Should Christians Vote For Donald Trump?

The primary season is over, and it’s pretty clear who the major party candidates are going to be: Donald Trump for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats (even though Bernie Sanders is currently making her claim difficult).

So then, who should you vote for as a Christian?

Statistics show that most — though certainly not all — believers vote Republican. But can you vote for Trump (and some would even insert “how” between “But” and “can”)? After all, the qualms that many people have about his ethics are well-known.

Additionally, those who know me know where I stand.

That said, I want to be very clear about something: I am not telling others how to vote, and I am not speaking on behalf of my denomination, presbytery, or any local church. I believe that is an area left to each Christian and their conscience.

Here’s why I say that: this is an area where Christian liberty comes into play. What is Christian liberty? For the uninitiated, it’s summed up in the Westminster Confession of Faith (my denomination’s statement of faith and perhaps the greatest man-made summary of what the Bible teaches), chapter 20, paragraph 2:

“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.”

For our purposes, here is the key aspect of Christian liberty that we’re going to focus on: the freedom that you have as a Christian from man-made rules that are contrary to God’s Word. 

So for instance, suppose your city passes an ordinance that forbids evangelizing, and telling others about Christ. What does the Bible say about that? We know that believers are called to be “ready for an answer” for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).

And when Peter and the other Apostles were told to stop evangelizing, he said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Therefore, if a civil government were to tell you to stop evangelizing, you would be duty-bound to disobey!

But let’s return to our current conundrum: if someone tells you that you must vote for Candidate X, what should you do? You should look to the Bible and see if there is anything that would say you have to go along with that. If there is nothing that says you should vote a certain way (and I don’t see a single Bible verse telling us to vote for any specific person), then you don’t have to listen.

Someone might then say, “But if you don’t vote for Candidate X, then Candidate Y will get elected and cause terrible things to happen! Besides, Candidate X said he’ll do good things if we vote for him.”

To the first part, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring; only God does. And Christ told us specifically not to worry about tomorrow (Mt. 6:25-34) — and that’s not to say we shouldn’t be concerned about current events; rather, for the sake of this discussion that we shouldn’t let fear be the deciding factor.

As to the second part, that’s certainly a factor. If you believe a candidate will do what he says, and if you conclude that his record is consistent with what he is promising, then by all means vote for him.

But one thing we should not do as Christians — and one thing the local church should not do — is tell us how to vote. This would be legalism, a man-made rule in an area where God is silent.

So then, how should you vote this November? I’m not going to tell you that, but I will say this: as you and I sit under the Word as it is read and taught, this will inform how we make our decisions in life, including who to vote for.

It’s true that Christians can — and will –come to different conclusions on it, and that’s all right. And I would certainly encourage you to discuss it with your fellow believers, your elders, and your pastor. See what biblical insights they have on the situation, and let that play a part in how you will (or won’t) cast your ballot.

But at the end of the day, the question you have to ask yourself is, can you stand before your maker with a clear conscience after making your decision?

A Final Warning

Lastly, a lament: it has been saddening to see the extent to which friendships have ended because of this election.

At the end of the day, and no matter what we conclude about voting for Donald Trump, we need to remember that this is not an issue that pertains to salvation. Of course, we should pray for our country (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We should also vote according to our consciences as they are informed by God’s Word, and recognize that this is an area of Christian liberty, where our brothers and sisters may indeed come to different conclusions on this issue.

But above all, we need to remember the words of the classic hymn: “Blessed be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love.”

The bonds we share as Christians are far greater than the results of any particular election cycle.

Book Review: The Conviction To Lead by Albert Mohler

Albert Mohler has strong bona fides when it comes to leadership.

Two decades ago, he was a 33-year-old, little-known newspaper editor who applied to become president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He was something of a dark horse candidate, but the board of directors chose him.

His task was daunting: the board chose him to steer this seminary away from a decades-long trend towards theological liberalism. Against all earthly odds, he succeeded.

To my knowledge, Mohler has not talked much about his stunning success in turning around Southern Seminary—and I have heard him speak or preach on numerous occasions. But because he has accomplished all that he has (including writing several books, maintaining an extensive blog and a daily podcast), Mohler has become a well respected figure in modern Christianity, and with good reason.

