Worth Reading - 6/23

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. Rachael Starke penned an important essay about her shift in activism and engagement on the enduring issues of racism in our society.

As I’ve lurched and stumbled through dialog about race and the gospel in the digital world of social media, and the personal world of my local church contexts (both the one I’m in now and well as ones from previous seasons of life), I’ve found myself in the same place as other white Christians in times past. I’ve experienced the subtle, and unsubtle, criticism and distancing by other white Christians, and heard the suggestions that I’ve “gone liberal” and fallen in with the so-called gospel-diluting “SJW”s. I’ve felt the tiny stings of social media unfollowing and mutings, when I’ve shared stories in the hopes others might finally be persuaded in the same way that stories persuaded me. Remembering the immeasurably worse my black sisters have endured, and continue to endure, convicts me when I’m tempted to silence, and simply spurs me to ask God to increase my faith and give me courage like theirs.

A different hurt comes from a place my reading hadn’t lead me to expect. When white Christians like me take a step forward in advocating for racial reconciliation or restitution, whether a small one on social media, or a slightly bigger one involving collective action, our attempts are sometimes met by some black Christians with cynicism, judgement, or a barrage of “so what are you going to do right now”s and “not enough”s. When you’ve discovered that some of the pillars of your understanding of the gospel are rotten, and you’re doing your uneducated best to replace them, the extra burden of law and guilt we’re given to wear weighs us down, and tempts us to quit. Remembering the far worse burdens my black brothers and sisters have borne for centuries without quitting, and the gospel of grace which gives all of our burdens to Jesus, spurs me to keep going anyway.

2. There has been a lot of chatter about the SBC and the resolution against the Alt-Right as an anti-gospel movement. Much of that has been from people who were not at the SBC and did not like the parliamentary procedures that were taken to bring a revised resolution up for discussion. Nathan Finn writes about the event as one who saw it unfold.

Some have complained that the revised resolution not only speaks against the Alt-Right and white supremacy in general, but also recounts recent advances Southern Baptists have made in speaking out against racism and for racial reconciliation. I would simply respond that every bit of that is true and worth noting. This resolution is consistent with many decisions and initiatives over the past twenty years because our recent track record on these matters is commendable, even as we should also acknowledge we still have a long way to go. If mentioning our recent track record in the resolution offends some readers, I would suggest it might be because they aren’t willing to give Southern Baptists the benefit of the doubt. Again, we no doubt have a long way to go—but we’ve also come a long way. And as Russell Moore so eloquently said at the convention, playing off of a famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr., “the arc of history is toward Jesus.”

This is the bottom line: if you weren’t in the room where it happened, then you really don’t know. You are free to make whatever assumptions you wish, but please admit they are just that: assumptions, rather than informed commentary based on first-hand knowledge. And as you make those assumptions, give us the benefit of the doubt. It’s the Christ-like thing to do.

3. Tim Challies hits on some of the things Christians should not say at funerals and about the dead. They are mostly theological misperceptions that tend to distort the gospel.

YouTube told me I ought to watch a clip from a recent episode of America’s Got Talent. After all, who doesn’t like to see some unknown person make it or blow it on the big stage? In this case the young man did a tremendous job of imitating Frank Sinatra and, of course, received thunderous applause for his effort. When the cheering had subsided he was told by the judges that his dear grandmother must be looking down from heaven aglow with pride. Somehow that kind of clichéd syrupy sentimentality is just what people want to hear in those moments. It got me thinking about some of the absurd statements I’ve heard over the years, and especially the ones I’ve heard at funerals. Here are a few things I sincerely hope no one will say about me at my funeral or any time thereafter. In fact, I hereby forbid it.

He is looking down on you. The Bible gives us little reason to believe that the dead keep an eye on the living. And, frankly, I rather hope they don’t. When I am dead I will finally, blessedly be more alive than I’ve ever been because I will be free of sin and its consequences. I can’t help but think that the very last thing I’d want is to look down (or up or sideways or whatever direction earth is in relation to heaven) and have to witness more of sin and its effects. I love you all plenty, but I don’t particularly want to kick off forever by watching you sin. Not only that, but there’s no earthly or heavenly reason you’d want or need me to. Surely you aren’t indicating that God’s watchful eye is insufficient and that it somehow needs to be supplemented by mine, are you? No, I’m not looking at you. I’m looking at Jesus as he’s looking after you. You’ll be fine.

4. It's popular in some Christians circles to argue that the early church was socialist, therefore we should not own private property (and should impose that system on our nation). Michael Bird, an Australian biblical scholar, argues that the early church wasn't socialist, they were just generous to the point we should be embarrassed.

Now that Bernie Sanders has made socialism cool again, were the early church socialists?
We have to ask because of those famous passages in Acts 2.44-45 and 4.32-35 about the believers selling their property and depositing the proceeds in a general fund, and quite understandably, people have touted the first Christians as proto-socialists. On the one hand, this has some traction since the Lucan Jesus always sides with the ‘poor’ and frequently condemns the rich (e.g. Lk 16.19-31 on the Rich man and Lazarus). Plus Luke describes how in the church there was ‘no needy persons among them’ (Acts 4.34) which itself is a rehash of the Law of Moses which commanded that the covenant community be one where there were no persons in need (Dt 15.4). It helps as well if we remember that another Jewish sect, the Essenes, appear to have practiced pooling wealth and possessions (CD 14.13; Philo, Quod Omnis Probus, 76-77, 85-87; Hypothetica 11.4-13; Josephus, Ant. 18.20-22; War 2.122-27) and even Roman authors like Seneca idealized a past when ‘you could not find a single pauper’ (Ep. 90.38). So it makes sense that the early church, thinking of itself as the vanguard of a renewed Israel, believed that it was called to a particular form of covenant community justice where wealth was shared and no-one was left to fend for themselves (see also Gal 2.10; 2 Cor 8.13-15; Jas 1.26-2.7). What is more, this sort of thing was necessary if the church, made up mainly of Galileans, was to sustain itself in Jerusalem, it would need an economic support for its leaders and care for the vulnerable in its ranks.

5. Communism is a blip on our historical radar since the fall of the Soviet Union, right? Not really, the evils of communism are still real and painful to many people in this world, though they tend to get lost through (a) advocacy for socialism, which tends to undermine the evils of its close relative, (b) a tendency to believe the best about communist nations without considering the absolute authoritarian roots of the system, which lends itself to abuse. This article in the National Review talks about the one case of ongoing human rights abuse in communist China.

To make a long story short, Gao was in prison from 2009 to 2014. I will not dwell on the torture he endured. Suffice it to say, it was the worst: bamboo sticks through genitals, etc. They kept him in solitary confinement for three years. He was not allowed to stand or talk. In fact, he forgot how to do these things. For a year and a half, they blared Communist propaganda into his cell. When he was released, he was consigned to a strict form of house arrest, back in the village where he started from, in Shaanxi. He has little contact with his family in America. Any meaningful contact, the authorities would regard as “politically sensitive,” and therefore verboten. His physical condition is poor. Because of malnutrition, he has lost all his teeth. He cannot eat solid food. The authorities have denied him medical care. And yet, says Grace, his mental health is good. Remarkably good. How has he been able to hold on to his sanity? His Christian faith, says Grace. Gao himself has said, “God is healing me from within.”