My purpose in this post is to assert that Christians should be conservatives. Or, to say it another way: that Christians who are not (political, social, cultural) conservatives are not living out the full implications of their religious principles. This essay, therefore, is sure to draw the ire of those Christians who would consider themselves “progressives.”

So, if I may call for a truce at the outset: I don’t intend this essay as a screed or a manifesto or a rant. Rather, I wish to make a sober, reasoned, and principled case for the thesis that convictional Christianity and conservatism go together – a case that welcomes critique, feedback, and disagreement of the civil and congenial sort. In the age of social media tirades, I realize this will be a tall order. But let’s try to rise above the fray together, shall we?

The question of whether we should be conservatives ultimately comes down to what we are seeking to conserve. Many young Christians fancy themselves “progressives” because they are seeking to move on from things which should, in fact, be left behind. For instance, I know a young woman who grew up in a fundamentalist church with a creepy hierarchical authority structure, a latent sexism, and a dark undercurrent of sexual sin – all of which was branded as “conservative Christianity.” When that whole mess has been labeled “conservative,” who wouldn’t want to be a progressive?

Hence, these matters are complex. The terms “conservative” and “progressive” are fraught with misunderstanding. So let’s think more deeply about these words and what they signify.

The word conservative looks backward. It envisions something which now exists, or has existed in the past, which we are seeking to conserve and protect. The word progressive necessarily looks forward. It envisions some end toward which we are progressing.

And therein lies the problem. Toward what are we progressing? Broadly speaking, modern progressives have no answer to that question. Or perhaps to be more precise: they have a thousand different and contradictory answers to that question, united only by the vague ideal of “progress.” As G.K. Chesterton wryly observed almost 100 years ago: “The word ‘progress’ is simply a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative… For progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree doubtful about the progress.”

Chesterton puts his finger on our modern confusion: “[In past ages], men may have differed more or less about how far they went, and in what direction, but about the direction they did in the main agree, and consequently they had the genuine sensation of progress. But it is precisely about the direction that we disagree.” (from Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World)

To parse Chesterton’s observations another way: modern progressives agree on the verb (progress) but not on the noun (progress toward what?). And therein lies the major problem for Christians who wish to identify as “progressive.” Because the vague notion of “progress” is the only point of agreement, Christian progressives get co-opted into a whole universe of causes with which they cannot in good conscience agree. You wanted to champion and affirm women; but the Women’s March you attended also endorsed abortion on demand. You wanted to support government programs that help the poor; but your Bernie Sanders bumper sticker now has you aligned with a progressive whose vision of “progress” includes barring Christians from public office.

“But wait,” you object. “Just because I identify myself as a progressive doesn’t mean I share the viewpoints and opinions of the most radical progressives.” Well, of course you don’t, personally. But socially, you do. And to understand why, you must understand the impact of the French Revolution. (Sorry to go all history-geek on you, but this matters.)

In a recent issue of First Things (June/July 2017), former Creighton University professor R.R. Reno explains: “The French Revolution, which eventually implicated the entire West, exaggerated the importance of the political realm, deifying the modern nation-state… [and creating] an ideological atmosphere that subordinates everything to political and economic ideology.” In other words: modern progressivism exalts the nation-state. Since the French Revolution, ardent progressives have seen the state as the key agent of social change – and they’ve often seen the family and church as obstacles to a new social order.

Reno explains his own movement away from progressivism: “Although I started on the left, over time I came to see that progressivism, even the moderate progressivism of American liberalism, invariably seeks to increase the power of the state. The cultural wars of my lifetime – the war on racism, the war on sexual inequality, and the war on poverty – fell into the same pattern. The state needs to be empowered to make the world anew.”

Why is this a problem? Because the state is only one of three “necessary societies” instituted by God. The other two are the family and the church. “Now there are three necessary societies, distinct from one another and yet harmoniously combined by God, into which man is born: two, namely the family and civil society, belong to the natural order; the third, the Church, to the supernatural order” (Pope Pius XI, as quoted by Russell Hittinger in First Things, June/July 2017, p. 20).

