November 26, 2020

Positive Press for Evangelicals

Noted by Chaplain Mike…

You might be surprised to find a positive, affirming article about evangelicals in the secular press, but Nicholas D. Kristoff of the New York Times wrote an op-ed this weekend called “Learning from the Sin of Sodom” that praises evangelicals such as World Vision for the excellent work they are doing to meet real needs around the world.

In an addendum to the piece, Kristoff summarized his main point by saying this:

There’s a tendency for liberals to devote lots of ink to decrying conservative Christians, because of their positions on social issues. I disagree strongly with typical evangelical positions on gay marriage, abortion, abstinence only education — but I also think that liberals don’t appreciate the impact of the arrival of evangelicals into humanitarian space or give sufficient credit for that change.

Thank God for rightful recognition given. Perhaps this is a positive sign that the evangelical movement has turned a corner, leaving further behind failed culture war strategies and focusing more on serving the needy and working for justice. At any rate, others are watching and are impressed by the quality of missional work being done by Christians.

In the conclusion to his op-ed, Kristoff challenges secularists and religious alike, encouraging us to abandon some of our ingrained distrust of the other in order to work more in partnership for the common good.

If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.


  1. Maybe secular liberals and evangelicals should have a summit meeting and work out some kind of bilateral backdown from snootiness and sanctimony. However, I fear that hardliners on both sides would probably bomb any such gathering and mutually agree to blame each other just to keep the cultural war hot.
    All kidding aside, I think the Times article shows that there is still some Christlike love at the heart of evangelicalism. And if that heart could somehow manage to take over the mouth — that would be a really good thing.

  2. World Vision evangelical?

    Not in my country……..

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      We all know about your standards for Truly Evangelical, Matthew.

      Does anybody other than yourself qualify?

      • Jeez…..H.U.G……..”OUCH”….already. why cant’ I stop smiling ??

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I’m 54 years old, and I’ve gotten very cranky in my old age. Including zero tolerance for know-it-alls.

          I’m messed up, you’re messed up, everybody is flawed and imperfect, and anyone that says otherwise (often referring to themselves) is BSing. We have too many types today that approach Gnostic Pneumatics, and badly need to have the pin pulled on the Holy Hand Grenade they’re using as a suppository.

          • Titus 2:1-2

          • HUG,

            I’m not trying to be snarky or condescending here, but why are you very cranky in your old age? If you claim to be a Christian are you not supposed to be characterized (not perfectly) by joy, hope, and contentment? We all know that Christians are still flawed with their sinful flesh in this sinful world. However, that doesn’t mean we resign ourselves to sin, disobedience, and spiritual indifference. In fact, Scripture states that those who profess Christ but are indifferent to their own sins and iniquities prove themselves to be liars in the faith. I hope you’re not one of them.

          • Patrick Lynch says

            Matthew Johnston, almost every time you quote Scripture I get the feeling that you’re on the verge of refuting yourself and your entire gimmick here if only you’d quote it at length. So, this one’s for you:

            “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”

            Titus 2:7.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Note how Mark indirectly demonizes me and calls my salvation into question without actually stating it in so many words.

            And all too often the “joy” I’ve seen in other Christians is like the Joy of North Koreans Dancing with Great Enthusiam before Comrade Dear Leader — pretending to be Happy Happy Joy Joy because of what Comrade Dear Leader can and will do to them if they’re not.

            I’m prone to fits of depression — not clinical, but still there. It’s what empowers my writing; a lot of what I write tends to be dark and/or somber. The emphasis on Happy Clappy Joy Joy has crippled the arts among Evangelicals, when it is often the strong and dark emotions which often put power behind a work of art. (As well as driving out any Goths who might have come inquiring.)

          • Thanks Patrick

          • Headless, you and me. boy! 😉

  3. I work for a humanitarian not-for-profit organization and have seen the whole political spectrum represented in my colleagues. Liberals and conservatives have been working together for years on things that really matter because we are all dedicated to the mission of the organization. During large scale disasters like Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, we find it relatively easy to set aside political and religious differences to achieve a shared goal.

    As a conservative evangelical, I’m not looking for liberal atheists to play nicey-nice. For that matter, I find it to my advantage to let them be shrill alarmists bent on our destruction without cause because it allows them to expose themselves for who they really are. Witness the attempts by NOW to get the Focus on the Family Superbowl ad banned sight unseen, just because it was from FOTF. Even the Huffington Post, no friend to Evangelicals, found their behavior execrable.

    While Kristoff may have done a service to liberal media elite on the coasts, informing them of what the rest of the country already knows, there is little in the article worthy of note to those of us who live the Evangelical reality daily. He is simply highlighting how hideously uninformed some segments of our society are. The rest of us have been living out the parable of the yeast hidden in the three measures of meal and have been quietly working to leaven the lump and spread the message of the Kingdom through direct action and influence.

