Truth and love cannot abide apart from one another

There is a world that is passing away and, along with it, all the temporal pleasures and desires which make it something less than the world God intended. The love of the Father for the world he created endures forever, and that love will abide throughout the world to come. It is the love that already abides in “whoever does the will of God” (1 John 2:17), thus making real in this world that is passing away that world which will never pass away. John writes to those in whom the Father’s love abides in varying degrees (“little children,” “young men,” “fathers”) to encourage them to continue in that love, that they might indeed “abide forever.”

This is what Jesus was praying for when he prayed not only for John and the other apostles, “but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

The prayer of Jesus, still fresh in John’s mind when he wrote his epistle, surpasses any mere desire on our part, noble as it may seem, for some kind of organizational unity among believers across denominational or sectarian lines. The unity for which Jesus prays, the unity which manifests God’s glory to the world, is nothing less than incorporation into the divine community itself. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them,” Jesus prays to the Father, “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).

This is a unity that goes beyond any human-concocted scheme. It is the union established by the Father before the world began; a bond of eternal love between the Father and the Son, into which are incorporated all to whom the Son has made the Father’s name known, that is, all to whom the Son has imparted the divine nature through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those to whom such a gift is given are the true chosen people of God in whom abides the same Spirit which revealed to Daniel the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:1-30).

By contrast, the one who walks apart from Christ is like the pitiful “wise men” of Babylon, groping about in the darkness, “not know[ing] where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11). As those “wise men” were under the sentence of death before the intervention of the truly wise and righteous Daniel, so are we all under the sentence of death before the intervention of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. By his coming into the world, he has shown us the way of truth and, by his example of self-giving and self-sacrifice, demonstrated that truth cannot exist apart from love. To his apostles, he imparted the very word which is truth, that is, the same Word of God which he himself made incarnate. He “kept them in [the Father’s] name” and “guarded them” so that “not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).

Pilate will later cynically ask, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Jesus has the answer. “Your word,” that is, the Word of God the Father, “is truth” (John 17:17). It is the Word that Jesus himself has made incarnate. Thus, he not only gives the answer, he is the answer. Jesus himself, the very Word made flesh, is the embodiment of the truth, the full revelation of the will and purpose of God from the foundation of the world. To be “sanctified in the truth” is to be sanctified in Christ, made holy as the Father is holy through the truth abiding in us through the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17), whom God has sent to lead us in the way of righteousness.

To abide in Christ, the Word made flesh, the truth incarnate, is “to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). It is an often difficult road of selfless, unconditional, sacrificial love. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in the darkness,” John writes. “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:9-10) because the light in which he abides is Christ himself.

Truth and love cannot abide apart from one another. Only in Christ are the two made one; and only in Christ may we be sanctified in the truth to shine forth the glorious light of his love.

Embracing chaos and confusion: The fallen worldview of theological revisionists (with a word of caution to the rising generation of ACNA clergy)

Theological revisionists have, over the years, perfected a way of broaching the issue of homosexuality (and other forms of sexual brokenness that make up an ever expanding alphabet soup of virtuous vices) that is long on emotion and short on substance. Veterans of the ecclesiastical wars that have been fought over the last half century are hardly impressed, much less persuaded, by the now worn out refrain that this is a “very painful and complicated issue.” The rising generation of clergy in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), however, have lately shown themselves to be disturbingly susceptible to the siren call to be more “winsome” when engaging the revisionists who continue to beat the drum of “very painful and complicated.”

A word of caution, therefore, is warranted to our young colleagues about the dangers of too soon abandoning the field of battle when the real conflict has barely even begun. The real issue at stake, both now and in the stormy decades preceding, has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with who we are as the church and how we propagate the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a secularized culture that is increasingly hostile toward and bigoted against that Gospel.

Veterans and rookies alike would do well to remember that sex (and the various perversions of it that have challenged the church over the last half century) is merely the presenting issue, that is, the point of engagement for a much deeper argument.