But God’s providence notwithstanding, what qualities did Mohler possess that enabled him to succeed not just as president of a seminary, but to become such a widely recognized Christian spokesman and leader? What does he have to say about leadership that he could pass along to others?

By his own account, many of his close friends had pressed him a long time to write a book on leadership. And so, he finally sat down to write one.

The result is The Conviction To Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters. As the subtitle indicates, the contents feature 25 leadership principles. These range from very practical and basic leadership qualities like conviction, passion, management of an organization, personal time management, and effective communication to more modern necessities for leaders like the right usage of social media in this digital age.

What is especially important to Mohler is that the leader must know what he believes, and why. He states, “Our intellectual habits must be aligned with Christian truth and knowledge.”

As one who has been there, Mohler also understands that it is not enough to have convictions and desires; the effective leader must be able to both communicate the direction of the institution he is leading and get his subordinates on the same page.

“The great aim of leadership is to lead followers continually into a deeper and more comprehensive love for what is most real, must true, most right, and most important. The thrill of leadership is in seeing this happen, and long-term success depends on it.”

He also provides practical guides to help his readers as they make important decisions:

1. Define the reality. Leaving nothing out, answer these questions: Whose voices need to be heard? What will the consequences be?

2. Identify the alternatives. What are all of the options in front of me? At this point, outside advice can be helpful.

3. Apply analysis. On a sheet of paper, list the alternatives, and the pros and cons of each. How do the alternatives fit within my organization’s mission and purpose? Do I have the talent and commitment to proceed with these alternatives? Logistics, budget, personnel, and commitment should be considerations of the final decision.

4. Pause for reflection. This is not delay, just reflection; a chance to pray and deeply contemplate the decision: did I leave anything out? Does it feel right in head and heart? Am I ready to own this decision, and stand on it? Given my convictions, is this a decision I can be proud of?

5. Make the decision, and make it count. Effective leaders see their decisions through.

6. Review and learn. Good leaders learn from their decisions, and the process of making them.

From time to time, Mohler brings up how he implemented the 25 leadership principles when he became president of Southern Seminary, and then transformed it into a bastion of orthodox Christianity. But neither does he beat the reader over the head with his triumphs—a sign that he practices what he preaches.

It is difficult to find a shortcoming in The Conviction To Lead. The closest I can come to finding one is that it can be too general, and not specific enough. In other words, it feels at times like this volume is not specific enough to one type of institution—whether it be a business, church, or institution of higher learning. So if one is looking for how to implement leadership principles in a specific organization, then they will have to purchase another volume that is more narrowly focused.

But that’s relatively minor. On the whole, The Conviction To Lead is a very solid book on leadership from one who has done it, and continues to do it.

I highly recommend it.

A Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, Part 2

“I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” -Psalm 39:9

When so many of us read a verse like this, it’s almost never in isolation. We typically come across a passage like this when we are reading the Psalm as a whole, as when we do our daily Bible reading. We really don’t stop and ponder the meaning of it.

This is where the Puritans proved to be such a blessing. Like many of his contemporaries, Puritans like Thomas Brooks force us to stop and ponder a verse like this more deeply than we would otherwise. These godly men could take a passage of Scripture that is passed over far too often, and like squeezing water out of a sponge, they got far more out of it than initially meets the eye.

Indeed, Brooks’ entire treatise that we are considering, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, is an exposition of this verse.

The word for “dumb,” Brooks notes, means mute. It signifies that the writer’s mouth was bound shut. Why? Brooks answers, “He looks through all secondary causes to the first cause, and is silent: he sees a hand of God in all, and so sits mute and quiet. The sight of God in an affliction is of an irresistible efficacy to silence the heart, and to stop the mouth of a gracious man.”

The author is David. Brooks notes that as we reflect on this verse, we should not look at him as the mighty warrior king, but merely as a fellow Christian who is silent due to affliction under God’s hand. From this, Brooks concludes, “[I]t is the great duty and concernment of gracious souls to be mute and silent under the greatest afflictions, the saddest providences, and sharpest trials that they meet with in this world.”

But what type of silence is this? What motivates our muteness under affliction? Brooks offers seven possibilities:

First, it is not a stoical silence. That is to say, a silence motivated by austere strictness which Brooks calls “a sinful sullenness, is not the silence here meant.”

