Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 09/19/22

Eric’s epistle. Tomorrow (9/20), Eric Metaxas – the Salem Radio Network host and bestselling evangelical biographer (Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World) – releases his Letter to the American Church. The book is an urgent call to the faith leaders of today to avoid the mistakes made by their German counterparts of the 1930s. It was their failure to speak out against the cultural insanity of their era, he says, that helped pave the way for the evil of the Holocaust.

JWK: I watched you talk at the Second Baptist Church in Houston about your new book Letter to the American Church. You said you believe God wanted you to write this book to speak to His church. Are you sort of a modern-day St. Paul?

Eric Metaxas: Obviously, writing a book with the title Letter to the American Church is meant to invoke the idea of Paul’s letter to the churches…When Paul was writing those letters, none of those letters – that any of them wrote – did the authors think would become part of Holy Scripture, obviously. They were just sharing what they felt they should share. We can, in retrospect, say that was the Lord speaking through them. I, obviously, don’t put my book in the category of any of those letters but…when you’re talking about a subject this serious, as I am in the book, you have to approach it with the proper humility and understand that God better be the one saying what you’re saying here or there’s no point in writing it.

If I’m just writing my opinion, I would never dare to title it Letter to the American Church. So I had a real trepidation about the idea of writing it because I thought I have to completely get out of the way and try to write what I believe God wants me to say. That’s, obviously, a very sobering task but I did feel that I didn’t initiate it. I felt that I had a number of these thoughts over some time and, at some point, said “You know what? I think I should put these into a short book because I think it’s that important and then at least I’ve done what God asked me to do and the results are in His hand.”

So, that’s what I did. I think it’s the shortest I’ve ever written but it’s, obviously, very serious. I just have to believe that God’s gonna use it reach the people that He wants to reach…I think some people maybe aren’t interested in the idea that I’m writing about but, I think, that enough people are open-minded enough to give it a read and to see what they think. I’ve tried to reach people who would be open-minded. I’m not trying to attack people. I didn’t want to have a combative tone…This is way to serious to sound partisan or to sound angry….This is so serious I have to take a measured statesman-like pacific tone, as much as possible.

JWK: What do you see as the great issues facing the Church today and how would you rate the Church’s response to those issues?

EM: The comparison that I’m making – and I make it in deadly earnest; it’s horrifying for me to think, much less to say and write about it – is to the German church in the thirties. The German church in the 1930s – with the rise of the Nazis – obviously had no clue that their silence would open the door the nightmare of what lay ahead. They, like the American church today, were convinced that it’s better for them to be quiet, it’s better for them to be silent, now is not the time to speak up (and) everything will work out fine. Our job is to “preach the Gospel” and stay out of politics.

They quoted Romans 13. They over-stressed Romans 13 because Luther had dramatically relied on Romans 13 as though that’s the beginning and the end of the subject of how the Church is supposed to deal with the state. Of course, that’s ridiculous. Bonhoeffer – you know, my hero and the subject of my biography – clearly understood in the thirties that most of the Church was dead wrong. He did his best to wake them up – to make them understand (that), no, the Church is meant to be the conscience of the state. We are not living under Nero or Caligula. We are deputized in this nation to be the conscience of the state. We need to speak self-sacrificially – that’s the agape love of Christ – even if it puts us in danger. Even if we’re in danger of losing our jobs and our congregation, we are supposed to believe what the Scripture says – that Jesus defeated death and He has emboldened us and freed us to to speak His truth in love. The German church shrank from that and the results were as horrific as any of us can imagine.

If we today think that the American church is somehow different- or those things can’t happen here – we are precisely as foolish as the German pastors were in the early thirties thinking that this would pass them by and that they could be silent. In fact, our situation is much worse because we have the example of the German church and what happened. They, at the time, did not. So they could plead ignorant at the time. We cannot…The German church was silent. They thought they were correct, mainly, in being silent. We now can see, obviously, they were dramatically wrong. I think that much of the American church – most of the American church – is being precisely as silent in the face of evil as the German church was in the thirties. If we do not hear Bonhoeffer’s message – and the Lord’s message – today we will be cursed and doomed to repeat the horrors – and, maybe, worse horrors than what happened in Germany. For us to think somehow that that could happen to them but not to us…is hubris. It’s also unbiblical . We have exactly as much sin in us and sinful tendencies in ourselves as the Germans did then.