Human sexuality, placed within the wider context of the doctrine of creation, is a relatively simple matter. God created human beings, male and female, in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). In marriage, as ordained by God, that image and likeness is given full expression as two human beings, male and female, become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). For Adam and Eve, prior to the Fall, their relationship with God and with one another was one of idyllic, blissful perfection. They “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

“Pain” and “complication” came with the Fall. Yielding to the Serpent’s deception (which entailed perverting one simple commandment of God into a complicated set of rules and regulations), Adam and Eve rebelled against God and threw all of creation out of harmony with God’s design. Sin so darkened the minds and hardened the hearts of many that even the simplest elements of God’s will became not only difficult but impossible for them to comprehend. “Claiming to be wise,” Paul says, “they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and reptiles” (Romans 1:22-23).

At the root of all human sinfulness is idolatry, “exchang[ing] the truth about God for a lie and worship[ing] and serv[ing] the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Absent the truth about God, human beings are also absent the truth about themselves. The result is utter confusion, ultimately manifest in the abandonment of the most basic of all human relationships.

“For this reason,” Paul continues, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27).

When the debate over homosexuality began, it was a basic conflict between two competing views of morality. But morality must have some objective basis, so traditionalists soon began attempting to elevate the discussion to one of the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice. In so doing, they exposed the revisionists’ true agenda, which was not to legitimize a sinful behavior, but to neutralize and denigrate the Word of God and all the essential doctrines emanating from it.

Revisionists, in a manner that was skillful only in their own eyes, first twisted the meanings of particular Scripture passages, then claimed they had been “mistranslated,” and finally abandoned them altogether as “antiquated.” It serves no purpose simply to quote Scripture to revisionists. To them, it has no authority, particularly with regard to their favorite sin.

What is left for traditionalists is the doctrine of creation and the Fall. The fact that God created human beings male and female ought to speak for itself. Yet, revisionists have even found a way to get around this inconvenient reality. Once again, it goes back to their rejection of the authority of Scripture. As they reject the New Testament implications of the Fall (as articulated by Paul and other writers), so they reject the Old Testament foundations for it, as well. Revisionists who reject the notion that God’s original design was a good and perfectly ordered creation will likewise reject the notion that the present creation is something less than God intended. Thus, revisionists will inevitably reject any notion of a final restoration of creation and of final judgment.

Revisionists are left to offer nothing but a moribund apologetic for the present state of creation. Homosexuality and other expressions of human brokenness are seen not as impediments to be overcome by the grace of God, but as gifts from God to be celebrated. God is neither the loving Father who created human beings in his own image, nor the righteous Judge to whom all human beings must one day give account. Rather, he is a generic deity who may have had a hand in creating the world but tends not to have much interest in its redemption, unless it involves eliminating the so-called “bigotry” of those who tenaciously hold on to the notion that he loves sinners so much that he sent his Son to die for them on the cross.

Ultimately, revisionists are left to embrace nothing but chaos because they have no sense of direction. They do not know where they came from and do not care to know where they are going.

Yes, homosexuality is “painful and complicated,” but only for those who are too obstinate to accept the truth about it and, thus, suffer the devastating effects of sin in their lives. For in rejecting the truth about homosexuality, revisionists reject the truth about God; and in rejecting the truth about God, they reject his offer of forgiveness and new life in his Son Jesus Christ, who came to save, heal, and restore a creation which was serene and in perfect harmony with God’s simple yet profound design before sin made everything “very painful and complicated.”

It is not easy to be “winsome” when reminding a world awash in hyper-sexualization that its present course can only lead to destruction. But the somber task of declaring the bad news that the wages of sin is death often falls upon the church in order that it may ready a people to receive the Good News that the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord (cf. Romans 6:23).

Those pugnacious “super apostles”

Among the most pugnacious and disagreeable of Paul’s opponents were the so-called “super apostles,” those who claimed a superior knowledge of the mysteries of God and derided Paul as a novice. Two of the worst offenders were Hymenaeus and Philetus, who were propagating the outlandish claim “that the resurrection has already happened.” Paul disowned these men and their claims, noting that “They are upsetting the faith of some.”

