Charles Marsh: What it means to be a Christian after George W. Bush

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Like Bonhoeffer, I fear that the gospel has been humiliated in our time. But if this has happened, it is not because the message -- the good news that God loves us unconditionally in Jesus Christ, that we are freed and forgiven in God's amazing grace -- has changed. Nor is it due to the machinations of secularists, or because the post-Enlightenment world has dispensed with the hypothesis of God. The Christian faith has not only endured modernity and post-modernity, but flourished in its new settings.

The gospel has been humiliated because too many American Christians have decided that there are more important things to talk about. We would rather talk about our country, our values, our troops, and our way of life; and although we might think we are paying tribute to God when we speak of these other things, we are only flattering ourselves.

If only holiness were measured by the volume of our incessant chatter, we would be universally praised as the most holy nation on earth. But in our fretful, theatrical piety, we have come to mistake noisiness for holiness, and we have presumed to know, with a clarity and certitude that not even the angels dared claim, the divine will for the world. We have organized our needs with the confidence that God is on our side, now and always, whether we feed the poor or corral them into ghettos.

To a nation filled with intense religious fervor, the Hebrew prophet Amos said: You are not the holy people you imagine yourselves to be. Though the land is filled with festivals and assemblies, with songs and melodies, and with so much pious talk, these are not sounds and sights that are pleasing to the Lord. "Take away from me the noise of your congregations," Amos says, "you who have turned justice into poison."

Psalm 46 tells us, "Be still and know that I am God." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic work on Christian community, "Life Together," spoke of a silence "before the Word." He affirmed the wisdom of the Psalmist, and spoke of a listening silence that brings "clarification, purification, and concentration upon the essential thing."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture

Posted November 28, 2007 at 6:07 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. William P. Sulik wrote:

Marsh writes:

Franklin Graham, the evangelist (and son of Billy Graham), boasted that the American invasion of Iraq opens up exciting new opportunities for missions to non-Christian Arabs. . . . the grotesque notion that preemptive war and the destruction of innocent life pave the way for the preaching of the Christian message strikes me as a mockery and a betrayal.

I wish Marsh had actually told us what Graham said and in what context - seeing the work that Graham actually does seems to me that he would agree with the last portion of Marsh’s assertion.  Accordingly, I wonder if Marsh is bearing false witness against his brother?

November 28, 9:08 pm | [comment link]
2. Christopher Johnson wrote:

How original.  The church is not at the beck and call of whatever secular leftist cause is current this week so it is “corrupted.”  That might be the 5,479th time I’ve read that.  I guess this bromide is supposed to carry more weight since Marsh is a Guilty White Southerner.

November 28, 9:13 pm | [comment link]
3. TWilson wrote:

Marsh writes:

The gospel has been humiliated because too many American Christians have decided that there are more important things to talk about.

But where is the Gospel in his piece? In a nutshell, he accuses evangelicals of being GWB puppets and assuming the Gospel points the way they want it to, then works his way through a chunk of the lib-prot pantheon…. assuming the Gospel points the way he wants it to. Does anyone (pro- or con-Iraq) really think GWB has been a significant factor in American religious life? I doubt any more than Jesse Jackson’s or Bill Clinton’s “public repentance tours” - we’re used to that dance. And the admonition to “listening silence” - can this mean anything other than Marsh’s assumed audience being silent so they can listen to him? His points from Bonhoeffer are well taken - his bio indicates some expertise there - but the extra commentary wears thin…

November 28, 9:59 pm | [comment link]
4. palagious wrote:

Geico Caveman Commercial Political News Interview:
Interviewer:  “Would you like to respond?”
Caveman: “Yes!” ...uhhh, what?

November 29, 8:28 am | [comment link]
5. Nate wrote:

I don’t think there is any question that evangelicalism in the United States is more overtly political (and partisan) than it ever has been.

November 29, 9:24 am | [comment link]
6. Philip Snyder wrote:

Nate - evangelicalism is almost as overtly political as predominantly African-America congregations are - except that evangelicalism is politically more conservative.

One of the problems with Chrisianity in this country is what C S Lewis called “Christianity and…”  The liberals have Christianity and Social Justice, Christianity and poverty, Christianity and health care reform, Christianity and the Pro-choice movement et. al.  The conservatives have Christianity and the pro-life movement, Christianity and family values, Christianity and smaller government.

Neither Jesus Christ nor his Church endorse political parties or movements.  God will not be used as a means to anything, except Himself and, as Christians, our ultimate goal should be union with God and not a political position.  Another issue is that many in the MSM like nothing more than to play “let’s you and him fight” and so they pick two people who have much more in common in their faith (a politically liberal Christian and a politically conservative Christian) and get them fighting about their differences.  Often they get political activists who put politics ahead of faith to fight and this gives the impression that Christians cannot get along.  It also gives the impression that these men and women are the leaders that other Christians should follow.  Thus, the witness of Jesus Christ to change lives and change our culture (which does not wish to be changed) is greatly diminished.

How do we solve this?  First, we must recognized that all Christians want a just society, they just differ on what that looks like and how to best get there.  Second, we need to stop using the name of Jesus or Christian as some form of politically mantra that is designed to tell others that Jesus supports us - that God is on our side. 

Jesus does not support us, we should be supporting Jesus.  I don’t care if God is on my side.  I care only that I am on God’s side.