JWK: If I understand you correctly, I think you basically endorse the concept of a separation between church and state but you say that doesn’t mean the Church is to remain silent on political issues.

EM: It’s the opposite! It means exactly the opposite! The misunderstanding of the issue of separation of church and state is one of the most tragic, monstrous misunderstandings in modern American life. It’s sickening because it’s not just mistaken. It’s precisely the opposite of the Founders’ understanding.

The Founders created a government that was obliged by law – in the Constitution – to keep its hands away from the Church. It was not allowed to establish a church. It was not allowed put a thumb on the scale of these issues concerning religion, concerning the nature of humanity and sexuality. The government was to be agnostic on those issues and to allow the Church to operate freely – and not just that Christians could worship but that we could live out our faith. We could exercise our faith in every sphere of life.

So, the separation of church and state is exactly the opposite – and I write about this in the book – of how it’s been interpreted by the courts roughly since the sixties. We have dramatically misunderstood this. We flipped it and we have acted as though the Church is harmful somehow to the state and that the state and the culture are meant to be secular. That is not only nonsensical but it goes against everything the Founding Fathers wrote – not just physically in the founding documents but in all of their other writings. They knew that a robust Church – and people of faith acting out their faith boldly – was at the very heart of all of our liberties. We could never have a self-governing nation unless people of faith exercise virtue and exercise their faith boldly. So, the misunderstanding of Americans – much less American Christians – on this issue is absolutely tragic and nightmarish and if we don’t get it right – if we don’t understand that we are called by God to be the conscience of the state and to bring His truth into every sphere we will make – in fact are now making – exactly the same mistake the German church made and the results will be similar, if not worse.

JWK: You wouldn’t be in favor of a theocracy-type situation, would you?

EM: Well, no. Obviously it’s not theocracy. That’s the point. People give you this false choice: It is either a secular world or theocracy. It’s nonsense. That’s the whole point of the Founders. They said we’ve left theocracy in the Old World in Europe. We don’t want theocracies of any kind. We don’t want the state to get its hand in these issues. We want these issues left to the people themselves so that the people themselves can freely bring their faith to bear.

Once you bring your faith to bear in such a way that it gets muddled up with the authority of the government and the state, you’ve destroyed freedom. The genius of the Founders is (that they created) something – and, of course, it’s inherent in the Scriptures themselves but it just took us 17 or 18 centuries to get it right – (in which) we are supposed to exercise our faith boldly but there’s no way that the government either can mandate it or mandate against it.

What we’re living through now is the government mandating against it. We’ve had the establishment of a religion, in a sense, by the government that is anti-Christian. They’ve taken positions on all of these issues that are antithetical to Scripture but they say “Well, we have the right to do that. We’re the government and it’s not an official religion.” Well, the point is that they’ve muddied the waters. They have, basically – on issues of marriage, on issues of the unborn, on issues and sexuality and many other issues – taken strong stands with the incredible force and power of government. All of the Founders understood once that happens you no longer have liberty. That’s what we’re living through now.

If the Church doesn’t speak up and push back against it then we will have the establishment of a secular religion which is exactly what is happening now. Also, as we drift toward socialism, Marxism (and) cultural Marxism, all of these things are fundamentally atheistic. So, you, in effect, have the establishment of an atheistic religion. In other words, it’s like if you go to North Korea or you go to China (where) the government tells you “We take an official stand against God…So you can keep these things in your little buildings on Sunday morning but, once you come out of those buildings, you must bow to the secular authority of the state.” That is basically where we are drifting very quickly…That’s fundamentally anti-American, anti-Founders, anti-liberty (and) anti-biblical. (If) you don’t understand how wrong that is, you won’t speak up against it. That’s part of the reason a lot of Christians have been silent. They have not understood the issues.

