North Korea and a reminder to western Christians

Each year my New Testament intro students watch a one hour video of N. T. Wright explaining the Gospel in a lecture entitled “Kingdom and Cross: The Forgotten Message of the Gospel.” Wright uses an analogy of four “speakers” in four corners of the room that need to be balanced so the entire musical score is heard in its fulness, as it is intended to be.

Two of those Gospel speakers, Wright claims, are turned up too far in American evangelicalism

  • Jesus is divine.
  • Jesus initiates the Christian movement.

Wright isn’t denying these things (don’t you worry, Tom Wright fans). He is saying the church has tended to put too much–or the wrong kind–of emphasis on them. (And watch the video for yourself if you want to see more about this.)

Two other speakers are turned too far down and, Wright contends, need to be turned up.

  • Jesus is the climax of Israel’s story.
  • The Gospel confronts and challenges world powers.

This last speaker has been turned WAAAAAAY up for me these last few days as we watch what the latest iteration of maniac dictators, Kim Jong Un, is doing to his fellow humans, specifically executing 33 Christians.

In western culture, Christians are often seen as perpetrating violence, discrimination, and other power moves. These criticisms are too often (not always) deserved, as they reflect back to us the tendency of the western church to engage in culture wars and protect the ground gained. And it doesn’t help when Christians claim to be “persecuted” when someone says “X-mas” or tries to teach them about evolution.

What the casual observer in the west hardly ever hears about, however, is how Christians elsewhere are often the target of violence in the most extreme sense, perpetrated either by the government or by groups toward whom the government turns a blind eye.

As we see now in North Korea, some rulers are afraid enough of Christians to want to kill them. Observers of western Christianity are too often simply annoyed enough with Christians to tune them out.

Back to Wright’s fourth speaker. What does it look like for the church to turn the fourth speaker up higher, to call to account this evil regime–and not only because this nut job is killing Christians, although that is heinous, but because he is killing–period–and doing many other things that dehumanize people whom Christians believe are made in God’s image?

Many Christian groups and churches are actively involved across the world in working tirelessly for what the Bible calls “justice” and “righteousness.” I wonder, though, what it would look like if working for justice and righteousness is what Christians were primarily known for–rather than what they are actually known for: raging, handwringing critics of evolution, abortion, the myth of global warming, same sex couples, and the democratic party.

Remember that Jesus guy–our leader–was treated with injustice by a powerful regime, brutally tortured, and then executed in the manner of the day. These 33 North Korean Christians have more in common with Jesus than many of us do–including myself.

Why aren’t we known across the board as the people who rage against abuse of power and the suffering that comes from it? Why aren’t we the ones that others look to and say, “I’m not really on board with what these Christians believe, but I know I can count on them to not stand for it when they see people suffering at the hands of corrupt and unjust rulers”?

Again, I know many Christians the world over (individuals and organizations) have devoted their lives to alleviating suffering and calling power structures to account for what they are doing in God’s world. But why aren’t we known primarily for what would be a very Jesusy thing to be known for?

Don’t blame media bias. Christians are complicit in creating it.

If anything, reading about what is happening in North Korea has reminded me that things that often occupy our time, things that get us all hot and bothered, are of very little consequence in comparison.


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  • Austin DeArmond

    “I wonder, though, what it would look like if working for justice and righteousness is what Christians were primarily known for–rather than what they are actually known for: raging, handwringing critics of evolution, abortion, the myth of global warming, same sex couples, and the democratic party.”

    Abortion seems to be a justice issue. I was awakened from my dogmatic slumbers on that issue after reading good philosophical and scientific works about the nature of the being in the womb. I wish more believers in the pew and even professors and teachers of the church were more involved with ending this evil. Could you comment more on this subject Dr. Enns?

    • peteenns

      That’s a very fair point, Austin. I was more using abortion as a preoccupation of western Christians–a other issue we are “against.”

      • Austin DeArmond

        I see. Thank you for the clarification. If anything, I understand the abortion issue to be a legitimate avenue for social justice work within the body of Christ. In my limited time advocating for the unborn, I’ve discovered more apathy than anything on this issue.

      • Pinko

        You really should choose your words more carefully. You liberal/progressives want to be so hip as to consider abortion as blasé. But if God does in fact view abortion as the murder of unborn, it outnumbers the Holocaust and all that Stalin had done by a

        We don’t get to see the aborted fetus so it appears that it’s no big deal. It may in fact be one of the grossest spiritual stains on humanity.

