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God's Huckster

Preaching Jesus in a politically-charged climate.

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Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer ministering in the face of the Third Reich. In reading his own reflection of standing up to the Gestapo, one finds that there are times in which our preaching must take on a political work. He laments that he did not take up the political task before it was too late for Germany. In his essay, "Costly Grace," Bonhoeffer writes, "We baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation without asking awkward questions, or insisting on strict conditions … We poured forth unending streams of grace …"

His point? We never asked hard questions. We let things continue. We were okay with the status quo. There are times preaching must stand up to the darkness of the age. And at times this will be our role as pastors.

Third, and finally, our preaching must always be accessible by those on both sides of the aisle. I find St. Basil's rules for preaching to be edifying here. Basil, an early homiletical genius, writes, "We must not use the word of teaching in an ostentatious or huckstering way, flattering the hearers and satisfying our own pleasures or needs; but we must be such men as speak for the glory of God in his presence."

Huckster. A huckster is a mercenary who can sell anything for profit. It is someone who can turn anything into something that benefits themselves or their agenda. That word is the same as Paul's when he said we were not to be "peddlers" of God's Word (2 Cor. 2:17). That is, we are not to form it in our image. And, again, the easiest path is to create a church culture where agreement with the preacher is assumed, and, in many cases, required.

Sadly, too often than not, we are Jesus's hucksters. We take his Word and his ideas and his teachings and using them for our own means. This destroys our witness in a political age, because every political word from the pulpit is seen as a chance to bolster our own politic, rather than Jesus'. For this evangelical, this has been very important for me. I came to the realization years ago that if my community is a community of people who all agree with me politically, we have ceased being Jesus' church and have become my cult.

Embracing political diversity around the good news of Jesus' kingdom isn't merely a good idea—it reflects the methodology of Jesus who, I believe, intentionally called people of different political ideologies to himself for a common purpose.

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A. J. Swoboda is the pastor of Theophilus in Portland, Oregon, a professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and the author of Messy: God Likes It That Way.

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Mark Pitts

June 20, 2016  10:29am

Very thought provoking and incredibly timely.

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joseph folk

June 20, 2016  10:16am

Outstanding! If I spent my time trying to win my friends to Christ,rather than to win them to my politics, I would be a far better person. (Probably just as beaten up, but a better person---look what happened to Jesus!) Plus, I would have far more friends.

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Doug Davis

June 20, 2016  9:24am

In 1973, while in the US Navy, we attended Arlington Memorial Church and found a great pastor, Jim Davey. We have stayed in touch with Christmas cards, eMail, and a few visits over those years. I admire the man and his Christian views. I do NOT know his political views. In 1995 we started attending First Christian Church here and met pastor Mark Prevo, who remained our pastor until retiring about 2010 or so. I do NOT know his political views. A new pastor came and his political views were made obvious in his very first sermon. It seems to me the first two cases are positive and the latter case ought to be avoided.

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