    More than the liberal media elites, this message needs to go out to the Evangelical liberal elites. I get emails all the time from Jim Wallis telling me what a terrible job Evangelicals are doing at living out the commands of Christ to love one another and how Sojourners is the only organization that gets it right. I read the excerpts from Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity” and wonder why he turns a blind eye to humanitarian efforts of the Southern Baptist Men or Dr. Moore’s outspoken support of adoption. No, more disturbing than the pot shots from the liberal secular press, and far more wounding, are the comments from “within the fold.”

    • “He is simply highlighting how hideously uninformed some segments of our society are. ”


    • good comment.

    • Rick, excellent comment from a very important perspective. I agree with you that “the salt of the earth” has been working invisibly and effectively for a long time, not getting (nor wanting) this kind of recognition. But I am grateful that Kristoff has done us a service in “highlighting how hideously uninformed some segments of our society are,” and has given a rare testimony from the secular perspective that the stereotypes of faith so common in our culture don’t fit the reality of life on the ground.

    • “No, more disturbing than the pot shots from the liberal secular press, and far more wounding, are the comments from “within the fold.””

      As one “within the fold,” who has certainly taken shots at my own, I must comment.

      We would both agree that the secular press misrepresents much of Christendom. Obviously. There is a lot of good going on, which has been going on for a long time. It’s nothing new.

      HOWEVER. As a young person, living in a not-bible-belt-state, surrounded by both Christian and Xian and non-anything friends, I have to VEHEMENTLY DISAGREE with your contention that all of the negative press has been merely crying wolf.

      I ama visible christian and known for my ability to listen and respect others who disagree with me in my circle of friends. As such, the majority of the crying that I have heard has been from young people like myself who have been DEEPLY wounded by the evangelical community. Some of them had to be my friend for ten years before we could have a conversation about religion without triggering a panic attack. I say that not as an example of the extreme, but an example of the norm. I have more friends than fingers who have rejected the church, or never even considered it, because of PERSONAL interactions with real life evangelicals. The stereotype came from somewhere

      It breaks my heart, and awakes righteous anger when I hear you so lightly brush off their stories as hype from the “liberal, secular media”. No.

      Your hands, my hands, or the hands of anyone else who calls themself an evangelical, are far from clean.

      • Melissa, sorry for the pain you’ve had. I’ve been hurt too. No one here is denying this side of the story. Lord knows there’s plenty of criticism of evangelicalism on this blog—much of it from me. Today, I’m merely pointing out gratitude for a rare good report from an unexpected source.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        We would both agree that the secular press misrepresents much of Christendom.

        It ain’t just “Christendom”, Melissa. It’s anything that can get turned into “Laugh at the Freaks” or “Fear the Freaks” for ratings.

        Just ask anyone in Furry Fandom.
        Or Trek Fandom.
        Or Anime Fandom.
        Or D&D.
        Anyone who’s different.

    • I must agree, this is one of those places where I am most frustrated with the navel-gazing that’s been going on in evangelicalism: I’m tired of being told by one faction of evangelicals that “we” are not doing enough — which is usually pointed at another faction.

      Right after the Haiti earthquake, every evangelical church I could think of was taking up collections for their own missionaries there or helping out others. Months after everyone else forgets, they’ll still be there. Same goes for Chile, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Pacific, and elsewhere. When new books keep coming out that act like they’re discovering things everyone else forget, evangelical churches like the Covenant Church, various Baptists, CMA, Christian Reformed, and dozens others will keep doing exactly what they have been for their entire existence (and of course, other groups like Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans which straddle the divide will as well).

      That’s not to make too broad assumptions: I heard Tony Campolo praise conservative evangelicals the other week on Steve Brown’s show, reminding people that they’re usually the first ones to arrive at a crisis, and the loudest voices when actual injustice happens. Ron Sider and ESA have been good at spending less time pointing fingers and more time championing partnerships.

      I also agree: Let those with anger issues rage. Let MSNBC only look to Uganda when they think they can blame American Christians for controversies, and continue to ignore other issues the rest of the year. Let them mock Rick Warren for daring to pray with Obama yet ignore his work in Rwanda. Let them ignore Joni Eareckson Tada’s mission work. It’s not like we’re doing this for attention.

  4. fighting the culture wars is easy for evangelicalism because it makes you feel that you’ve done something when you sacrifice someone else. (homosexuals, poor teenage mothers, boogieman atheists,etc) But serving the least among us or those we disagree with (again homosexuals, teenage mothers & yes even atheists) requires us to sacrifice our own selves, so hopefully we will show them that Jesus still dwells among us. Southern Baptists & other denominations need to take a hard look at what they have acheived with their “holy” political power — i can’t see much to brag about ——but they sure have spent alot of money on it. I hope & pray we have turned the corner, but i also agree with Rick Presley & this article that there has always been a remenent of evangelicals that have been doing the Lord’s work who have not been getting the press they should.

