Endorsers Repent!

Wayne_Grudem_Photo_2014

Wayne Grudem, By Wayne Grudem, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35265675

On August 5, I wrote a post called “The Endorsement Game.” I opened the post with this paragraph:

“My Facebook feed has been filled with both defenses of and outrage toward the various evangelical leaders, including Wayne Grudem, who have endorsed the Republican candidate for the U.S. Presidency. Maybe the reason for this is that I have friends across the spectrum (yes there is one!) of evangelical belief who have lots of different takes on these endorsements, and on the fitness for office of the one being endorsed.”

I return to this post because over the weekend Dr. Grudem withdrew his endorsement of the Republican candidate for president and called upon him to resign. I was heartened to see this and a willingness to acknowledge his own error, according to a Washington Post article, of not taking time to investigate earlier allegations about the candidate’s character before making his endorsement.

I credit Dr. Grudem’s integrity of publicly acknowledging an error instead of doubling down as others have done, even justifying the candidate’s language as “locker room banter,” which seems to me appalling, particularly among supposed evangelicals.

What distresses me however is that Dr. Grudem never even begins (to my knowledge) to question the basic practice of endorsing candidates as an “evangelical leader” and the entanglement of the gospel with partisan politics. He only is saying that he made a bad decision this time. I would argue that this is always a bad decision for evangelical leaders for one fundamental reason (evangelicals like fundamentals!):

Endorsing one party’s candidate carries with it the implication that you can only be a Christian if you vote a certain way.

I know most leaders wouldn’t say that (although it wouldn’t surprise me that some would). But I have friends who have been repulsed from Christian faith for precisely this reason. The warning of Matthew 18:6 is one I think every evangelical endorser ought to consider seriously:

“But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (NIV)

Furthermore, I would argue that the leaders who endorse, whether conservative or progressive, have led the flocks who follow them into political captivity, fostering deep estrangements within the Christian community in our land across racial and economic lines. The prophets of the Old Testament denounce the shepherds of Israel for scattering the sheep. I will be blunt–leaders who engage in this kind of political activity as leaders of the evangelical community are misleading their flocks and are under the judgement of God (cf Jeremiah 23:1-8; Ezekiel 34; Zechariah 10:2-12).

Unless evangelical leadership repents of this kind of behavior (repent means to turn, in thought and action, because of the awareness that one has transgressed), that leadership will find that they aren’t leading anything. Their cry will be “Ichabod!” which means “the glory has departed.” Repentance isn’t simply withdrawing embarrassing endorsements, it is to cease from this endorsement game, which idolizes political power, to the denial of the greater power of the kingdom, whose heralds they are called to be.

Those who read me regularly probably find this writing uncharacteristic of me. You are right. But I am deeply angry and grieved, not with the presidential candidates, but with the harm I’ve watched these “evangelical leaders” commit over a generation to the gospel I love and how they’ve besmirched the glory of the Christ I love and how their activity is turning away a generation of spiritual seekers. Given how far we’ve sunken in this current election, I’ve wondered if we’ve come to our last chance to turn from this political and spiritual folly. Lord, have mercy!

Review: The Good Shepherd

the-good-shepherd

The Good ShepherdKenneth E. Bailey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: A study of the theme of the good shepherd beginning with Psalm 23 and considering consecutively eight other passages in which this theme is found.

We lost a giant of biblical scholarship this spring (2016) with the passing of Kenneth E. Bailey. Raised in the Middle East, he taught New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus. He brought to his scholarship an intimate knowledge of Middle Eastern culture, Arabic works, and the scriptures that shed fresh light on everything from the Nativity to the dearly loved Psalm that many of us memorized as children and have clung to in our darkest hours, Psalm 23.

Beginning with Psalm 23, Bailey considers eight other passages in the Old and New Testaments in which the theme is f0und of the shepherd and the sheep. These include Jeremiah 23:1-8, Ezekiel 34, Zechariah 10:2-12, Luke 15:1-10, Mark 6:7-52 (the feeding of the 5,000), Matthew 18:10-14,  John 10:1-18, and 1 Peter 5:1-4. Bailey contends that in these ten dramatic elements recur in most of these passages:

  1. The good shepherd.
  2. The lost sheep (or lost flock)
  3. The opponents of the shepherd
  4. The good host(ess?)
  5. The incarnation (promised or realized)
  6. The high cost the shepherd sustains to find and restore the lost
  7. The theme of repentance/return
  8. Bad sheep
  9. A celebration
  10. The end of the story (in a house, in the land, or with God)

Bailey then exegetes each passage. Over and over he finds a “ring” or chiasmus structure in these passages and draws out the meaning of the passage cameo by cameo. Along the way, his background knowledge of the Middle Eastern setting of these passages comes in as he describes the skittishness of sheep, who will only drink at still pools of water, the mace-like rod of the shepherd with which he fights off wolves and other predators, repentance as a willingness to be found, and the supreme risk of the shepherd in John 10, who of his own volition lays down his life for his sheep. I loved this description of the good shepherd:

     “The good shepherd ‘leads me’; he does not ‘drive me.’ There is a marked difference. In Egypt where this is no open pasture land I have often seen shepherds driving sheep from behind with sticks. But in the open wilderness of the Holy Land the shepherd walks slowly ahead of his sheep and either plays his own ten-second tune on a pipe or (more often) sings his own unique ‘call.’ The sheep appear to be attracted primarily by the voice of the shepherd, which they know and are eager to follow” (p. 41).

One often doesn’t think of the shepherd theme in the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Bailey draws out both the contrast with the evil banquet of Herod at which John the Baptist was beheaded, which precedes this miracle, and the counter-cultural statement of the feeding of the 5,000, in the green grass, by the Sea of Galilee, where the people eat their fill and are led in paths of righteousness. In contrast to decadent Herod, Jesus reveals himself as the Good Shepherd of Israel.

Likewise, I and many others have puzzled over the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine for the one lost sheep. Yes, sheep are valuable. Yet so are the ninety-nine. But what would it mean to the ninety-nine, Bailey asks, that the shepherd went after the lost one? It meant that should they get lost, the shepherd would search for them as well. Every sheep mattered.

This is both good scholarship and good devotional reading that leads one to praise the Great Shepherd and to aspire to be a good shepherd to the extent that God gives that opportunity. I do not know if there are further works of Bailey’s that will be published posthumously. But in this final major publication Bailey sums up a life of devotion and fine scholarship in a book that is a gift to the church and her shepherds.