About Paul Edwards

Paul is the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of God and Culture in Detroit, Michigan and Founding and Teaching Pastor at Redeemer Church of Waterford, Michigan.

Christian Talk Radio and Political Discourse

How much time should Christian talk radio hosts devote to discussion of political topics?  There is a place on Christian radio for the discussion of the culture of life issues (abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research, et al) which have become highly politicized, yet certainly have moral and spiritual implications.  But the political topics I have in mind are those related to the policies and behaviors of politicians themselves: the Bush administration’s firing of 8 federal prosecutors, Scooter Libby’s conviction on perjury charges, the funding of the war in Iraq and deadlines for troop withdrawal. These are all partisan issues, with the exception of the Iraq war, the outcome of which has serious implications for the security and future of all Americans.

Take the firing of the 8 federal prosecutors.  Attorney General Gonzales is under fire in the media and in Congress for whatever role he may have played in that decision. Never mind the fact that presidents have the authority to fire federal prosecutors.  Bill Clinton fired all 93 federal prosecutors at the same time.  That’s not the issue.  Neither is it a question about whether or not the firings were political in nature.  Of course they were!  As were the firings of all 93 federal prosecutors by Bill Clinton in 1993.

The focal point of this story both in Congress and in the MSM is what Gonzales knew and whether or not he lied when he said he was not involved in the firings. Christians have pretty high standards when it comes to truth.  How important is that story to the Christian community? What is the “Christian” angle? Do we approach the story by focusing on those talking points that vindicate the Bush administration? Or do we focus on the immorality of lying?

What if Gonzales lied?  After all he was just lying about what his role was in the firings.  There is nothing inappropriate about firing the prosecutors. He clearly has the authority to do so.  So what if he were just lying about actually pulling the trigger. That clearly has political implications, but legal ones?

Let’s not kid ourselves, Christian talk radio overall is conservative politically.  But should Christian radio approach these kinds of political stories differently than a general news/talk radio format would?  Rather than starting from the premise that the conservatives must be defended at all costs, ought not Christian talk radio start from the premise that truth must be discovered and defended at all costs?

Do we give the Bush administration a “Get Out of Jail Free” card because for the most part they are the good guys on the issues that are important to Christian conservatives? When does our political commentary cross the line to a tacit endorsement of a particular politician or political party?

My personal opinion on the Gonzales story is that the Democrats made up their minds before the last election that if they ever regained control of Congress they would make Capitol Hill a marathon of investigative hearings into the Bush Administration with the ultimate goal of impeaching the president.  Alberto Gonzales will be but the first of high ranking Bush administration officials to be demonized by the Democrats. 

But is my Christian talk radio program an appropriate forum for such a politically infused opinion?

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Former Congressman Tom DeLay on The Paul Edwards Program

I arose early today – 4:00 am – to read the 179 pages of Tom DeLay’s new memoir No Retreat, No Surrender: One American’s Fight.  It was homework of sorts, preparing for the phone conversation I just completed with him about a half an hour ago. 

My initial impression after reading the book was rather mixed.  Everything in me wants to believe the best about Tom DeLay.  The mainstream media has worked overtime since he left Congress in 2006 to make a caricature out of the former Majority Leader. During an interview with Meredith Viera of the Today Show, she was meticulous in pointing out the House Ethics charges (all of which were dropped), the indictment in Texas on campaign finance charges (none of which have been pursued in the courts) and his “guilt by association” with Jack Abramoff.  Sadly this is the only image most Americans have of Tom DeLay.  I’ve seen a completely different Tom DeLay – the real Tom DeLay – in a brief personal introduction to him last year when I was in Washington for a conference, and today in the time I spent with him on the telephone. 

Tom Delay describes himself as a “real jerk” during his days in the Texas House and in the first few months of his tenure in the U.S. House.  He was a partier, a womanizer, and nearly an alcoholic during those days.  But that all changed in 1985. He says, “In my run for reelection in 1986 I was a different man from the one who had first gone to Washington in 1984.” 

The transforming moment for me came one day during the meeting [a weekly Bible study led by Tom Barrett for House members], when I quietly prayed a prayer of commitment to Jesus Christ. No one else was involved. In fact, no one else in the room even knew until later. I did it quietly, and yet with the greatest sincerity of my life.

The truth is that in 1985 I had a genuine born-again experience. Jesus Christ took up residence in my life, healed my marriage, changed my passions, and gave me a new map for understanding the world.

Some, not surprisingly, have characterized DeLay’s conversion as politically motivated, a charge he responds to during our conversation. Just today a writer for the Washington Post Writer’s Group, Marie Cocco, said this about DeLay’s conversion:

…his survival in conservative politics depended upon cleaning up his act. If nothing else, it all was the necessary prerequisite to DeLay becoming the driving political force behind Clinton’s impeachment for lying about adultery.

That stament says more about DeLay’s clairvoyance than it does his character! DeLay prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Savior in 1985, seven years before Bill Clinton was elected president! How DeLay could know nearly a decade out that he would need to “clean up his act” in order to pursue impeachment charges against a man who hadn’t even been elected president yet is proof of typical liberal smearing of DeLay’s sincere decision to receive Jesus.

