Some Questions about President Obama’s New Ad

In this video, President Obama calls for a “new economic patriotism” and outlines his 4-step plan “to get people back to work and make the middle class secure again.” Several questions: (1) Is it unpatriotic to oppose his plan? (2) Is thisa new plan or the same plan he’s been offering the last 4 years? (3) If a new plan, then isn’t Obama admitting that what he’s been doing the last 4 years didn’t work? (4) If the same plan, then isn’t he just “doubling down” on the same policies that haven’t worked to date? Inquiring minds want to know…


Happy 238th Birthday, Johnny Appleseed!

Today marks the 238th anniversary of the birthday of Jonathan Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. Like many people my age, I first became aware of Johnny Appleseed through the Disney film, which included this song:

The song is evidently a Swedenborgian hymn. Here are the complete lyrics:

Oh, the Lord’s been good to me.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun, the rain and the appleseed;
Oh, the Lord’s been good to me.

Oh, and every seed I sow
Will grow into a tree.
And someday there’ll be apples there
For everyone in the world to share.
Oh, the Lord is good to me.

Oh, here I am ‘neath the blue, blue sky
Doing as I please.
Singing with my feathered friends
Humming with the bees.

I wake up every day,
As happy as can be,
Because I know that with His care
My apple trees, they will still be there.
The Lord’s been good to me.

I wake up every day
As happy as can be,
Beacuse I know the Lord is there
Watchin’ over all my friends and me
The Lord is good to me.

Against Pulpit Freedom Sunday*

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is October 7, 2012. On that day, the sermons of participating pastors will provide specific guidance about how to vote on issues and candidates. This is, of course, their First Amendment right. However, doing so may endanger the tax-exempt status of their churches and ministries. That’s precisely the point, of course: to initiate a legal challenge to limits on the political speech of the leaders of tax-exempt, non-profit institutions, including churches and ministries, with the hope of seeing those limits overturned.

Personally, I think Pulpit Freedom Sunday is a terrible idea, regardless of the merit of the legal ideas underlying it. First, preachers are ministers of the gospel, not experts on public policy. Pulpit Freedom Sunday tempts preachers to speak beyond their areas of competence. Second, while the gospel outlines clear moral standards, the application of those standards to public policy is not always straightforward. This means that Christians committed to the same moral standard may disagree about the best application of that standard in the public square. When pastors advocate one application through their sermons, they needlessly divide congregants on an issue where they should be free to disagree. Third, advocating specific legislation or candidates through the sermon may constitute a needless stumbling block to a person’s acceptance of the gospel. If I read the St. Paul correctly, the only stumbling block to the gospel should be the Cross of Christ. Fourth, while I recognize that there may be kairos moments where the gospel itself is at stake and the churches must take an explicit, prophetic stance against the State or for the Opposition, I don’t think we’re at that moment or anywhere near that moment in America.

One more thing: I sincerely doubt that the Supreme Court is going to overturn the so-called Johnson Amendment any time soon. The so-called Johnson Amendment is that part of the tax code which gives tax-exempt, non-profit institutions limited freedom to advocate on issues but no freedom to advocate for candidates. Pastors have a First Amendment right to advocate for issues and candidates, but they don’t have a First Amendment right to tax-exempt status.

For the reasons I outlined above, and because I believe that a church’s tax-exempt status is advantageous to its ministry, I encourage pastors and church’s to ignore Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Preach the gospel! Preach the Bible! But don’t confuse your public policy preferences or favored candidates with either!

For more on what tax law permits and prohibits tax-exempt churches from doing with regard to issues and candidates, see “Election Year Dos and Don’ts” by Richard Hammar.

*The view expressed in this blog post is the personal opinion of George P. Wood and does not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Enrichment journal or the views of the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center

9/11 and the Mission of the American Church

Today is the 11th anniversary of 9/11. As America remembers the enormities of that day and reflects on the State’s response to acts of terrorism, it is appropriate American Christians to reflect on the mission Jesus Christ gave his Church to make disciples of all nations. America’s response to 9/11 and American Christians’ response to 9/11 may not be the same.

Dr. Mark Hausfeld, my professor at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, delivered a challenging message today on the Church’s mission. I encourage you to watch it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The irony of playing politics with the global war on Christians even as you criticize those who play politics with the global war on Christians

In a recent article, John Allen criticizes those who “play politics” with the global war on Christians.

