Rebel With A Cause

Twenty three years ago Franklin Graham, the first born son of Billy (1918-2018) and Ruth (1920-2007) Graham, wrote an autobiography titled, Rebel With A Cause.” In the book he talks about the challenges of growing up in the shadow of his father’s fame (the renowned evangelist Billy Graham), being a Christian in contemporary America, and his work with Samaritan’s Purse. The following excerpt is taken from Google Books:

Franklin recalls childhood memories that are both happy and tainted. There are the warm memories of hunting and exploring with his father in the mountains around their home. But there are also the memories of the death threats targeting his father and the endless tourists who would peek in the windows of his family’s house to get a glimpse of life in the Billy Graham household.” “By the time Franklin was a young man, he was running from God and from the public’s high expectations of him as the oldest son of the best-known preacher of our time. His teen and young-adult years were marred by smoking, drinking, fighting, confrontations with the police, and eventually, expulsion from college.” “But finally, one night in a Middle East hotel room, God caught up with Franklin, and Graham’s daredevil, destructive life was from that point forward transformed into a creative, God-glorifying adventure.” “God instilled in Franklin a passion for the suffering and oppressed peoples of the world. Just six years after that hotel-room encounter with God, he was named president of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief and evangelism organization that meets emergency needs around the world.” “In thrilling narrative after narrative, “Rebel with a Cause” recounts Franklin Graham’s often dangerous adventures as a worldwide emissary of Christ’s compassion: opening a medical clinic and orphanage in war-torn Rwanda; setting up a shelter in Croatia for Bosnian girls raped by enemy soldiers and now pregnant; organizing and training a chaplain’s corps for the Nicaraguan Contra army; and reaching out to Muslim Saudi Arabians with “Operation Desert Save” during the Gulf War. (Quote source here.)

Too often in today’s America we hear some pretty loud voices from the opposing side of Christianity that too often drown out the good that Christianity has done in this world of ours down through the ages, and that still happens all over the world today. The arguments get bogged down in politics and other agenda areas, not to mention a very active agenda to silence Christian voices in the media. However, religious freedom is still very much a part of our Constitution, as is freedom of speech. Tolerance isn’t tolerance if even one voice is trying to be silenced.

We used to be more civil in our disagreements, but thanks to the relentless 24/7 access of social media and the fact that civility isn’t being taught anymore, we are becoming a nation of loud and often angry voices whenever a dispute arises. Here is a case-in-point, taken from an article titled, Too Few Pastors Spoke Up. It’s the Real Reason We’re in this Mess Today,” by Dr. Michael L. Brown, founder and president of FIRE School of Ministry, director of the Coalition of Conscience, and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show, “Line of Fire,” as well as the host of the apologetics TV show, “Answering Your Toughest Questions.” He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a visiting or adjunct professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Denver Theological Seminary, the King’s Seminary, and Regent University School of Divinity, and he has contributed numerous articles to scholarly publications, including the Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion and the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. He is also the author of 30+ books (source here).

The following is taken from Dr. Brown’s article noted above and published on Charisma News on June 11, 2018. I am including a small portion of that article below to show just how vitriol the responses can be when a dispute arises on a “hot topic” issue. It is the type of responses he received and not the topic of the article that I’m addressing. Here is that excerpt:

…Of course, I’ve written and spoken on these topics for years, but I’m stirred to do so afresh in light of the reaction to our recent video “Can You Be Gay and Christian?” (If you follow my articles at all, then you’re quite aware of what’s going on. We still need your help and solidarity.)

We’ve received a torrent of horrific comments. A flood of vile death wishes. The most vulgar, almost unimaginable attacks against God. Responses pouring in by the thousands. YouTube demonetizing the video. Google reminding us of their guidelines against “hateful” content. And commenter after commenter expressing their absolute shock that anyone in our day and age could be so bigoted as to think God made men for women and women for men.

To quote one comment from among thousands (and a milder one at that), “What a [expletive]. He’s stuck in the 40’s and I honestly feel sorry for him. He’s blinded by his lack of intellectual thought process.” Or, in broader terms, from another commenter, “The bible is not honest. It’s a [expletive] middle eastern jew book from crazyland. You monkeys have all been conned.”

That’s what people are thinking. Christian conservatives are living in the dark ages. We’re ancient fossils, soon to be forgotten. We’re out of touch and out of our minds.

This is the response we get for simply laying out what the church (and synagogue and mosque) have believed throughout history, virtually without debate, until recent years.

But what shocks me is not that so many people are angry. Or hateful. Or vile.

What shocks me is that so many people are shocked. It’s as if they had no idea we still believe what we have always believed. (Quote source here.)

