Book review: “Letters to an American Christian”
How should the faith of American Christians affect their politics?
Bruce Riley Ashford, professor of theology and culture at Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary, answers this question in a scholarly yet readable way in his new book, Letters to an American Christian (Nashville: B & H, 2018). He uses the technique of imaginary letters to a young new believer, named “Christian.” Imagining he is responding to Christian’s questions and experiences as a new believer and college student in a liberal secular university, he covers a vast array of topics from a Biblical worldview, including church and state, free speech, women’s rights, racism, Black Lives Matter, political correctness, big government, judicial activism, gun ownership, gay rights, transgenders, environmentalism, immigration, nationalism, war and peace, and fake news.
The author frequently includes catchy quotations, humor and personal references to his fictional friend that make the scholarly portions of the book come across more human. Yet he is clearly a scholar, drawing from a vast reading and rooted in Biblical references and concepts. In his chapter on immigration, I was surprised that he made no reference to the Old Testament injunction to protect the “sojourner” and “alien” among Israel, since they were once sojourners in Egypt. His political views are self-described as “center right” (p. 211), and this comes across consistently, as he defends most conservative views, but does it with compassion and moderation. He is strongly critical of secular and liberal political views. He also criticizes alt-right, ultra-conservative views, especially those that are mean-spirited.
Few people are likely to agree with every position Dr. Ashford takes on so many topics, but most Bible-believing Christians will find his book thought-provoking and helpful in forming their own positions.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
Top blog posts in 2016
In case you missed them, here were my top blog posts and top new blog posts in 2016, in order of the most visits:
TOP THREE POSTS OF 2016:
1. Blessing the food: ways to say “Grace”: https://bobrogers.me/2013/10/25/blessing-the-food-ways-to-say-grace-before-meals/
2. Four great truths from the creation account in Genesis: https://bobrogers.me/2013/10/14/four-great-truths-from-the-creation-account-in-genesis/
3. Why I am changing Bible translations: https://bobrogers.me/2012/04/17/why-i-am-changing-bible-translations/
TOP THREE NEW POSTS OF 2016:
1. In this weird political year, be a patriotic prayer warrior! https://bobrogers.me/2016/05/05/be-a-patriotic-prayer-warrior/
2. Twisted scripture: “by His stripes, we are healed”: https://bobrogers.me/2016/08/07/twisted-scripture-by-his-stripes-we-are-healed/
3. Twisted scripture: “God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle”: https://bobrogers.me/2016/06/10/twisted-scripture-god-doesnt-put-on-you-more-than-you-can-handle/
Twisted scripture: “the truth shall make you free”
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the fourth blog post in a series on scriptures commonly misinterpreted.)
President James A. Garfield said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” The president was making a humorous allusion to the famous words of Jesus in John 8:32.
Unfortunately, this Bible verse is often taken out of context John 8:32: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” This verse is engraved on courthouse entrances, implying that if a wise court can grant freedom by finding truth. This verse is cited by educators to say that knowledge is freedom, and it is quoted by investigative reporters who believe that freedom can be found in digging up the truth. While all of these are worthy goals, these interpretations ignore the verse immediately before it. So let’s read it again, this time in context:
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32, NKJV)
What a difference verse 31 makes! This verse gives us the audience to whom Jesus was speaking, and the conditions Jesus laid down to know truth and freedom. Notice what they are:
1. The audience. The audience who first heard these words were believers. Jesus “said to those Jews who believed Him…” Thus this promise is not intended for the general public. It is a promise for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Yet there is more.
2. The conditions. Jesus laid down two conditions to knowing truth and freedom. They link together like links in a chain. First, “If you abide in My word.” The first link is to continually study and obey the words of Christ. The second link results from the first: discipleship. He said, “you are My disciples indeed.” Note the word “indeed.” That is, if we study and obey Christ, then we are real disciples. The third link is in verse 32: “And you shall know the truth.” What is that truth? When Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor, He said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice” (John 18:37). The governor asked, “What is truth?” Jesus had already answered that question in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The fourth link results from the third, of knowing the truth: “And the truth shall make you free.” As we have seen, the truth is Jesus. No wonder Christ said of Himself a few sentences later, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
So there you have it. If you believe in Jesus, then abide in Him. Study His word and obey it. If you do, you will be a real disciple. And if you are a real disciple, then you will really know the truth, for the truth is Jesus. And when you really know the truth in Jesus, you will truly be free.
Free from what? From from the power of death and the devil, from deception, and from deeds of sin. (See Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 2:11, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Galatians 5:13).
Engraved on the Statue of Liberty is a poem by Emma Lazarus that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Millions of people have passed by the Statue of Liberty as they came into New York harbor, seeking freedom in America. But Jesus Christ has a better offer. He says to those who believe in Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Real freedom comes from real discipleship, following the real Savior.
Why I am praying for President Obama
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Thursday, May 2, is the National Day of Prayer, a day when Christians gather to pray for the president and all of our nation’s leaders. However, many Christians express more anger than prayer for President Obama. The same was true when President Bush was in office. Just as much vitriol was poured out against him from the left as is now being poured out against President Obama from the right. Yet it is my duty to pray for my president daily.
This fuzzy photo is a picture of President George W. Bush. On August 21, 2006, I led a public prayer for President George W. Bush at a campaign rally. After the president spoke, he went through the crowd shaking hands, and I grabbed my camera and took this picture in such a hurry that it came out so fuzzy.
As Mr. Bush greeted the crowd and shook my hand, I said, “I pray for you every day.” He looked me in the eye, and exclaimed, “Thanks, it’s working!” A priest who disliked President Bush’s policies later told me, “It must not be working.” Because he disagreed with the politician, he dismissed the prayer. How short-sighted! Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders. The apostle Paul said, “I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and for all those who are in authority…” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, HCSB).
The Old Testament prophets modeled this kind of praying for us. Isaiah said that the Lord “wondered that there was no intercessor” (Isaiah 49:16), Jeremiah wept over the nation, and Ezekiel called for someone to “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30) on behalf of the nation.
So I must pray for President Obama, just as I prayed for President Bush.
After all, if first century Christians could pray for a Roman emperor who threw them to the lions, cannot we pray for an elected president with whom we may disagree? Notice that when Paul urged us to pray for political leaders, he also gave us a reason: “… so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2b). African-American pastor Tony Evans points out, “What many conservative Christians fail to realize … is that when our first black president, Barack Obama, is dishonored through caricatures, name-calling, or disrespectful talk by white Americans, it merely creates a greater chasm between the races.” (Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced, p. 52). Evans illustrates what the apostle Paul was talking about– angry words instead of words of prayer for President Obama create chaotic lives, not tranquil lives. One preacher pointed that that if we would pray for the president instead of complain about the president, maybe he would do better.
So I am praying for President Obama. Will you join me this Thursday and every day?
Ten Things I Love About America
Here are ten things I love about America, in no particular order, adapted from Twitter, Facebook and my own thoughts. How about you? What would you add?
1. Children taking off their hats during the National Anthem.
2. Free coffee refills.
3. Applauding veterans and troops in the 4th of July parade.
4. The right to travel freely without a national ID card and without being stopped by the police for no reason.
5. Freedom to worship as we believe without fear.
6. Freedom to dissent without fear of arrest.
7. Generous churches sharing with those in need and disaster relief.
8. Country music, jazz, rock & roll and praise & worship
9. The right to share my faith openly with others without being silenced.
10. Andy Griffith