Your Kingdom Come: The 4th of July

This 4th of July, I’m (as ever) torn between faith and patriotism. A friend said that freedom can never be won or maintained by any soldier or government, and that our true freedom only comes from Christ.  I have to agree, but I’m left questioning, “Then why government? And why our government?”

The answer, I believe, is that we were given stewardship of this world in the garden of Eden.  When God told us to multiply and fill the earth, to care for it and govern all that it contains, I believe that political government is part of that mandate.

The United States Government is not the answer to all things, nor the answer to ultimate freedom.  All things we have, freedom in its several types included, are ours because God has willed it so.  In the specific case of freedom, God sent his son, Jesus, to secure that freedom and redeem us for Himself.

But if we’re living out the redeemed lives we’ve been given, we can’t ignore the several mandates that political governance can  fulfill.  Far from ignoring the structures that order our communal lives, we’re to pay attention to those structures; to provide for justice and care for the oppressed.  If we call ourselves Christians, then our government should not be ignored, but attended to carefully.  We need to enter into dialogue with others, to seek optimal ordering of our communal life, to provide justice and order.  Even political freedom should be on our list of priorities if follow carefully God’s mandate to govern the earth.

You probably won’t hear me saying that our government is optimal, or that our nation is the only nation on earth with the truth.  For truth doesn’t reside in our political structures, but those structures should reflect truth if we’re obedient to the governance mandate.  You won’t hear me say that it’s the American Way to put a boot in anyone’s fundament, though that brand of overblown patriotic pride fascinates me in the same way that a car accident slows down traffic.

But you will hear me say that it’s our responsibility to craft and mold a government that reflects the character of God.  A nation with such an orientation wisely seeks justice on a national and global scale, and reflects the very good values of freedom and equanimity that we learn from our creator’s nature.  I seek to join in the crafting of such a government.  And to the extent that our government reflects this orientation, I will celebrate.  Indeed, we encourage what we celebrate, so I celebrate the political freedom that so many have worked and died to craft.  Though it’s only a reflection of true freedom from the tyranny of sin and death, it’s still a worthy reflection.

And as I pray that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven, I will work in the space and time I occupy to make that prayer a reality.  Not that I seek to create a theistic government, but a government that reflects the goodness of God.

Why religion and politics shouldn’t mix

This is one of my favorite topics. I’ve been thinking about it and reading about it for some time now. I don’t have it figured out to my satisfaction, but I came to a new thought this morning, so I figured I should share.

I was pondering the nature of religion and the nature of politics, and I realized they have something inverse in common. The reason religion and politics should not mix is partly due to their relationship to compromise.

Religion in general and Protestant Christianity in particular should not compromise. The philosophical game of religion is played on the field of truth claims.  Negotiating or compromising on truth claims is like kicking field goals for your opponent.  It’s not a good idea.  This is the (very good) reason that people have died for their religious convictions throughout the centuries.

Politics, on the other hand, lives with an entirely different relationship to compromise.  For a politcian, compromise IS the game.  Legislature and governance is all about negotiating between competing interests.  If different interests didn’t exist, governments wouldn’t need to exist, either.  That’s why politics is so easy to criticize, fun to talk about (e.g. ‘Those idiots in [Washington, Sacramento, Madison, Dakar, etc.] wouldn’t know the right thing to do if it bit them on the hand!”), and so demanding of wisdom.  Compromise IS the task of government, and it’s not an easy one.

So every time a pastor asks his congregation to vote a particular way, he is speaking from one realm into another: he is speaking from a position that’s used to wielding divine authority to make absolute truth claims into a realm where issues always have different sides and a single voice bearing the best idea is not guaranteed to make headway.  In politics, strength of conviction falls subservient to the power of coalition.  That’s not a fault of politics; it’s just the nature of politics.  But this pastor is likely to create an unproductive voting bloc.  He’s likely to create or encourage a group of people to take a position they can’t back down from.  In the end, it makes for bad politics and bad blood.

