Saturday, October 23, 2010

Erwin Lutzer's Is God on America's Side?

Erwin W. Lutzer. Is God on America's Side? Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008. 103 pages.

Most Christians in the US seem unable to separate the cross of Christ from the "American" flag. I would suspect that most Muslims can't either. For the former, the identification of the Christian God and their native land is a source of pride and joy. The latter, especially those who have lost family members, their health, or their homes to US imperialism, could be forgiven for deciding that if the Christian God is like Uncle Sam, no decent person would be a Christian. Unfortunately, it's even worse than that: they cut themselves off from the God whose forgiveness they need if they are to have eternal life because they identify that God with Uncle Sam's depredations.

So this book by Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, a bastion of respectable US evangelicalism, is a must-read for Christians who consider themselves patriotic Americans. While I have predictable quibbles with Is God on America's Side?—the societal sins he calls Christians to fight are gambling and prostitution, but imperialism is never mentioned—his message is just what the doctor ordered for his audience, mainstream evangelicals. Once we get evangelicals to question "American exceptionalism," the idea that the US is somehow God's chosen nation in a sense that Finland or Papua New Guinea could never be, they might be open to questioning the morality of Uncle Sam's out-of-bounds actions that they currently accept.

Lutzer begins by enumerating and discussing seven biblical principles:

God can both bless and curse a nation.
God judges nations based on the amount of light and opportunity they are given.
God sometimes uses exceedingly evil nations to judge those that are less evil.
When God judges a nation, the righteous suffer with the wicked.
God's judgments take various forms.
In judgment, God's target is often His people, not just the pagans among them.
God sometimes reverses intended judgments.

He then turns the title's question on its head by quoting Abraham Lincoln, "America's most admired president": "The important question is whether I am on God's side, for God is always right." (I quibble over the invocation of the president who was Hitler's favorite precisely because of his racism and imperialism, but again, invoking him would soften Lutzer's audience's defenses against the book's main message.) From there he discusses at length the crucial (pun intended) difference between building a political entity and building the kingdom of God.

He expresses this difference aptly: "Our job is not to save America but to save Americans by living the Gospel." Our nation is literally going to hell—read the obituaries and see where most of those named are headed—and its military is literally blowing women and children to hell, claiming such is necessary for its defense. Lutzer proposes that the church can survive and even thrive under adverse conditions; our job as Christians is to be faithful to God, working for justice and showing mercy and compassion.

So where would he have us go from here?

First, we must choose the right battle.

Where a general who loses on the battlefield can only give good advice about how to cope with the new situation, we need to be dispensers of the good news of Christ's victory over our enemies: the world (including the messianic state—that's me, not Lutzer), the flesh, and the devil.

Second, we must use the right weapons. [Yes, Moody's copyeditor should have checked to see that italics in this list were used consistently.]

The weapons he names are "helpless dependence on God's Word" and "the integrity of our lifestyle." We can never get enough Bible teaching, either on our own or from those whom God has called to study it. I am convicted of looking down on my neoconservative brethren for eschewing Bible reading for the teachings of the Mormon Glenn Beck and Fox News, the neoconservative arm of Fox porn, while I am myself not able to get enough of atheists like Stefan Molyneux and Latin Rite Catholics like Thomas Woods. More convicting still, the inconvenient biblical truth Lutzer discusses at length is that Jesus calls us not only to suffer but to suffer specifically for his name's sake.
Lutzer pulls no punches: he fully expects Christians to become a persecuted minority, but he makes it plain that we are not to have the "poor me" attitude that goes along with it: we are to rejoice that we are being counted worthy to suffer for Jesus' name and work hard depite our suffering to win people to Christ. (If I can't abide people lolligagging in the left lane on the expressway, how will I tolerate being caged or waterboarded?)

That is, when it is essentially illegal to be a Christian, we are to obey God rather than men. I don't know that Lutzer would translate that into breaking the fugitive slave laws, let alone breaking today's drug laws to provide marijuana to people dying of cancer so they don't have to endure either the excruciating pain of the disease or the expense, nausea, and impaired mental state that go along with morphine use—and if he did, saying so might alienate his audience—but he's at least giving the lie to the idea that the cross and Old Glory are inseperable, and that's a giant step in today's US evangelicalism.

The final chapter is titled "Winning Even When We Lose." Whether Uncle Sam survives or not, the church of Jesus Christ will keep going. She grows under adversity, and she is growing fastest in the nations that persecute her and in other places we comfortable saints wouldn't voluntarily live. And her best days in North America may still be ahead of us; but if they are, they will be accompanied by severe persecution.

Lutzer points out that the churches Jesus addressed in the seven letters of Revelation have all disappeared, as has the Christianesque culture of North Africa and the Europe of the Reformation. The same thing can happen here. And the likelihood of it happening here increases as Christians claim that God is on America's side rather than asking if they and their society are on God's side. May his warning be heard by many.

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