        • How do we keep our fight against abortion from turning into the following?:

          Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Mt 23:1-4)

          • SarahC

            I suppose that in this context a person would have to preach anti abortion but secretly have abortions/promote abortions themselves. Because this passage is about hypocrisy.

          • The middle is not excluded: they can simply not do anything. Plenty of people sit around, telling people what to do, without helping. Contrast this with Gal 6:1-5.

          • Abortion is indeed a justice issue, as the unborn are the most vulnerable and voiceless in our society. However I do believe that the Mother’s life is also of great value and so we should be doing everything we can to support these mothers, to come alongside of them, rather than just preach at them. I know that in Australia adoption is fraught with bureaucracy and so that would probably be a good place to start, although seemingly insurmountable.

          • Francis Schaeffer, often credited with getting Christians amped up about abortion, was very intentional to say that all life ought to be valued, including the mother’s! I do know that there are a lot of e.g. Crisis Pregnancy Centers, but it seems that there is still a lot more work to do in this area. We also need to fix the tax situation so that marriages are encouraged for mothers with children under welfare. And yep, adoption needs to be non-stupid as well. Only a holistic approach will really make the situation better; otherwise you are mostly just sweeping the dust under some rug.

  • Sean

    If the

  • Sean

    If the four speakers are aiming at those sitting in the center, it won’t matter how loud the speakers become… the center has earbuds in… The problem with the recipients of these messages is the static of the day to day, the desensitized emotions and the I’m alright so everything is alright mindset. I wish I knew the answer to removing the earbuds, reengaging the emotion and helping folks see beyond their from door.

    • “Come, let us return to the LORD;
          for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
          he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
      After two days he will revive us;
          on the third day he will raise us up,
          that we may live before him.
      (Hosea 6:1-2)

      If all else fails, pain and suffering. There’s also Elihu:

      For God speaks in one way,
          and in two, though man does not perceive it.
      In a dream, in a vision of the night,
          when deep sleep falls on men,
          while they slumber on their beds,
      then he opens the ears of men
          and terrifies them with warnings,
      that he may turn man aside from his deed
          and conceal pride from a man;
      he keeps back his soul from the pit,
          his life from perishing by the sword.
      “Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed
          and with continual strife in his bones,
      so that his life loathes bread,
          and his appetite the choicest food.
      His flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen,
          and his bones that were not seen stick out.
      (Job 33:14-21)

      Elihu is neither praised nor condemned by God; some say this section of Job was added after-the-fact. So whether or not he is right is up for us to discover. 🙂

  • mhelbert

    Peter…the Democratic party? It seems as the the Tea Party Republicans are carrying the “I’m Christian” banner in the parade
    Anyway, I agree that Christians are largely oblivious to some of the persecution in the world. We tend to make peripheral issues the main point. So, any attempt to wake up and illuminate people of faith is a good thing.

    • peteenns

      I’m saying that Christians are known for being “raging, handwringing critics of…..the democratic party.”

  • Mido F

    I think Christians need to find ways to talk about issues of religious liberty and raise concerns about having to violate their conscious through policies without using the excessive rhetoric of persecution. For instance, I think the Catholic Church has every right to oppose the contraception mandate because it violates their conscious but they should do so without claiming to be martyrs or playing the persecution card, or else that will minimize legitimate cases of martyrdom.

    However, what I also find unhelpful is when some Christians use those examples of persecution to shame their fellow Christians who may have legitimate western concerns about things like religious liberty, because after all it’s not like they are being killed like other Christians around the world. I am not saying this is what you are doing Professor Enns, but I have seen that sort of thing happen using that line of reasoning. If Christians have genuine worries they should be able to raise them without using unnecessary rhetoric and without other Christians shaming them and trivializing their concerns. And I think Christians should also learn to pick their battles and not fight for every minor injustice thrown their way, which may not be easy to do.

  • Eric

    At the risk of perpetuating the kind of navel-gazing this post rightly decries, the Son of God movie, it seems to me, turns up the volume on speakers 1 and 2 even louder. But if you want to hear the fourth speaker turned up louder, I’d recommend Mark Dornford-May’s Son of Man.