And every time a governmental leader speaks toward the realm of religion, it’s natural (but altogether inappropritate) that he should ask for compromise and ecumenism.  He, who is used to compromise as a way of doing business, naturally expects this from the realm of religion.  And he’s dead wrong.  Religion thrives on truth claims, and asking religious people to deny what they know as truth for some greater good is like asking religion to drink poison.

There are many outworkings of this continued tension between church and state, and they’re likely to be messy.  I can’t claim any kind of special ability to negotiate such perilous waters just because I understand the larger principle.  But I can offer one guiding question for discussion: what can we do to build up a HEALTHY wall of separation ‘twixt the two very important areas?

What am I thinking!?

Hi, Shinnfans. I know what you’re wondering. I know because I subtly implanted the question in your minds using the title of this blog post. You want to know what I’m thinking. If this was a play, here’s how the dialogue would pan out:

You (internally, maybe even a fleeting thought): “Andrew hasn’t been writing much lately. All he’s been doing is posting images and stupid little videos with internet babble or pictures that move too fast to be seen well.”

Me (Andrew): “Huh. Good point.” (Hangs mouth open, looking kind of dumb. Realizes audience is watching and quickly snaps into a brow-furrowing, hard-thinking expression.)

You: “Come on, why don’t you get right on that, do some thinking and reading, create some meaningful content, and give us something to either chew on, disagree with, or totally walk away from because it would require us to think too much.”

Me (Andrew): “Um, I’m kind of busy right now. Can I do that later?” (For a moment, that dumb look comes back.)

You: “No, we’re a demanding internet audience with short attention spans. If you don’t post good content at least once a day, we stop visiting. In fact, even this is getting kind of long. Can you wrap it up, please?”

Me: “Okay, how about a compromise? Can I tell you what I’m reading so you know what’s coming down the pike?”

You: “Hurry it up. Half of us stopped reading before your last line. The rest of us thought the phrase was, ‘What’s coming down the pipe.’ ”

Me: “You thought wrong, and I get to say so because it’s my blog. Pike in that usage refers to the old term for a road. Here’s my recent reading list, with comments:” </imaginary meta dialogue>

  • Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Davis Hanson. Really riveting reading. Tackles the question of how to approach illegal Mexican immigration. Heavily criticizes what Hanson terms the race industry. Hanson is a classicist, a professor at Fresno State, and a guy who grew up on a family farm in Selma, California, where he still lives.
  • Inside Today’s Mormonism by Richard Abanes. A little boring, this volume delves into the claims of Mormonism in pretty technical detail. I suppose the level of technical detail is necessary for the book to be authoritative.
  • In The Name of God: Understanding the Mindset of Terrorism by Timothy Demy and Gary P. Stewart. I just started this, and it seems like a pretty generic American defense of the War On Terror â„¢ and The Justness of Our Cause (also tm). Honestly, it takes a lot to impress me these days in a book about terrorism. I read the (dry) 9/11 Commission Report cover-to-cover. I’ve just started this, so it might end up better than it started. If it does, I’ll let you know. Both authors are military chaplains, and one (Timothy Demy) is an officer with whom I served in the Coast Guard.
  • The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Speaking of impressive (see previous paragraph), this book blows me away. I’m listening to the audio book form, but it’s a great tome on the long history of Al Qaeda’s major players and the conditions (both personal and political) that gave rise to the organization. Reading this book feels like taking a Master’s-level course in Middle Eastern politics. I briefly considered buying a copy on and sending it to the CIA. Our government needs the level of understanding displayed in this book. The research is thorough and extensive, while the retelling of the story seems journalistic in nature with very little editorial content and a refreshing lack of a discernible agenda. I highly recommend this book.