In the book DeLay fairly well outlines his political philosophy, which began as “conservative/libertarian” in the Goldwater/Reagan tradition, and after his conversion to Christ took on the added dimension of “a broader mission to restore the nation to the purposes of God.” This has caused his detractors to accuse him of a conspiracy to overthrow the Constitution and institute a Theocracy, when in reality DeLay’s vision for the moral well-being of the Nation is no more radical than that of the Founding Fathers, and based on the same abiding principles.

The book is long on pointing out the flaws and issues of the people around DeLay during his years in Congress, detailing his own quest for power to be used in the service of the conservative principles that drove him to seek office in the first place.  Says DeLay: “Anyone unwilling to position themselves for power in the service of their principles should stay out of politics.”  During my phone conversation with Congressman DeLay I asked him how that statement squared with Jesus’ ideal that “the first shall be last” and “he that is greatest among you shall be servant of all.”  You’ll have to tune in this afternoon for DeLay’s response.  

Any misgivings I had about the book were relieved by a candid 30 minute conversation with the former House Majority Leader. We’ll air that conversation today during The Paul Edwards Program, heard locally in Detroit on AM 1500 WLQV from 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm and around the world via the World Wide Web at http://www.godandculture.com.

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Are We Saved by Our Choice or by The Gospel’s Power Alone?

From Change Your Church for Good: The Art of Sacred Cow Tipping (W Publishing Group, 2007) by Brad Powell:

Even when the church faithfully discharges its responsibility, there is no guarantee that people will experience God’s love, forgiveness, freedom, and hope. After all, the nonbeliever still has a choice. Once the truth has been made clear and understandable, it becomes the nonbelievers responsibility to apply it to their lives. As James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Once they hear and understand it, they must act on it.

If you’ve been following these posts on Brad’s book you should begin to see a trend:  Brad is not very careful in the way he handles the word of God.  He cites James 1:22 as support for his view that the power of the gospel to save ultimately comes down to the “choice” the nonbeliever makes for or against what he has heard.  There is a major problem, however, in that James 1:22 doesn’t have nonbelievers in view.  James 1:22 is directed to “my brothers,” and “my dear brothers” (James 1:2, 16, 19).   James is speaking to believers – not nonbelievers – about their responsibility to act on the word in keeping themselves pure from moral filth.  He is most definitely NOT speaking to nonbelievers about their responsibility to “choose” to accept the word of God for salvation.

But someone will look at the context and point out that the verse immediately preceding the one Brad quotes refers to receiving the word which is able to save.  The gospel saves more than just sinners; it also saves by sanctifying the believer as a continual function of the word until we get to heaven, which is what James has in view here. For more on how the gospel saves believers, see John Piper’s three part sermon on the subject: part one | part two | part three.

To exegete the text the way Brad does denudes the gospel of its power to save.  To suggest that “there is no guarantee” the message of the gospel will save anyone unless and until the nonbeliever acts by choosing is to hold the gospel hostage to man’s choice.  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and I give unto them eternal life.”  Jesus didn’t die, and the message of the gospel isn’t proclaimed, with our fingers crossed HOPING that someone will CHOOSE in response.  Jesus knew precisely those for whom He died. He redeemed them by His blood out of every kindred, tongue, tribe, and nation as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. And when the gospel is proclaimed it is guaranteed NOT to fail according to Isaiah 55:11:

So is my word that goes forth from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and acheive the purpose for which I sent it.

It is not the nonbelievers’ “choice” that produces faith. It is faith as a free and unmerited gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9) that regenerates the nonbeliever causing him to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Not all who hear with human ears will respond in faith to the message proclaimed.  But just like the deaf who had their ears opened, so also the Spirit, working through the word preached, opens the ears and the hearts of those for whom Christ died – and the message for them cannot return empty – it is GUARANTEED to accomplish the purpose for which God sent it.

How futile is our proclamation of the gospel if it has no more power than a sales pitch dependent on the consumer ultimately saying “yes” to the deal and closing the sale!  The gospel we proclaim IS the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes – God GUARANTEES it! To paraphrase Brad, “Once the nonbeliever hears and understands the message, they can’t NOT act on it!”

Is the calling and character of the church shaped primarily by the word of God or by the prevailing culture?

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Is the church people or a place?

From Change Your Church for Good: The Art of Sacred Cow Tipping (W Publishing Group, 2007) by Brad Powell:

God intended the church to be about people, not place. Acts 8:3 tells us, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” This passage clearly communicates that the church was and is people. They didn’t drag off the houses. They hauled off the people. The church is people. And yet, most churches tend to focus on place over people.

I would argue that what the Acts 8:3 passage clearly communicates is that the church is people gathered in a place, not just people. Certainly the greater context of the Book of Acts would support this:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1)

And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together… (Acts 4:31)

God’s people are commanded to not forsake the assembling of themselves together (Hebrews 10:24), obviously requiring a place to assemble. And if the church is not both people and place, how does Brad explain 1 Corinthians 11:18:

For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you, and I partly believe it.