  • Randy Hardman

    So, at the risk of offending some Reformed sensibilities, I have found myself wondering as of late to what degree the “everything has a reason” idea perpetuates a lack of social justice or reaching out. Of course, we can talk about the differences of determinism, compatibalism, libertarianism and all the other sort of -isms surrounding the question of sovereignty from a theological/scriptural basis (I fall in the latter camp). For some this doesn’t really matter. For many others, however, when there are people who insist that *if* Kim Jong Un executes these 33 Christians that it is something actually decreed by God, I wonder really to what effect this has on us getting up off the couch and doing something about it, speaking out against it, seeking active social justice and reform, etc. Truth be told, I am perplexed by someone like Piper’s plea against abortion and his mutually held belief that when planes fly into towers, that’s a reflection of God’s sovereignty.

    Of course I would get blasted for saying this in some circles (perhaps here too) but I am more and more convinced that we have to get back to seeing some things–like abortion (as @austindearmond:disqus pointed out), rape, terrorism, genocide, etc not as part of God’s “secret plan” (quoting Calvin) but, rather, as the complete opposite of that. What if we didn’t see Kim Jung Un’s decision here as part of the mysterious will of God but as the complete and total opposite–the will of the one who seeks to bring the world back to chaos, to undue creation itself…the “unman” as CS Lewis put it? As far as I see it, redemption is not something which is worked into each and every evil event as it happens but something that God does through the chaos which is already present (for whatever reason). Maybe it would encourage a pure loathing for evil, rather than some sort of nominal acceptance of it…I’m pretty much convinced that that’s what we need: just a pure gut-wrenching sickness when we hear things like this.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Don’t worry, Calvin had as much insight about the nature of God as my infant has insight about why she spits up on me after feedings . . .

      • IIRC, Calvin offered a significant correction to the Catholic view of original sin, where he made it total, instead of the Catholic view that the passions were what was primarily corrupted; reason was largely just dandy. This puts Martin Luther’s “reason is the devil’s handmaiden” in context. Calvin’s Total Depravity made the human a whole person, which is laudable.

        • Calvin’s sadistic penchant for Hell torture is still influencing Americans to think just like Kim Jong Un:

          “Evangelicals, according to the survey, are more prone to saying torture is justifiable…Let us not forget that the main storyline of the New Testament is one of torture…”

          Pew: Church-Goers Like Torture More

          Never has been much laudable about Calvin’s or Catholicism’s dogmas.

          “I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

          “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” ~Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

          • Good info! Thanks for the stuff on the myth of progress you posted elsewhere; I have yet to fully digest it all, hence my lack of a response!

            I am curious though; to what extent have you tested Thomas Jefferson’s claims against the evidence? I recall Os Guinness claiming that Jefferson was pro-the French Revolution, even given a shocking number of deaths in France. I can probably pull the quotation if you’d like. Jefferson might not be quite as much the hero and excellent man that many think. But then, pretty much no man is, except for Jesus.

          • Oh, come on, Jefferson was responsible for the deaths in France? Your logical fallacy is…well, first we have to count how many.

          • approve of ≠ responsible for

            “For the greater good!”

          • Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian theme is written into the DoI, replacing the last word of Locke’s famous tripartite with “Pursuit of Happiness.”

            “Happiness Is the Greatest Good” by Jeremy Bentham

        • Andrew Dowling

          I’m a little confused by this in cohort with your other posts . . is the above meant as sarcasm?

    • An excellent way to evaluate a person is to see how he treats his heretics. Calvin:

      Whoever shall maintain that wrong is done to heretics and blasphemers in punishing them makes himself an accomplice in their crime and guilty as they are. There is no question here of man’s authority; it is God who speaks, and clear it is what law he will have kept in the church, even to the end of the world. Wherefore does he demand of us a so extreme severity, if not to show us that due honor is not paid him, so long as we set not his service above every human consideration, so that we spare not kin, nor blood of any, and forget all humanity when the matter is to combat for His glory.

      Now, remember that Martin Luther became a raging anti-Semite as he aged. All people are admixtures, alloys, of good and evil. See the last pargraph in Ralph C. Wood’s Solzhenitsyn as Latter-Day Prophet, by Solzhenitsyn:

      It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an unuprooted small corner of evil.

      One reason we aren’t to create idols: we accept their flaws as ‘good’.

    • Ellen

      I can only say that you have a simplistic understanding of the Reformed position. Arminians and Calvinists alike can be apathetic toward evil, but it is not inherent in either viewpoint. Nor do I know believers of any persuasion who are not seized with “a pure gut-wrenching sickness” when they’ve heard about the horror of Kim Jung Un’s behavior.