Just for fun, here are some past posts that cover my reactions to several dimensions of the subject of terrorism:

What Harry Potter taught me about the Bible

I have a confession to make, though it’s not a very dirty or juicy one:  I read the 7th Harry Potter book within 48 hours of its public release.  Furthermore, I confess that I enjoyed it.  And no, I’m not about to run out and join a Satanic cult, wear black eyeliner, or start casting silly spells.  (I know at least one of you wondered about that!)  In fact, I learned several lessons about the Bible while reading Harry Potter.  Raised your eyebrows, have I?  Well, follow along as I share the lessons:

1. How to read in context

In ‘Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows,’ the characters talk about a book that’s been written regarding their friend, Albus Dumbledore.  The book is largely lies, and it’s excerpted for a few pages of the larger work, the Harry Potter book.  If you would pick up the book and read those few pages, you’d get a totally inaccurate picture of the overall plot.  Similarly, if you read the Bible carelessly enough, you’ll find that it says there is no God.  A glance at the context, though, will tell you that this message isn’t the intent of the author.  What he really said looks more like, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ (Psalm 14:1)”.  I wonder how many people are savvy enough to pick up the context clues in the Harry Potter book but still insist on cherry-picking the Bible to make it match their pre-conceived notions?

2. The power of narrative

I read the Harry Potter book on the first weekend it came out.  That means I read all 784 pages in two days.  I wanted to finish the story before I went back to work on Monday, so I read it all day Saturday and Sunday.  This left me in the interesting position of going to church Sunday morning, right in the middle of my Harry Potter weekend.  The worship and the story of Christ and his sacrifice for me were so much more meaningful, and it’s because I was tuned into another deeply-felt narrative.  The themes of sacrifice, struggle, quest and the search for truth were close at hand, since I’d been treading those paths with J.K. Rowling’s novel all weekend.  It was easy for me to turn those thoughts to the cross and the ultimate struggle of good and evil.

It’s true that these themes are more read into the text than read out of it.  But such is the result of reading with a redeemed mind.  It’s not what Harry Potter brings to me, but what I bring to Harry Potter that shapes my conclusions.  That’s why I’m not scared to read Harry Potter or any other controversial material: because I read it with a redeemed and, hopefully, informed mind.

Searching for our nation’s soul

Why is it that my thoughts are so oft drawn to the intersection between religion and politics? I’ve been reading (more accurately listening to) Joseph J. Ellis’s book on the post-revolutionary founding of the United States: Founding Brothers. As I scan the historic countenances of our national forefathers, I’m always watching for evidence in their writing to indicate their true religious convictions. Truly, men of such deep and far-reaching thought must occasionally turn their minds to their personal destinies beyond death. And I’m not disappointed:

John Adams was known to his contemporaries for his strong Christian convictions. Most of his peers appear, in the sheen of history, silently annoyed by the professions of faith and morality that sounded so much like the New England puritan that, in fact, he was.

George Washington hasn’t fully emerged from the mists of time to tell me of his deepest inclinations. Known to be a Mason, he displayed firm character in battle, reservation in politics, and a vexing willingness to hold his tongue in the 1790 debates on slavery. His faith appears to be deep. So deep, in fact, that remaining evidences of it emerge mostly from speculation, it seems.

Thomas Jefferson had a quirky, murky inner life. He seemed to hold very true to the deistic Masonic belief in a god. He was known to have edited the gospels (with scissors!) to bring them more into line with his own beliefs. He once said, “I tremble for my country when I consider that god is a just god, and that his justice cannot sleep forever.” He was referring to the coming blight of slavery, which he seemingly abhorred just slightly less than the idea of a rift in the Union, and it’s not clear whether he was referring to Virginia or the United States of America when he referred to his country. His approach to religion seems best summed up by the following quote from the 1995 movie, “The Usual Suspects“: “I don’t believe in God, but I fear him.”

Benjamin Franklin, though born in Boston to puritan parents, started his life as a committed Atheist. He seems to have lost his faith in Atheism as he matured and saw more of the world than most in his generation. But that doesn’t mean he actually converted wholesale to bible-believing Christianity. He, too, seems to line up more with Jeffersonian deism. At one point, he actually edited the Lord’s Prayer for grammar, brevity, and better adherence to his own views. Later in life, he would attend and listen to the preaching of George Whitefield. He appreciated the preacher’s effects on him to such an extent that his later visits to the man’s meetings saw him carrying only that sum of money he was willing to part with in the collection. But he stopped just short of a wholesale conversion, probably thinking himself too tempered and measured to let his emotions decide such matters for him.

