Driving to my hometown through Bakersfield on CA 99, there’s an overpass that inspires the bad-boy in me to grab the country station dial. Every time I see “Merle Haggard Way”, I’m ready to hear, “Are the Good Times Really Over” or “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” Don’t people see “we’re rolling downhill like snowball headed for hell?” I really miss Merle. Yep, these people, “they love our milk and honey but they preach about some other way of livin’.”
That’s it, I want out of Commifornia. My dream is now Utah (and I complained about Mormons before?) with a little a ranch, some open terrain for my 4×4, and a place where I can hunker down and survive—a place where I can “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” All of the sudden, I wake out of my daydream back to civilian reality and this mundane thought: Jesus called me to die to myself and become a servant. Out comes a big sigh, that’s just not as exciting.
A Crisis of Identity
As American culture morally bankrupts itself into lawlessness and as we face a soft totalitarian revolution, we are witnessing the rise of Christian political and Covid-19 warrior-children. Parroting our political divide, the church today is filled with the normalizing of extremes from both political sides. At one extreme are effeminate, compromised pastors and parishioners who have adopted the social agenda of the political left. With this includes compromises of Christian mission in all areas the culture has defined as the most pressing issues of the day: social justice, liberation theology, sexual revolution, feminism, etc.—a certain crisis of identity in attempted cultural adaptability.
There is, however, predictable as it may be, another crisis of identity emerging. Like the social hipsters who were critiqued for the last fifteen years for trying to be cool (see here), there appears to be a reactionary outlaw brand of Christianity emerging that weds together the cowboy muscle era of American past with the pulpit —you know, “a country boy can survive” kind of redeemed persona.
The thing is, in all honesty, this is a very attractive response for those who feel emasculated by the culture. I, too, am weary of a culture demonizing what it is to be male—yes, there are objective standards of this both Biblically and culturally—while elevating feminism as the ideal. People are appalled by what has been normalized in the sexual revolution. Beards, guns, flannels, smoking stogies, or driving 4x4s provide a perception that men have stood up to this nonsense.
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with any of these things. I drive a ’79 Bronco if you must know. But it is a fair question to ask whether what we are seeing is a giant swap of one kind of hipster for another, simply the other side of the same coin of an identity crisis. We all knew the little guy in town who jacked up his Ford on 38inch tires to give the appearance of being a bad-boy–the “don’t tread on me” kind of guy. He was not tough, and everyone knew it.
My dream moment under the Bakersfield overpass made me feel strong and ready to take on the world—and fight. But fight precisely for what? That is an important question for Christians at the moment. Certainly, Christians have a Biblical obligation to push back and fight against these dominant trajectories that assault creation norms and harm the ability for society to function as God designed things. Yet, is there something much bigger that we are forgetting as we struggle with how to conduct ourselves in revolutionary times?
Church Fight Club
As we attempt to take back America and fight for our freedom, something very dangerous may be happening that we have not considered: is it possible we are engaging in the wrong warfare or, at a minimum, elevated the culture war to the place of top priority? Are the sheep forgetting the primary reason for which Jesus left us here? Ministries can train the sheep to learn new ways of bucking, kicking, and ramming as if they had horns or were wild goats. How easily the sheep become fearful, mean, and angry, as they stand off huddled in a corner away from everyone else and angry over a loss of American rights.
Yet, sometimes, it is God’s purpose to bring persecution for a greater cause, especially when Christians have forgotten why they were left in this world to begin with. Consider what Job once said:
He pours contempt on princes and loosens the belt of the strong. He uncovers the deeps out of darkness and brings deep darkness to light. He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and he makes them stagger like a drunken man (Job 12:21ff).
Maybe the issue is that we have confused the blessing of this American earthly kingdom with coming of God’s kingdom. Like Peter, fisherman turned sword warrior, many are gearing up for a fight that may stand in the way of God’s intended purpose. With AR15s locked and loaded, might people forget that such an action might require Jesus to put “ears” back on precisely because it stands in the way of an appointed cross. And, do we as Christ followers really want to harm someone, if we could?
The fact is, one of our greatest threats to our mission right now is our own anger. Our greatest danger is forgetting of why Jesus left us here. We were told in advance that persecutions are going to happen. Our sufferings, rejection, loss of influence, all that and more, is evidence of the righteous judgment of God to come (2 Thess 1:3ff) when we are revealed on the last day as his children. What we are facing has this intended purpose of vindication on the last day.
Don’t misunderstand me, Christians should certainly push back against a culture that seeks to cast of all restraint and rid itself of biblical Christianity, especially as it rages against its own agreed upon laws in the constitution. This article is not promoting some kind of pacifist agenda. But I am saying that the weapons of Christian warfare are quite a bit different than the world’s (2 Cor. 10:4), and we have enough people who, quoting Hank, “would love to spit some beech nut in that dude’s eye, and shoot him with their ole 45.”
The Christian ethic is a far different one from the world’s which seeks to hold on to the present state at all costs. How Christians behave in this is life is to be formed by the summary principle of all commandments: love. When this is forgotten, Christians can suffer a lot of persecution for the wrong reasons, like being obnoxious, idiotic, or, as Peter says, “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, and evildoer, or a meddler in other people’s matters (see 1 Pet 4:14).”
We should always consider the goals of our response to societal corruption and behavior. We must remember that death is impending for everyone, and then the judgment. “Knowing the terror of God, we persuade men,” said the apostle. We persuade them to be saved from the wrath to come through the forgiveness of sins and the entrance into an entirely different kingdom. Because of this, the warfare to which we have enlisted has this eschatological goal as top priority.
An Identity to Die For
If we are honest, much of our bad-boy response is indicative of our fear—fear of persecution. We were told by Jesus himself that we would be hated by the world. If they hated and persecuted Jesus, they will do the same to his people–“a servant is not greater than his master.” God appoints times and seasons for everything. If one of those appointed seasons is persecution, then let it be the consequence of, as we are commanded, loving our enemies. Have we come to a point of frustration that such a command is now scoffed at as weak and compromised? I fear this is so.
This calling, however, stands at the essence of the gospel that delivered us–yes, us! Our savior, in the face of great opposition to his work, taught us love, who, “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree… (1 Pet. 2:23-24).” In the heart of his sufferings, his eye looked to a much better future in a land of much better promises, of a coming kingdom where righteousness will dwell.
There is a day when the seventh trumpet will sound and “the kingdom of this world is become our Lord’s and his Christ’s.” In the interim, what people really need right now is to “see Jesus” (Joh 12:21). That happens by making sure we are being clear about the “good news” we are sent with. This happens when we love our enemies and do good to them, as we are commanded (Rom. 12:14-21). That happens when we sound like Christ who prayed from the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” When we fight this way, we look at lot like Jesus.
This kind of servanthood may not be “outlaw” enough for some, and it may even cost us our lives, but if we are called to die for the cause of Christ, might it have the purpose of showing the world where our true loyalties lie? Maybe that is what those who trouble us need to see at the moment, a cause that is other-worldly, one that transcends the tangential fleeting pursuits of the moment by those living in a world sprinting to the final judgment.
Christians, don’t forget why Jesus left you in this world.