      • Randy Hardman

        Ellen, from what I have gathered, there is no real “Reformed position” but a multitude of reformed positions. I grant that, and that is why I qualified it by “some.” The vast spectrum of Reformed thought puts somebody like N.T. Wright and Piper or Driscoll next to one another, yet they certainly would differ in some serious ways, no doubt on this very issue. There are some Reformed positions (and some popular ones, indeed) which speak so deterministically that I think we do have the very problem of outlook at hand.

        And then, of course, all “gut-wrenching” aside, there really is the question as to what sort of portrait does Reformed theology, especially in its commitments to TULIP, offer us. Just as I struggle with the notion that God decided to have Israel go in with sword and kill man, woman, and child, I also incredibly struggle with thinking that God “decrees” the sorts of evil we find in this world, albeit without direct locution. I often wonder, in the rigid Calvinist tradition especially, whether this is really a desire to “have your cake and eat it too” (i.e. you never had a choice not to be punished in Hell eternally, but it’s your fault nonetheless). My bias, of course, is transparent: I’m not convinced that this really gets us anywhere useful or accurate. But then again, usually when I say that I’m not convinced of Reformed theology I am told that I just don’t understand it. :/

  • Jojo

    This makes me rethink the “problem” of conquest narratives. Perhaps those passages aren’t as big of a problem after all.

  • An excellent summary of the situation:

    • North Korean leaders run the country as a massive religious cult.
    • Christianity poses the greatest threat to Juche.
    • North Korean defectors are converting to Christianity in growing numbers.
    • Converted defectors are a potent instrument in promoting Christian beliefs in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
    • South Korea is the world’s most zealous missionary nation and possesses mature plans and abundant resources to address North Korea’s humanitarian crisis.
    • Increasing intensity of Christian missionary efforts will provoke a response from Pyongyang.
    • A post-Juche North Korea will create a massive moral and spiritual vacuum with long-term cultural/political implications.

    Juche: The State Religion of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: A Predictive Analysis of the Impact of Religion in the Korean Theater of Operations
    MSG Proctor, Command Chaplain Assistant,
    19th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)
    May 2009

  • Bluwater

    Yes, there are many Christians who rant and rail against things in this world that are substantially irrelevant. And I would agree with you that this “war against Christmas” et al, are high on the list. Most Christians seem to be largely disengaged, tend to follow the beaten drum, and go about it in a way that is likely to turn some people off. Apathy and ignorance are issues that are just as large.

    To that I say, “so what… join the club”! Every group has their non-thinkers and those who think that posting an irate Facebook status or post a blog telling others (including Christians) what’s wrong with them and their attitude is being engaged. If you think that Christians as a whole should be substantially different than any other group you can come up with, you’re just not being very realistic.

    The other part of this reality check is the fact that those who disagree (or can’t identify with you) for whatever reason will often seek to define you in a way that marginalizes you or enhances themselves in comparison, regardless of your words or actions. Christians as a group are no different than any other group in this regard, so I’m not sure why you think that what we are “known for”, as identified by others should be or even could be grandiose and without public scorn.

    Any other group you can name will suffer the same indignities by those outside their own group who want to discredit them or what they stand for. Many look at professors as an book-smart lefist(?) elitist breed that lacks common sense, any real world experience, and a group that teaches because it cannot do. Those who are not southerners look at them as unsophisticated rednecks known for blowing themselves up and holding Klan rallies. Hollywood celebs are known as vapid amoral narcissistic pinheads. Should we go on with what whites, blacks, Jews, Muslims, Asians, atheists, rich, welfare recipients, Republicans, Democrats, treehuggers, teenagers, old coots, hippies, etc. are known for? Or should we just wring our hands and continue to whine about how our detractors define us? This whole exercise in navel gazing would be maddening if not so silly.

    It’s not that I don’t care what others think about Christians or me in particular. It’s that I’m not going to change what I do, shut up about moral issues, and generally become a wet dishrag whose sole contribution to the fight against evil is to go into super-angst when I hear that 33 people were killed because of their faith.

    Yes, it wrenches my gut. But no more so than knowing that 3300 of people just as worthy and also created in the image of God were ripped from their mother’s womb today, and will be tomorrow, and the day after. It tears at my soul, just as seeing babies whose mother was just torn from them by cancer or seeing people who are dying while their house is being repossessed, seeing people whose decisions today is whether to buy food or pay the power bill to stop their kids from freezing. Go ahead and tell me that it’s important what someone driven by political power or a drive-by atheist thinks of us because we don’t honor their agenda. I really…. really don’t care.