  5. Wow a positive article about Christianity in the New York Times?! That’s about as common as a lunar eclipse. But it is definitely lovely to see every time it happens!

    I know there are many differences in belief (and they are, no doubt, important), but we often waste too much energy arguing over them and not enough time serving others. Yay for a little positive press for efforts made to serve!

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    …the impact of the arrival of evangelicals into humanitarian space or give sufficient credit for that change.

    Isn’t that what won so many converts (and sympathy/support from non-converts) in the early days, when Christianity was spreading through the early Roman Empire like fire across a lake of gasoline? Didn’t Roman authorities complain that those Christians take care of not only their poor and downtrodden, but Ours? And they were better at it than the official authorities?

    • But that was back before we had vast institutional machines to finance, six and seven figure salaries to pay, billions in real estate to maintain and develop, and an expensive cultural war to fight. Surely God doesn’t expect us to jeopardize these noble pursuits in order to provide religious welfare to all the underdeveloped, poverty-wallowing deadbeats on the planet. Besides, they wouldn’t be in poverty if they had any faith and knew how to pray with authority. These people don’t need food, clothing, shelter, or medicine. What they need are copies of Pastor Tom T. Moneytree’s lastest book, “From Mustard Seed to Millions.” We could also throw in complimentary CDs of Pastor Moneytree’s lovely and faithful wife, Penny, singing her favorite hymns and Southern Gospel classics.
      P.S. I hope you all know I’m being sarcastic here.

  7. “Perhaps this is a positive sign that the evangelical movement has turned a corner…”

    Perhaps it is, but I think we need to rethink giving The Times (or any secular institution) the scorecard…that effort will always fail, even if we truly haved turned the corner and come back to practicing the Gospel.

    That’s not to say there isn’t moutains of hypocrisy in evangelicalism. There is. But the Gospel also says quite clearly that the world and we will never agree.

    • Not “giving them the scorecard.” Just grateful for a dissident voice from an unexpected place in the midst of a pretty consistent stream of secular criticism. As one of the earlier commenters mentioned, this is akin to testimonies regarding Christians from officials in the Roman empire. We read those today and remark at how much of an impact the early church had in their world. I think it’s remarkable to find a similar example today.

      • Hi Mike,

        Apologies for the apparent sweeping generality here. I took your post pretty much the way that you portrayed it – I was just hoping temper the conversation in the meta. We absolutely do need more examples where the world can’t help but praise our conduct, even as they keep a sharp eye out for our stumbles.

      • Extremely apt analogy , Chaplain Mike: that says it for me, and why not give praise to a fair appraisal ?? Catch the rascals doing something right….. nice post today.

    • All too often we use, “that the world and we will never agree,” as a reason to end dialogue or to not consider the reasoning of someone else, or to not do the work of logical reasoning, biblical study, or scientific research that we need to do. Uhm, the “other side” uses the exact same argument but changes the word Gospel to another one and world to “conservative Christians.” Unfortunately, as an Orthodox priest, I have been on the receiving end of the snooty remark about how if I “truly” understood the Scriptures or “truly” let God speak to me that I would most certainly understand (meaning agree with someone else’s viewpoint).

      There is little doubt that the truth is veiled to those who have not yet been touched by God. But, the truth being veiled and the truth not being able to be perceived are two different things. Arthur F. Holmes, a Christian philosopher, wrote a book called “All Truth Is God’s Truth,” in 1977. That tends to be my approach.

      But, this is a bit afield from Chaplain Mike’s wonderful bit of news.

      • “All too often we use, “that the world and we will never agree,” as a reason to end dialogue or to not consider the reasoning of someone else…”

        I couldn’t agree with you more, and irregardless of where or from whom truth comes from it should be listened to and accepted. But in terms of “who keeps score,” if we allow the world to dictate to us the rules, definitions and boundaries of truth we will be sorely disappointed.

        But with that said, by all means, we should listen and listen carefully to what others have to say.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        There is little doubt that the truth is veiled to those who have not yet been touched by God. But, the truth being veiled and the truth not being able to be perceived are two different things.

        I believe a Venn Diagram (used in Set Theory) is the easiest way to illustrate this.

        Imagine a Venn Diagram where human wisdom is a subset of total/Divine wisdom, i.e. a smaller set called “human wisdom” is largely or entirely contained within a larger set of “total wisdom”. Because a lot of Divine Wisdom lies outside the boundary of human wisdom, it might seem strange or enigmatic, but should not flatly contradict it. And most of human wisdom should agree with Divine Wisdom in the parts that DO coincide.

