Monthly Archives: July 2017

On Robert E. Lee Statues, the Reformation, and The Danger of Forgetting History

Robert E. Lee statue being removed from a New Orleans monument (credit: Scott Threlkeld/ AP)

Having recently returned from a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, I am all too aware of the tragedy of racism, and its intermingling with the story of Christianity in the American South. But I am left with a question: how are we to remember our history?

Headlines have been popping up this year, with various cities across the South, such as New Orleans, and Charlottesville, Virginia, that have been removing or planning to remove statues of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate army general, and an evangelical Christian. As might be expected, white supremacist groups, who seek to have Lee fit their agenda, are protesting such statue removals. On the other extreme, counter-protestors deface such monuments. Like the Confederate flag, such symbols mean different things to different people, and their meaning can be hijacked out of their historical context, for good, or for ill.

As long time readers of Veracity know, we regret how the Bible has been misinterpreted and misapplied to justify slavery and condone racism. Efforts to correct tragic misunderstandings of the past, by retelling forgotten stories, are essential. However, I am bothered by this recent trend of dismantling historical monuments.

A June essay in the Atlantic magazine, by journalist Adam Serwer, seeks to justify such monument removal. Robert E. Lee, Serwer argues, is not the hero or saintly figure that many defenders of Lee’s heritage seek to admire. In some ways, Serwer is correct, hence, the KKK’s ill-informed effort to make Robert E. Lee into a god. But it would serve Mr. Serwer better to take a closer look at R. David Cox’s The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee, a book on my “to-be-read” list, for hopefully a more in-depth look at Lee’s Christian spirituality, that grew from a type of nominalism; that is, Christian by name only, to a more mature evangelical faith, later in his life.

In a rejoinder essay in The National Review, Dan McLaughlin modestly, yet rightly, observes that Serwer’s efforts to attack Robert E. Lee, are more about the present, than they are the past. Robert E. Lee was far from being perfect, and though I greatly respect Lee’s example of Christian faith, I am also painfully aware of the man’s shortcomings. We should be doing more to balance the story, adding historical context, and listen to forgotten voices. But does this mean we should diminish such characters as Robert E. Lee, even with their flaws?

How quickly we as humans are prone to forget.

I see no need to explore the politics of all of this, except to say that it seems like there is a cultural trend towards trying to erase painful memories of our past.

Martin Luther statue, in Washington, D.C. Beloved Protestant Reformer, but promoter of an anti-Jewish tract, later in life. Should his statue be removed next? I hope not. (credit: Wikipedia)

I even wonder what will happen later this fall, when people begin to talk more about the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses, to the church door, that triggered the start of the Protestant Reformation. Surely, some press outlet will release an essay informing of us of Martin Luther’s horrid antisemitic statements he made, late in his life. Luther’s tract, On the Jews and Their Lies, was used by 20th century Nazis as a propaganda tool in their efforts to eliminate Europe’s Jews.

Not only that, but in 1525, Martin Luther infamously urged the German princes to brutally put down a peasants revolt, that left thousands of impoverished people dead. Luther’s ill-guided rhetoric, which he later regretted, helped to fuel the indignant imagination of Karl Marx years later, who described religion as being the opiate of the people, which led to other forces of extremism and violence, closer to our own time.

Could it be possible then, for people to start demanding the dismantling of Martin Luther statues, in response to Luther’s shortcomings? Where does the removal of monuments, that recall the dark side of our history, stop?

May I suggest that the Bible offers some help here.

When reading the Bible, we learn about a whole of host of people whom God used, to help introduce the world to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 11, many of these names are celebrated in the “Hall of  Fame of Faith.”  However, all of these figures were tragically flawed. Abraham, the father of Israel, pimped his wife. Moses, who led the people out of Egypt, was a murderer. David, the greatest king in all of Israel, committed brazen adultery, arranged the death of the woman’s husband, and sought to cover up the whole matter.

Yet what strikes me about the Bible is that there is no attempt to cover up the flaws of these wayward sinners. Neither the Jews, nor the Christian church, have sought to revise the Bible, in attempt to remove the unsavory character on display. God saw fit to preserve the memory of those whom he used to achieve His purposes, including those parts that we would probably rather forget.