Two verses later Paul refers to the church as “coming together in one place” (1 Corinthians 11:20).

Place was significant in the Old Testament whenever God was present. Jacob picked a place at random to sleep and when he awoke he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not.” He dedicated that place to God (Genesis 28:11-19). Moses was walking through a desert and heard the voice of God speak to him to remove his shoes because “the place where you are standing is holy’ (Exodus 3:5). Joshua set up stones in the Jordan river to mark “the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood” (Joshua 4:9).

The church is God’s people gathered in a specific place. And when the church is gathered, God has promised to be in their midst. The presence of God in the midst of God’s people demands reverance and awe. Today’s contemporary church makes irreverance a vital part of their creed. Brad Powell again:

[W]e invite people to bring drinks into our auditorium for services. In fact, we have cup holders in our seats to facilitate this. You wouldn’t believe how many people, especially those who come to our church as nonbelievers, have told us that they were willing to come because they could dress casually and sip a latte or cappucinno while we told them about God.
Of course, it has its problems. It never fails that someone will spill a drink in the back row. Since our auditorium floor is sloped, the spill will slowly make its way all the way down front. It makes for cheap entertainment. People will start placing bets on how far it’s going to go. I think the record is twenty-three rows. (Please know that we don’t actually sponsor or sanction the betting.)

If you invited a group of people into your home, would you tolerate this kind of lack of respect for your home? If you were invited to someone’s home would you behave in this manner? And yet this kind of irreverance is actually encouraged by the pastor of a church where God’s people are supposedly gathered to meet God!

Is the church’s character and calling shaped primarily by the word of God or by the prevailing culture?

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Emergent the New Nicolaitans?

Has “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” (Revelation 2:6,15) resurfaced in the Emergent Church? John MacArthur thinks so. In his latest book, The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception, MacArthur defines the doctrine of the Nicolaitans as “a kind of radical licentiousness” further defined as “using Christian liberty as a cloak for vice and an opportunity for the flesh,” which later characterized gnosticism, “a deadly brand of false religion that flourished in the second century and often infiltrated the church, masquerading as Christianity.” What made this threat so dangerous is that it came from within the church (Acts 20:29-31), and more specifically from among the leaders of the church, precisely where the Emergent threat is originating in the present day.

Truth is under attack by those who profess to be purveyors of truth: evangelical ministers.  MacArthur roots his definition of truth in what the Bible teaches: “truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God.”  God is the source of all truth, and knowing truth is the irreducible minimum in knowing God. Unlike the view of postmodernism, truth can be known. Knowing truth is essential to our salvation: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” However, saving faith is not merely assent to propositional truth. It is also fundamentally about a relationship to a Person – Jesus Christ – who claimed to be “the Truth.”  While “there is without question a personal element to the truth,” MacArthur argues that “truth simply cannot survive if stripped of propositional content… 

While it is quite true that believing the truth entails more than the assent of the human intellect to certain propositions, it is equally true that authentic faith never involves anything less. To reject the propositional content of the gospel is to forfeit saving faith, period.”

The Emergent crowd suggests it is arrogance to believe anything for certain, and to do so makes us out of step with the culture and therefore incapable of communicating with the culture.

Emerging Christians are determined to adapt the Christian faith, the structure of the church, the language of faith, and even the gospel message itself to the ideas and rhetoric of postmodernism.

Emergent theologians are telling us that knowing truth is futile at best.  Ambiguity and mystery are the new creeds of modern evangelicalism.  Our commitment to propositional truth died with the collapse of modernism according to the Emergent theologians:

[Stanley Grenz and John Franke] are convinced that every desire to gain a fixed and positive knowledge of any truth belongs to the collapsing categories of enlightenment rationalism.

MacArthur points out that propositional truth isn’t rooted in the enlightenment rationalism that gave rise to modernism, but rather propositional truth is rooted in the eternal nature of God which is changeless.  To abandon propositional truth for fuzzy, wuzzy metanarratives is to abandon the very essential that forms who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.  But this is precisely the path Emergent takes us down. The cardinal sin in these postmodern times is the claim to be right.

What Brian McLaren, Stanley Grenz, and John Franke argue for is the “contextualization” of Christianity for these postmodern times.  Their argument boils down to “if we cannot know everything perfectly, we really cannot know anything with any degree of certainty.”

Since culture is constantly in flux, they say, it is right and fitting for Christian theology to be in a perpetual state of transition and ferment too. No issue should be regarded as finally settled.

MacArthur cogently addresses what truth is and how it trancends both modernism and postmodernism.  If you are looking for a cogent and understandble response to Brian McClaren and Stanley Grenz, you’ll find it in chapter two of MacArthur’s book. MacArthur concludes this chapter with a call to counter the culture:

[T]he absolute worst strategy for ministering the gospel in a climate like this is for Christians to imitate the uncertainty or echo the cynicism of the postmodern perspective – and in effect drag the Bible and the gospel into it. Instead, we need to affirm against the spirit of the age that God has spoken with the utmost clarity, authority, and finality through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). And we have the infallible record of that message in Scripture (2 Peter 1:19-21).

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