JWK: You praise the idea of American Exceptionalism but say that that doesn’t mean that Americans are better than other people – but that the country’s foundational ideas are better than, as you say, Marxism, communism or socialism.

EM: Right.

JWK: Do you feel that Americans have lost sight of that distinction?

EM: Oh, absolutely. There’s no question. It’s just like what you mentioned with theocracy. In other words, we’ve been fooled into a false choice…When you talk about American Exceptionalism, people like Barack Obama and others have infamously misunderstood this idea to mean that, yeah, we think we’re better, we think we’re extra-special…It’s not we as human beings, as Americans, that are better or special but these ideas that we’ve been privileged to live under (are). These ideas are meant, first of all, for everybody. When we talk about American Exceptionalism the irony is that these beautiful ideas which began here, and which have flourished most clearly here, were never meant only for us. Like every gift – like the gift of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ – it is beautiful, special and exceptional precisely because it’s meant for everyone. So, there’s an irony and a paradox that is at the heart of it. If you don’t understand that, you’re either going to kick against it or you’re gonna embrace it foolishly and tribalistically. We, as Christians, have an obligation to see exactly what is meant by this because, if you get it wrong is either direction, it leads to disaster.

JWK: So, you’re talking about the importance of balance.

EM: Well, you could call it balance. I think it’s just an issue of getting it right. The Founders understood that without virtue and faith you cannot have liberty but they also understood that you cannot mandate faith and virtue – that, once you mandate them through law, you cease to have freedom. So, there’s the paradox. You have to encourage these things but you cannot mandate them. They have to come freely from the people but if the people have been persuaded that we’re to keep our faith in a box – that I’m to keep my religion in this little religious corner only to talk on “Gospel-related issues” -you’ve already defanged the Church.

The Church cannot live out its faith if its persuaded that it has to live in its little religious corner. We are never meant to live in a little religious corner with our faith. We’re meant to take our faith beyond the churches, beyond Sunday morning, into every part life – to bless every part of life, to bring the values of the Scripture into every part of life.

Wilberforce did that on the issue of slavery. He said “I’m a Christian but I’m not going to pretend that only Christians should see slavery as wrong. It is universally wrong and we want to take this idea into the whole country. We want to persuade the whole country that we have to end the slave trade and end slavery.” The Abolitionists in America felt the same way. They said “The Scripture is clear. Slavery is wrong in the same way that murder is wrong. We have to stand against it.” We can’t just say “Oh, well. We Christians won’t buy slaves.” That’s not the way it works. When something is right or wrong, you want to tell the whole world. You want to, in a sense, bless others by letting them know what is right and true.

I think some Christians today, who may be weary of the culture wars, have persuaded themselves that there’s a theological reason for us to be silent on all kinds of issues. In the past, that’s only led to tragedy.

JWK: You talk about how bad ideas often stem from bad ideas that got twisted. Can you explain that?

EM: Of course. You know, the devil can’t create anything. Only God can create. So, what the devil does is twist the truth – or bend it, pervert it. So, you take a good idea – like, you know, that we’re justified by faith. Okay, that’s a good idea – but what if you misinterpret it? What if you twist it a little bit and you make it sound like “Well, faith is just what I believe intellectually”? So, I believe these things, therefore I’m saved. Well, the Scripture says, no, if you don’t behave as though you believe these things then it’s obvious you don’t believe these things.

In other words, you’re not saved by your works – but your works prove your faith. We need to talk about that. Largely, because of Luther, we kind of so stressed certain things that we have this Enlightenment Rationalist view of the faith which is not a biblical view of faith (and) not a Hebrew view of faith. We act as though it’s just what I believe in my head – but the Scripture’s pretty clear that what you believe in your head is meaningless if you don’t live it out. If you don’t live it out – if people don’t see you living out what you claim to believe – then it’s quite obvious you actually don’t believe it and, therefore, you’re not saved because you don’t have the faith you claim to have.

Bonhoeffer talks about “cheap grace.” It’s the same idea as cheap faith. It’s twisted away from the real meaning. Real grace and real faith are profound, are everything – but what if you make that faith or that grace so attenuated that it has no value? Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, was trying to wake up the German church to that very idea. I’m really taking that same idea and applying it to where are today because I think it’s exactly the same situation.

