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The Road to Nowhere—Middle Church
By Dr. Albert Mohler

Bob Edgar wants to rescue America from the religious right. In his new book, Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right, Edgar intends to reset the nation's agenda when it comes to matters of Christian concern.

A former six-term Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Edgar now serves as the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. As such, he is one of the primary spokesmen for the religious left in America--symbolically presiding over the dwindling numbers of mainline Protestants in the nation.

"My purpose in writing this book is to awaken the conscience of average, ordinary common folks within the United States to do above-average, extraordinary, and uncommon things to insure a future for our fragile planet," Edgar states. "I am especially interested in inspiring and challenging what I call 'Middle Church,' 'Middle Synagogue,' 'Middle Mosque'--the many millions of faithful people who do not always connect their spiritual values with political issues and whose voices are, as a result, often drowned out by the far religious right."

As it turns out, one does not have to be very conservative in order to be considered part of the "far religious right" as identified by Bob Edgar. Interestingly for one whose own organization pushes so many political agendas, he claims to speak for those "faithful people" who do not, at least always, "connect their spiritual values with political issues."

As Edgar sees it, there are two different churches in the United States--one based on love and the other grounded in fear. As Edgar asserts, "fear, fundamentalism, and the FOX Broadcasting Company must not be allowed to set the agenda for our nation."

Well then. As children we are wisely advised by parents to learn the art of compromise. This is good advice for children playing in the sandbox. However, it is disastrous advice when it comes to matters of truth. Compromise works when truth is not at issue. But the very character of the National Council of Churches and the larger ecumenical movement is one of constant compromise at the expense of truth.

As the book begins, Edgar traces his own political involvement to the inspiration he received from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Inspired by King's example, Edgar wants to call America's Christians to a middle way. "It is time for Middle Church--an umbrella term I use to refer to mainstream people of all faiths--to stand up to the far religious right and to embrace Christianity no less sincerely. The classic, historical Christianity practiced by Middle Church is far more authentic than the narrow religious expression of most radical right-wing religious leaders. We in Middle Church, Middle Synagogue, and Middle Mosque are not secularists who wish to banish God from the public square. We are people of faith whose traditions lead us to work for peace and care for the poor."

Conservative Christians are certainly not above criticism. The evangelical movement is certainly capable of political misjudgment, spiritual triumphalism, and a truncated set of moral and theological concerns. Bob Edgar could have written a book offering an intelligent analysis of conservative Christianity and its cultural and political engagement. Unfortunately, this is not that book. It is not an intelligent analysis, and the intelligent reader will find the book absolutely perplexing at many points.

For example, Edgar could have offered a careful, exegetical, historical, and theological engagement with moral issues. Instead he offers irresponsible generalizations such as this: "The Bible mentions abortion not once, homosexuality only twice, and poverty or peace more than two thousand times. Yet somehow abortion and homosexuality have become the litmus test of faith in public life today."

How can an intelligent reader, armed with even the slightest knowledge of the Bible and the Christian tradition, take such a statement seriously? The Bible does not mention abortion only in the sense that it does not make direct reference to the practice of surgical abortion as is common today. The Bible speaks clearly to the sanctity of human life and to the priority of protecting unborn life. Furthermore, to state that the Bible mentions homosexuality "only twice" indicates that Edgar has redefined homosexuality as something other than that which the Bible addresses in numerous passages.

There can be no doubt that the Bible's consistent judgment is that homosexual acts are inherently immoral and sinful. The Christian church in all of its major branches has understood this for two thousand years. This has been a true ecumenical consensus until recent years when some more liberal churches in the West have abandoned the Christian tradition in order to endorse homosexual practice.

Thus, it is an act of intellectual dishonesty for Edgar to claim to speak for "classic historical Christianity."

Just in case we might miss his point, Edgar offers this assessment of Scripture: "The far religious right is fond of condemning homosexuality because they say the Scripture is immutable and its words are literal." Again, Edgar identifies the scriptural consensus that homosexuality is sinful as an example of the radical nature of the "far religious right" [italics his]. Once again, one need not be very conservative to end up in Edgar's category of the far religious right.

As for his view of Scripture, "I do not personally believe God stops talking to us with the final word in the book of Revelation." Edgar explains that, as a pastor, he had included readings in worship from the Old Testament, the New Testament and what he calls the "Now Testament," by which he means readings from Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.

