How can Christians live missionally in an increasingly divided society? Bruce Ashford addressed this question in a recent conversation with Carmen LaBerge on her daily radio show, The Reconnect. Listen to the interview below, or read a few key excerpts.
You wrote a piece for Fox News about what Christians owe President Trump. What three things do Christians owe President Trump?
I think the first thing that all of us owe him [is] actually a biblical imperative. [In] 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we are told to pray, make supplication prayer… for all kings and everybody in authority, like we owe it to him, like we owed it to President Obama….
Second, we owe him our honest criticism. When he does or speaks wrongly, or if we think it’s wrong, we owe it to him, because we live in a democratic republic, and because this is what Christians do. We owe it to call it what it is. Joseph and Daniel had to do that to kings in their day, and we have to do it in our day.
Beyond that though, we need to give him the benefit of the doubt. If his words or his actions aren’t wrong, or clearly wrong, we ought not to look at them through a dark lens.
I think different types of people are going to have trouble with different ones of these points. For people who oppose Trump before he was elected, and I was one of those, it’s going to be more difficult to because of our pride or whatever, to say, “You know what, he did a good job on that. He said something that was right,” and not to always oppose. Then for people who find it easy to cheer lead and have been across the board positive are going to have to step back and take an honest evaluation of things and be willing to criticize.
Why it’s hard to have a balanced response to our leaders.
One of the reasons it’s difficult is ever since the rise of talk radio… and since the emergence of real-time tracking of listeners and viewers, what we’ve seen with radio shows and television shows is that all of the outlets have begun to play to a niche audience. They’re tracking, “What is it that we can say that will rile up our readers the most, get them most emotionally onboard with us, get them most afraid of some danger?”
I think the rhetoric’s been absolutely irresponsible for 20 to 30 years. Americans have this stuff on their radios and television shows sometimes all day long. We’re going to have to learn — it’s the nature of a democratic republic, if it’s going to be healthy — to do the three things that I listed, not just for President Trump, but for anyone on the other side of the aisle or on our own side of the aisle.
How should Christians think about “alternative facts”?
It’s a rather complex thing to respond to. Hopefully my comments won’t come across as Captain Obvious saying things that aren’t interesting because all Christians already agree. But you know, there’s only one reality. God made that reality, and there’s only one reality, and there aren’t two sets of facts actually, or at least there’s not two true interpretations of a set of facts.
There’s only one true interpretation…. As believers we need to have a certain humility in our knowing. We need to be willing to admit when we’ve interpreted the facts wrongly. That happens; we interpret facts wrongly. We need to be measured in what we consider to be a fact, or what we consider to be a correct interpretation of a fact. That probably means that we need to get our news and our opinions from more than one source. Whatever your favorite cable news network is, you should probably watch three or four of them, three or four sets of radio shows to get some opposing viewpoints so that you can do a better job of navigating what’s the reality here that we’re dealing with.
That’s a start. Humility in our knowing, but at the same time not throwing up our hands and saying, “Well I just can’t know,” but really going after it and looking at multiple sources. In the morning when I come in, I come in early couple of hours before my meetings start during the day. Everybody probably doesn’t have time to do this, but after I’ve spent some time in the Scriptures, I have six or eight different news outlets and I go and look at the politics and opinion sections of each of those outlets. They really do balance each other out a little bit and give me a better perspective.
On many churches’ irresponsibility with the biblical text.
There is irresponsibility with the biblical text, where people take a text and pay little or no attention to what the author of that text intended to say. They don’t try to look for it, they just riff off of the text. They take the text and play with it and riff off of it, and let it say what they need it to say at the moment. That’s highly irresponsible, bad biblical interpretation. Another factor here is the fact that as humans it’s difficult for us to get to the fullness of the biblical text. When we approach the Bible, I think it’s true that no matter how hard we work at it, we’ll never approach the fullness of the biblical text that only God could, that only God can have a full and final interpretation of the text. But within those parameters, we can discern the meaning of the texts.
If I could get theological for just a moment, the doctrine of the Trinity is itself proof that we can understand the truth of the biblical text. The Bible presents God the Father as the speaker. It presents God the Son as the word spoken. And it presents the Holy Spirit as the one who helps us to receive the word that’s spoken. Holy Spirit guides us in the truth, enlightens us, intercedes for us and so the Trinity itself is a model of accomplished communication. If you’ve ever seen a communication model, if you’ve taken a college course in communication, they give you a model with a speaker, a word spoken and then a receiver of that word. Well, that’s the Trinity. God’s very nature undergirds the fact that we can understand the words that God has spoken, and if we can understand the words that God has spoken, that also enables us to understand the words that people speak.
On the Holy Spirit and difficult texts.
He’s given us all of the divine words we need to be saved from sin and to be set free positively for a life of godliness, and he’s given us his word to equip us to do that. Now, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t difficult texts, because there are. We’ve got some very difficult texts. But I think the reason Abraham Kuyper mentioned this as a reason is he said, that’s God’s way of keeping us humble and God’s way of making us work hard and practice faith, that the harder we work to understand the texts, the more faith we have to practice and the more humility we have. God rewards that faith and rewards that humility.
What can bring us back together?
I’ve written two articles that relate directly to this. One of them is on my website and it’s entitled Make America Unified Again: 3 Social Divisions We Must Overcome, and then there’s one on Gospel Coalition’s website that’s entitled Powerful Witness from a Position of Weakness. But [here are] three things really quickly.
One thing is we need to recognize the common ground that we do have, and there is common ground because of our common humanity. There may not be much common ground, but there is common ground. We’d start with the common ground and we work outward from there, but that’s not going to be enough.
We’re going to have to have at least two Christian virtues, and one of those Christian virtues is love. Love your neighbor as yourself, and loving involves listening. We need to learn to listen to people who are different than us. When we listen and give an honest audience to other people, usually we’re able to find ways to come together. Then, the second virtue is wisdom. Wisdom is more than knowledge. Knowledge is just the ascertaining of facts, but wisdom is knowing what to do with those facts. We need wisdom in political matters. We’re dealing with other human beings, people who believe differently than us. We’re in a democratic republic. We’re going to have to figure out what is the best path for the entire nation, not just for me individually and just for my tribe. We’re going to have to know when to compromise. Sometimes it’s good to compromise. That’s what politics is. But then other times, you have to draw a line in the sand.
There are some issues that are so important we can’t bend, we can’t budge, and it’s those sort of things that we’re going to need to do. I hope that evangelicals can chart the path forward, that we can be the people that says, “Hey, here’s how to do it. Here’s how to love, here’s how to be wise, here’s how to find common ground,” because if we can’t do it … we of all people should be able to do this, right?