two sides of the fault line and to urge the reader to choose wisely. (7)
  • In case you’re wondering about its soteriology, there isn’t one. Antiracism offers no salvation—only perpetual penance in an effort to battle an incurable disease. And all of it begins with pouring new meaning into well-known words. (67)
  • I have often said, “The Eleventh Commandment is, ‘Thou shalt be nice” . . . and we don’t believe the other ten.” One of the negative results of this is no longer being able to deal with ideas without attacking the people who hold them. (132-3)
  • The idea that we need a new canon to be able to decipher what the Bible says, or more specifically, what it means regarding race, is quite troubling. This attack on the sufficiency of Scripture should serve as a call to arms. (130)
  • This will not repair the fault lines. Nothing will. These divisions are both real and necessary. As I said at the outset, the goal here is to be on the right side of the fault line when the catastrophe comes. In the meantime, we must love. I do not mean that we must accept the world’s faulty, emasculated, unbiblical version of love—the version that sees any disagreement or confrontation as inherently unloving. No, we must love each other with a tenacious, biblical, Christlike love.
    Dear reader, I know it is hard. I don’t like losing friends, being called names, or being ousted from platforms any more than you do. However, you and I must love the truth more than we love our friends, our reputations, or our platforms. (224)

Note: I was given early access to my purchase – not a free copy – by the Fault Lines Launch Team in exchange for posting a review.

Book Review: Francis Chan’s “Until Unity”

I’ve long been a fan of Francis Chan’s work and have been heavily influenced by his views on the church, so when I saw he had a new book coming out on Christian unity, I placed my preorder. With proof of purchase the publisher offered a free audiobook that could be accessed immediately, so I jumped at the chance to get to listening. And though I enjoyed the audiobook, I’ll be sure to revisit some of the key points when my print copy arrives, as I much prefer that medium for comprehension and understanding.

As always, Chan does a great job of getting us thinking about the holiness of God and the importance of serving Him with reverence and loving one another. There is great value in the early chapters which call the reader to take God very seriously and realize He is just as passionate as our love and unity as He is about our sexual purity, evangelistic zeal, etc. Yet we view preaching on such issues as sound and faithful yet worry about any push toward unity as liberalism and compromise. Fair points, to be sure.

The call to humility is especially important. The matter of unity is one we simply have no hope of getting right if we don’t approach it with humility. There’s an arrogance to being too exclusive, looking at ourselves as the true arbiters of what is right and cutting off others, and there’s an arrogance to being too inclusive, thinking ourselves to be more loving than even God may be. So, the emphasis on approaching the issue of unity with the right heart was well said.

But with any book on unity, the challenge is going to be in deciding when and where to draw lines. While he admits some lines do need to be drawn, and we can’t do the “Let’s just all get along” act, I still came away without a clear picture of when we should and should not be unified, in Chan’s view. There was basically only one chapter that got down to the brass tax of how to draw the circle of unity. And the practical takeaway almost comes out to “Let’s just all get along” anyway.

In that chapter, Chan drew on the controversies of Romans 14 and the matter of allowing others to be wrong sometimes. It’s an important section, to be sure, but not all matters are as minor as the eating of meats. In Paul’s discussion he’s discussing actions approved or allowed by God, such as eating of meats or observing certain holidays, which some may want to abstain from. We are free to limit our own freedom on such matters. But these are not matters of actively doing something against God’s revealed Word. Therein lies the big difference, and the real crux of the matter. Women in leadership, for example, is not a matter of “God has allowed it, but if you don’t want to participate then you don’t have to.” How then, do we view egalitarians? Heretical? Erring Christians? Acceptable, and just differing on opinion? There are times when we do need to take a stand. And he seems to agree with that point, even offering verses on those from whom we should withdraw… but I still feel left without clarity as to when that might be.

Chan’s ultimate conclusion, drawn from the writings of Watchman Nee (of whom I’m also a big fan) is this: anyone who has the Holy Spirit should be considered family. I think everyone agrees with that. And that might open the door a little broader than we like to open it. But who makes that decision? Will there not be people who claim to have the Holy Spirit but don’t? If you don’t have a clear classification of firsts matters, secondary matters, and beyond, then it’s arbitrary. And arbitrary line drawing is why we don’t have unity in the first place. So we’re back where we started.