We live in an age where we desperately want heroes. However, unflawed heroes are hard to find. In our anger, we find it easy to point out the failures of others, particular of those in the past, but we all too conveniently ignore our own failures. The Bible gives a reason why this is the case: We are all sinful human beings, in need of a Savior (Romans 3:23). Jesus Christ, and Christ alone, is the one who can set things right. Sadly, contemporary society has a hard time recognizing the all-too pervasive impact of sin on all of us. So, we are all too willing to shove those uncomfortable things, like our own sin, under the carpet.

So, while there is a trend to remove those aspects of our history that either embarrass us, shame us, or even remind us of our shortcomings, the Bible has a lesson to teach us. Let us remember, as the Bible teaches, not only the good things that God does through human beings, but also those things that remind all of us, how much we all need a Savior, who can heal and redeem us.

For a fascinating, albeit disturbing history behind the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, you should read Brandon Wolfe’s essay.


Historic Jesus

JamestownVeracity


The Book of Habakkuk: In Seven Minutes

If you want a brief introduction to the Book of Habakkuk, with some helpful visual illustrations, it is worth watching this 7-minute video by the “Bible Project.”  For another, deeper look at Habakkuk, with respect to how one verse in this book impacted the Protestant Reformation, take some time to ponder this post on Veracity, from earlier last year.


Mark Hitchcock Revelation Video Course: One Day Sale Today

Here is a quick post alerting folks to a great resource for studying the Book of Revelation, available on the cheap, but just for today. Over the past couple of years, various friends of mine have been digging into the Book of Revelation, in various Bible study groups. Revelation can be a daunting study.

Mark Hitchcock, pastor of Faith Bible Church, in Edmond, Oklahoma, is probably one of the leading authorities for a dispensational, premillennial approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation. Credo Courses is offering his 27-session course, that he normally teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, for video download for just $25, for today only.  It is normally about $200, so this is a steal. You can download it and watch at your leisure. What I like about Hitchcock is that he is very irenic in his approach, dealing accurately and fairly with alternative views, a virtue that I often find lacking in many popular approaches to this topic. If I was going to teach a Revelation class specifically from a premillennial perspective, this is how I would do it.

If you go to the Credo House website, you can view a sample…..


Is the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” a Second Blessing Experience? (#4)

Fired up by enthusiasm, the theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” is taking over the globe. But what is it exactly? (photo credit: Getty Images, Economist magazine)

Fourth in a multipart blog series….

So, how did we get from the sacrament of confirmation or chrismation, from the early church, to contemporary Pentecostalism? The key to this is understanding the idea of a “second blessing” experience, in the life of a believer. The “second blessing” has a history stemming back to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. Wesley had been an Anglican missionary in the early 18th century, in the English colony of Georgia. But in these early years, he considered himself to be mostly a failure, even from the very start.

On the ocean voyage across the Atlantic from England, Wesley’s ship was in a severe storm. But there was a group of Moravian missionaries on board that same ship, who calmly sang hymns and songs to God, praying for their safety, as their boat began to groan and crack under the beating of the pounding waves and swelling sea.

Wesley, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck. This missionary was completely scared to death. He and the Moravians survived the storm, but Wesley knew that they had some kind of peace and spiritual courage that he lacked. It was not until Wesley returned a few years later to England, where at a Bible study lecture, he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” He was never the same after that moment, experiencing great power in delivering hundreds and hundreds of sermons that fueled the fires of the Great Awakening in England.

John Wesley, the 18th century evangelical leader, whose heart was “strangely warmed,” years after he had committed himself to follow Christ.

The Holiness movement in 19th century followed the theological lead set by John Wesley, and they began to speak of an experience with the Holy Spirit after conversion as a “second blessing.” It is therefore no surprise that William J. Seymour, and other leaders of the 20th century Pentecostal revival, built their theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” on the foundations of the Wesleyan inspired Holiness movement. It bears repeating that these early, pre-Pentecostalism advocates of a “second blessing” were not “charismatic” in the sense of possessing the gift of “speaking in tongues,” or other miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

Furthermore, as briefly mentioned in the last blog post, these Holiness groups were not the only ones who believed in “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” as a “second blessing.” Prior to Wesley, various Puritan thinkers in the 17th and 18th centuries also made a distinction between becoming a Christian and “the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”  Even though the Holiness movement, through groups like the Nazarenes and the Church of God, directly led towards contemporary Pentecostalism, in a way that the Puritan movement did not, it is helpful to examine this particular Puritan theology in some detail. A more recent example of this early, Puritan-inspired view can be found in the great 20th century Welsh pastor, Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Continue reading


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