When I admiringly examine these men, who have become heroes to me for various reasons, I am sometimes tempted to despair. Taken collectively, their views seem to merge into the sort of ‘publick religion’ argued for by John Meacham in his fascinating book, “American Gospel“. They don’t seem at all the sort of Christian men I’ve heard described in debates on school prayer and abortion law. Some have told me that linguistic differences account for this phenomenon. They say that when these men use words like ‘Providence’, they were obliquely referencing such concepts as ‘a saving knowledge of and personal relationship with Jesus Christ’. I’m willing to partially concede this point, as linguistics have changed. But not fully.

My reasoning stems from the words and example of another man, their contemporary. He was a little-known Quaker who never signed the declaration of independence or graced the world’s stage in any meaningful way. But he did keep a journal, his version of a blog, if you will.

John Woolman died in 1774, before the American States earned their independence with blood, cleverness, and some darn good diplomacy. He started his working life as a shop clerk and eventually became a traveling speaker amongst the Society of the Friends, or the Quakers. His message was that of emancipation of slaves, and his appeal (like his journal) was entirely spiritual. He refers directly to Christ as his saviour and God as his heavenly Father. His understanding of his own sin is very personal, unlike Jefferson’s references to god’s wrath against his nation’s injustices. A man of such humility that he seems to intentionally play down his own importance in world events around him, he stands in this regard in direct comparison with Franklin, who, for all his wisdom, seldom denied his ego or his libido. Woolman’s faith seems to resonate through the pages of history with the mystical faith of Paul of Tarsus (who wrote several letters with which you may be familiar).

The Quakers were pacifists who largely sat out the American revolution. It’s worth noting that they brought the issue of slavery to the forefront of the national consciousness in 1790, three years after the U.S. Constitution was signed, by petitioning congress for the end of the detestable practice. Congress’s first reaction? In so many words, “What credibility have these pacifists who refused to shed their own blood to the secure the freedom with which they now speak?” That’s a refrain that echoes still today, even in my neighborhood. But their message against slavery was a clarion call that emanated from their own consciences, and in the back of their minds they surely heard the unadulterated voice of John Woolman urging them to obey their God.


Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis

The First American, The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H.W. Brands

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (unfinished work)

1776 by David McCullough

John Adams by David McCullough

American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by John Meacham

The Journal of John Woolman taken from the Harvard Classics (my copy published 1909)

The Depths of My Own Murky Mind by Andrew Shinn

Salvation and Parenthood

Salvation has always been a mystery to me.  Not all of it, mind you.  I’ve long stood in awe of the poignancy of God’s provision for us.  I’ve explored the options in the avenue of my mind and can only see one way for redemption to work out: for God to sacrifice some part of himself to satisfy the wrath that his perfect holiness and justice demand.  Bt the ‘why’ part of salvation has always been a black box to me.  I can see it from the outside; rotate it around and see that it works.  But exactly why it works has been beyond my comprehension.  I can see man’s fallen-nes and God’s holiness.  I can see God’s provision in the sacrifice of Jesus.  But as I look at what God has to gain from this whole deal, I’ve been stumped.  It’s always seemed like He has a lot to lose and nothing to gain; like he sacrificed with no end or reward.

Today all of that changed.  As I sat in church and ached to hold my baby son in my arms, I finally understood.  Sometimes I hold him and he’ll look around.  In those moments, the thing I want most in the world is for him to pay attention to me.  But I understand when he doesn’t, because that’s the same way I treat God.  He holds me and provides for me, but I don’t always take time to look in his face.

We were singing a song that has the line, “You tore the veil; you made a way,” when it hit me.  God’s provision wasn’t a cold, austere one.  God was on a rescue mission; he was desperate.  He would do anything to reach out and grab his children, whom he loves so much more than I can love my own.  In fact, he DID do anything and everything when he sacrificed his own life in a desperate, half-failing 11th hour run at salvation.  And he did it all to see the look on my face.  You know the look I mean: the one that a baby has when he looks into his daddy’s face with utter ecstatic joy simply because they have a relationship.  I think I’d do about anything for that look.  God’s love isn’t a mystery to me anymore.  Now it’s real and it’s precious.  I need to make sure to take time to look into my heavenly daddy’s face for the simple joy that it will bring him.

