The city of Lynchburg, Virginia, which I’ve visited and driven through a number of times since the late 1980s, is probably one of the more Christian towns in the United States.
The Thomas Road Baptist Church, led by a member of the Jerry Falwell family since the Eisenhower administration, was largely responsible for that dynamic, although many other churches and denominations—including The Salvation Army and the Seventh-day Adventist Church—have strong presences in the city as well.
Perhaps the most visible symbol of Christian influence in Lynchburg is Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell Sr., who passed to his rest 11 years ago. It’s the largest school of its kind, with, I believe, a total of half-a-million enrolled students, including one of the largest online studies programs in existence.
It’s the politics of the founder’s son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., particularly the younger’s enthusiasm for the presidency of one Donald J. Trump, that has set more than a few Christians’ teeth on edge.
One of the younger Falwell’s most strident critics is Shane Claiborne, a “red-letter Christian,” who believes we should concentrate on the “red-letter” words of Jesus as recorded in Scripture, and forget all those “clobber verses” about, you know, the definitions of what marriage is, when life begins, and how life should end. If Jesus didn’t trouble Himself with specifically addressing the whole gay question, why should we, the reasoning goes.
Of course, that reasoning is fallacious. In the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sets the record straight:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 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. (Matthew 5:17-20, NIV)
If Jesus came to NOT abolish the law, then He (who wrote the law, after all) affirms the Old Testament definitions of marriage, family, and the sanctity of life. That He did not make specific statements about certain issues does not negate His overall position, or the commands of Scripture.
But I digress. Critic Claiborne, according to evangelical observer Chelsen Vicari of the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington, D.C., has failed to engage Falwell Jr. in debate. So, the challenger will bring a—wait for it—“red-letter revival” to Lynchburg.
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) January 27, 2018
One might wonder what will happen at the event. Ms. Vicari, who is one of several millennials to find inspiration and direction in the actual social justice ministry of the late Chuck Colson, is skeptical, as she wrote in an IRD blog post:
I’m unconvinced this revival will be anything more than a politically-charged demonstration against Falwell and what’s been called “Trumpvangelicalism” by the Religious Left. The irony to me is that in demonstrating against Falwell’s pro-Republican devotion, Claiborne and his supporters could use the event to advance their own commitment to social causes on the political Left. I also wonder how many participants will actually be Lynchburg natives and Liberty University students. Because if the demonstration is largely comprised of the usual Religious Left company from outside of Lynchburg, is it really a community revival?
Here’s the thing: Jesus came to provide a means of salvation for sinners. His own disciples were chagrined that the Nazarene didn’t bring immediate “social justice” to a nation under Roman occupation. (“Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’” was the question posed in Acts 1:6, after all.)
But Jesus was emphatic about His mission here, when he addressed the major-league sinner, Zaccheus:
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10, NIV)
Seeking and saving the lost, first and foremost, involves presenting the Gospel message. Even William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, understood that feeding, clothing, and housing London’s homeless was a means to fit them to hear of Jesus’ love, and not merely a “good work” to tick off on a to-do list.
Shane Claiborne might bring his bandwagon to Lynchburg, or even to your town. Thoughtful Christians seeking to follow Jesus might wish to steer clear.