When it comes to familiarity with the Bible and the Christian tradition, there is no excuse for Edgar not to be well versed. After all, he is a seminary graduate and was for a decade president of the Claremont School of Theology. Thus, the reader might be surprised when Edgar, criticizing the fact that evangelicals seem too concerned with the Rapture and the end of the world, states this: "The book of Revelation does speak of the Rapture, and the portrait it paints is in fact quite fierce. But it's equally important to understand that the books of the New Testament are works of human beings." In the span of two fairly short sentences, Edgar manages to suggest that the New Testament is to be read as a merely human book while moving the Bible's text concerning the Rapture from 1 Thessalonians chapter four to the book of Revelation. Continuing to define his understanding of Scripture, Edgar suggests that "not every single word can be taken as literal historical fact."

When it comes to global warming, however, Edgar is quite certain that the problem is real and can be resolved by human beings. Furthermore, he offers his conclusion that dealing with global warming would not "cause economic problems." Edgar is quite certain that the Bible does not reveal an explicit command by God against homosexuality, but he is confident that God has a position on global warming.

Now, there is an urgent need at present for a truly thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of global warming and its theological significance. It would be fair to suggest that many evangelicals are simply dismissive of ecological concerns. Nevertheless, Edgar never makes his case for why we should, on his authority, assume that global warming should take priority over other concerns--especially those related to the sanctity of human life and the ordering of human sexuality.

Edgar dismisses the theory of Intelligent Design and the claim by "biblical literalists" that the earth is less than six thousand years old. "Let me just say here that I believe God is an 'intelligent designer,' and that's why God 'intelligently designed' the theory of evolution." That statement is cute, but it cannot be taken seriously. Readers with the slightest familiarity with the dominant theory of evolution held in the scientific community today will know that the very idea of an external design is incompatible with that theory. Cute statements are no substitute for serious thought.

The same is true when Edgar turns to moral issues--after all, the central concern of his book is to replace the agenda of conservative Christians with a different public agenda for Christianity. The "Middle Church" Edgar affirms must be absolutely certain about issues like peace, justice, poverty, racism, and ecology, but "must be prepared to agree to disagree about homosexuality, abortion, and stem cell research."

In an amazing passage, Edgar asserts: "People of faith must be able to conduct a respectful and open conversation about all aspects of sexuality including homosexuality. God has a lot to say on all these topics, and if we skip the listening and rush straight to the judging--an enterprise in which we're not supposed to be involved anyway--we can't hope to make serious progress in our discussion."

Statements like this must leave us wondering if this author actually means to be taken seriously. His book is filled with moral judgments--judgments about ecology, justice, racism, and a host of other issues. But when it comes to sexuality, Edgar offers the facile suggestion that moral judgment is "an enterprise in which we're not supposed to be involved anyway."

In other words, when Edgar makes moral judgments, he's not being judgmental. But when others moral judgments, they are being judgmental. The Bible does not say that we are not to make moral judgments, or that we are not to judge moral behavior. Indeed, the Bible makes absolutely no sense if that is the case. The Bible--in both Old and New Testaments--is filled with moral judgment and with advisement on how we are to make such judgments. Of course, the judgments we are to make concern behavior, not the heart. We are expressly forbidden to judge another's heart. That distinction is missing from Edgar's analysis.

As is always the case, the major issues of moral consequence are rooted in issues of more fundamental importance. When it comes to theology, Edgar demonstrates himself to be on the far left of the ecumenical movement. Consider this: "My God hopes for positive outcomes. My God does not play tricks or determine outcomes. My God has enough self-confidence to be less concerned with the language in which people pray than with the fullness with which people love one another. Most important, my God does not withhold love or acceptance from a Hindu child in India, a Buddhist child in Thailand, a Jewish child in Jerusalem, or a Muslim child in Ramallah." All that is said with absolutely no reference to Jesus Christ, or the Gospel.

Just in case we missed his point, Edgar argues that, in his personal opinion, God does not "even ask us to convert those who espouse other faiths?" Why? "I believe God reveals his love to different people in different ways and through different vehicles." This from the general secretary of an organization known as the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Bob Edgar--and the movement he leads--has replaced the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a platform of political involvement. "I admit that I do not give much thought to the afterlife personally," Edgar explains, "but it's only because I am keeping plenty busy here on Earth and I trust God to sort out eternity." On that last part we can all agree. God will "sort out eternity." What separates Bob Edgar and biblical Christianity is the fact that God has told us how He is going to judge humanity--and the crucial issue in that judgment is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

When it comes to matters of public policy, evangelicals surely do not have all the answers. Furthermore, evangelicals are well served by a reminder that our moral agenda needs to be broader than the issues of the daily headlines.

