Writing for First Things, professor Stephen Webb is amazed at how polarizing the name of Jesus Christ can be. His amazement stems from the efforts of judges to whitewash the name of Jesus from government-led public prayers as a means of making them "non-sectarian," and thus constitutional. In "The Terrible, Traumatic, and Intolerable Name of Jesus Christ," he opens with this stinging commentary on the contemporary efforts to litigate Jesus out of the public square:
The earliest Christians used the name of Jesus Christ to cast out demons, but today atheists use it to cast religion out of the public square. No other name has ever had such power for both believers and deniers alike. Simply saying that name in public is enough to traumatize secularists possessed by the conviction that they have the right not to be exposed to religion. Some secularists have come around to tolerating the occasional public benediction or blessing, as long as it is generically addressed, but many still draw the line at the concluding phrase of a Christian prayer that typically begins, “In the name of. . .” It is almost as if secularists instinctively realize that hearing is believing. They just don’t want to take that risk.
In a way, Christians should feel flattered. Of all the names in the world, this one is so dangerous that the American legal system has begun putting it in the same category as shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Whatever its impact on public order, however, the Gospel demands to be proclaimed, which puts Christians on a collision course with “Jesus scene clean-up crews.” While Christians use this name to refer to a real person, secularists treat it, ironically, as if it has immanent magical powers. Just the sound of it can resonate so deeply within the atheist’s brain (re: soul) that physical distress results. One might think that those who hate this name the most would simply dismiss it as pure fantasy, rather than trying to quarantine it as a contagious contaminant. Like a tune that gets stuck in one’s mental circuitry (think “The Lion Sings Tonight”), the only way they can get rid of it, evidently, is to litigate.
This rings true. And for a fine critique of Hinrich v. Bosma (2005), which could set alarming precedent, be sure to read Webb's entire post. He demonstrates the chilling effect of U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton's ruling that defines constitutional prayer as prayer without reference to Jesus.
Oh, and in the spirit of this post--and because I would hate for anyone to have "The Lion Sings Tonight" stuck in their head--here's a far better song to be singing today:
How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
in a believer's ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
and drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole,
and calms the troubled breast;
'tis manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary, rest.
Dear Name, the rock on which I build,
my shield and hiding-place,
my never-failing treasury, filled
with boundless stores of grace!
Jesus! my Shepherd, Brother, Friend,
my Prophet, Priest and King,
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the praise I bring.
Weak is the effort of my heart,
and cold my warmest thought;
but when I see thee as thou art,
I'll praise thee as I ought.
Till then I would thy love proclaim
with every fleeting breath;
and may the music of thy Name
refresh my soul in death!
--John Newton, 1779
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About Mike Pohlman
Mike serves as the senior pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham, Washington. Mike is a former church planter in the Pacific Northwest, and served for three years as the executive producer of The Albert Mohler Program, a nationally syndicated radio show dedicated to Christianity and culture. Mike has a PhD in American church history from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mike is husband to Julia and father to four wonderful children: Samuel (12), Anna (10), John (9) and Michael (4). When not pastoring, Mike loves sports, music, and hanging out with his family.
Recently by Mike Pohlman
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