Category Archives: Culture

The Problem with Pavlovitz

During the episode “End of the World” of the TV sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” the plot revolves around a cult that predicts the world will end that very night. City manager Chris Traeger (played by Rob Lowe) asks, “Why does the cult call themselves the Reasonableists?” To which main character Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) replies, “Well, they figured if people criticized them, it would sound like they were attacking something very reasonable.”

To put the matter bluntly, John Pavlovitz is a Reasonableist.

For those unfamiliar with the name, John Pavlovitz is “a pastor, writer and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina.” He is known for his personal blog and contributions to Relevant Magazine.

Recently he wrote a blog post entitled, “I’m Not The Radical Left, I’m The Humane Middle.” In it, he goes through a number of his positions that other unnamed parties have opposed and asserts that his positions are perfectly reasonable.

Which, of course, means that his opponents are unreasonable. Or worse.

Near the end of his post, he writes, “I suppose humanity feels radical to inhumane people.” Did you catch that? Anyone who disagrees with him is “inhumane.” The Latin terminology for this logical fallacy is Ad Hominem, attacking the people who disagree with him rather than dealing with the positions they hold.

Pavlovitz appeals to the emotions of his readers, presenting his position with stirring words like “compassionate, humane,” or casting himself as uncontroversial with words like “normal, ordinary, usual” and “mainstream.” It is for people who “want more humanity.” He draws his readers to join him against “the cruelty of these days.”

By contrast, he subjects his ideological opponents to the worst kind of Straw-manning. He paints himself as the victim of small-minded bigots. No, he didn’t write that exactly; he did write about people who are “so filled with fear for those who are different, so conditioned to be at war with the world, so indoctrinated into a white nationalistic religion of malice.” Like I said, small-minded bigots. He foments the very divisiveness he claims to oppose.

Lest you think I am being harsh and uncharitable, I will concede one point he makes. John Pavlovitz is probably not part of the “Radical Left.” However, he is definitely part of the Ordinary, Everyday, Mainstream Left. Save for his insistence elsewhere on being a follower of Jesus, there is nothing remarkable about his blatant left-leaning tendencies—including his denial that his tendencies are indeed left-leaning. But if you are regularly platformed by “the left” and regularly opposed by “the right,” how honest is it to call yourself part of “the middle?”

If he really were in “the middle,” as he claims to be, why are all the positions he listed contrary to what is traditionally considered “the right?” Why does he not emphasize where he agrees with “the right” over and against “the left?” True, he gives lip service to being pro-life, but he redefines it as meaning “to treasure all of it”—whatever that means. (Actually, he rarely articulates or offers clarification on his positions; he just sort of shotguns them all at once with little definition and less precision.)

This then brings me to the matter of his status as a Christian and a pastor. He mentions “God” once and “Jesus” not at all. He makes many references to the Bible and Christianity, but offers no specific references or quotations. He is his own moral authority.

And in the middle of the list of his positions, he drops the bombshell to end all bombshells: “I believe all religions are equally valid.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is something no true Christian can say. Either Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” or He is not. We can defend the pre-political right for people to practice the religion of their choosing, but we cannot equivocate on the validity of any system of belief contrary to Christianity. If Pavlovitz—who, I remind you, has the self-descriptor “pastor” in his bio—cannot get this most basic tenet of Christianity right, what else has he gotten terribly wrong? Setting aside his politics for the moment, I plead with you, reader: Let this man have no influence in your Christian thinking whatsoever.

If you’re going to call yourself part of “the middle,” you need to have an accurate understanding of “the right” and “the left.” If you’re going to engage in political discussion, you must not automatically disparage all your ideological opponents as evil trolls. If you’re going to claim the moral high ground, you need to be sure you are standing firmly on absolute truth. And if you’re going to call yourself a Christian, you must point people to Jesus as Lord and Messiah, not yourself as the one who decides what is “normal.”

Reasonable enough?

P.S. Agree or disagree, I welcome your feedback.

The so-called War on Christmas is actually a good thing

Last year, Kevin O’Brien, dean of the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, posted a video sharing his thoughts on the so-called “war on Christmas.”

The video is less than three minutes long, but I am going to focus almost exclusively on one paragraph.

Around the 0:20 mark, O’Brien claims, “I don’t think Jesus would care much about whether we say ‘Merry Christmas’ or not…” This seems to be a reasonable position. Granted, he leaves undefined whom he has in mind when he says “we,” whether he means Americans in general or Catholics/Christians in particular. But the larger point is understandable: in an increasingly secularized culture, identifying Christmas as the primary feature of the upcoming calendar may or may not reflect the broader opinions of our neighbors. (Indeed, Christians are never commanded in Scripture to celebrate Christmas.)

But the very first line of reasoning O’Brien uses to support his assertion is shockingly subversive of historic orthodox Christianity: “… because he was not concerned about promoting himself, but promoting what he called ‘the reign of God.’ This reign, this community of justice, peace, and love—that, to him, is more important than any title for himself.”