As a side note, the author’s personal anecdote about healings he and others performed while on mission in Myanmar will raise an eyebrow (at the very least) for many readers.

Ultimately, I give it a 2 out of 5 stars. I don’t feel the book does much to move unity forward. Unifying Christendom is going to take a lot of hard work in sorting out what can be tolerated and what can’t, and who has to change their ways or give up certain beliefs or preferences. It’s a great thing to desire and pray for, that we would all come back under the same umbrella of faith, love, and obedience to Christ, but it’s going to take a lot of difficult discussion. And I don’t feel this book engaged in that discussion nearly enough to help the reader take steps toward unity.

To purchase “Until Unity” on Amazon, go here.
We reviewed Chan’s previous book, “Letters to the Church,” on the Too Many Books podcast. You can listen to that review here.

Can you please just let me be wrong?

Hoo boy. Here goes. This is not a fun discussion. But it’s time.

It’s time, because somebody has to push back on the lectures about holding certain beliefs on current events. I grow so tired of being told that views which part from the mainstream narrative are “baffling,” “damaging to the church,” “unreasonable,” “spreading falsehoods,” etc. It’s time, because so many of us have spent far too long shutting our mouths and changing the subject when “those crazy/stupid/rotten people who disagree” (i.e., people like us) are brought up in conversation.

If you’re in that camp, have you considered that maybe from the other side of the fence, your view is baffling? That the unreasonable person is the one who, in practical terms, defines “reasonable” as “agreeing with me on current events?” That other people think you are the misinformed one, and that they’re willing to give you the grace of merely believing you to be misinformed rather than a liar?

It’s an unfair rhetorical tactic to say disagreeing with the mainstream narrative on an issue is “dangerous” and “harmful to Christian witness.” That’s not how loving brethren argue. It’s how condescending people argue. It’s not a good faith argument, because it’s emotional rather than logical. I’ll be straightforward with you – it’s wrong. Why? Because it’s divisive. It says you have to submit to me and my views, or you are being unreasonable and hurting the church. That’s exactly what Romans 14 told us not to do.

On a lot of issues, I’ve kept my views to myself because I didn’t want other Christians to take offense. But who’s in the wrong in that equation? Me, for holding an opinion? Or them, for responding that way? In other words, if we’re able to remain friends while I know your opinion but suddenly have a problem once you know mine, maybe the issue is not with me.

I’m allowed to hold an opinion and even express it, so long as I don’t beat people over the head with it. People who hold views opposite mine – particularly mainstream views – rarely show that kind of hesitance to offend. When only one side is allowed to talk, we don’t really have unity.

What matters far less than the views themselves is our method of handling them. If one insists that everybody has to hold the official view on every issue or else they are in bad standing as Christians, we have a big problem. Me and my particular views matter little, though, other than as a device to introduce ideas that have been pronounced as anathema. I could go into any number of hot button issues – Trump and politics, racism and critical race theory, conspiracy theories, whatever else – but I’ll limit this discussion specifically to COVID matters. So, here goes.

  • I fully acknowledge that COVID-19 is real and is dangerous, in varying degrees to varying people. People my age have almost nothing to fear from it, so I don’t operate out of fear. I plan to live with at least some degree of normalcy. I can fully understand if you are more wary of the virus and want to take more personal precautions. You are fully in your rights to do that and I have neither the right nor the intention to lecture you for doing so. But if you think I’m wrong, can we still get along?
  • I believe the science shows areas with mask mandates differ little from areas without, and that lockdowns do far more harm than good. I believe that while this particular strain of virus is new, this class of virus is not, and the scientific consensus for handling such viruses prior to March 2020 said mandating masks and locking people down are counterproductive measures. I’ll mask up around those who ask me to, because it’s my understanding that that’s what “being all things to all men” and “giving preference to one another in love” ask of me (1 Corinthians 9:22, Romans 12:10). I can fully understand if somebody doesn’t want to wear a mask, and I can fully understand if you believe the mask to be necessary. I understand if you prefer to be more cautious. But please don’t characterize me as a bad person if I don’t see it the way you do. If you think I’m wrong, can we still get along?
  • I’m not going to get the vaccine because the virus is an infinitesimally small threat to someone of my age and health history and we’re yet to see the effects of the vaccine. I understand if you plan to get the vaccine. I’m not asking you to agree with me. I’m just asking you to extend me the grace of letting me be “wrong.” If you think I’m wrong, can we still get along?