        “Divine Wisdom might not agree with human wisdom, but should not flatly contradict it.”
        — either Peter Kreeft or C.S.Lewis

        The opposite is a Venn Diagram where human and Divine wisdom are two separate sets which never intersect. Where Divine Wisdom can — and does — flatly contradict human wisdom, logic, and reason. This has been the mindset of Islam since al-Ghazali’s Incoherence of the Philosophers and a LOT of the more extreme American Evangelicals, YECs, and Culture Warriors.

        • And the latter goes against the whole concept of Man being made in His image and likeness. After all, God gave Man a brain. Why would that same God give Man an intellect with absolutely ZERO ability to think along the same lines as the one who created him, or even come close? It’s why I beleive YEC makes God, who is the author of the laws of physics, a liar. We know this is not the case.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Oh, it gets worse. If Divine Wisdom must flatly contradict human wisdom, then the more crazy and stupid you get, the Holier you are. And the more crazy and stupid your actions, the more They Are Of God. Until black becomes white, up becomes down, and you’re in Wonderland with Alice. (Or at least Tokin-the-Ghost Crowder.)

            Me, I was born with an IQ of 160 and natural-talent speedreading, a brain that literally never stops racing at redline. A brain I use in frenzied bursts of creativity, most of which don’t pan out.

            And to be told after God allegedly gave me all that, now if I don’t let Him take it all away and turn me into a doubleplusduckspeaking mindless worship bot I Burn in Hell for All Eternity…

  8. Look Ma! A new word: haved.

    Egg. Face. It’s Monday.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      No, it’s English. Fastest-mutating of all human languages, where new words (and new applications of existing words) get coined every day.

  9. BTW, Chaplain Mike, I nearly spurted coffee out my nose when I read this piece. Then, I thought that the theological place of eternal punishment had finally frozen over.

  10. It’s very interesting how this segment of the liberal media is ignorant and unjust until they say something nice about you. Fascinating indeed.
    They will know you are Christians by your love…..lead with love and not judgement and these stories could become more of the norm.

    • Christiane says

      It’s like that movie ‘The Blind Side’. Most people who don’t know anything about evangelicals need to see this movie.

      • Or make this movie. Sandra Bullock herself said she had a negative opinion of all conservative Christians which was softened by meeting this family and getting to know their story.

        • Christiane says

          I think the word ‘conservative’ is confusing for people. It is associated with those who oppose a ‘social Gospel’, but in the movie, the mother, when told she is changing Michael’s life, says ‘No, he’s changing mine.”
          That openess to change through living Christianity out in the open, is something that has not ever been associated with ‘conservative Christians’ before.
          Maybe the few conservative Christians who are still afraid of opening their hearts and minds to living in the fullness of Christ, also need to see ‘The Blind Side’. I think this movie is for all Christian people so that they can see that ‘it is in giving that we receive’. .
          The title of movie acknowledges also the need for that prayer: ‘Oh Lord, that I may see.’

      • I’m game for seeing it. Just tell me that it’s not anything like “Facing the Giants.”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Or “Fireproof”.

          (I’m not even mentioning “Left Behind”…)

        • Tom,

          It is a good movie that is NOT preachy at all. GRIN, even a bunch of us Catholics, male and female enjoyed it.

          • Christiane says

            Anna, I thnk that’s because it shows Catholic social teachings big-time. And family values big-time. And respect for the dignity of ALL human persons, especially the poor.

    • One, don’t bet on it becoming the norm. More prevalent, perhaps, and two, we should be doing that anyway.

  11. The one struggle I continue to face is whether or notChristians should aim to be different from non-Christians and what would make us different. The common ground for liberal atheists and conservative Christians is, in my experience, continues to be humanitarian needs. If that common ground is of greater importance than other matters of concern, such as social issues (unity over division), then I have to ponder why I am became a conservative Christian over being atheistic humanist.

    Just pondering …

    • MWPeak, frankly, I don’t see the issue. What I know is that Jesus came to bring good news and to show God’s grace and kindness to the poor and oppressed. I don’t worry so much about being different from anyone else. The focus is on following Jesus.

    • MWPeak: consider your position for a second; are you saying that in our efforts to be holy (set apart and different) that there is just no way we would …..say..pick up a hammer and paint brush and work with Habitat or Christmas in October with a group of diverse outlook ?? Does EVERYTHING have to be overtly church driven and verbally christo-centric before Jesus would show up ?? I would appeal to you to color outside the box a little. Holy doesn’t have to mean secluded or “church-driven”.

      Greg R

    • Thank you both Mike and greg r for your responses.

      When I work with people and attempt present the gospel, the immediate question that arises is why should they become Christian? So many preachers and ministers have argued that compassion and care for needy is what makes Christianity a compelling choice. I find that arguement weak given that Christianity is not needed for compassion and caring.