The claim by Hymenaeus and Philetus “that the resurrection has already happened” was “upsetting” to some because it was self-serving and self-glorifying. It set these “super apostles” above those, like Paul, who humbly and freely admitted that “the resurrection from the dead” was a goal which they had “not yet attained” (Philippians 3:12-16).

The resurrection is the outcome of a life lived in obedience to Christ. Paul was correct in his attitude of humility, knowing that the closer he got to the goal, the less he should think of himself. Union with Christ was, for Paul, a lifelong journey which required dying to self in order to be fully realized. This side of eternity, he knew that he could never confidently claim to have reached this ultimate outcome without calling attention to himself instead of Christ.

The resurrection, after all, is all about Christ. Inasmuch as we experience Christ working in our lives to transform us out of a life of sin and into a life of obedience, we can experience something of the benefits of the resurrection now. But the full implications of the resurrection will not be realized until the final consummation at the last day. In Christ, the last day is brought into the present from the future. But by claiming “that the resurrection has already happened,” Hymenaeus and Philetus were projecting themselves from the present into the future, thus “upsetting the faith of some” by setting themselves above all accountability and discipline. They were free to “live and let live,” indulge every carnal passion, and look down upon those pitiful souls who had not yet realized such “freedom.”

Paul warns Timothy to avoid such persons and to go about his work faithfully, not quarreling about words but “rightly handling the word of truth.” For the truth, spoken humbly yet unashamedly, will expose every lie for what it is.

Abiding in Christ

In Christ, we can do all things to the glory of the Father. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing and, in fact, are nothing. At the end of the day, there is no middle ground. We are either in Christ or apart from Christ. We cannot pretend to live partially in Christ and partially in the world. To abide in the world is to be apart from Christ; a fruitless branch to be taken away by the vindedresser and tossed into the fire. To abide in Christ is to shun the world and its enticements and bear fruit for the kingdom of God.

To abide in Christ, to have his life in us, is to participate in the very life of God. “Abide in me, and I in you,” Jesus says (John 15:4). This is union with Christ which makes us one, also, with the Father through the Holy Spirit. The one who so abides in Christ cannot help but bear fruit to the glory of the Father because the same Spirit which is in Christ is also in everyone who abides in Christ. It is for this reason that we were created in the image and likeness of God, that God might be glorified through us. But the fall has cut us off from a perfect relationship with God. The only way to restoration is through Christ.

To seek a relationship with God apart from Christ is sheer foolishness. In fact, it is impossible. The only “god” we can seek apart from Christ is one we make in our own image to satisfy our own carnal desires. Whenever we think we can make the first move toward God, we inevitably end up with a god of our own making.

Here is the difference between the Christian faith and all others. In Christ, God is making the first move toward us. We are not seeking him; he is seeking us. We do not choose him; he chooses us. We are not called to strive under our own strength to find a god of our own imagination. We are called, instead, simply to abide in him whom God the Father has sent to draw us back to him. The God who seeks us is the God who created us to bear fruit for his kingdom and glorify his name. Our sins have cut us off from him, but he desires to restore us and make us whole again.

All he asks of us is that we abide in the life-giving, sacrificial love of his Son and keep his commandments. To do this is truly to live the life that pleases God and glorifies his name. To live such a life is true, full, and complete joy.

Gerald R. McDermott has done us a huge favor

Gerald R. McDermott has done a huge favor for the Anglican Church in North America. Whether or not you agree with the argument he makes in his article, “God is Not Fair: Some Thoughts on Women’s Ordination,” the larger issue he raises takes the discussion to another level.

Gerald R. McDermott

Debates over “women’s ordination” often become acrimonious, being driven more by emotion than by sound theology and exegesis. As an isolated issue, it can become the basis for declarations of impaired communion. Conflated, as it often is, with what should be the less controversial issue of “women in ministry,” it becomes fertile ground for accusations of sexism and exclusion.