Their Hipocrisy, My Hipocrisy

Yesterday I spent an hour or two investigating the lifestyles of tele-evangelists and other Christian leaders. This link provides reasonably-researched information with a minimum of commentary: Lavish Lifestyles of Evangelists. (Warning: there’s so much information here that you could spend quite a bit if time reading it.  Site opens in a new window.)

I was all prepared to rail against the hipocrisy of these Christian leaders.  Since when is it okay for Pat Robertson to associate with murderous African dictators for the purposes of mining diamonds or for Kenneth Copeland to fly a fleet of jets worth $50-$60 million?  How is that suffering for the gospel?

But I stopped short.  As I wrote this blog post in my head, I realized that I have no moral authority to make those statements.  You see, I have my own sin issues.  And as much as those things make me sick, my own sin sickens the Holy Spirit.  Are there grades of hipocrisy? Is there some way I can speak out against my brothers without first dealing with my own speck?

I realized this morning in the shower that the only antidote for hipocrisy is another h-word: humility. When I before God humble myself and confess my pride, then before my brothers humble myelf and confess my sin, I earn the moral authority to grab the plank in my brother’s eye.

But then I started to question whether men like Pat Robertson and Kenneth Copeland are even my brothers.  Do they follow a God that asks for sacrifice, or just a god that asks their followers to sacrifice?  Are they committed to leaving everything to follow Christ, or are they leaving Christ to follow everything?  It’s important that I ask these questions of myself, because Jesus certainly asks the same questions of me.

For what it’s worth (rather a lot, I think), Peter writes the following in the second chapter of the book of Second Peter:  “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”

Have these men brought the way of truth into disrepute?  Maybe.  But that’s a question I cannot answer.  Will I bring the way of truth into disrepute?  Will you?  As Shakespeare said, “THAT is the question.”

Known by Joy

In Acts 14, Luke (the author) offers a one-sentence insight into an argument that would later be fleshed out in Paul’s brilliant theological diatribe to the Romans. After Paul and Barnabas heal a crippled man in Lystra (a city in Asia Minor), crowds of people mistake them for the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes. They begin trying to sacrifice animals to the two visitors , which really distressed Paul and Barnabas. They rush into the crowds, tearing their clothes. They begin proclaiming a new God to them, the God who made heaven and earth and sea. In the midst of their desperate declaration, these words about God tear from their lips: “…He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Interestingly enough, Paul is talking to non-Christian or pre-Christian people. He’s not making the mistaken assumption that only Christians have joy: He’s merely saying that the regular, everyday joys we all experience are gifts from God and evidence of his nature. These pleasures or gifts stand alongside the trees and the oceans as evidence of a creator and giver.

So next time you’re tempted to disdain the secular or profane joys of the world, abstain. Instead choose to see God’s nature in all that is Good.


Lately as I’ve been praying, I’ve found myself, more than once, unable to ask God for some things. Even in silent prayer, I can’t will myself to complete some requests. In those moments, I realize that I’m a human, a speck, and I see my size and authority in relation to God. Who am I to ask things of the Almighty, the Cosmic Christ to whose will the very universe owes it existence? Moreover, what have I in my overinflated self-importance to add to or give to the One who is the originator of all?

Yet the mind-blowingly wonderful truth is that this God, this creator became nothing, scum, on account of me. He suffered on a Roman cross with me in mind. Such truths are almost too wonderful to ponder, like the radience glowing from Moses’ face that symbolized the Glory of God. I imagine the people of Israel having to turn away from that glow, yet being drawn back as if magnetically, forcing one more glance.

You see, Jesus didn’t visit our planet and die the most miserable of all deaths to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live. He came to make me live. Me, who would never even be able to dream of deserving his attention. And my only response, the only thing I can offer, is to point mutely at him. Not by my goodness. Not by my merit. Not even by my decision. It’s Jesus who saved me, and there’s not a thing I can do in this world that adds to or takes away from that. The power of the forces of Hell isn’t enough to snatch me from his tightly-gripping, ever-loving hand.

So I hold out my arm, silently pointing to the One who made the stars to shine, and who sacrificed so much to purchase me. It’s all I can do.