      So when I am faced with that inevitable question by others and by myself, “What should I be a Christian?” I feel (for what feelings are worth) that my religion has simply become another lifestyle choice and in the long run it makes no substantial difference.

      It is without question that compassion and humanitarian care are foundational to reflecting the Christian faith, but I have come to believe the Christian part is optional when non-Christians praise Christians for being on the same page, which to me is not unlike saying, “Christians are more like us now.” And it bothers me.

      Again, I am simply pondering my own doubts and struggles. I wonder if it is the doubt of John in Matthew 11:3.

      • Thanks, MWPeak, for your honest testimony. The Lutheran tradition that I have become part of the past couple of years emphasizes that Christians are sinner-saints and there may indeed be no discernible difference between believers and non-believers. Our righteousness is found in Christ alone. IMO that shoud be our answer when people ask us why they should become Christians—it is because of who Jesus is and what he has done. His unique person and ministry is the only flawless answer to their inquiry.

      • In Corinthians 13 Paul talks about “if I give my body to be burned, but have not love…..” so even tremendous acts of self-sacrifice may not equate to the love that GOD requires and makes possible thru HIS gospel. I serve at a soup kitchen once a month with a group of friends and two of my brothers. I don’t know if my service is that much different than theirs, but neither do I think the validity of my truth claims rises or falls on how I’m doing compared with them. I stand before GOD who sees everything including WHY I do what I do.

        I am strongly of the view that our faith in CHIST , over time, makes us more CHRIST like, BUT our call to the savior is because it’s HIS call, HE demands that all men everywhere repent and believe. That this response makes us better people does not change WHO made the call or how true it is. Does this help ??

        One take away point from this post to consider: Jesus went OUT to SEEK and SAVE those who were lost. I think joining in an occaisional “partnership” with non-christians is ONE way to do that, and let the Spirit decide what that looks like and how it comes off.

      • I think an important place for people to start answering that question (“Why should I be a Christian?” as opposed to, for example, an “atheistic humanist”) is to consider whether they are convinced by the claims of Christ as presented by the faith.

        It seems like broaching/pondering lifestyle issues may be helpful (or not), but these are secondary to whether Christianity presents truth, or doesn’t. To me, anyway.

        • Of course, I understand there are those who make “Christians all live drastically differently (e.g. better morally) than non-Christians” a non-negotiable truth claim of the faith. But certainly many (most??) Christians don’t believe that (as Chaplain Mike spoke of in presenting the Lutheran view), and I sure don’t think it’s true. Of course, as a Catholic I get to hide behind Church authority 🙂

          Christ is the central figure to consider, I believe.

    • Thank you all for your posts.

      I think the ultimate reason why I choose to act compassionately towards those I encounter (such as two girls suffering abuse at the hands of an stepmother or a wife who is trying to survive divorce from a substance-abusing husband or a young man abandoned by his criminal father) is simply because God took pity on me, even in the midst of my own well-deserved mess.

      If that does not make me stand out in a crowd, does it ultimately matter? Upon further reflection, I suppose it doesn’t. What is done in secret, God rewards openly, so I read and trust.

  12. Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have provided care for those most efflicated. How many of our hospitals and social service agencies are associated with a Church? In the US, as in many other nations, it was the Church and not the state that provided the social “safety net” for many.

    We don’t hear about this.

  13. Donald Todd says

    I clicked on the article and read it. While it had praise for some evangelical efforts, it was also a slur against the Vatican for holding to Catholic positions that Kristoff does not agree with, and of praise for Catholic clergy and nuns that run contrary to the Church’s position by their efforts.

    That job on the Vatican effort undermined the piece and detracted from it.

    • Go figure. Sorry, Mr. Kristoff, but the St. Wishiwashi cafeteria’s closed.

      • Patrick Lynch says

        The only humanitarian efforts that really matter to American middle-class party-liberalism are marriage equality, equal opportunity politics and keeping abortion legal.

        All the Catholic Parish Outreach soup kitchens in the world aren’t worth a Hail Mary in hell to the great mass of liberal-esques these days. Just. Not. Relevant.

        • @ Patrick– Some truth, but much exaggeration. . .

          • Patrick Lynch says

            Okay, then tell me who this Times article is edifying, if not a vast audience of people whose only context for the operation of Christianity in society today surrounds the aforementioned social issues, and NOT the industry of world charity that Western Christianity has bequeathed us since forever.

          • Are you saying the your run-of-the-mill broiler plate liberal isn’t interested in soup kitchens?

            If so, your assertion doesn’t ring true to me. My religious and secular middle-class ‘liberal’ friends and acquaintances tend to care very much about questions of poverty, “fair trade,” health care, local economies/agriculture, and the like.

        • Donalbain says

          Yes, that is perfectly true. That is why no secular groups or charities do any work or recieve any donations. RedCross? Doesn’t exist. MSF? Didnt get ANY donations for their Haiti work.

