On "Worldview Wednesday," we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on the Center for Biblical Worldview page.
It is a phrase so common today in evangelical circles that you barely notice it anymore. "Christianity is neither left nor right." Thoughtful people say it. Unthoughtful people say it. Many say it, but hardly anyone evaluates it. It's an important question, though: is this phrase true?
Before considering its truthfulness, we need to consider how the ubiquitous "neither left nor right" claim is used. Typically, we hear it a great deal come election season. Instead of getting entangled in partisan politics, many Christians lamenting the divisiveness and mean spiritedness of the season choose to opt out entirely. Regardless of whether they are right or wrong, "neither left nor right" seems to give them an out.
The same is true of some pastors and Christian leaders. Instead of wading into hard issues that can be controversial in churches, a good number of pastors today use "neither left nor right" to disentangle themselves from the entire shebang. They're not there to win an election, after all; they're called to preach the Word and help the church fulfill the Great Commission.
In one sense, this is a commendable instinct. No one should want a politicized church where the gospel is sidelined for a worldly message. No one should embrace the hijacking of a pulpit. The church truly does have the highest calling: to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20). Preaching the truth of God from the 66 inerrant books of the Bible is the fountainhead of this grand vocation. Church leaders have to work very hard to prioritize this otherworldly emphasis, lest it get lost.
But a question naturally emerges here. If a church wants to honor the Great Commission, what does such an emphasis consist of, exactly? It's worth looking at the Commission directly to remember the specific words of Christ to his disciples:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age"(Matthew 28:18--20).
The eternal Son, given "all authority" by the eternal Father, issues a definitive mandate for his people. They are to go everywhere, all over the earth, and make disciples. They are to baptize these Spirit-born believers in the triune name. This is where many modern evangelical presentations of the Great Commission stop. The whole Christian enterprise, therefore, seems to be about missions and evangelism. But although the Great Commission starts there, it does not end there. Christ next unfolds the duty of transformational teaching: "teaching them to observe [or obey] all that I have commanded you" (emphasis mine).
What an explosive reality this is. It reframes all our thinking on discipleship. Discipleship is not about simply getting someone to pray the prayer, with no regard for how they will later live and think. Discipleship is about leading people into a life of grace-driven, comprehensive obedience. Every last charge of Christ, all that he has commanded, is to be followed. Nothing is too small. In Great Commission discipleship, everything matters.
What does this discussion mean for "neither left nor right"? It means that this phrase needs very careful appraisal. If everything Christ--and the biblical authors--have taught is to be observed (within a new covenant framework), then we need to recognize that Christian discipleship is not fundamentally a minimalist enterprise. On the contrary, it is a maximalist enterprise. Christ has claimed all of life. He owns the rights and has the title to the cosmos in his pocket.
Consequently, there is no part of life for the Christian that is sealed off from Christ. We are not living our own self-directed life; we are living the life given us by God for the glory of Christ. All that we have, we have from God, and we have for God. We live life coram deo--unto God. We work for God's glory. We raise children for God's glory. We give to missions for God's glory. We engage in politics for God's glory. We speak up in the public square for God's glory. We think for God's glory.
Yes, you read that last sentence rightly. Thinking, and building a Christian worldview from the Scriptures, is deeply doxological (meaning "glorifying to God"). Such a commitment is not driven by self--by what you and I want to believe. That is how the world lives. The Christian's commitment is driven by God. We are called to observe all that Christ has commanded. We are not intellectual free agents with a "get out of hell" pass in our wallets. We are slaves, servants, and priests to God (1 Peter 2:9-10).
In my next post, I'll explore the implications of these truths. The preceding discussion is all groundwork for what is to come. In that post, we'll look at several issues that show us where Christians line up biblically on different matters. For now, though, it is enough to remember that believers do not opt out of hard ethical, theological, and political issues. We do not have the option of obeying some of what Christ has commanded. Further, we cannot find our identity in the world, nor in staking some sort of holier-than-thou middle ground that will mean no one dislikes or disagrees with us. We have a charge from God. We must holistically obey the teaching of Christ and the biblical authors, all of them inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is not optional. This is a mandate.
Where Scripture speaks, we listen. Not only that: leaning on the grace of God, we obey.
Owen Strachan is the author of Christianity and Wokeness (Salem Books). A Senior Fellow with the Center for Biblical Worldview at FRC, he is Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary and hosts The Antithesispodcast.