Which brings us back to the crux of our question: why must Christians be conservative? Because Christians are duty-bound to preserve and protect the authority of the family and the church. We are called by God to “conserve” these two societies against the ever-encroaching power of the state. It’s no accident that in the book of Revelation, “the beast” symbolizes political and economic power. The nation-state is good; but the nation-state is corrupt. And left unchecked, it will always encroach upon the authority of church and family.

Some have seen the modern movements to redefine marriage, sexuality, and gender as movements toward a more just and fair society. But in reality, they are movements to enhance the power of the nation-state over the church and the family. We are “progressing” toward a society in which the nation-state is all-powerful. We are failing to conserve appropriately the power of the family and the church. And when Christians fail to conserve those God-given institutions, we fail to obey the Lord.

Therefore, Christians must be conservatives… in the broad sense. We don’t all need to agree on the marginal tax rate, or on the precise approach to health care, or on the best candidates for political office. But we must agree on the God-given authority of the family and the church – and the responsibility we have before God to respect and conserve that authority.

To put it another way: it’s an issue of the Lordship of Christ vs. the Lordship of Caesar. If Jesus is Lord, we submit to the authorities he has instituted (family, church, and state, in their right and proper proportions). If Caesar is Lord, then we bow the knee to the power of Rome.

It’s not that Christians could never be progressives. If we lived in a cultural moment marked by broad agreement on the goal and purpose of human life (progress the noun), we could champion progress the verb. In fact, Christianity itself is a kind of progressivism: because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we know the entire cosmos is progressing toward the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

But in the here and now, we dwell in a cultural moment fraught with confusion on the most basic questions: what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be male and female? What is freedom? What is virtue? And in such a moment, Christians must be (the right kind of) conservatives.

Last week the Obama administration handed down from on high a transgender bathroom decree directing schools to allow transgendered students unrestrained access to restrooms (and locker rooms) of their choice. Last night the Omaha school board voted to approve a sweeping new sex education curriculum that adds gender identity, abortion, and emergency contraception to the list of topics students will learn about. In my opinion, these mandates place a crucial fork-in-the-road before Christian parents, Christian administrators, and Christian teachers.

Broadly speaking, education is a place where Christians have freedom of conscience. Parents are responsible before God to fulfill their God-given duty of training up a child in the way that he should go, and the Bible leaves them free to choose from various means of education. I’m thankful that within Coram Deo Church, we have families pursuing public school, private school, and homeschool options. We also have members who are educators and administrators in schools throughout the city.

However, the massive falsehoods being forced upon us in the area of human sexuality require us to ask some hard questions and to engage in some important debates about education. And that’s easier said than done. Education is an issue that many people have deep convictions about, and emotions run high. But because of the dramatic importance of the spiritual and moral formation of the next generation, I think it’s a conversation we need to wade into as graciously and courageously as possible. I have three questions I wish to put before my readers.

First, for Christian teachers and administrators: how will you steward your influence at this moment in history? If you’re a Christian teacher or administrator in the public school system, I know that mission is a driving motivation for you. You work against the grain in a system committed to secularism because you know the value of Christians serving in hard places, and you want to be “salt and light” as Jesus taught. My question is: will you see this moment as a chance for a different sort of mission? Will you see this as your Esther moment, your Daniel moment, your Moses moment? Will you use the platform, influence, and position God has given you to stand up against this dramatic, immoral, ungodly government overreach?

Second, for Christian parents who currently send their children to public schools: what is your tipping point? This is a question very helpfully posed by Andrew T Walker in an online editorial posted on May 13. Walker writes:

What actions taken by your local school will be sufficient for you to re-evaluate public education? Is having a teacher reprimand your child for his or her belief about marriage, sex, and gender acceptable? Will you allow them to be in schools where bathroom policies are based on gender identity rather than biological sex? Are you uncomfortable with a biological male having access to the restroom and locker room that your daughter uses? Not establishing a tipping point could leave your child over-exposed to environments they shouldn’t be in. Not thinking about a tipping point is irresponsible and will communicate carelessness about a child’s education and Christian formation. It is advisable that spouses have a candid conversation and establish a line in the sand.