  14. Byron Stuckey says

    I certainly urge all Christians to follow the teachings of our Lord and devote ourselves to love and mercy, but, please, let’s not forget WHY we do these things – to bring GLORY to GOD – not to ourselves – and most assuredly not to secularists that would deflect this GLORY from GOD to themselves. We really have nothing to gain and much to lose by any “partnerships”. We should do good because we love Him and want to bring glory to His name – we need no other reason. Let’s NOT dilute the GLORY that can be His by any partnerships.

    • Couldn’t disagree more, Byron. Of course, care should be taken. But a case for complete separatism is neither Biblically nor historically warranted. We have much to learn from our neighbors, as Christ himself taught us in the story of the “good Samaritan.” Certainly we can join with others in our communities, Christian and non-Christian, with whom we share the image of God, to do many kinds of good for those in need.

  15. Though there is a great divide between the believing and unbelieving worlds, I am glad that someone in the secular realm acknowledges the great that evangelicals have done in the world on humanitarian issues. This may shock some of you who know me by my previous posts, that I too am disillusioned by the way many conservative evangelicals in North America have pushed in their own way for their right-wing, white-collared, straight-laced social moralism. Yes, homosexual practice is an abomination before God; yes, divorce is a tragedy that receives God’s displeasure; yes, abortion on demand is murder; and yes, a lot of what is getting fed into the children by the media these days is anti-Christian. However, what about sins like pride, worldliness, selfishness, lack of compassion, hypocritical legalism, gossip, and jealousy? Things that seem to pervade the life of many professing conservative evangelicals. Many conservative Christians may not fall into homosexual sin, adultery, or drug trafficking, but what about falling into pride, selfish ambition, lack of mercy and justice, slandering, etc. Did you know that Paul says even those “respectable sins” listed above can send people to hell (Gal 5:20-21)? As a conservative evangelical we need to get our own act straight too since Jesus clearly told us that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of God (Matt 7:21-23).

  16. We also have to remember that the good things that unbelievers do to promote the well-being of other people are still filthy rags before the Almighty God. Nothing they do will merit the Kingdom. However, the humanitarian things they do are still considered good and beneficial in the temporal sense.

    • Mark, I do not believe in works righteousness. However, that does not mean that every time someone who is not a Christian does something good I must remind them that their acts have no salvific efficacy. Sometimes I just do what Peter says when he writes, “Honor everyone,” and what Paul says when he writes that I should “respect those who deserve respect, and honor those who deserve honor.” There is such a thing as the image of God that may be seen even in the most flawed human being, as well as God’s own common grace, which enables all of Adam and Eve’s children to do things that may be called genuinely “good” and for which we may give them genuine praise.

      • Right on, Chaplain Mike.

      • Salvific efficacy…nice.

        Seriously though, while I don’t think their is any real debate here that unbelievers can do good, do do good and will do good, and that they warrant genuine praise when they do, it’s interesting how much Christians make of the rare article like this as if it should warrant some sort of extra weight with us. And I’m not saying you did this here at all, Mike, and I say this only because I think you struck an unintended collective nerve that needs a healthy balancing in order to avoid tipping over into its extreme..just as the concern prevents us from tipping the other direction.

        In fact, I’m sure you’re just shaking your head in amazement right now saying something to effect of: “All I wanted to highlight was that this guy had some nice things to say about us…”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        However, that does not mean that every time someone who is not a Christian does something good I must remind them that their acts have no salvific efficacy.

        Yeah. Amazing what such “worm theology” like Mark spouts can do to turn depression into final despair and drive people to “Take your God and Shove It” out of sheer psychological survival.

      • I agree that good actions by unbelievers have their benefits for society and other people. What I am saying is that the positive consequences of these good acts are limited only in the temporal sphere. They do not receive salvific praise (or efficacy) before God. I would like to know where in Scripture that says unbelievers who do good will receive a salvifically efficacious consequence from God.

        • Matthew 25:31-46, the Sheep and the Goats.

          Doesn’t say anything about God basing His decision on reciting a prayer and then being dunked. Doesn’t say anything about believers and non-believers. All nations, all people.

          Of course, if those with faith have the works to prove it, and not just “dead faith” as James calls it, they’ll be sheep. Those who verbally claim Christian faith but can’t even act as righteously as your average atheist might worry.

          As far as judging how atheists are treated, I leave that to God. His ways are beyond mine and he has sheep we know nothing about.

        • Mark,

          You’re right; good works by a non-believer (or a believer, for that matter) will not get us into heaven. But does that mean than none of us should do good works? Good grief, it’s as if we evangelicals considered it a sin to do good works, because of our misinterpretation of Eph 2: 8-9, “it is by grace you are saved, through faith…not by works… lest anyone should boast.” (And why do we ignore verse 10, that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to DO good works.”?)

