What’s More Important: Theology or Saving America?

Posted by in Bible & Theology, News & Culture

In the midst of all the other news coming out of Liberty University recently, some of you may not have caught the following dialogue between Glenn Beck and Jerry Falwell, Jr., as aired on the Glenn Beck Program, June 25:

GLENN: Jerry, I have to speak about something we’ve spoken about privately and I hope you don’t mind, but when we first met and I went down, you asked me to give the commencement speech and I — when I first met you, I thanked you for that and I said I know you must be getting heat because you’re an evangelical in a Christian college and I am a Mormon, and those don’t seem to go hand in hand with a lot of people in their minds. And I know you took heat for that, and I thank you for that. And you told me if you don’t mind me sharing this, that you know what — you know what time of day it is, and that we all have to kind of stand together hare and put our differences aside. That doesn’t [mean] you endorse my faith or whatever, and that’s fine. But we have to unite on things that are big, because we are in trouble, here.

JERRY: If we don’t hang together we’ll hang separately, I mean, that’s what my father believed when he formed Moral Majority, was an organization of Mormon’s, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, people of no faith. And there are bigger issues now, we can argue about theology later after we save the country. And I really think that we really do need to stand together, it’s a critical time in our nation’s history, and it’s — I met with a banker this morning, and he was telling me how all the new regulations, how much they’re going to cost his bank, and how he’s going to have to pass those costs onto the consumers, and he’s going to explain how the Congress is hiding how they’re paying for this new banking reform bill by taking money out of the federal reserve, and just some scary things that public doesn’t even know about. But it’s a frightening time in our history, and we appreciate greatly what you’re doing to bring all these different groups together…

As I see it, this dialogue gets at the root of a big division among American Christians today that appears to be getting even bigger regarding what the Christian faith is all about. As I understand it, the biblical gospel (i.e. theology) is at the core of everything we do. The biblical gospel is at the root of any true unity we may ever hope to have. And, whenever we seek to unite on moral, ethical, or political issues with those with whom we are not in essential agreement on the gospel, we have put the proverbial horse before the cart. Only the gospel can change hearts. And only changed hearts can change a country (that is, if our goal, as Christians, is even changing a country. Maybe God’s plan is to redeem a people and build a Kingdom for Himself from out of the different people groups of the world, not to “change the countries” in which they live. But that is a whole different discussion…).

In the meantime, lots of Christians seem to be enamored with the “save the country” approach. And, Glenn Beck seems to understand this well. For the most part, Evangelicals by themselves do not make up a large enough voting bloc to determine public policy. But the Republican Party (and many other political interest groups) would have a hard go at pushing their agenda forward without significant support from a sizeable percent of Evangelicals. And, the ratings of Glenn Beck’s massively popular TV and radio programs would probably dip quite a bit if it weren’t for his loyal following among many Evangelicals.

Now, any politician worth his/her salt knows that pure, hardcore politics—whether of the conservative brand or the liberal brand—doesn’t sell very well with most Evangelicals. Spiritual revival and moral reform seem to do quite well, though. Glenn Beck understands this.

Now, I will admit that at least a part of Beck’s motivation on this point may well be sincere. He claims his conversion to Mormonism has changed his personal and family life. And, who am I to say that, in several aspects, it hasn’t? You listen to Beck’s testimony, and, on the surface, it sounds a lot like a testimony of Christian conversion. You see him get emotional and cry, and talk about feeling warm inside, and you think, “This guy’s really sincere.” You hear him talk about the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, and his atonement for our personal salvation, and you think, “This guy is one of us.”

At this point, let me say, for those of you out there who may still have any doubts on whether Mormonism is compatible with biblical Christianity, or is preaching the biblical gospel: You really need to do your homework (check out, for example, here, here, here, here, or here).