The phenomenon of people holding alternate views such as these is not going away. It’s the effect of the internet age, where “truth” is decentralized. You can see that as a good thing or a bad thing. Those I’m addressing see it as a grave threat, because experts and authorities are being broadly ignored and a lot of bad ideas are getting out. I see it as a great thing, because in the past we had no ability to know if what we were being told was right or wrong. At least now we have a fighting chance. If the cost of that chance is the spread of some falsehoods, it’s a price worth paying. To say otherwise is to say that widespread belief of falsehoods – even costly ones – wasn’t an issue before the last 10 years. (Hello, Iraq war.)

Because this phenomenon is so widespread, it only makes sense that huge swaths of Christians believe alternate views. If you really believe it’s a sin issue, get ready to discipline and disfellowship scores of members. If you don’t, can you please just let us be wrong? Can you please advocate your view and let some of us disagree?

I’ll let you believe what you want to believe. Can you please do the same for me? Can we agree that our Christian unity can overcome differing views on a news report? Are we really so casual about our unity that we’ll throw brethren under the bus in order to side with government or media? You might vehemently disagree with every position I took here, and that’s ok. But can you please just let me be wrong?

Fear of death is not a Christian virtue

I’m going to start right up front with the disclaimer that this is 1) not a claim to speak for the Forney church of Christ or Focus Press, for whom I preach and write – thus why I’m writing on this website, under my own name and 2) a personal opinion on what the Bible teaches on this matter, yet one of which I hope to persuade you.

The point of this article is not to debate the risk level of the coronavirus, or really to discuss the virus at all. My point in this article is not dependent on the dangerousness of the virus. On the contrary, my point is that the danger of the virus is irrelevant in the face of Biblical commandments.

I’m writing to posit two Biblical truths and apply them to our situation.

First, Christians are not to fear death.

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” While I’m here, I am to try to follow Christ’s footsteps, but death, whenever and however it comes, is to be viewed as gain. Do we believe that? Do we act like we believe it?

In a letter to a sickly woman named Mary Willis Shelburne, C.S. Lewis shared these thoughts on the matter of death for those in Christ:

“Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well. Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you… What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” (Emp. added.)

One of the most beautiful blessings about Christianity is the knowledge that death is not the end. I suspect the cause of our confusion on this issue is that we have neglected to ground ourselves in faith that we will be far better off on the other side.

I am not running toward death – I wear my seatbelt, drive the speed limit (or… thereabouts, you know), work out and try to eat reasonably, etc. I would very much like to see my children grow, and care for them and my wife, serving God all the way. But neither am I going to live my life in fear. To die is gain.

Arguing from a different angle, James wrote that our planning for the future must be done with an important fact in mind: “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). While we put off religious duty and wait for the virus to disappear, or a vaccine to eradicate it, or whatever else may save the day, we aren’t guaranteed that we’ll be here to see the other side.

Aside from the COVID deaths themselves, over 2 million Americans have died of other causes this year while waiting on life to return to normal. You aren’t guaranteed that you will be able to fellowship and share the body and blood of the Lord with God’s children a year from now. But you can this Sunday. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, but instead to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33-34).

Fear of death is antithetical to our faith. We are a religion founded on resurrection, practiced by millions who cower in fear of death. This should not be.

Second, we have work to do.

It was wrong of us to determine our course of action based on risk rather than on Biblical command. If God told us to do something, we are to do it and let Him work out the details. Preaching the Gospel has routinely gotten people killed throughout church history. No, persecution is not a direct equivalent, but it establishes for us that obedience – even in the face of great risk – is required. Even when Paul escaped Damascus in a basket to avoid persecution (Acts 9:25) he did so to go somewhere else and preach, not to go home and hide and wait for favorable conditions.

