Monday, August 25, 2008

Donald Miller's DNC Prayer Misrepresents Man's Goodness, Christ's Atoning Work

Christian author Donald Miller gave the closing benediction for the opening night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

He prayed some things I wholeheartedly agree with and believe are scriptural, although I believe it is more appropriately the work of the church (in additional to evangelizing the lost):

Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left.

Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them.

Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions.

Where I think he went awry theologically, however, were in two regards: his view of the inherent goodness of man (or of the American people) and his view of the atoning sacrifice of Christ (emphases mine):

A lot of people don’t like us but that’s because they don’t know the heart of the average American.


Thank you for blessing us in so many ways as Americans.

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.

The heart of the average American is bent on evil, just like the heart of the average person, period. Scripture is very clear about that.

As far as Jesus, he gave his life up willingly into the hands of sinful men who crucified Him unjustly, yes. And yes, Christ's love serves as an example for all who trust in Him. But Christ's death was not merely a death by government oppression or an example to be commended and followed or co-opted for a political program.

Christ died as the propitiation of God's just wrath against sin, and it's a poor treatment of the Gospel to isolate for political purposes the atonement to Christus examplar. What's more, citing Christ as example and asking God to Christianize our good works is to strive in vain for righteousness by works, something Scripture tells us just doesn't cut it with Jesus (emphasis mine):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. [Rom. 3:21-27]

On Judgment Day the boasting of Democrats and Republicans, Obama and McCain won't matter. Wars won, budgets balanced, taxes cut, taxes waged, welfare rolls reduced, the sick nursed by government health care, etc., won't matter a whit to Christ in terms of earning brownie points with him.

Yes, we are to be faithful stewards of God's creation. Yes we are to be stewards of His grace and mercy and show the same to those around us, particularly the orphan and widow, the gravely ill and the destitute. But let's not confuse the political will to tackle these issues with gracious outflowing of care for these issues that stems from the changed heart of those who put their trust in Christ and in Christ alone for salvation.



Anonymous,  August 26, 2008 at 6:52 AM  

why you felt it was necessary to write a critique of a prayer, i will never know.

colet1499,  August 26, 2008 at 9:38 AM  

Good exposition. I know Mr. Miller was not talking to me but it was a public prayer in an unusual forum. A lost opportunity to thank God for the reconciliation that comes through the blood of His Son (Eph. 2:16). No doubt some would object to the overtly religious overtones at such an august political meeting.

Anonymous,  August 26, 2008 at 10:54 AM  

Anonymous -- why you felt it was necessary to write a critique of a critique of a prayer, I will never know.

Bill McLellan August 27, 2008 at 12:07 AM  

Donald Miller is only expressing a crucial element in any biblical theology of death for our sins, often called the "Christus Victor theory of the atonement." It simply means that Jesus did much more than act as our example or pay for our sins, both of which are important, but he also defeated evil, reconciled the powers, overcame injustice, achieved vindication for the righteous, and destroyed the power of the devil. The idea of "Savior" at the time of the New Testament had a lot more to do with being someone's champion than substitute, though it came to mean that too.

Anonymous,  December 2, 2009 at 7:02 PM  

The law that scripture refers to is the religious Law in the Old Testament that Christ came to abolish. Not the law of the state...

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