Second, it is not a politic silence. In other words, silence due to shrewdness or diplomacy.

Third, it is not a foolish silence that is motivated simply by not knowing what to say.

Fourth, it is not a sullen silence that comes from irritation or gloomy behavior.

Fifth, it is not a forced silence.

Sixth, it is not a despairing silence. Such a person “hath a hell in his heart, and horror in his conscience. He looks upwards, and there he beholds God frowning, and Christ bleeding; he looks inwards, and there he finds conscience accusing and condemning of him.”

Rather, the silence, or muteness, to which Brooks (and David) refer to is “a prudent silence, a holy, a gracious, silence.” In short, this type of silence before God has right and God-honoring motives.

What does this silence before God include? Eight things, by Brooks’ count:

1. This silence “includes a sight of God, and an acknowledgment of God as the author of all the afflictions that come upon us.”

So says the text: “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.”

Brooks says, “The psalmist looks through secondary causes to the first cause, and so sits mute before the Lord. There is no sickness so little, but God has a finger in it, though it be but the arching of the little finger…The sight of God in this sad stroke is a bridle both to his mind and mouth, he neither mutters nor murmurs.”

2. This silence “includes and takes in some holy, gracious apprehension of the majesty, sovereignty, dignity, authority, and presence of that God under whose afflicting hand we are.”

In other words, the hurting Christian is silent before God because he has a right sense of who God is.

Habakkuk 2:20: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent.”

3. This silence, “takes in a holy quietness and calmness of mind and spirit, under the afflicting had of God. A gracious silence shuts out all inward heats, murmurings, fretting, quarrellings, wranglings, and boilings of heart.”

4. “A prudent, holy silence takes in a humble, justifying clearing and acquitting of God of all blame, rigor and injustice, in all the afflictions he brings upon us.”

“God’s judgments are always just; he never afflicts but in faithfulness. His will is the rule of justice; and therefore a gracious soul dares not [find fault unnecessarily] nor question his proceedings. The afflicted soul knows that a righteous God can do nothing but that which is righteous.”

5. “A holy silence takes in gracious, blessed, soul-quieting conclusions about the issue and event of those afflictions that are upon us.” This conclusion is based upon Lamentations 3:27-34.

In short, a Christian is silent when under affliction because he knows that they happened under God’s watchful eye.

Before moving on to the sixth item which the Christian’s silence before God concludes, Brooks offers five “soul-stilling conclusions” from the Lamentations passage to bring this point home:

a. That God’s providences work for our good.

b. The afflictions went upon us in God’s providence shall keep us “humble and low.”

c. The rod shall not always be upon the back of the righteous.

d. As Lamentations 3:32 states, “But, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” God does not forget us in our sorrows; instead, Brooks says, “Go will turn their winter’s night into a summer’s day, their sighing into singing, their grief into gladness, their mourning into music, their bitter into sweet, their wilderness into a paradise.”

e. Lamentations 3:33 states that God “does not afflict willingly.” God does not take delight in our afflictions; “it is a grief to him to be grievous to them.”

“God’s hand sometimes may lie very hard upon his people, when his heart, his bowels, at those very times may be yearning towards his people. No man can tell how the heart of God stands by his hand.”

6. The Christian’s silence before God in their affliction “includes and takes in a strict charge, a solemn command, that conscience lays upon the soul to be quiet and still.” As Psalm 37:7 states, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”

7. “A holy, prudent silence includes a surrendering, a resigning up of ourselves to God, while we are under his afflicting hand.”

Such a Christian, says Brooks, offers up this prayer to God: “Lord, here am I; do with me what you please, write upon me as you please; I give myself up to be at your disposal.”

Or as Luther said, “Lord, lay what burden you will upon me, only let your everlasting arms be under me.”

8. “A holy, prudent silence takes in a patient waiting upon the Lord under our afflictions until deliverance comes.”

In short, there are good reasons for Christians to be silent when they are afflicted because they happen under God’s providence. We remain under His watchful care, and He does not forget His own.

Steps to Making an Important Decision

1. Define the reality. Leaving nothing out, answer these questions: Whose voices need to be heard? What will the consequences be?