          And please don’t remind me that this verse is for believers only.

          And if good works (without faith) don’t get anyone into heaven, why all the fuss about sin? Can sin (the outward sin, the temporal, physical manifestation), get us thrown into hell? Or, is the outward sin merely a physical, temporal sign of an inward rebellion against God, the rebellion that really WILL get us thrown into hell? Is the outward sin the cause, or the effect?

          I’m just reflecting on an earlier post of yours, March 1, 4:27 PM. You listed sins from Gal 5:20-21 as means of getting us thrown into hell. But read verse 19, that these are the ACTS of the sinful nature–in other words, signs of the inward rebellion, which, left unrepentant, really will make us burn.

          Tell you what, I won’t make light of sin if you don’t make light of good works.

    • Patrick Lynch says

      “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:20

      Actually, you misquoted from Isaiah 64.

      “All of US have become like one who is unclean,
      and all OUR righteous acts are like filthy rags;
      WE all shrivel up like a leaf,
      and like the wind our sins sweep US away.”

      Not the works of unbelievers, but the righteousness of the chosen people of God, is what the Prophet Isaiah is referring to – they who among all the nations and since ancient times are the only to have met the only God there is.

      Seriously tell me. Does any of this parrying away about faith and works ever help anybody become anything –other than– self-satisfied with how finely they can card out a few Bible verses to imply defects about The Other Guy’s religion?

      I’m dying to know, because at least as quoted above, God doesn’t seem interested our distinctions between ourselves and the unbelievers or the merely Pharisaical beyond that we’re expected to surpass them in virtue BECAUSE we have the gift of faith.

      When we don’t outperform unbelievers – and I’m perfectly clear that because I don’t, heaven is likely beyond me – what else is there to do but recognize the fact of it?

      • Late to the discussion, but I read Kristoff’s article before this post. Thought it was nicely done. Why again are some folks here so upset? He said some good things about the work of ‘evangelicals’ – a term for which I’d like a clear definition – words hardly ever printed in the NYT. Kristoff has done humanitarian work in publicizing the abomination of sexual slavery around the world, and has asked people to contribute to agencies that aid women in getting their lives back. Because his work is not overtly ‘Christian’, does that mean his work is not acceptable or welcomed by God? That may be some people’s idea of God, but it surely isn’t the God I know in Jesus Christ.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Because the atmosphere has been poisoned by “Culture War Without End, Amen.”

          You can stay on a Total War footing against The Other only so long before you collapse, go crazy, or both. The USSR found that out, and I’m sure North Korea and Iran are well along the same path to Madness.

    • Mark,

      Didn’t Our Lord separate the people in Matthew 26 (I believe) into groups depending upon what they did rather than what they believed?

      • Anna,

        If you notice, those who were shown the Kingdom did not realize that what they did was a good work. Their good works did not merit their salvation but was evidence of it.

      • Anna,

        Are you talking about Matthew 25? Right belief leads to right acts/attitudes. Those who inherit the Kingdom at the end do so because their good deeds demonstrate their faith in Christ.

      • Steve and Mark, an alternate interpretation is that they did realize that they were doing good works, but they did not know that Jesus would appropriate good works done unto others as though they were done unto him. Thus their surprise was not that they had done good works, but that Jesus said that they had done those good works to him. As far as they knew, they had done those good works to some people in prison, or sick, etc., and not to Christ.

        The passage, by itself, simply says that at least one of the criteria for judgment is good works. One has to put that sermon together with other of Christ’s sermons and the writings in the epistles to formulate a fully rounded doctrine of salvation. But, that is not the discussion here.

        • I have a different understanding from your interpretation, father Ernesto. Jesus was talking about how the sheep demonstrated their faith by good deeds that were done to Jesus’ disciples (now and then). The downtrodden in that passage is not referring to generally poor, hungry, naked, or imprisoned people. He is talking about what the sheep have done for those who spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

          • Yes, the poor we shall have always. And we are instructed to love one another. If the analysis of what constitutes a good work stops there, the dividing line seems rather clear cut. But it seems counter-intuitive to restrict good works to our paltry little clique of believers. If we see a burning building, do we rescue only those with bona fide Christian credentials? Scripture instructs us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Does that imply an exclusion of most of its inhabitants? It seems the light we shine is meant reach into every dark corner. Is showing mercy to be considered a selective obligation? Reversing the argument, what role does the Holy Spirit play as regards the unbelieving masses. Is that office not to convict of sin and restrain evil? Through what means is that to be accomplished through the world, if not by the actions of believers?

          • Michael Spencer has talked about that passage a number of times and knows that it is interpreted both as doing good works toward anyone in need or as doing good works towards his disciples. He says for various reasons (I think I am getting this correctly) that it is best to see it as works done toward ANYONE.

            Just thought I would throw that out there.

