Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Church, Life Issues


I am here in Washington, DC, the epicenter of controversy. Ever since November 2016, it seems like our nation is more fractured than ever. Some of this rip and tear is happening within the Christian community.  On the right side of evangelicalism are those who are fully supportive of the results of the last election. Some might even question the spirituality of dissenters. On the left, many are disgusted that someone with the character and inexperience and political positions of the current President occupies the White House.

So I would like to make a plea. Too many of us live down in the weeds—around Facebook level-venting and raging after listening to some talk show host who aligns with our position. Maybe a good number of us should stop and reflect and see the bigger picture.

In his article, “Return of the Strong Gods,” the editor of First Things, R.R. Reno, has painted this for me. I have read and reread this dense, yet captivating article, and it has provided a historical context I have often overlooked. Go back 60-70 years, and we find a world that was heavily influenced by nationalism and zealotry. A good deal of this (Nazism, Fascism, and Communism) led to brutality and hate. After 1945, forces began to push back. There was an increasing desire to react against anything authoritarian; by the 1950’s, a rising disenchantment (think Beatniks) rose and rebelled  against anything strong. This extended into the cultural revolution of the 60’s (think war protests), where enduring truths were replaced with the gospel of freedom.

The sense was—if there are no strong truths, there will be no judgmental attitudes. No one will judge what is right or wrong. Further, if there is nothing worth fighting for, no one will fight.

This alienation to the strong gods of traditional culture has continued to this present day and is moving to a globalized future that will be governed by hearth gods of health, wealth, and pleasure. The high priests will be medical experts, central bankers, and celebrity chefs. If we stop and look around, we realize that future is already here. Diversity, inclusivism, and post-truth have become some of its defining words. Transgender rights, as one example, is but one expression of a desire to weaken outside claims, in this case the claims of one’s DNA–the claims even of one’s Creator.

All of this helps give a context to what is happening—where we are at present. What has been described as a populist movement represents, in large degree, a revolt against a movement that pushed too hard and too fast—a movement that is perceived by many on the other side as fluid and weightless, where nothing is really true. I am guessing that many who identity with this emerging populism desire to return to something solid, trustworthy, and enduring. They resent being viewed as naïve or bigoted or narrow minded.

Part of what Reno fears is that this polarization will only increase and rip things further apart. Establishment resistance will fight against populist rebellion; political correctness will aim to silence those who believe in traditional morality (e.g. consider Princeton Seminary and its recent decision to withdraw the Abraham Kuyper Award to Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller because he does not hold to the “right” views on women and sex).

What’s the church to do? First, we must maintain our core convictions and not be intimidated by voices that would mock our loyalties. Second, we should stay above the fray, not aligning ourselves on either side of the political spectrum. This is not easy. Too many are in love with power. But our first, and main interest, is for God’s kingdom. He is our hope—not Washington, DC.

Finally, and this is Reno’s point, we must anchor ourselves in three covenants:

-the covenant of marriage and family, for it is in such a union of man and woman that our restless longing is stabilized. It is here we come to grips with the fact we do not live for ourselves.

-the covenant of community, which includes country. By committing ourselves to the civic, we recognize we cannot do this thing called life alone. We need each other, and hopefully this leads to gratefulness.

-the covenant of faith. Here we are reminded daily that the fate of our souls is not in our hands. Apart from the Vine, Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Such convictions smash the idols that seek to ravage our souls and re-center lives that have gotten pretty wobbly. Here we come back to the fact He is the King of kings. All other powers come and go, for they are but dust.

  • William B Walters
    12:44 PM, 24 August 2017

    Dr. Johnson. My name is Bill Walters, my wife and I are school teachers and live in College Park, MD. You and I share Henley Middleton Walters as a common ancestor. We met your parents in Arkansas and your Aunt in San Diego. I grew up in Highland, Kansas, along with the Lusk family there. I like your comments. You are lucky, you get to leave DC and return to Portland, we live there all of the time. We attend the National Presbyterian Church where our pastor included the following scripture on the Sunday after the election.

    4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

    There was emphasis on the singular “I” in the first sentence, and again in the last sentence, making it clear that the captivity was not Nebuchadnezzar’s fault. This fits well with your comments in this blog.

    • John Johnson
      2:32 PM, 3 November 2017

      I am so remiss in replying to you. My apologies. Thanks for connecting with me–and for reading my posts-John

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