Phil Snyder

November 29, 10:29 am | [comment link]
7. Randy Hoover-Dempsey wrote:

I particularly like Charles Marsh’s encouragement, for those of us who are committed to serving and glorifying Jesus Christ, to pay attention to the voices of Christians around the world. The Holy Spirit is given to the whole Body of Christ. If we are to discern the truth of the Holy Spirit, we need do this as a collected Body.

It seems particularly important to pay attention to those voices in the Body of Christ with which we do not agree. A question I often ask myself and others is What would it take for God to convince you that you are wrong about something? If we separate ourselves from those with whom we disagree, are we separating ourselves from God’s corrective word for us?

I also appreciate Marsh’s directing us to the prophet Amos and to Bonhoeffer’s witness. Scripture continually presents a picture of the people of God struggling to understand how they were to live in their culture. This is also evident in the testimony of Bonheoffer’s life.

Lord, have mercy on us, and help us to be Your faithful witnesses.

November 29, 11:34 am | [comment link]
8. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

I don’t think there is any question that evangelicalism in the United States is more overtly political (and partisan) than it ever has been.

Oh, Nate! What pure unadulterated bull$#i+. Ever hear of abolition? Ever hear of prohibition? If you’re going to make such broad-ranging comments, please make at least a minimal effort to gain at least a little perspective beforehand.

November 29, 1:26 pm | [comment link]
9. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

Free the captives? Fifty million aren’t enough? Yup, that guy Jesus ... peace, love, and soybeans all the way. Never took time to fashion a whip and then go clean house where it was definitely needed. Musta been somebody else.

Funny how certain people justify all manner of militantism on behalf of “social justice”  and “inclusiveness”— claiming Jesus from top to bottom—yet have a problem with defence of liberty and intervention on behalf of the downtrodden.

No, Mr. Marsh, the world does not hate America ... but leftist do, and to the extent that a nation has a leftist government at any given time they will oppose us. See France, Canada, and Germany a few years back. They changed governments and somehow no longer have a problem with America.

The remarkable thing about Mr. Bush, and his faith, is that given the constant barrage of insults and opposition he has endured for the last number of years—beginning no later than when he decided America would stop being a victim—he has retained his perspective, peace of mind, and humor. Apart from Reagan, no President in my lifetime (and I include Truman here) has even come close.

Even now, neither of the Presidents he so obviously voted for are particularly well-regarded by history, so his attacks on Mr. Bush, no matter how wrapped up in God-language they might be, simply lack the sort of credibility that matters to history.

November 29, 1:40 pm | [comment link]
10. Nate wrote:

#8 “Bart”—I would switch to decaf if I were you-
Perhaps I mis-spoke- but not by much.
In his 1981 book The Fundamentalist Phenomenon Jerry Falwell admits that through much of the 1950s and 1960s he was actively warning his flock (presumably Christian evangelicals) to stay away from involving themselves in politics. He says that they “were wasting their time from what they were called to do” by involving themselves overtly in the political process. Of course, fundamentalists of the early 20th century were famous for their rejection of popular culture (and politics), instead accepting the notion that one’s cultural duties were largely bound by church & home.

The abolitionist and prohibition movements of which you speak were absolutely taken up by evangelicals, however, those evangelicals were only a part of both coalitions—These movements included run of the mill humanitarians, political progressives, Democrats and Republicans. So, of course, they were involved Bart. My original point still stands that despite their involvement in these movements, “I don’t think there’s any question that modern evangelicals are more overtly political (and partisan) than they ever have been. This is because they’ve begun to practice prophetic politics by building a political coalition (which is pretty specifically partisan). The 19th century evangelicals (when they were active) were characterized by a willingness to practice consolidation politics by working through both parties (and at the turn of the century all three) to accomplish their ends.

November 29, 2:31 pm | [comment link]
11. Don R wrote:

#10 Nate, your statement that

modern evangelicals are more overtly political (and partisan) than they ever have been

is a truism in that “modern evangelicals” (i.e., formerly known as fundamentalists) didn’t exist as such until they began to assert their political power.  “Fundamentalists” only really began to withdraw from the broader culture in the late 1920’s (following the Scopes trial); they weren’t absent from the American political scene for very long.
To say that the abolition and prohibition were “taken up” by evangelicals, who were “only a part of both coalitions” is misleading.  Abolition and prohibition were evangelical issues from the start.  People like John Wesley (against distilled liquor, not all alcohol) and William Wilberforce changed public opinion in favor of their causes.  And the 19th-century evangelicals were indeed politically active, in fact were the beginning of “progressive” (as opposed to radical, i.e., Marxist, socialist, or anarchist) politics.  Of course, all this just serves to remind how protean such labels really are.

November 29, 4:43 pm | [comment link]
12. Nate wrote:

Another labeling curiosity is that the early-mid 19th century evangelicals were usually stuck in the old Protestant denominations rather than having their own (though the Wesleyans split off in the 1830s I think). This makes it difficult to separate out who was evangelical from who wasn’t. I hesitate to say that abolitionism (especially) was predominantly an “evangelical” issue because of the broad support it enjoyed in Northern Protestant circles (though not universal as some Protestants of Southern Indiana and Ohio were southern apologists). Another vexing issue is the role of regionalism. Southern evangelicals (with the exception of the North Carolina Quakers I suppose) were supportive to acquiescent regarding slavery. It’s complicated to say that evangelicals spear-headed abolitionism.
Regarding your comment about evangelicals being the beginning of progressive politics—True to an extent, though, I would say that the populist political movement was a significant player too. Regardless, those 19th century reformers worked across party lines to achieve both abolition and prohibition (my consolidation politics soapbox).

November 29, 6:20 pm | [comment link]
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