JWK: You quote The Bible verse “Let us reason together” when talking about the importance of open debate. You suggest that you can pretty much tell who the totalitarians by noting who wants to shut down debate.

EM: Well, I think that’s always the case. When people say “Shut up!”, when people say “You can’t talk about this! You can’t talk about that!” No, we’re not gonna discuss this! If you bring this up, we’re gonna call that disinformation! We’re gonna crush you on social media! We’re gonna shadow ban you! We’re gonna wipe you off of YouTube!” – many of things have happened to me – I say, even if you didn’t know who’s right, it’s obvious that those people are afraid of genuine debate. They’re afraid of genuinely openly looking at things. They’re more interested in winning and they don’t have any qualms about crushing dissent. When somebody has no qualms about crushing dissent, it tells me that they’re effectively operating in a fascistic or totalitarian way. They don’t believe in these ideas of liberty and, when what they believe in is threatened, they quickly reveal themselves no longer to have any common ground with the people with whom they disagree. They will wipe you out if they have the power to do so – and we’re living in a time when, in many cases, they do have the power to do so. If we don’t fight back against that, we’re to blame.

JWK: There seems to be an ever-growing list of things you can’t discuss: 2020 election security, climate change, abortion. They all seem to be off limits for debate.

EM: That’s precisely why I talk about those things…If I don’t talk about all the things that you tell me I can’t talk about, I’m participating in the silence…If I talk about vaccines or I talk about the 2020 election, you don’t have to agree with me but once you tell me I can’t talk about that, now I wonder what are you afraid of?

I think that the Church has to be dramatically less timid. We have to be bold and we have to behave as though we are free because, not only are we free because of the blood of patriots who died for this country and have died for our liberties, we’re supposed to be totally free because of our faith in Jesus. We’re supposed to fear nothing but God and what He thinks.

I think that we’ve been persuaded to adopt a kind of a tame version of the faith which is not the faith. It’s like we’re in The Narnia Chronicles when the have the discussion about (whether) Aslan, the Christ figure, is safe. The answer is no, he’s not safe. He’s wild and he’s good. He’s not a tame lion. I think our faith in God sometimes has become this faith in gentle Jesus, meek and mild who would never do anything like turn over the tables of the moneychangers. We have really begun to worship a god who becomes an idol of our own safe religious making. That’s always the temptation. We have to look squarely at that issue – which is what I try to bring up in the book.

JWK: What’s your take on Cancel Culture?

EM: Cancel Culture is just a manifestation of what I mentioned. Actually, it’s even worse than that. It’s precisely the opposite of the biblical view of grace. Grace says that you can get all kinds of things wrong. God still loves you and offers forgiveness, offers you the opportunity to repent, offers you the opportunity to wipe the slate completely clean. No matter what you’ve done or said, God offers you the ability to make it right.

Cancel Culture – taking a page out of Satan, the Accuser – says you did this wrong and this wrong and this wrong and we will never ever forget it. We will always talk about it. No matter how you repent, no matter what you say, we will always tag you with it. We will crush you.

That’s not how we operate in the United States of America, certainly not as Christians. When Lincoln talked in his second inaugural about really very graciously reaching out to to our defeated enemy “with malice toward none,” that’s a biblical view. That takes real strength and courage. It’s much easier to say “Let’s punish them, let’s kick them when they’re down, let’s crush our enemies.” That always backfires, for one thing, but, secondly, it’s not biblical. So, Cancel Culture is clearly antithetical to a biblical view.

JWK: Some people would say that you have a show on the Salem Radio Network, you do have a YouTube channel, you have a book and you’re talking to me and others. What do you say to those people who say that the very fact that you and other critics of Cancel Culture are getting your getting messages out through the media, in effect, proves there’s really no such thing as Cancel Culture?