Third, for all Christian parents: are you practicing wise financial stewardship? Christian families need to maintain freedom to change schools if necessary. As Andrew Walker points out, there may come a “tipping point” where Christians cannot in good conscience continue to send their children to local schools (and discerning that tipping point will be specific to family and school district). I fear that for many Christian parents, financial pragmatism is a driving force in educational decisions. “Well,” the logic goes, “I could spend thousands of dollars to send my kids to a Christian school, or I could send them to the local public school for free. In light of the financial strains I already have, I’ll send them to public school.” I understand the thinking. We all have limited financial resources, and private education isn’t cheap. But the education of our children is more important than the neighborhood we live in, the car we drive, and the retirement savings we accrue. Every Christian family needs to create the financial margin to make a different schooling decision if (or when) it comes to that. I have seen Christian parents skimp and save to buy a new house. I have seen Christian men start companies or switch industries to increase their earning potential. I have seen Christian moms start home-based businesses to provide additional income so they can stay home with their kids. Whatever solution you brainstorm… now, not later, is the time to figure it out. Kill debt. Increase earning. Trim expenses. Get yourself in a place of financial freedom so that your schooling decision can truly be a decision rather than a default.

Finally, for any jaded cynic out there who thinks this bathroom decree is “no big deal:” check your spiritual pulse. Maleness and femaleness are foundational to the image of God in humanity. Willful disregard of sex and gender distinctions is a massive offense against God and good sense. And a civilization that willingly misleads and confuses its children on these matters is committing cultural suicide (if you doubt that, check out this video of college students unable to explain the difference between male and female). Christian mission in these new dark ages will require a moral conviction and clarity that many of us seem reticent to display. May God awaken us from our moral slumber.

CulturalAnthropology-01Imagine you’re a hiker trying to make your way to the top of a 14,000-foot peak in the Rockies. You’ve got your gear, your pack, your energy bars, and a trail map, and you’re ready to conquer this beast and check it off your bucket list. But after ascending a few thousand feet, you begin to notice that the route on your map doesn’t quite match the path your feet are following. The contours shown on the page are quite different from the terrain around you. Where the map shows switchbacks and steep grades, you find only gentle slopes. And where you encounter steep inclines, the map shows barely any elevation change. And then you realize: you have the wrong map.

I’ve found this is exactly the plight of many church planters and Christian leaders who are ministering the gospel in post-Christian Western culture. They started out excited about Jesus and his mission. They wanted to engage the culture effectively. They had a “script” in our minds of how their conversations with non-Christians and skeptics would play out. And then they found… the conversations just weren’t happening. Their efforts weren’t bearing fruit. Despite all their enthusiasm, they were missionally ineffective.

And the reason is: they’re working with the wrong cultural map.

Cultural anthropology is a heady and academic-sounding phrase. But think of it simply as mapping our cultural moment – tracing the contours of the cultural & social milieu we inhabit. I’ve found that many leaders who are ineffective in mission have an inadequate grasp of cultural anthropology. They’re working with maps that are 30 or 40 years old. They’re still engaging the 1990s, not aware of how the “plausibility structure” has shifted under their feet.

Recently I taught a lecture for Porterbrook Omaha unpacking the insights of two key thinkers in this area: Charles Taylor and James K. A. Smith. These men work in the trenches of academic philosophy, but their insights are crucial for any average Christian who wants to be a good missionary. My lecture was an attempt to “put the cookies on the bottom shelf” and give an introduction to the very profound insights of these two important Christian thinkers.