    In fact, I’ve discovered that those Christians who criticize our attitudes but don’t know what we do, are often (though not always) part of the navel-gazing group who doesn’t get down in the trenches and do anything but criticize. I would have to include myself in that group in years gone by. Most of us for a period of time spend our lives raising kids, trying to pay the mortgage, deal with soccer games and band concerts, get to church on Sunday, and give what we can where we can and hope the right people do the right thing with that which we entrust them. We ignore much of what is happening in the world.

    I don’t blame these folks or suggest that they do anything different. Their job at that moment is different, and that is raising children in the discipline and knowledge of the Lord. What shall it profit a man to be concerned about the whole world but lose his own children? Are we really to judge these people? Are we to say they should not have any opinions contrary to popular opinion because they aren’t busy saving someone else?

    What I know is that for myself and a lot of other Christians I know, we make changes in the above things, but we are still not “known” for this. First because talking about it isn’t doing it. Second, because anti-Christians will attempt to marginalize you if you do anything in addition to feeding the poor with your eyes focused downward. Third, because we have an awful lot of our fellow Christians who hand-wring for us about what the world thinks about us… so we really don’t need to bother with doing what they do so well on our behalf.

    And I’m growing rather weary of elitists telling us we should not put voice to our convictions about anything controversial because of the picture that is painted of us by those who disagree with us.

    You point to Jesusy things to be known for. What was Jesus known for? Was he still mocked, torn down by those who opposed him? Being mocked doesn’t mean you are doing the right thing. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t either.

    • Daniel Merriman

      You have made my day. Great post!

  • Ross

    I think I get where Dr. Enns is coming from, I often wonder why we’re not jumping up and down 24/7 shouting “it’s all wrong all wrong” and in despair that we who should know better often don’t seem to be doing the right thing.

    I can see 2 big problems for us Western Christians. 1, The “World” sees a distorted/incorrect view of Christians and Christianity, sometimes/often caused by purported or actual Christians words and actions. But there is also the “Worlds” unwillingness to see the reality of “true Christianity”. 2, Christians get distracted into stupid conflicts, incorrect priorities, get waylaid on the road or generally suffer from their fallen nature in a broken World.

    It’s obvious the World is a dark dark place. We can see this clearly in what’s happening in North Korea, Syria, Sudan, what happened in Rwanda or Europe in the middle of the last century. However we are often blinded to the darkness where we are, or think it’s more like dusk than night. I think when I was in a Pentecostal church there was a better appreciation that the World is dark, but I did feel that the diagnosis of how it was dark was often off the mark. Yes, abortion is a tragedy, but is acquisitive capitalism not really a problem? Is the American church not a bit too much caught up with the idea of the righteous being blessed and the unrighteous being punished, in the here and now?

    I’m thinking at the moment that maybe the bigger problem for us is the myth of Christian society or Christendom, that has affected our Western thought and particularly how it affects the American mind. I don’t think there has ever been a “Christian Society”. Admittedly, Constantine made “Christianity” the official religion of the empire and this had a tremendous official or dis-established influence on Western Society. But was this ever “True Christianity”? I can’t remember which version of “millennialism” it is that believes that in the here and now the World can be fully redeemed (Immanentising the Eschaton?), but this seems to be part and parcel of the myth. My understanding is that Jesus seemed to promise us much suffering and persecution in this World and yes also joy and hope, but did he say we would change it around and make it fully better? (not that we shouldn’t want to heal the World and try our best)

    In North Korea we can clearly see Christians being persecuted by the state. In the West there are the “Christians”, the “so-called Christians” The “Liberal Atheists”, various others and the state and it’s not so easy to see who is persecuting who.

    Conservative Christians seem to want to conserve the “Christian” past, but is that just nostalgia for a golden age which never actually existed? Is America now, or has it ever been a “Christian” country? Are all those who call themselves Christians, really what we think is meant by that word? There are a lot of those on many sides trying to hold to the “true faith”, and pointing at those who don’t fit their views on who is “truly faithful”. Yes there are obviously wolves outside the sheep-pen, but whilst the sheep tear each other apart they need do nothing but sit and wait.

    “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.”