EM: I’ve paid a real price for speaking. I will never cease to speak but I have paid a number of prices. My entire radio program – we had a huge YouTube channel. It had a huge following approaching a quarter of a million subscribers – YouTube completely wiped it out…I have to tell you that has affected us dramatically financially. It’s affected my ability to get out the message that I’m trying to get out. So, they have done that. Twitter often was threatening me. I’m being sued for having a radio guest on my program to talk about the election. For having a guest on my program I’m being sued! I said to myself “What about free speech?!” I mean it’s absolutely chilling. I believe that I have to do everything I can to speak up, to lead the way, to help people to know that if we do not all speak up and pay whatever little price we have to pay here and there – or big prices – if we’re not willing to do that, we are going to be crushed. Religious liberty will be crushed.

We are currently not doing what we need to do which is exactly why I wrote this book. I want the American church, by the grace of God, to understand where we are and what we must do. If we do not do it, what happened to the German church will happen to us. It’s happening to us right now and God’s giving us a clear choice and an opportunity but we have not yet taken it.

JWK: What are your thoughts on Critical Race Theory and the current issues involving gender identity?

EM: Critical Race Theory is cultural Marxism. The people behind it, the people behind the BLM organization, they’re cultural Marxists – which is to say they’re atheistic. So, their view of race – their view of the human person, their view of history – is antithetical to the biblical view. The biblical view knows that racism is wrong. We don’t some Johnny-Come-Lately to five minutes ago say “We’ve figured out a new way that you’re being racist.”…It was Christians that led the battle to abolish the slave trade in this country – because of their Christianity – and helped abolish it around the world.

So, (with) the idea of Critical Race Theory, it’s obvious that there’s some game playing happening. They have this atheistic view which claims to be somehow vital. It’s not only not vital – but it’s decidedly wrong and dead. It’s a nonstarter. You cannot, from an atheistic world view, even talk about racism being wrong. On what basis do you do that? As Christians, we know that God died for everyone equally and that He’s no respecter of persons. The biblical view is the only view that makes it clear why racism is wrong.

Critical Race Theory is playing head games with people. I think that it’s a wicked philosophy that has deceived many in the Church. You don’t need to look past Frederick Douglas and William Wilberforce. People who know the Scriptures know what racism is. Critical Race Theory not only is confused but (its adherents) have no real basis for what they are saying. They also participate in Cancel Culture and in this idea of crushing dissent. If you don’t agree with them, they immediately accuse you of being a racist.

It’s a fascinating time we’re living in but this is just what Marxists do. They just wield whatever power we let them have. We have to stand against it. Many, many, many in the Church have been too timid to stand against it or haven’t understood the situation and have been unable to stand against it. It’s tragic. We need to stand very strongly against it.

And the same with the transgender madness. The Scripture couldn’t be clearer that we’re made in God’s image, male and female. Period. This issue which has just come up is a tremendous deception but many people don’t have the courage or the understanding to stand against it – and, when you don’t stand against these things, people’s lives are harmed. People are being harmed. Racism, as an issue, gets worse. Young people’s lives are being harmed because of transgender confusion. If you don’t speak the truth clearly, people’s lives suffer. I think if you love people, as we’re commanded to by Scripture, we’re commanded to speak up on this against the prevailing culture. The prevailing culture is usually very wrong in one way or the other. It’s the role of the Church to be the conscience of the state, to speak up in the culture and to put our biblical values out there. If we’re persuaded that we should be quiet, we really give the field to the enemy which is what’s been happening.

JWK: So, how do we take the field? Do we become involved in politics? Make movies? What do you suggest?

EM: I think we have to do everything. I don’t think there’s one answer but I will say that this idea that we’re not supposed to be political is complete nonsense. William Wilberforce was a politician and, because of his faith in Jesus, he used politics to bring about the abolition of the slave trade. The idea that we are to say “Well, I believe the unborn are made in the image of God but I don’t want to be political. I don’t want to offend somebody because it might make it difficult to evangelize that person,” that’s lunacy.

We have to absolutely throw away this idea that being involved in politics is the same as making an idol of politics. We don’t put our faith in politics. We don’t put our faith in politicians but not to get behind a politician who is fighting for some of these things because we’re afraid someone who doesn’t like that politician might be put off is preposterous. The idea that Christians have been taken in by this is a chilling moment in history.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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