An old blog post from the days when my son, Eric, was still a professing Christian.
Eric is memorizing the book of Romans. Last time we talked, before he went to Campus Crusade’s Christmas Conference in Greensboro, he was able to recite chapters 1 through 3:10. He expects to be able to get through chapter 4 by the time he goes back to school for the spring semester. He is following the memorization techniques of his pastor, Andy Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church, Durham, North Carolina, known for being able to recite whole books of the Bible verbatim from memory.
He’s expressed some eagerness to get past chapters 1 and 2 to get to the “good stuff” about justification by faith in chapters 3 and 4. I’ve tried to encourage him to linger over these chapters. Their message is vitally needed today. I’ve probably read these two chapters more than any others in the book of Romans even though I was converted through Romans 5:5.
In trying to convince him of the relevance of these two chapters, in which Paul argues that all human beings are without excuse before God and in need of His righteousness, I told him to think of chapter 1 as Paul’s indictment of blue states and chapter 2 as his indictment of red states.
As I’ve thought about this, I’ve realized just how relevant this analogy really is. Chapter 1 indicts blue state thinking in many ways. For example, blue state thinking detaches any discussion of ethics from religion. Basing political ethics, especially, on religious commitment is automatically invalidated. However, according to Paul, it’s all ultimately about religion, responding to the one true God who constantly reveals himself to us with worship and thansksgiving. Ethics is secondary in the sense that unrighteous behavior follows from rejecting God; it is the means used to suppress (distract from) knowledge of God; and, it is God’s punishment for irreligion. Because, “they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (v. 28) Religion comes first, ethics second.
Blue state thinking prides itself on religious tolerance, so long, of course, as you believe everything or believe nothing. If you believe some things and not others, you yourself are intolerant and hateful. All religions are equally valid except for those that claim validity for themselves. Religion arises out of a sincere seeking after truth. Paul, of course, demolishes this view of religion, arguing that the religious impulse is indeed a response to God’s continual self-revelation, but most of it arises out of a concerted effort to substitute our own futile speculations about God, which we prefer, for his revelation of himself.
Finally, blue state thinking turns moral judgment inside out, calling good “evil” and evil “good.” Forming moral judgments is itself to be despised as wicked and evil; it is hateful intolerance. Blue state thinkers not only indulge in immorality, but “give hearty approval to those who practice [the things God condemns.]” (v. 32) Blue state thinkers see themselves as having progressed beyond the old fashioned, provincial traditionalism of red staters.
But in chapter 2, Paul turns to those who do pass judgment. (2:1) Paul indicts those who believe that forming accurate moral judgments is enough, thinking correctly, about God and ethics, is sufficient. He indicts those who rely merely on asserting the exsistence of moral absolutes and objective truth and locating the basis for human rights in God’s ordaining, as though this exempts them from scrutiny of their practice.
This is red state thinking. We* emphasize virtue, with a capital V, and character. We adhere to traditional values. Yet, our practice is not significantly different from blue states. We have the same divorce rates. We are as materialistic and worldly. Though our moral judgment is finely tuned, this only serves to aggravate our self-condemnation.
Red state and blue state thinkers are alike without excuse and in need of God’s righteousness. Paul’s indictment, culminating in Romans 3:10-18, is intensely relevant today.
*My town in Connecticut is red, though just barely.