The lecture audio is available on the Resources page, and I would commend it to you as an entry point into this important conversation. As you listen, you’ll learn:

  • What it means that we live in “a secular age”
  • How the plausibility structure of Western culture has changed over the past 300 years
  • Why the concept of a “worldview” isn’t quite as helpful as the concept of a “social imaginary”
  • Why New-Atheist “subtraction stories” fit the data and make sense to many people… and yet fail to offer a full account of our reality
  • Why many Christians who grew up in fundamentalist traditions feel pulled toward Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy
  • Why offering a “Christian take on things” is the best apologetic strategy

Feel free to comment on anything you find helpful or raise questions about anything that doesn’t resonate. And for a fuller account, I commend to you the primary sources – Taylor’s “A Secular Age” and Smith’s “How (Not) To Be Secular.”

I wish to offer a rejoinder to John Piper’s assertion that Christians should not carry concealed weapons. In a recent post at Desiring God, Piper wrote: “Exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.”

His post takes direct aim at Jerry Falwell Jr, who recently urged students at Liberty University to procure their concealed-carry permits and “teach [terrorists] a lesson if they ever show up here.” I don’t know Jerry Falwell, and I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on everything. But here’s how he explained the context behind his statement:

As the president of this university community of nearly 15,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff, I take very seriously my responsibility to keep you safe in an increasingly dangerous world. That’s why in 2011 I asked our Board of Trustees to consider a concealed carry policy. It wasn’t because of Islamic terrorism, it was because what happened (just) up the road at Virginia Tech. More than 30 innocent students and faculty were murdered viciously and none of them had the ability to protect themselves. The day that happened, I thought we needed to do something different here at Liberty… [We have] 950 here now with concealed carry permits, and after I made those remarks on Friday we had 240 sign up for a course tomorrow night.

I find this eminently reasonable. Here’s a Christian leader, responsible for the safety of thousands of people, urging responsible citizens to act within their legal rights to obtain gun permits in light of a tragic instance of campus violence. Piper sees this as out of step with the New Testament. I see it as profoundly in line with the Christian responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves. If an active shooter showed up on campus with intent to harm, the loving thing to do would be to take him out before he killed dozens of people.

There’s certainly room for freedom of conscience on this issue. Christians will have differing convictions on the use of lethal force. But the case Piper makes against lethal force is a weak one, and its weaknesses need to be highlighted in order to move the conversation forward. In an age of terrorism where churches and schools are soft targets, Christians need to think more critically about this important matter.

Piper offers nine considerations in support of his thesis. I will advance three critiques that reveal some weaknesses and inadequacies I perceive in Piper’s viewpoint. And I hope to offer all of them in a tone that conveys the eminent respect and esteem I have for Dr. Piper.


1) Piper fails to substantiate his assertion that Romans 13 does not apply to private citizens in a democracy.

Piper writes:

[Any] claim that in a democracy the citizens are the government, and therefore may assume the role of the sword-bearing ruler in Romans 13, is elevating political extrapolation over biblical revelation. When Paul says, “The ruler does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4), he does not mean that Christian citizens should all carry swords so the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas.

What does Paul mean, then? Certainly he doesn’t mean that Caesar must personally carry a sword and execute all justice by his own hand. By “the ruler,” we understand Paul to be speaking symbolically of every civil magistrate, and by “the sword,” we understand him to be speaking symbolically of all the various forms of justice that the civil authorities enforce.

Therefore, it is not “political extrapolation” to say that governments may wield fighter jets instead of swords. And neither is it political extrapolation to say that citizens in a democracy may bear arms. This is called biblical application. Romans 13 allows citizens to carry and use weapons as long as their government allows it.

Piper draws a distinction between “policemen or soldiers” using lethal force and “ordinary Christians” using lethal force. But he fails to reckon with the reality that in the United States, a Christian citizen who legally uses deadly force to stop an attacker is a legitimate extension of the government’s sword-wielding power. If God has given the ruler the right to bear the sword… and if the ruler extends to private citizens that right… then where exactly is the extrapolation?

2) Piper fails to meaningfully differentiate persecution from acts of terrorism.