While we wait for our favorable conditions, the work remains waiting for us. Christian service cannot be accomplished in a setting in which we are not seeing each other face to face. When’s the last time any of us obeyed 1 Peter 4:9 – “Be hospitable to one another without complaining”? How long are we going to be okay with blowing off Acts 2’s example of gathering together, praying together, learning together, and serving each other together? Were we “loving our neighbors” by isolating them into depression and possible suicide?

The reason it was so easy for most of us to accept “virtual church” and continue on without the assembly is that our concept of church is so small and powerless. (Somebody should write a book about that.) Other than the preacher or a select ministry team, just about everybody else is interchangeable in many cases. You come to them and get what they’ve provided for you.

What happened when the lockdowns began? The preachers went to the buildings and recorded their sermons, and everybody else stayed home. If we had a biblical view of church, in which we need each and every member growing to maturity in Christ to strengthen each other (Ephesians 4), the idea of everyone doing “church at home” would have been a complete oxymoron. There’s no such thing as church at home.

Biblically we’re supposed to be evangelizing, discipling, praying together, being hospitable to each other, serving each other, and the list goes on. Very little of that can be done over a phone call or a Zoom, particularly for 9+ months.

So, to be clear, I’m not just arguing about getting back to Sunday worship. I’m arguing for going far beyond that, to practicing community as a Christian family. And while many (if not most) have continued to see their biological families through these months, we accepted isolation from our spiritual, eternal family indefinitely. Do we mean it when we call our church family our “family” or not?

God gave us work to do (Ephesians 2:10), and it’s my contention that we need to keep on doing it. You are free to disagree, but the burden of proof is then on you to show where we have the authorization to abandon that work, and how long we’re allowed to go without doing it.

Anticipating a few commonly raised objections:

“‘Love your neighbor’ means not exposing them to risk.” Yes, I know that “love your neighbor” was trotted out, as always, as the old reliable argument we can bend to mean whatever we want (sexual liberation, doctrinal compromise, political point scoring, and whatever else the moment needs). The Bible itself defines what loving one another looks like, though, and there is no sense in which all of us avoiding one another for a year fits into that definition.

It was one thing to accept “15 days to slow the spread” in the name of loving our neighbor. But if at that time it had been pitched to us as “staying home and abandoning Christian fellowship for months with no defined end point to slow the spread,” I suspect we would have been far more reluctant to view it as a loving gesture.

“If it saves just one life, it’s worth it.” If one life is the standard, we can never meet again. Every single year we have the potential to inadvertently spread the flu to an elderly, immunocompromised member. Every single week we all take the risk of getting into a car to drive to worship. Staying home would eventually save one life in both of these cases. Are these equivalent to COVID? Of course not. But I’m not the one who came up with the “one life” standard, I’m merely arguing according to its logic.

“People stay home to keep from spreading germs all the time.” You are fully capable of discerning the difference between one sick person isolating (typically for a short, defined period) and everybody – sick or not – isolating indefinitely, and have no need for me to explain why the two aren’t equivalent. The same goes for staying home for a Sunday when the weather makes assembling dangerous.

You can see the frustration in my tone, I’m sure. Week after week of bare minimum Christianity can have that effect. We simply are not being the church if we are not making disciples and fellowshipping with one another. Our response has robbed us of our identity and told the world that we’re just as focused on this life and afraid of death as they are.

With a knowledge of how beautiful and horrific eternity can be, a world at risk should motivate us to far greater activity, not lesser. Worship is too important. Fellowship is too important. Evangelism is too important. Disciple making is too important. Service is too important. It’s time to get back to work.

A quick postscript:

While everything thus far has been in the realm of opinion, this is not: if you’ve gone to restaurants, traveled, and/or gone into other people’s homes yet still are holding out on the Sunday assembly or other church gatherings, repent and get yourself in there. What that says is that you’re willing to accept at least some level of social risk, but being with the church is not high enough on the priority list to be worth that risk.

And, if that logic tracks with you, I’ll leave it to you to weigh up the same arguments as they pertain to going to the grocery store.