“I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice. Let Him be our example.” – Donald Miller, Opening Prayer at the DNC Last Night
More than anything I am saddened by Donald Miller’s recent statements both in an interview with ChristianityToday and his prayer last night at the DNC. I realize many I know are fans (some big fans) of Donald Miller and to say anything against the ideas or theology of someone who may have been instrumental in opening them up toward Christianity makes me somewhat of an outcast, which is hard. I pray by God’s grace you may see what I’m saying as well as my concerns. I want to affirm that I am indeed glad for the work Miller has done in bringing a new generation a different angle on things that has been used by God in order to bring them to the obedience of faith in Christ, for the salvation of their souls. I know personally of a few former high school students where this was indeed the case. And for that I praise God!
But for the sake of the purity of the Gospel we preach to the world, I cannot help but point out where we really need to watch ourselves and our theology. Most of the time, false doctrine historically has started out small, in things that are questionable, yet maybe not worth splitting over at the moment. But over time, that small error begins to snowball, and gets bigger and bigger, until what you are left with is exactly what Satan wants: a gutted, Christ-less, cross-less, dead Christianity that has nothing to say to the world by which people may be saved. Just look at the state of a majority of mainline denominations in both the United States and Europe. That is the fallout of gutting the Gospel in the 19th and 20th centuries of its essential message. We would do well to pay attention to this.
I am not questioning the intentions of Donald Miller in praying at the DNC, though I would question doing it in the first place from a true Christian worldview perspective (that goes for the RNC as well I might add). Regardless, I have no doubt that he means well, honestly. But more than the abortion statements he’s made recently (which alone are just blatantly inaccurate), more than the liberal political activism he’s engaged in (which is hypocritically doing the same thing he accuses conservatives of doing in the Republican party), this statement alone during his prayer at the DNC last night really gets under my skin, mainly for the sake of the purity of the Gospel. This is a case in point of why theology matters greatly. You don’t have to be a seminary student or prof to know at the very least the essentials of your own faith and the great tradition passed down to us over the course of church history. In fact, this is a necessity with the winds of doctrine whipping back and forth at hurricane force speed.
Now to the main point of my issue with Miller’s statement. Was the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God mainly “against the forces of injustice,” as an unbelieving world sees it? Or was it, in Jesus’ own words, “… to give [my] life a ransom for many?” Does Miller’s statement do justice to what was intended by the prophecy of Isaiah 53 as it pertains to the suffering Messiah, as well as the interpretation of the whole Old Testament in relation to the work of Christ in the book of Hebrews? What kind of message does this convey to 1) the DNC, and 2) the rest of the world about the main point, the heart of the matter of the work of Christ on behalf of sinners? It conveys the “Jesus died as our example” theory of the atonement, which is what the world naturally thinks when they look at the message of the Gospel without any investigation into what it’s actually saying. Yet the main point was not so much to give us an example to imitate (which is just law upon law, though of course He still is our example), but rather the main intention was to 1) show the righteousness of God in passing over former sins, and 2) to satisfy the wrath of God through His blood in the place of sinners in great unearned, undeserved love and mercy (Romans 3:21-26).
When a outspoken member of the evangelical community proclaims loud and clear, “I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice. Let Him be our example,” this falls right in line with what the world already naturally thinks about Christianity and thus confirms their false presuppositions concerning it. Therefore, Miller’s short statement of the intention of the cross is actually counter to the Gospel and does injury to it. This is the old-time [theologically] liberal action of attempting to make Christianity more palatable to an unbelieving world by lopping off the very heart of the message which is an offense or foolishness to the world.
If we are going to believe 1 Corinthians 1 about the foolishness of what we preach (foolishness in man’s eyes, not God’s), we must understand that the Gospel was never meant to be made palatable to the natural man, but that in the foolishness of what we preach (with all of its hard doctrinal edges, namely sin, wrath, death, hell, justice, election, love, mercy, sacrificial atonement, bodily resurrection, regeneration, faith, etc.), the power of God is displayed in Him converting souls to faith in Christ to a message that is counter to the world’s message. The very fact of the matter is the world cannot accept the Gospel as the truth until the Holy Spirit lifts the veil on people’s hearts, removes hearts of stone, gives people eyes to see it, ears to hear it (which is why we witness to unbelievers and pray for this operation of God, knowing only He can convert people). And in this way, God grants faith to those He wishes in order to display His glory in all the steps of salvation and the power of His might in bringing people to life from death who never would have or could have converted themselves.
But making the Gospel a message of “fighting injustice” and Christ merely as our “example”? Though I would hope, of course, that Miller would personally go on to say there was way, way more intended by the death of Christ on behalf of sinners than just becoming our example, the very fact of the matter is that the world does not implicitly get that from a “Christ our example” presentation of the Gospel. Even unbelievers can affirm that message, as they do every day in one form or another in our modern day of relativistic thinking.