Ten years ago this type of outlandish commenting wouldn’t have been found on what was then the early stages of social media. Again, I’m not addressing the particular topic of this article (either the “pastor” issue or the “gay and Christian” issue). I’m addressing a civility issue. And I find it hard to believe that while Google apparently reminded Dr. Brown of their guidelines against “hateful” content, I didn’t read anything about Google reminding the commenters about their “hateful” content in the comments they sent to Dr. Brown. So where, exactly, does Google draw the line? Hate is still hate no matter what side it is coming from, and it certainly came from some of the commenters to Dr. Brown’s video.

We have a couple of generations of folks now who know next to nothing about Christianity other then what they get from social media or other sources, and what often comes off as a bad caricature in movies and on TV, and quite frankly, all the “selling” of Christianity out in the marketplace (it is a billion-dollar business here in America). There is much that I see on TV and in social media and elsewhere that if I wasn’t already a Christian I might think it was bogus, too. But much of that isn’t genuine Christianity.

In a June 12, 2018, article published in The Week titled, The Maligning of Early Christianity,” by Pascal Emmanuel Gobry, a writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (his writing has appeared in ForbesThe AtlanticFirst ThingsCommentary MagazineThe Daily BeastThe Federalist, Quartz), he states:

Christianity is, if nothing else, one of the most successful cultural phenomenons in all of human history, and still powerfully shapes the world. But in many ways, this is happening reactively in much of the secular West, where a major plank of the Enlightenment sought to use history to show that Christianity represented a steep decline in our history.

This anti-Christianity revisionism is basically political propaganda. As George Orwell pointed out so masterfully, you can change how people think if you can change their vocabulary. A term like “the Middle Ages” is meant to imply that a thousand years of European history was basically just an ellipses between antiquity and “the Renaissance,” a loaded term if there ever was one, when it was only the “rediscovery” of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy — which had been suppressed by fundamentalist Christians — that enabled the start of a “new age” of “rationality” and “free inquiry.” Even if we didn’t pay much attention in history class, we’re all familiar with this narrative, because it’s everywhere. The ancient world, we are told, was tolerant, open-minded, and believed in philosophy and free inquiry, and the advent of Christianity ruined all of that.

You can find this narrative in countless works of popular culture. The latest salvo is a book by the historian Catherine Nixon whose title, The Darkening Age, speaks volumes. As a review in The New York Times puts it, Nixon casts the early Christian church as “a master of anti-intellectualism, iconoclasm, and mortal prejudice.”

I hope I don’t have to spell out the political advantages that this narrative can have today. Too bad it’s wrong.

Take the ancients’ supposed open-mindedness and pursuit of rational inquiry, and Christians’ supposed anti-intellectualism. The fact of the matter is that in the ancient world educated Christians were just as enamored of scholarship and philosophy as anyone. The early Christian writers spoke of the “spoliatio aegyptorum,” which meant the use of concepts from pagan philosophy in Christian theology, which they did avidly and gratefully. Stories of early Christian mobs attacking pagan sites are used to portray fanatical Christianity crushing whatever opposed its “dogmas.” But pagan mobs attacked Christians too. And let’s remember that Christianity was illegal, and that these mobs were often incited and abetted by Roman officials as a convenient way to put down those unruly Christians.

What of scientific inquiry? The idea, again, that ancient society had any sort of commitment to open scientific inquiry and that the Christians did not is false. Most historians today admit that the Romans were pretty much stagnating technologically by the time Christianity came on the scene and that there was very little scientific progress in the intervening centuries. Scientific progress started accelerating in the Middle Ages. Building a cathedral would have been just as out of reach of the Roman Empire at it’s height as building a moon rocket.

And what of the supposed open-mindedness of pagans when it comes to sex, which contrasts with Christians’ much-mocked prudishness? I think this one takes the cake. Did the pagans have orgies? You bet they did. But people typically forget to point out that in those merry occasions depicted in Roman art, the women would typically be slaves. Indeed, buying, selling, and renting slaves for sex was absolutely legal, and not even frowned upon — including that of children — and was therefore done on an industrial scale, in a society with permanently skewed sex ratios due to gender-selective infanticide.

Did Christians “impose their beliefs” when they got into power? Yes. For example, one of their first acts was to ban the use of slaves for sex. As a Christian, somehow, I don’t feel shame about that. Did Christian mobs deface pagan statues and monuments? Absolutely, yes. In the ancient world, pagan religion represented an entire social order that sanctioned all kinds of terrible things. It’s not hard to imagine why someone might want to deface a statue or two. I wish they hadn’t, but it’s not exactly monstrous that they did.

Remember that early Christianity did an awful lot of good, too. It created the first organized welfare system in all of human history, enabling the poorest and most destitute in Roman society to lead lives with dignity. Christians paid widows pensions, in a society where unmarried women had no rights and widows (of which there were many) were forced to remarry or face destitution. Other notable innovations of the early Christian church included the first schools (for children whose families could not afford private tutors) and the first hospitals (for those who could not afford doctors). They had to build all these things because they believed in serving the poor and pagans did not.