WHAT?!? Even from the mouth of a Catholic professor, I found myself stunned at the Biblical ignorance on display.

The foundational confession of the church is that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ, and since Christ means King and Jesus is God, then Jesus’ talk about the reign of God is about the reign of himself. Promoting the reign of God by definition means promoting himself.

By definition, only Christians recognize Jesus as Christ, which means that nonbelievers—so long as they remain nonbelievers—cannot recognize Jesus as Christ. To say “Merry Christmas” implies, at its most basic level, an acknowledgement that the Jesus whose birth we commemorate is the Christ. To say “Merry Christmas” is actually to make a claim unique to Christianity.

As fewer unbelievers say “Merry Christmas” even as a vestigial custom, this two-word phrase takes on a more distinctly Christian message than ever before. We need to realize that this seasonal greeting is our (still culturally acceptable) opportunity to confess Jesus as Lord. When Christians capitulate to the culture and automatically say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” in some small way we are cheating ourselves of an opportunity for evangelism. (Yes, I’m aware that the word “holiday” means holy day, but all different religions have their own holy days.)

The letter of 1 Peter is all about how Christians can thrive even in the midst of suffering and persecution for their faith. If we Christians in 21st-century USA cower in the face of a few sneers and snide remarks, how will we ever endure when actual persecution comes our way?!?

So this year, when someone says to me “Happy Holidays,” I will accept it as the polite greeting they intend it to be. But when I say “Merry Christmas,” I will not be merely offering a polite greeting.

Let us make the most of every opportunity we can to declare that Jesus is the Christ—at Christmas and every other time of the year.

A brief word on politics and Christianity

For the most part, I want this blog to be a chance for me to encourage people to fix their eyes on Jesus. For that reason, most of my posts will be exclusively biblical or theological in nature. But for this post, I am going to say something political. Here it is:

The Christian church and the United States of America are two different things.

I know that may sound obvious, but I have noticed a general tendency for people to blur the distinction. I am both a Christian and an American; as such, my duties as both a Christian and an American are distinct. What I briefly offer below are a few reminders and admonitions to both groups with whom I share an affinity.  You may notice that each of the following sets are contrasting in some way; that is intentional.

Fellow Americans, we participate in a representative democracy.
Fellow Christians, we are subjects of a spiritual theocracy.

Fellow Americans, our government must protect the natural rights of every citizen and execute justice on law-breakers.
Fellow Christians, we must recognize that we are all sinners before God, yet His mercy is open to any who repent and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the atoning sacrifice who took our sins upon Himself.

Fellow Americans, it is for our good that we tolerate those among us who believe differently than ourselves.
Fellow Christians, it is for our good that we love those among us who vote differently than ourselves.

Fellow Americans, let us be slow to believe whatever latest news story merely because it confirms our worst fears about “the other.”
Fellow Christians, let us be quick to believe all that God has proclaimed in His holy, true, clear, authoritative, and sufficient Word.

Fellow Americans, let us be open to investigating which (if any!) of the available political options would be most beneficial for our nation.
Fellow Christians, let us always trust that the Spirit of Truth promised by Jesus will guide us to know the truth for ourselves, to obey our Heavenly Master, and to love our fellow believers.

Fellow Americans, it is for our good that our nation elects different leaders—mayors and governors, congresspersons and presidents—on a regular basis.
Fellow Christians, it is for our good that our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Messiah, will never, ever, EVER be dethroned.

Fellow Americans, it may behoove us to realize humbly that not all of our problems are political.
Fellow Christians, it befits us to proclaim boldly the gospel of Jesus Christ as the healing balm to every painful situation and every broken heart.

Fellow Americans, let us never try to remake our country into a theocracy; when we try to do so, trouble always follows.
Fellow Christians, let us never try to remake the church into a democracy; when we try to do so, trouble always follows.

Lastly, the church and the USA should be contrasted in one more important way: only one of them is eternal.

“To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

Revelation 5:13b, NASB

Election 2016

Not that anyone asked, but here are my thoughts on Election 2016. They originally appeared as a “Tweetstorm” and remain largely unchanged.
1) Hillary Clinton is unqualified for the presidency. I refuse to support her.
2) Donald Trump is unqualified for the presidency. I refuse to support him.
3) One of these two will be the president.
4) My vote will not be the deciding vote that makes the difference between either candidate (and neither will yours).
5) Clinton and Trump are not the only two candidates running for president.
6) Not voting is an option (though not one I would recommend).
7) The presidency, while important, is not the only office/issue on the ballot.
8) Bold prediction: the world will not end on November 9. You will still have to live with people who voted differently than you.
9) Character matters. A vote for a candidate is an endorsement of that candidate’s trustworthiness.
10) For Christians, we must show with our vote that our trust is ultimately not in the occupant of the White House for the next 4 years.
11) If you want to know for whom I will be voting and why, ask me.
12) Matthew J. Franck said it well: “Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character.”
One final word: Come quickly, Lord Jesus; and keep us faithful until that day.