As an example, he cites the relative silence of American Christians about the so-called “price tag” campaign of radical Israeli settlers. Every time the Israeli government closes a settlement, these radicals deface a Christian or Muslim holy site in retaliation. In addition, he mentions a broader streak of animus against Christians among some Orthodox Jews in Israel.

Now, clearly these acts of radical Jewish vandalism of Christian holy sites are worrisome, although rare. (Acts of vandalism against Palestinian property by Israeli radicals is less rare, though not common.) The animus against Christians is broader and while understandable, still not excusable. And clearly these acts of vandalism and generalized animus should be condemned, even when committed by Israelis.

Still, it seems to me that in the midst of condemning playing politics, Allen himself plays politics. How so? In the first paragraph, he mentions “a staggering total of 150,000 [Christian] martyrs every year.” But he goes on to note: “To be clear, so far these outrages haven’t resulted in any deaths.” Indeed, “Israel remains a fundamentally safe environment for Christians, certainly as compared to most places in its immediate neighborhood.”

If that’s the case, why mention Israel at all?

A Pentecostal Way Forward Through the Challenges of Science*

Every day, it seems, scientists uncover new wonders — both large and small — in our world. These wonders redound to God’s glory, for He created them all. And among those wonders, surely the human mind ranks high. Aside from the angels, only humans are able to perceive God’s handiwork and praise Him for it.

Yet many humans do not. Instead, they “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18). Consequently, “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). By they, of course, I mean we. Ingratitude for God’s gracious gifts mars every human heart.

Because creation is wonderful and the human heart wicked, I am ambivalent about science.

On the one hand, I benefit from advances in science. For example, I use Enbrel — a TNF inhibitor drug — to treat my ankylosing spondylitis. My iPhone, iPad, and laptop are indispensable tools in my work and my graduate studies. Their apps and programs make use of complex mathematical algorithms to produce, store, and communicate information. Energy efficient air conditioning and heating keeps me and my family cool in the summer and warm in the winter, at low cost. I could go on with more examples, but you get the point: Science has its benefits.

On the other hand, advances in science seem to portend retreats in faith. A 2009 Pew Forum poll of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that “scientists are roughly half as likely as the general public to believe in God or a higher power.” According to David Kinnaman, 25 percent of “18- to 29-year olds who have a Christian background” indicate that the belief, “Christianity is antiscience,” is “completely or most true of me.”

I don’t believe Christianity is antiscience. How can God’s Word and His world contradict one another? But many people — including many Pentecostals — believe Christianity is antiscience. How, then, should we as Christians live between the benefits of science and the challenges it seems to pose to our faith?

First, we must be filled with the Spirit. One of Pentecostalism’s greatest strengths is its empirical quality. For us, God is not a concept we ponder or a historical Actor whose past deeds are interesting to archive (though pondering Him is wonderful and recounting His past deeds is encouraging). Rather, God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is a living Person who invites us into fellowship with Him, changes our character at deep levels, and empowers us supernaturally to speak and to act on His behalf. Our experience is evidence — proof, even — of the realities our faith lays hold of. Perhaps that is why Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” If you find your faith questioned by science or anything else, the answer always begins with a prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, I need You.”

A focus on Pentecostalism’s empirical quality does not mean that arguments are unimportant. We are people of the Spirit, yes, but we are also people of the Word. Jesus Christ is the Logos of God (John 1:1–3,14), His Word, Reason, and Logic. If science or anything else challenges our faith, we must mount a tough-minded apologetic. Paul’s ministry is exemplary in this regard: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Since God exists, any scientific or philosophical argument that denies He exists is a bad argument, and we should be able to demonstrate this through close reasoning. Paul did not merely evangelize the lost, he reasoned, explained, and proved Christ’s vicarious death and victorious resurrection to them (Acts 17:2,3).

Third, we must interpret both Scripture and nature humbly. Scripture and nature are God’s self-revelation (Romans 1:20; 2 Timothy 3:16). Theology is primarily our interpretation of God’s revelation in Scripture, while science is primarily our interpretation of God’s revelation in nature. God is infinite, we are “the grass [that] withers and the flowers [that] fall” (1 Peter 1:24). God is all knowing, “we know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). God is all good, our “heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Given the distance between God’s perfection and our imperfection, we need to interpret both His Word and His world humbly, always ready to learn more about Him through them.

A new baptism in the Holy Spirit, confidence in the truth of Jesus Christ, and humility in the light of our limitations is a Pentecostal way forward through the challenges that science seems to pose to faith, even as we enjoy the many benefits it confers.

*This is my editorial in the fall 2012 issue of Enrichment.

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