2. Identify the alternatives. What are all of the options in front of me? At this point, outside advice can be helpful.

3. Apply analysis. On a sheet of paper, list the alternatives, and the pros and cons of each. How do the alternatives fit within my organization’s mission and purpose? Do I have the talent and commitment to proceed with these alternatives? Logistics, budget, personnel, and commitment should be considerations of the final decision.

4. Pause for reflection. This is not delay, just reflection; a chance to pray and deeply contemplate the decision I am about to make: Did I leave anything out? Does it feel right in head and heart? Am I ready to own this decision, and stand on it? Given my convictions, is this a decision I can be proud of?

5. Make the decision, and make it count. Effective leaders see their decisions through.

6. Review and learn. Good leaders learn from their decisions, and the process of making them.
-From The Conviction to Lead, by Albert Mohler

A Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, Part 1

I have begun reading the classic Christian treatise by Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod. It is a wonderful little volume on how the Christian should react to trials and suffering.

In the coming days, I will attempt to summarize it, with lots of quotes from Brooks. It is my hope that it will be as much a blessing and help to you as it has been to me.

As you will see shortly, Brooks was a typical Puritan writer in that he makes lots of prefaces in this writing. The Puritans did not want to leave any stone unturned, or leave anything out in their explanations.

With that in mind, I have two prefaces of my own: First, I strive to put quotations from the book into modern English for the benefit of the modern reader.

Second, I quote Brooks in many places so that you will get a feel for his writing. However, there are so many good quotations, I will actually have left some out. But that’s okay—if reading this spurs you to get your own copy of A Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod, all the better!

“[I]t is mercy, it is rich mercy, that every affliction is not an execution, that every correction is not a damnation. The higher the waters rise, the nearer Noah’s ark was lifted up to heaven; the more your afflictions are increased, the more your heart shall be raised heavenward.”

So writes Brooks in his preface. In the first part, he gives eight reasons why he put this work into writing. Secondly, he provides six points of counsel for his readers that “the following tract may turn to your soul’s advantage.”

Brooks’ reasons for writing:

  1. “The affecting hand of God has been hard upon myself , and upon my dearest relations in this world, and upon many of my precious Christian friends…which put me upon studying the mind of God” on this subject.

2. He wanted to provide the world what the Bible says about suffering long after he would be gone: “What is written is permanent…and spreads itself further by far, for time, place, and persons, than the voice can reach.”

“The pen is a kin of image of eternity; it will make a man live when he is dead, Heb. 11:4.”

“A man’s writings may preach when he cannot when he may not, and when, by reason of bodily distempers, he dares not.”

3. While preaching is useful, “Few many, if any, have iron memories. How soon is a sermon preached forgotten, when a sermon written remains!”

4. It is suitable and useful for Christians have are going through “these great turns and changes that have passed upon us.”

5. Since the Lord had blessed Brooks’ other writings, he decided to write this work as well: “God is a free agent to work by what hand he pleases; and sometimes he takes pleasure to do great things by weak means, that ‘no flesh may glory in his presence.”

6. He wanted to provide a “proper salve” for hurting Christians: “As every good man, so every good book is not fit to be the afflicted man’s companion; but this is.”

7. He wrote this for the aid of some friends. On this point, Brooks goes on to discuss the wonderful value of friendship.

8. Brooks was unaware of other Christians authors who had handled this subject.

II. Brooks’ Counsel to his readers

  1. As you read this, look to God to bless it: “Paul may plant, and Apollos may water,” but all will be to no purpose, “except the Lord give the increase” (1 Cor. 1:6-7).

2. Brooks encourages his reader to meditate upon what they read: “Meditation is the food of your souls, it is the very stomach and natural heat whereby spiritual truths are digested.”

“They usually thrive best who meditate most. Meditation is a soul-fattening duty; it is a grace-strengthening duty.”

3. Read with a Berean spirit (Acts 17:10-11). That is to say, see that what he writes is consistent with the Scriptures.

4. Put what you read into practice.

5. Apply what is here. “all the reading in the world will never make for the health of your souls except you apply what you read.”

6. Read and pray. “He that makes not conscience of praying over what he reads, will find little sweetness or profit in his reading.”

With these prefaces in mind, let us get into the text!

Does Starbucks Have Christians Seeing Red?