The ongoing Taskforce on Holy Orders, under the direction of the College of Bishops, has managed, at least up until now, to navigate skillfully through the troubled waters this issue often brings. The bishops are playing the long game, wisely avoiding the pitfalls that have doomed so many previous attempts at Anglican reformation.

What stands out about McDermott’s essay, although written specifically to address the issue of “women’s ordination,” is his calling attention to a factor in the debate that has long been overlooked, if not entirely forgotten.

So if God believes in equality, it is a different equality from what most think. God’s equality does not mean giving every person the same chance to do everything.

Neither did Jesus’ equality mean that. He treated women in revolutionary ways, and had female disciples like Mary who studied with him in ways normally impossible for Jewish women. Women traveled with him and talked with him in public in ways that violated cultural conventions. So when he chose his twelve apostles, it wasn’t the culture or his own fears that prevented him from including women.

This is difficult to think through, because we want to believe that Jesus must have believed in equality as we do. But he did not.

Scripture presents us with a view of equality between men and women that is decidedly different from the view so often promoted by contemporary culture. McDermott reminds us of this, in all its gory details, noting that “we are revolted by what Paul said and by what Jesus did (or did not do) because they violate what recent cultural mavens have told us.” As is so often the case, not only with this particular issue but with many others, as well, contemporary debates are guided by things temporal rather than things eternal.

McDermott concludes with a not necessarily rhetorical question for all of us in the ACNA.

What do we do? Should we feel a bit uncomfortable about trying to improve on what Paul and Jesus thought and did?

It is quite obvious what his answer would be. Regardless of how others might answer, however, McDermott has challenged us to move the conversation to a much higher plane.

Resurrection, reinstatement, and replication

John’s Gospel is the most self-contained of all the Gospels. The ordeal of Jesus’ passion is presented as embodying the “tribulation” that the whole church must endure to the end, with Judas cast in the role of “the son of destruction” (John 17:12) and the hour in which the Apostles will be “scattered, each to his own home” (John 16:31) being the apostasy that must necessarily precede the Day of the Lord, that is, the resurrection (Peter and his three denials being, perhaps, the embodiment of this episode).

Christian eschatology is nothing if not simple common sense. The Greek term for “falling away” is apostasia, literally, “standing off.” Conversely, “resurrection” in Greek is anastasis, literally, “standing again.” Simple logic dictates that a “standing again” be preceded by a “standing off.” So when Paul says, for instance, in 2 Thessalonians 2, that “the Day of the Lord” (connected again, implicitly, with the resurrection) will not come unless the apostasy comes first, he is merely stating the obvious. It is a scenario as old as Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve fell away by eating the forbidden fruit, had their nakedness (that is, their inner man of lawlessness) revealed, and had to face the judgment of God, being able to “stand again” only after God himself had intervened to provide them an adequate covering for their nakedness. If you want to understand “the end,” then go back to “the beginning” and everything will make sense.

Following his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (John 21). There, he reminds Peter, in particular, of his apostasy (through symbols that recall the night of his denial, such as the breaking of bread and a charcoal fire), reinstates him in love (asking him three times, “Do you love me?”), and then says to him, “Follow me.”

Previously, in a conversation with Peter in chapter 13, Jesus said, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward” (v. 36). The conversation in chapter 21 closes the circle. Jesus, having gone to his death on the cross and having risen in triumph over sin and death, has established the pattern that Peter is now called to follow, even though it may lead him to a place he does not want to go. John states several times throughout his Gospel that Jesus said this or that “to indicate the kind of death he was going to die.” Now, he writes that Jesus said this to Peter “to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.”

Peter, and by implication all who would follow Jesus, must now replicate Jesus’ ministry of redemption and transformation, up to and including making the ultimate sacrifice out of love for him. The path of each individual may not be completely identical. John, for instance, would not die a martyr’s death but would, rather, glorify God through a life of abiding faith that would become an extension of the very life of Christ (“If it is my will that he abide until I come, what is that to you?”). Yet, all who follow Christ are called to hold back nothing, including life itself, from the service of his kingdom.

Two bitter fruits of the same poisonous tree?