No doubt, however, Beck truly believes that if others across America adopted a value system similar to the one he has appropriated along with his Mormon faith—and which is compatible with any good moral, conservative Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, etc. value system—this country would be a better place. But, in order to recruit allies to his cause, it is helpful to allay any misgivings they might have, especially when the particular religious views he adheres to have been widely classified as cultic. Accordingly, he has recently gone on the defensive. Take into consideration, for instance, this recent snippet from the Glenn Beck show:

GLENN: All right. So I always want to lay this case out for you. Now the so called religious are coming out and they are spending money on that ad campaign, running it around the country to smear me and to separate me from Christians. I can’t wait until they start taking me down for my religion, specific religion, because it’s coming. I want you to know why this is happening. I talked to, I talked to Richard Land a couple of days ago and he said — Richard Land said do you know, Glenn, who you are taking on now? I said, yes, I do. Richard, would it be Satan? I mean, it is a perversion of the gospel. It is a perversion of the gospel. And I understand that we are dealing with — we’re not dealing with — we’re not dealing with powers of the Earth. We’re just not. This is a perversion of the gospel. And it is such a clear perversion of the gospel, I want to show you the collective salvation remarks…

Okay, look who is talking about a “perversion of the gospel.” The “perversion” Beck (and Land?) is referring to is President Obama’s purported theological system of “collective salvation,” which, according to him, takes its cues from black liberation theology. Now, from my point of view, Beck may well have a legitimate point here regarding Obama’s religious/ethical/political vision. But, hello? A convinced Mormon calling advocates of liberation theology to task for preaching a false gospel? Sounds like a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black to me.

Now, in regard to Beck, none of this surprises me. Nor should it surprise any of the rest of us. He is just being consistent with his own belief system. What really concerns me is the number of Evangelicals who appear to be buying what he is selling.

On the same program (July 16), televangelist James Robison appeared as a guest. Here is the text of the dialogue between Beck and Robison (in the interest of fairness, I present the entire conversation, so you can read it in context):

GLENN: Let me go to Reverend James Robison who is one of the biggest evangelical preachers around and a guy that I have come to know here over the last really — James, when did we first talk? Was it about eight months ago or so? You called me up while I was on the road and we had an unbelievable chat.

ROBISON: Glenn, it was about the same time you referenced The Villages time when God told you that it, really the issue was not merely political but it was spiritual, we needed a spiritual awakening, we needed a revival, and you indicate — actually this very same day you and I talked, you heard from God very directly. And I want to say to you, thank you for really seeking to help wake up a sleeping church that has been manipulated and deceived by the principalities and powers and the realm of darkness that you reference in the Overton Window with Ephesians 6:12. You have been trying to get a church that is really stuck in the pew, hiding under a bush he will of conformity and compromise, and we need to stand up as believers and pierce the darkness. And you are in my opinion, I recommend that everyone listen to you, not listen to what people say about you. I wish every believer, every pastor, every church leader, every person who cares about this country could hear your 20 or 30 minutes of your personal testimony on your Tuesday program. I trust that’s posted online. Because my wife sat and wept for 20 minutes. She had to get up and go get a box of Kleenex. She said, I have never heard purer truth, a greater message on Jesus and on true salvation. And to think that it’s coming on secular television. And Glenn, Betty and I just want to thank you. You know, we host the Live Today television program. As a matter of fact, on JamesRobison.net, you’ve got to leave the middle N out of my name because I was too poor to have it. So it’s not Robinson but it’s Robison —

GLENN: I’m getting hammered by that all day. I think I’m saying Robison.

ROBISON: Yeah, now you said it right.

GLENN: All right.

ROBISON: It is Robison. But I shared that what we’re being told today as the right way, which is nothing but social justice, and the manipulators, including the media and many deceived church leaders are trying to tell people in the church if they don’t support this so called social justice that they don’t have compassion. And the fact is that when you take and distribute, you have separated people from a compassion connection. And without a compassion connection, which leads to true charity and to an involvement in the difficult circumstances of people who are in trouble, if you separate people from that connection, you are throwing money at an unhittable target, you might as well toss it in the wind and you are actually depleting the possibility of wealth and you don’t eliminate poverty by depleting wealth. What you’ve got to do is get people who have wealth prosperity to be somehow delivered from their own greed and self focused to begin to focus on how we can personally, through compassion, make a difference in other people’s lives. And this is what I hear you saying, and much of the church listening to the wrong voices, listening to these deceivers, and they are in the realm of darkness, they are powers and principalities, and they are effective. And right now the church too often is listening to these deceptive manipulative voices and we are missing the opportunity to restore, not transform America but restore America to sanity and restore the principles that our founders, with all their diversity, all their did I distinctive differences, they came together in harmony of heart and understood nature’s god and nature’s laws and gave us a foundation upon which to build in freedom and liberty, which also implies that we have to be responsible. If you’re free, the freedom our founders gave us demands personal accountability and responsibility. And if we don’t return to that — I mean, you can mark it down. You can date it. If the church doesn’t wake up, stand up, and pierce the darkness, you can literally color America and the freedom we’ve known and the opportunity we’ve known, you can color it done. It’s over. Now, that’s just simply the way it is.