Acts of terrorism can be persecution (for instance, when ISIS militants behead someone for their faith in Christ). But not every terrorist attack equates to biblical persecution. The Christian response to persecution is to patiently endure and prayerfully turn the other cheek (1 Peter 2:19, Matthew 5:44-45). The Christian response to terrorism is to stop the terrorist from killing human beings who are made in God’s image. I agree with Piper that Christians should not carry concealed weapons for the purposes of (in the order of his arguments) 1. avenging ourselves, 2. retaliating for unjust treatment, 3. handling hostility, 4. advancing the Christian cause by force, 5. returning evil for evil, or 6. resisting persecution. As a friend of mine observed, “If you used a gun for any of those reasons, you’d be in violation of the law anyway.”

Piper marshals these arguments in order to build a case about “the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life.” He seems to be saying that a Christian demeanor of mercy and humility and godliness is incommensurate with “a disposition to use lethal force.” But it seems to me that this argument proves too much. If it’s impossible to have a Christian demeanor and still be willing to use lethal force, does this not preclude Christians from being police officers or serving in the military?

Piper leans heavily on the book of 1 Peter, where Christians are urged to endure unjust suffering. But contextually, that persecution was coming from the government itself. If at some point in the future our government turns with hostility upon Christians and uses the “power of the sword” against us (as did Nero in the first century), then certainly we must bear that suffering without retaliation. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters are doing this right now throughout the world. But it’s a stretch to say: therefore, Christians should lay down while a radicalized terrorist shoots innocent people.

3) Piper makes arbitrary distinctions in his application of texts like Romans 13.

Piper asserts that there is, in the Bible, “no direct dealing with the situation of using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military.” But can he point to the chapter and verse where the Bible deals with police and military using lethal force? No. Because there isn’t one. The assertion that police and military may use lethal force is an application of texts like Romans 13. And so is the assertion that a private citizen may use lethal force! A police officer and a private citizen who use lethal force to stop an attacker are both doing so legally, as an extension of the state’s authority, and with the expectation that they will have to answer for their actions. If Piper is OK with a Christian police officer using lethal force in a case of imminent danger, then he should also be OK with Christian students at Liberty University doing the same.

Throughout his article, Piper draws lines between police and military using lethal force and private citizens using lethal force. But this distinction is not present in the biblical text. It is a distinction in application. And it is, I assert, an arbitrary one.


Piper’s primary concern is with the spirit of Jerry Falwell Jr’s remarks – specifically, with the statement, “Let’s teach [terrorists] a lesson if they ever show up here.” I agree that that specific statement is unnecessarily provocative. And I think Dr. Piper could have written a very thoughtful blog post taking issue with it. Unfortunately, he has done more than that. He has taken a theological position against Christians carrying concealed weapons. And I find that theological position, as argued by Piper, to have some significant weaknesses.

On December 9, 2007, an armed attacker with a semiautomatic rifle and 1400 rounds of ammunition began a shooting rampage at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He killed two teenagers in the parking lot and then moved toward the building where about 700 people were gathered. His murderous advance was stopped by church security team member Jeanne Assam, who shot him with her concealed handgun. Her quick and decisive action likely saved dozens of lives. I would not deem Ms. Assam more Christlike if she had prayerfully set down her weapon and “accepted unjust mistreatment without retaliation.” And I suspect the students at Liberty University would not either.

As you’ve likely heard already, we’re seeking to launch a new classical, Christian, collaborative school in Omaha. We’ve been pleased with the interest in this proposal, and we’re ready to host our first informational meeting. The meeting will take place on Friday, September 18 at 7 PM at the Burt Street Chapel (3528 Burt Street, Omaha, 68131).

Attendance at this meeting is limited to 100 people, and you must RSVP to claim your spot. You may do so by clicking here and filling out this short form (it will take less than 2 minutes).

Please help us spread the word to others who may be interested! And don’t worry… if you can’t make this meeting, others are soon to follow.