Nevertheless, conservative Christians did not decide to make abortion, homosexuality, and stem cell research front-line issues. It is nothing less than intellectual dishonesty to suggest that evangelicals prompted the national debate on those issues. On all of these fronts, evangelicals are simply calling on the Christian church to stand by its historic convictions and moral wisdom.

We must always be willing and ready to read what our own critics have to say. This is especially true when the critic is fair, intelligent, and thoughtful. Unfortunately, Bob Edgar has written a book that fits none of those categories. Instead, his book appears to be nothing less than a parody of mainline Protestantism--a cartoon reflection of what the ecumenical movement really represents. Middle Church is a roadmap to nowhere except further decline in influence and relevance.
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* * * Four Important Things To KNOW: #1) For ALL (Americans, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhist, Asians, Presbyterians, Europeans, Baptist, Brazilians, Mormons, Methodist, French, etc.) have sinned & fall short of the glory of God. #2) For the wages of above (see #1) are DEATH (Hell, eternal separation from God, & damnation) but the Gift (free & at no charge to you) of God (Creator, Jehovah, & Trinity) is Eternal Life (Heaven) through (in union with) Jesus Christ (God, Lord, 2nd Person of The Trinity, Messiah, Prince of Peace & Savior of the World). #3) For God so greatly loved & dearly prized the world (Americans, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhist, Asians, Presbyterians, Europeans, Baptist, Brazilians, Mormons, Methodist, French, etc.) that He even gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, that whosoever (anyone, anywhere, anytime - while still living) believes (trust in, relies on, clings to, depends completely on) Him shall have eternal (everlasting) life (heaven). #4) Jesus said: "I am THE WAY, THE TRUTH, & THE LIFE. No one (male/female - American, Muslim, Jew, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, Asian, Presbyterian, European, Baptist, Brazilian, Mormons, Methodist, French, etc. ) comes (arrives) to the Father (with GOD in Heaven) EXCEPT BY (through) ME (no other name). *** This wonderful loving GOD gives you the choice - - - (Rev. 3:20) {Please note that church membership, baptism, doing good things, etc. are not requirements for becoming a Christian - however they are great afterwards!!!} *** Jesus said, "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction (Hell, damnation, eternal punishment), and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life (Heaven, eternal happiness, forever with God), and only a few find it.

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But these are written so that you may
believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the
Son of God, and that by believing in
Him you will have life. Jn 20:31

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call on Him while He is near. Let the
wicked forsake his way and the evil
man his thoughts. Let him turn to the
Lord, and He will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for He will freely
pardon. "For My thoughts are not
your thoughts, neither are your ways
My ways," declares the Lord. "As the
heavens are higher than the earth, so
are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down
from heaven, and do not return to it
without watering the earth and making
it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed
for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is My word that goes out from My
mouth: It will not return to Me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire and
achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and be led forth
in peace; the mountains and hills will
burst into song before you, and all the
trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the
pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle
will grow. This will be for the Lord's
renown, for an everlasting sign, which
will not be destroyed." Is 55

O Lord, you have searched me and you
know me. You know when I sit and when
I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying
down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know
it completely, O Lord. You hem me in -
behind and before; you have laid your
hand upon me. Such knowledge is too
wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where
can I flee from your presence? If I go up
to the heavens, you are there; if I make
my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide
me and the light become night around
me," even the darkness will not be dark
to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. For you
created my inmost being; you knit me
together in my mother's womb. I praise
you because I am fearfully and wonderfully
made; your works are wonderful, I know
that full well. My frame was not hidden
from you when I was made in the secret
place. When I was woven together in the
depths of the earth, your eyes saw my
unformed body. All the days ordained
for me were written in your book before
one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts,
O God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would
outnumber the grains of sand. When
I awake, I am still with you. Search me,
O God, and know my heart; test me
and know my anxious thoughts. See
if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Ps 139

But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up,
that I may show My power in you, and that My
Name may be declared in all the earth. Ex 9:16

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
- - Isaac Watts

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