[Note: With news of “prosperity gospel” charlatan Paula White’s appointment to a key advisory position in the White House, I thought it timely to revise and extend this post from several years ago.]

The emergence of theological liberalism in the nineteenth century had a devastating effect on the American pulpit. Preachers like Horace Bushnell (1802-1876) and Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) were at the forefront of the transition from strict doctrinal precision to broad doctrinal license. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) was a twentieth century man, building his reputation through adept use of the mass media of book publishing and radio (the weekly “National Vespers” on the NBC network). However, he was every bit a product of the nineteenth century liberalism in which he was immersed.

Paul Scott Wilson, in A Concise History of Preaching, describes how Fosdick came to develop “a new, alternative method of preaching.”

In journal articles in the 1920’s, 1930’s 1950’s, and in his autobiography, Fosdick discussed his “project method” of homiletics. It was in contrast to topical preaching, which he felt was a “Sir Oracle” lecture on a theme, and expository preaching, in which preachers “assumed that folk come to church desperately anxious to discover what happened to the Jebusites.” He outlined the contemporary expository preaching of which he was critical: “First, elucidation of a Scriptural text, its historical occasion, its logical meaning in the context, its setting in the theology and ethic of the ancient writer; second, application to the auditors of the truth involved; third, exhortation to decide about the truth and act on it.”

After floundering for his first years as a preacher, he devised a homiletic based in pastoral counseling that made preaching an adventure for him. Every sermon was to start with the “real problems of people” and was to “meet their difficulties, answer their questions, confirm their noblest faiths and interpret their experiences in sympathetic, wise and understanding co-operation.” He looked for the way even larger issues of the day, national and international, affected the lives of ordinary people. He wanted sermons to be conversational, “a co-operative dialogue in which the congregation’s objections, questions, doubts and confirmations are fairly stated and dealt with.” The preacher’s business is “to persuade people to repent . . . to produce Christian faith [and] to send people out from their worship on Sunday with victory in their possession.” To this end, “A preacher’s task is to create in his congregation the thing he is talking about.” A sermon on joy is to explore wrong ideas about it, false attempts at it, problems in getting it, and then move to create it.

Whereas lectures had “a subject to be elucidated,” preaching had an “object to be achieved.” Determining this “object” or problem to be solved was the first step in preparation. This was followed by “free association of ideas,” perhaps for several hours, followed in turn by exploration of literature, cases from counseling, the Bible, and personal experience. His structure, commonly three points, for which one must listen carefully to discern, often emerged in the writing of his sermons. Someone said his “sermons begin by describing a human need, next illustrate that need from literature, from contemporary events and personal experiences, and then turn to the Bible for those principles which could meet that need.” His critics caricatured his preaching as “undogmatic Christianity” and “problem-solving.”

Fosdick was also criticized, rightly according to Wilson, “for taking his message to the biblical text and for using the text to illustrate his predetermined point.” He was not the first, and certainly not the last, preacher to commit this error. His methodology, the mistakes inherent in it, and the paucity of its doctrinal and theological underpinnings represented the coming of age of the liberalism birthed in the preaching of Bushnell and Beecher and brought to its tragic conclusion in the incoherent psychobabble of Spong and Schori. Less obvious, at least on first glance, is the sowing of the seeds of the equally innocuous false gospel of “positive thinking” first popularized by Norman Vincent Peale, advanced through mass media by Robert Schuller, and now embodied in all its garish glory by the the insufferable Joel Osteen. It is also quite easy to draw a direct historical and theological line from Fosdick to Peale to President Trump’s faith adviser and peddler of the “prosperity gospel,” Paula White.

Except for students of homiletics and church history, Harry Emerson Fosdick’s sermons and writings are largely forgotten. To the person in the pew, he is best remembered for the stirring hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory.” In recalling the era in which he was at the height of his influence, however, we can see two bitter fruits produced from the same poisonous tree of the liberalism which shaped his methodology and his ministry.

Millennium typology

Six years ago, Peter Leithart wrote about an interesting take on the millennium he had come across, from an obscure Patristic commentary.