Christianity was indeed a rebellion against a lot that the ancient world stood for, in particular paganism, which suffused through the social order. Society was dominated by the idea that the entire cosmos was essentially a celestial hierarchy, ruled by fate, with the hierarchy of gods, also bound by fate, up top, and free male citizens somewhere in the middle, and everyone else below. And that any violence, any cruelty, in the service of this order, or by those higher up against those lower down, was basically fine.

Did Christianity “destroy the ancient world”, as the Times review of Nixey’s book has it? My first thought is “not enough.” Sadly, Christianity in its early centuries did not destroy cruelty or evil, which would continue to haunt it throughout its history, as we all well know, but instead only the belief, which lay at the heart of pagan philosophy and religion, that cruelty and evil is right and proper. I, for one, don’t have a problem with that. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with an article titled, The Litmus Test of Genuine Christianity,” by Cap Stewart, a videographer, freelance writer, and media manager for a multi-state southeastern construction company:

In our pluralistic culture, churches have become so varied that they spread confusion about what it really means to be a follower of Christ. When it comes to hot-button issues like gun rights, abortion, and homosexuality, professing Christians line up on opposite ends. Can Christianity legitimately be so divided? Or, to put it another way, can anyone discern the “real deal”? Is it possible to know what functional, practical Christianity truly looks like? 

James, the brother of Jesus, says yes—and he gives us a simple litmus test:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James. 1:27).

James provides a short, two-item checklist: (1) love—helping those in need, and (2) holiness—separating from worldly influence. These two traits summarize the practical outworking of a life changed by the gospel.

Much of the current division within the church comes from overemphasizing one trait over the other. Some churches tend to emphasize love, whereas others tend to prioritize holiness. But neither is negotiable. Both are essential for living the Christian life.

First Essential: Love

One way Christians can be tempted to forsake the requirement of love is to pursue our rights. Especially in America, where individualism is one of our sacred cows, we can get caught up in fighting for our rights, particularly as they pertain to religious freedom. There are certainly times and places to use proper legal means to secure those rights (as Paul did in Acts 22:22-30), but we should be known for something better than demanding equal treatment.

We can become so consumed with our liberties that we end up treating those in the world as our enemies, to the detriment of the gospel. God has called us to proclaim a message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20), something that is hard to do if we constantly approach unbelievers armed for a fight.

The Christian is called to consider the needs and preferences of others (Gal. 5:14). Yes, we must sometimes draw attention to a person’s—or even a nation’s—sins, but are we going to do so with our fists in their faces or with tears on our cheeks? During New Testament times, the government was far more corrupt and hostile to Christianity than ours is today, yet we don’t see Scripture commanding us to fight for our rights. Instead, we are instructed to expect unfair treatment—even blatant persecution—and to return hostility with love (John 15:18-20Rom. 12:18-21).

Second Essential: Holiness

The sacred cow of individualism has affected not only our love but also our holiness. Too often, we have turned our personal happiness into the greatest good. As long as it makes me happy (whatever “it” may be), and as long as no one else gets hurt, I can and should pursue it. If I don’t pursue my own happiness, I am being untrue to myself. Or so the argument goes.

But the second fruit of genuine Christianity, James says, is “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The world may tell us to follow our hearts, but we are called to be true ultimately to God and his Word—not to our autonomy. And being true to God often comes in the form of denying ourselves what we think we want, because it is actually bad for us (Rom. 13:41 Pet. 2:11).

At the same time, we don’t want to be so far removed from the world that we don’t understand it. We can’t affect the culture if we aren’t engaging with it. In many ways, though, we have sacrificed our holiness on the altar of relevance. With the apparent purpose of being more engaged with our culture, the church has tried so hard to fit in that the distinction between churched and unchurched peoples has often been obliterated. We must take James’ warning to heart: aligning ourselves with worldly values is aligning ourselves against God (James. 4:4).

Christianity Is Countercultural

Christ-like love is a beautiful thing. To love unconditionally, regardless of another person’s maturity or theological depth or moral purity, is to love like God loves. It reveals a heart transformed by the gospel. Likewise, true holiness is a beautiful thing. Avoiding conformity to this world is a sign of a heart satisfied with promises and pleasures found in the gospel that exceed anything the world can offer.

Pure and undefiled Christianity is counter-cultural. It stands out as radically different from anything we would naturally think or do. Wherever we stand politically or denominationally, the true path of Christianity challenges us to confront the animosity and worldliness found in our own hearts. True Christianity may look to the world like foolishness, but it reveals God’s saving power. (Quote source here.)

Enough said. I’ll end this post with Micah 6:8He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly . . .

To love mercy . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “If We Are The Body” by Casting Crowns:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here