          • I have trouble interpreting this as a warning against persecuting Christians. That seems like an American cultural reading, more particularly almost a political slogan, persecution being a campaign theme of the Moral Majority.

            I think it says what it means. It is a lesson from God meant for all people at all times in all places, a restatement of love God and neighbor, a practical exploration of the beatitudes. Paul tells us how easy it is to love those who love us. We ought to love those who don’t love us, and love them as much as we do God, love them more than ourselves. Christians or not.

            If we could just do it, wow how the gospel would spread!

          • Which interpretation I have seen recently, have no idea if it’s a new trendy idea or has been knocking around for ages, and which does not convince me.

            The notion that the corporal works of mercy only apply to the Approved Worthy Recipients is skating close to Donatism, only in this instance we do not require the ministers to be in a state of grace but the ministered-to.

            I would remark here that this version of the parable smacks of Souperism to me as an Irishwoman, which raises the hackles and has a very bad resonance.

            Or should all the aid efforts to, for example, Haiti first examine the theology and church affiliation of the dispossessed to make sure they come up to the proper standards of the Approved Worthy Recipient? Baptism for a mess of pottage?

          • Practice of the early church seems to favour the broad interpretation of who the sick, ill, imprisoned, hungry and naked are:


            “Yet, uniquely, the Christians did not limit their assistance to members of their own subculture, or as an exchange of favors. “To cities filled with the homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope.” Stark, op. cit., page 161. This Christian creed of charity was widespread and embodied in the actions of individuals, families, and churches. “In homes, whole families adopted a style of life modeled on that of the Apostles; some devoted themselves to missionary works, others to Charitable deeds among the outcasts of Roman Society–lepers and other identified as ‘unclean’: vagabonds, prostitutes, the homeless and destitute.” Judith Herrin, The Formation of Christendom, page 57. “Churches everywhere took care of widows and orphans; tended the sick, the infirm, and the disabled; buried the dead, including indigents; cared for slaves; and furnished work for those who needed it.” Hinson, op. cit., page 171. As discussed more fully below, this broad approach to charity did not exist in Western culture until Christianity placed it there.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I have trouble interpreting this as a warning against persecuting Christians. That seems like an American cultural reading, more particularly almost a political slogan, persecution being a campaign theme of the Moral Majority. — jjoe

            Just as an observation, Near-Future Persecution Dystopias are a badly-overdone favorite trope of Christian (TM) attempts at SF. I don’t know whether this is spillover from Christian Apocalyptic fiction or just the Christian version of the Nihilistic Dark Future bandwagon.

            I would remark here that this version of the parable smacks of Souperism to me as an Irishwoman, which raises the hackles and has a very bad resonance. — Martha

            Souperism — isn’t that that Anglican response to the Great Famine where they would only feed the starving Irish if they first converted from Catholic to Anglican?

            Practice of the early church seems to favour the broad interpretation of who the sick, ill, imprisoned, hungry and naked are:

   — Martha

            So how’d we get from there to hiding in our Christian box in the basement and nailing the lid shut behind us? Avoiding Contamination by Those Heathens so we can stay squeeky-clean for the Rapture Litmus Test? Hiding behind our four walls with Christian Romance novels, Christian rock stars, Christian Starbucks, Christian YouTube, Christian Facebook, Christian Twitter, et al?

            You can’t do a “broad interpretation” like the one recorded there without risking “contamination by Those Heathens (TM)”.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            But it seems counter-intuitive to restrict good works to our paltry little clique of believers. If we see a burning building, do we rescue only those with bona fide Christian credentials? — Stuart

            Anybody remember that Saudi girls’ school that burned down a few years ago? With the religious police throwing the escaping girls back into the flames because they weren’t properly veiled?

  17. This is an excellent post. It’s been interesting to read the above reactions. It seems there remains equal room for both respect and suspicion when it comes to dialogue between evangelicals and liberals, and I affirm Chaplain Mike when he expresses commitment to following Christ rather than trying to remain distinct from surrounding culture.

  18. One of my favorite things from the article by Nicholas D. Kristoff that Pastor Mike gave us the link to was, “One of the most inspiring figures I’ve met while covering Congo’s brutal civil war is a determined Polish nun in the terrifying hinterland, feeding orphans, standing up to drunken soldiers and comforting survivors — all in a war zone. I came back and decided: I want to grow up and become a Polish nun.” 🙂

  19. Nice to see some positive press about the often unseen good that the body does.
    I too appreciate and affirm Chaplain Mike’s statement about following Jesus rather than simply trying to be different. We should rejoice at the witness this will have and be encouraged to keep letting the light shine before others through us.

  20. To Martha on her post of 3-3-10 at 1 pm: That was an excellent article on the history of Christian charity that you gave us the link to:

    I have to save that somewhere for future reference.