GLENN: James —

ROBISON: And Glenn, you are one of the clearest voices on this planet for truth, and I want you to know as an evangelical Christian and church leader with one of the most watched television programs live today on the planet, you are a voice crying in the wilderness. I thank God for you. And by the way, the people in Australia, the people in the United Kingdom are supporting us and praying for us to see our nation restored because they know if we don’t come back to sanity, they are in trouble all around the world.

GLENN: The whole world is. James, I just want to make this conversation very clear. You and I, we don’t agree on theology per se, but when we talk about the church, we’re talking about the big principles of God and that God is a God of freedom and individual choice and a God that sent a savior down that says as an individual, accept my sacrifice and there’s salvation. Is — when we have someone — and I don’t — this is not about politics. This is so much bigger than politics. When we have people talking about collective salvation, where does that come from, is there any Christian theology here that is truly Christian, that says, you know, Jesus is the savior, Jesus Christ is the savior and this is what redemption and the atonement means, is there any way to interpret that as, if you all do it together or force people to do it?

ROBISON: Anytime you deplete the adequacy sufficiency of the grace of God in Christ and the forgiveness he offers through Christ, when you deplete that by adding to it, by saying we must do this in order to earn it, and you have desecrated the word of God, the death of Christ on the cross, that sacrificial gift of God and then you have placed on man his own responsibility, you really nullify the very act of love that God expressed in the gift of His son on the cross.

The relationship that we have in Christ transforms our lives personally. And by the way, it’s the transformation of the individual that leads to the restoration of this nation. We don’t need a transformed nation. Our founders understood what it meant, and they had differences theologically like you just pointed out.

GLENN: Big time.

ROBISON: One of the miracles of our founding, Glenn, is that they were in prayer seeking God, and the miracle of God’s grace and God’s wisdom enabled those men to come together in sound thought, in wisdom, and establish a rock solid, unshakeable foundation upon which we build. Now, when you move from that foundation and establish something else, you’ve moved away from the grace of God, you’ve moved away from the wisdom of God that our founders, even those who we hear this, they continually confirm that Jesus was Lord. Jefferson signed every one of his documents with “With Christ.” He put “Christ” in every place he signed. These men understood that they could differ and not divorce. We’ve got families tearing up all the time because they have a little difference, so they divorce. The family of faith, the family of God of which you are a part — and we may have differences, but we understand that the bottom line is the truth of God. We have a reliable source in His word —

GLENN: James.

ROBISON: And we have foundation with which to build and it is a personal relationship with Jesus. And by the way, when we have that relationship, Glenn, we’re going to love and appreciate people who disagree with us.

GLENN: I thank you so much. Reverend James Robison.

Now, I understand that Robison here is trying to be gracious, and is trying to present the Christian gospel to Beck in a loving, non-confrontational way. And, for that I commend him. I hope and pray that Beck, and millions more like him, who are deceived by Mormonism, and all the other false religions out there, come to believe the gospel, and really and truly trust in Christ, and Christ alone, for their salvation. And, when Robison says that what we really need is not a transformed nation, but rather a relationship with Jesus that transforms our lives personally, he is pretty much singing the same song as yours truly.

But, to those Evangelicals who are predisposed to Beck’s message because they identify with his political perspective, and find his broadcasts entertaining, when he talks about a personal relationship with Jesus by way of the atonement, it is easy to want to believe he is really talking about the same thing as we are.

At the SBC in Orlando, we specifically, as Southern Baptists, passed a resolution committing ourselves to maintain the centrality of the gospel. But make no mistake about it. Conservative politics is not the gospel. Moral therapeutic deism, couched in terms of revival, is not the gospel. And, as much as they talk about the atonement, and a burning in the bosom, and giving your heart to Jesus, the Mormon system of belief is not the gospel. And, the Word of God says that, as Christians, we should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14).

The choice is set before us. What is more important—theology (i.e. the core of the gospel) or “saving America”? It totally baffles me that some of those who are most vocal in their rejection of “evangelical ecumenism” (working together for the fulfillment of the Great Commission with those who share our beliefs on the essentials of the gospel) are the first ones to sign on to projects of political ecumenism (working together with those who don’t truly believe the same gospel as we do for the advance of a moral, ethical, and political platform).

Wake up, People of God!!!