Does Starbucks have Christians seeing red?

Judging by the mainstream media, the answer is yes. This controversy has already been covered by the likes of CNBC, The Chicago Tribune, Us Magazine, CNN, ABC News, and many others.

In past years, the coffee company has brought out red coffee cups with various Christmas themes at this time of year, featuring Christmas trees, deer, snowflakes, and the like.

But this time, Starbucks has decided to jettison these designs, and just go with a basic red cup. And to hear the media reaction, Christians across the nation our outraged about this.

Why all this fuss over a red cup? When I first heard about this alleged outrage, it didn’t quite pass the smell test. And so, I wondered which Christian leader(s) are spearheading this controversy. Was it Billy Graham, or his son Franklin? Nope.

The Family Research Council? Nope.

The American Family Association? Nothing about red ups on their website.

Albert Mohler? Not him.

Fox News? All I could find was a commentary decrying that anyone is making such a big deal about this.

So then, what is the source of this controversy? All of the stories above only mentioned one name: Joshua Feuerstein.

My first reaction: Who?

His website describes his as “an American evangelist, internet and social media personality.” However, Feuerstein also holds to the heresy of one-ness Pentecostalism, thus denying the deity of Christ. Therefore, to suggest that he is a leader of the Christian Right or whomever is a stretch.

But here’s where the controversy comes in: Feuerstein recently declared on a Facebook post, “Starbucks removed Christmas from their cups because they hate Jesus.”

Really? I was not aware that Joshua Feuerstein was such a recognized leader of the Christian Right. Nor did I realize that the removal of reindeer, Christmas trees, and elves from the cups of a company that sells $5 coffees constitutes anti-Christian bigotry.

Here’s the bottom line: this is a tempest in a tea-pot; a manufactured crisis, if you will. With the exceptions of one online media personality and his followers, and maybe Donald Trump, almost nobody outside of some media outlets trying to drum up newspaper sales, Internet click-bait, and TV ratings really cares.

As for me, I am infinitely more concerned about Christians being persecuted in the Middle East, abortion, evangelism, the state of the American Church, and other issues than I am about whether a coffee company puts Christmas trees and reindeer on its coffee cups.

Book Review: From the Mouth of God by Sinclair Ferguson

What is the Bible? Where did it come from? How can you know for certain that it’s God’s Word, exactly as He intended to give it to us? How should you go about reading it? And, what are some of the mistakes you should avoid when doing so?

Sinclair Ferguson very capably answers these questions in his new volume, From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible.

Written with the layperson in mind, this work is vintage Ferguson–that is to say, it is simultaneously easy to read, and yet displays great theological depth and knowledge of the subject matter.

Ferguson begins with the concept of revelation, how it is that we can know about God, and what He expects from us. In this, he demonstrates that while God’s revelation of Himself to us in creation is sufficient to reveal Himself to us (i.e., general revelation), it is not sufficient to tell us what we need to know for life and salvation. Therefore, Ferguson explains that God worked through human authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to give us what we need to know about Him (i.e., special revelation).

Following an easy to understand chapter on canonicity, Ferguson then takes his readers through all of the topics relevant to studying God’s Word, including revelation, the various genres of the Bible, and how to read them.

On this last point, Ferguson demonstrates how to read God’s Word from a Christ-centered perspective. He shows how the different parts of the Old Testament point to and find their fulfillment in Him, offering helpful tools for His readers to do this. And it’s here that From the Mouth of God becomes a hands-on book for the layperson: after teaching his readers how to find Christ in all of Scripture, Ferguson then offers a test case for putting these tools to work by walking his readers through the book of Ruth.

Ferguson also offers some bonuses to his readers in the appendices, via treatises from John Murray and John Newton the guidance of the Holy Spirit and divine guidance.

It is difficult to find a weakness in this volume. The only one this reviewer can find is that if one wishes to go deeper on any of the sub-topics, they will have to look elsewhere (e.g., B.B. Warfield’s classic Inspiration and Authority of the Bible on inspiration, Michael Krugers Canon Revisited for issues related to canonicity, etc.).

That aside, From the Mouth of God is a wonderful introduction to the Bible which can either be read individually or as part of a group. I highly recommend it.

I highly recommend it.