In his commentary on Revelation (in Greek Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), Oecumenius interprets the millennium as the period between Christ’s incarnation and His ascension. During “the time of the incarnation of the Lord, the devil was bound and was not able to resist the marks of the Savior’s deity” (87). He is probably the only commentator ever to offer such an interpretation.

On the other hand, the “little while” during which Satan is released is “the time between the incarnation of the Lord and the consummation of the present age.”

So a big number represents three years, and the phrase “a little while” stands for thousands? Oecumenius has what you call an uphill battle to make that one convincing.

One of the frustrations with reading the lesser known ancient Fathers is a lack of exegetical consistency. Leithart is correct, of course, in saying Oecumenius would be fighting an uphill battle to make his argument convincing. He might, however, have been on firmer ground, at least typologically, if he had seen the “little while” of Satan’s release as beginning with Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane and ending, decisively, with the resurrection.

An even more consistent interpretation in this direction would see “the millennium” as encompassing not the whole period of Christ’s incarnation, but the period beginning immediately after Jesus’ temptation experience (Luke records at this point that the devil “departed from him until an opportune time,” 4:13) when he declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17) and, thus, ending in Gethsemane. During that period, as the Gospels record, Satan was literally powerless to prevent Jesus from healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, even raising the dead. It is no stretch to say Satan was, indeed, “bound” during this period, at least with regard to his ability to interfere with Jesus’ ministry.

This is not to suggest that traditional arguments concerning the millennium are off the table. It is merely to suggest that the three years encompassing Jesus’ earthly ministry may be seen as a type of what John would later envision in the Apocalypse as “the thousand years.” I don’t think I am going out on a limb in suggesting there are incidents during Jesus’ first advent that were portents of his second advent. The acts which he performed, utterly uninhibited by Satanic interference, were signs of the age to come. What seemed extraordinary then, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, will be quite ordinary when the kingdom Jesus declared to be “at hand” comes in its fullness.

On the voting habits of Jesus and other speculative nonsense

Search Amazon for books entitled How Would Jesus Vote? and you will be amazed with your search results. There seems to be a lot of interest in the hypothetical voting habits of the King of kings and Lord of lords, especially among Christians of the “evangelical” persuasion. Now, you can add to the mix another volume with a speculative title, Would Jesus Vote for Trump?, and highly offensive, if not outright sacrilegious, cover art. This nearly 400-page tome (which, apparently, is only available in Kindle format at present) is the joint effort of “best selling authors” Brandon Vallorani and Doug Giles, the latter of whom previously authored a book with the most dignified title, Pussification: The Effeminization of the American Male.

Let me start by stating the obvious. I am automatically suspicious of a book purporting to have been penned “by best selling authors.” Just as authors with legitimate doctoral degrees do not affix the “Dr.” title to their name on a book cover, legitimate “best selling authors” do not announce their accomplishments with trumpets on a dust jacket. In this day and age, all it takes to become a “best selling author” is to write a book and pre-order enough copies yourself to get it listed on a few internet sites.

Furthermore, being a “best selling author” does not make one an expert on the Christological implications of voting in a democratic election. For that matter, if you are prone to use such terms as “pussification” in your “best selling” books, I have my doubts as to whether you are an expert on anything pertaining to Christ or Christianity.

Be that as it may, these two “best selling authors” claim their book is an apologetic for Christians supporting Donald Trump, warts and all. That is not a subject that would hold my attention for very long. Christians are always faced with less than perfect choices in a less than perfect nation. Pragmatism and prudential judgment are part and parcel to life in a fallen world. Vallorani and Giles, however, seem to go beyond mere pragmatism to make the astounding claim that God is doing something through Donald Trump unlike anything he has ever done before. That is problematic.

The prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is not now, and never will be, answered by the election of a president. Even the most virtuous of human governors would be but a pale imitation of the Supreme Governor of the Universe. History is littered with the carcasses of wannabe messiahs who forgot about, or simply ignored, this unchangeable truth. Court evangelicals like Vallorani and Giles (as well as Jeffres, Falwell, Metaxas, Graham, et al.), who heap unceasing and unqualified praise upon President Trump, are doing a disservice both to the president and to the people who look to them for spiritual guidance. Lifting up the president in prayer to God, that he “may be led to wise decisions and right actions for the welfare and peace of the world” (BCP) is the duty of all Christians. Slavish allegiance to the president, based on the presumption that his decisions and actions are always wise and right because Jesus himself would have voted for him, is an abdication of that duty.

Besides all this, the very question, “Would Jesus vote for Trump?” (or anyone else, for that matter) is a silly one. No one knows the day or the hour but, rest assured, if Jesus were to return on Election Day, it would not be to cast a vote.

To contribute nothing new

C.S. Lewis, in his book Christian Apologetics, had little sympathy for, nor patience with, members of the clergy who, bound by their vows of ordination, failed to stay within the bounds of the faith they were bound to defend.

It is your duty to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other.

The late Thomas Oden, who experienced an awakening to the orthodox faith after immersing himself in the writings of the Church Fathers, wrote of a curious dream that gave him reason to hope that his life’s work would not be in vain.

I once had a curious dream. The scene was in the New Haven cemetery, where I accidentally stumbled upon my own tombstone, only to be confronted by this bemusing epitaph: “He made no new contribution to theology.”

I woke up feeling reassured, for I have been trying in my own way to follow the strict mandate of Irenaeus “not to invent new doctrine.” No concept was more deplored by the early ecumenical councils than the notion that theology’s task was to “innovate.” That implied some imagined creative addition to the apostolic teaching and thus something “other than” the received doctrine, “the baptism into which we have been baptized.”

What the ancient church teachers least wished for a theology was that it would be “fresh” or “self-expressive” or an embellishment of purely private inspirations, as if these might stand as some “decisive improvement” on the apostolic teaching.

I share with Oden the dream that I will be remembered for having “made no new contribution to theology.” As a priest, it is not my task to be an “innovator.” And if, someday, I did come to the conclusion, however “honestly,” that my opinions were some “decisive improvement” on the teaching of the Apostles, the only “honest” thing for me to do, as Lewis suggests, would be to find another line of work.

No one should, and no one can, take seriously a person who draws his livelihood from the Gospel while tearing down that Gospel with his every word, all the while bedecked in all the splendor of priestly garb.

Perhaps the most comic, yet tragic, figure in recent church history has been John Shelby Spong, the now (thankfully) retired bishop who has spent the better part of his adult life wearing a purple shirt with a gleaming gold cross while saying the Bible is little more than cute fairy tale.

The “good deposit” entrusted to us, as it was entrusted to Timothy—the faith that dwelt first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and that Paul, who was getting ready to give his life for that faith, was confident now dwelt in his young protégé (2 Timothy 1:5)—is not something that can be treated so carelessly. It is not something to be taken and bent to our own preferences and desires.

This “good deposit,” this Gospel of salvation, is a powerful thing. It is powerful, however, not in the way the world understands power. The power of God is not to be used to validate one’s own power. As Paul so adeptly explains in writing to Timothy, the power of God is understood best under circumstances of utter weakness, such as the uniquely powerless surroundings of the Roman prison from which he is writing—a most unpleasant reminder that the Gospel never promises you “your best life now.”

From the darkness of that prison, Paul issues a clarion call to Timothy, reminding him “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is yours through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

Do not be timid, Paul says, in exercising the gift God has given you because God delights in exercising his power through the weak vessels of his faithful servants.

“Increase our faith!” was the cry of the apostles while they were still learning at the feet of Jesus (Luke 17:5)

Jesus told them, “What you need is not great faith. What you need is simply faith in a great God.”

God did not choose you because you had the most faith. He did not choose you because he thought you had more potential than anyone else.

God “saved us and called us to a holy calling,” Paul says, “not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).

That is nothing new. That is nothing innovative. That is not an improvement on an old and antiquated teaching.

It is, simply, the Gospel—and it is always, and forever, true.