The Gospel According to…
May – June 2002
Why is it important that we do a series called The Gospel According to Oprah, Britney Spears, Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh? It is important because they are four of the most influential leaders in our country today. They affect the way we talk, what we talk about, what we think, the way we dress, and the way we interact. To ignore their impact on our lives and on our culture would truly be foolish. Again, the purpose of the series is not to bash anyone. It’s not to bash Oprah or Rush or Britney or O’Reilly. The purpose is to appreciate and critique their gospel, their message from a Christian worldview.
Tonight we will take a look at Rush Limbaugh. “Talent on loan from God”—Rush Limbaugh is in the house tonight, as we look at The Gospel According to Rush. Twenty million people across American tune into Rush everyday, which makes him the most listened to radio talk show in America. Rush has an incredible influence in our country right now. He has written two best selling books, The Way Things Ought To Be and See I Told You So. They have sold a combined 8.9 million copies. Some say he single-handedly rescued the entire AM frequency. So if you didn’t have Rush, you’d just have FM. Imagine that!
He has had that big of an influence over the last decade or so. And he has become the spokesperson for conservative politics in America. When Rush talks, people, especially Republicans, listen and take note. Tonight we are going to look at Rush’s story, and we are going to look at Rush’s gospel and how many interpret and apply his brand of conservative politics into their own life and really make it into a religion.
Rush’s story: Rush Hudson Limbaugh III was born January 12, 1951, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He was raised in a Christian home. His dad taught Sunday school and directed the choir at a local Methodist Church. So Rush had a religious Christian upbringing. Here’s what his brother, David, said about their family. He said, “It [speaking of religion] caused us to believe in family values. My dad used to say, ‘Morality is sent from God, that human beings wouldn’t have a moral code if it didn’t come from God, and we live in a state of anarchy. We don’t believe in moral relativism, secular humanism; we believe in God and immutable laws, the primacy of the human species.’ From that, flow a lot of his (that being Rush’s) political views.”
At the age of sixteen, Rush started dabbling in radio. He became a DJ at his local station, and he continued to do that until he dropped out of college. When he dropped out of college, he wanted to go into the business sector, so he landed a job in the front office of the Kansas City Royals Baseball Team. So, here is Rush: a college dropout, working in marketing for a professional baseball team, and helping coordinate big events. He did that for a while. He’s gotten fired from many jobs. I know you find that hard to believe if you listen to Rush. But he re-entered radio as a political commentator for KMBZ, Kansas City, back in 1983 and did his show there for 5 years, until 1988. Rush had his big break, and he had his show nationally syndicated from New York in ’88 with only 58 stations to start out with. Today you can hear him on over 660 stations coast to coast. He is currently married to a lady named Marta, whom he met on the Internet (thank you very little), back in 1990.
Let me tell you some reasons why I like Rush. First of all, Rush is staunchly pro-life. And if you want to read a great argument and defense of the pro-life issue, read his chapter on abortion in his first book. He is pro-family. He is pro-hard work, and he is pro-take responsibility, and take charge for your life; stop whining, stop blaming people. He is against the whole victim mentality, which he believes (and I would believe this with him) holds people captive to their own circumstances. I like Rush because he is a gifted communicator. This guy year in year out had no guests on his show. He would be the only person on the mic for two and three hours, and somehow has drawn in that many people. So, he is really gifted at what he does, and he takes a lot of fresh looks, on various political and social issues facing our country today.
If had to critique some of Rush’s methodology, I would say he is kind of like a conservative Bill Maher. Bill Maher, on his show, would never debate someone toe to toe with issues. He would always engage in name calling and belittling. That’s called an ad hominem attack. Rush does the same thing with all of his nicknames for different politicians and presidents and policies. The difference between Rush and Maher, though, is Rush combines ridicule and satire with facts and statistics. And he has a very sharp wit. So, if I can say anything to you, as far as his communication style is, he probably needs to tone it down on some of his issues and people that he ridicules. Some may be legitimate. Others, I believe, may be illegitimate.
So, what is The Gospel According to Rush? Let me read you a quote directly from this harmless little fuzz ball, as he calls himself, serving humanity by just opening his mouth. Here’s what Rush says: “I’m not a bigot. I’m not a racist, a homophobe, a male chauvinist pig, or anything like that.” He insists. “What I am is anti-liberal. Liberalism is a scourge. It destroys the human spirit. It destroys its prosperity. It assigns sameness to everybody, and wherever I find it, I oppose it.” In other words, Rush’s gospel is vote Republican, and everything will be all right. That’s his gospel in a nutshell. And again, his calling is a political one. He is a political commentator. He sees that as his calling, and that’s what he tries to do every single day on his radio show.
Now, if I had to critique his gospel, I would critique primarily the way people listen to him and respond to him or to political pundits in general. There’s kind of an unstated and, in some areas of the country, stated rule. There are two things you don’t talk about with a stranger. Number 1 is religion, and number 2 is politics. Now I have a bad habit when I get on the plane with someone to discuss both of those topics. I mean, why not? Life is so boring, right? Add a little sauce to it.
As a matter of fact, I was in an airport in St. Louis sitting down with a group of people I had not met. It was during the 2000 election. This WWII vet and I almost went fisticuffs right there in that restaurant, talking about some political issues. So, politics and religion are things that people hold dear to their heart. They are very sacred things; very emotional, volatile things that we cling on to.
Back to my critique—I would say this: Salvation does not come by legislation. Individual salvation or corporate or country salvation does not come by legislation. Think about it. Wind the clock back. From 1980 until 1992, you had Ronald Reagan and George Bush in the White House—two conservative Presidents. Question: Was our country any more spiritual when they were in the White House as opposed to say Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton? Were there less abortions when Reagan was in office than when Clinton was in office? Were there fewer crimes, less drive-by shootings? Did more people love their neighbor as much as they loved themselves? Were more people attending worship services in the 80’s and early 90’s, than in this last decade or the 70’s? The answers to those questions were no.
Political systems, liberal or conservative, do not change people’s hearts. Political solutions are not ultimate. Salvation, cultural transformation, if you would, comes through faith in Christ, not faith in the ballot box or your particular candidate or political affiliation. Therefore, it’s dangerous to associate Christianity with a particular political party. And trust me, that is so great a temptation for anyone. Whether you are on the left or the right, whether you ride an elephant or a donkey, it’s a great temptation.
Listen to what Billy Graham says: “It’s an error to identify the Gospel with any particular system or culture. When I go to preach the Gospel, I go as an Ambassador for the Kingdom of God, not America. To tie the Gospel to any particular political system, secular program, or society is wrong and will only serve to divert the Gospel.”
Two weeks ago, on a Tuesday night I spoke at a church here in town. If I had to guess, I would have said that 80% of the people in that particular congregation on that night were Democrats. On Thursday night, I spoke at another church in our city. And I would say that 80% of the people in that congregation were Republicans. I bet most of the people there [at both churches] believe that the Bible is the Word of God. They all could have recited the Apostle’s Creed with us tonight. And we have unity in Christ. On the other hand, I’m sure there are a lot of differences when it comes to the political realm. But make no mistake about it, Jesus Christ is not a Democrat or Republican or a Libertarian. But it is so easy to get confused.
Take, for example, another issue right now—the Middle East and what is happening in Israel. Now, we as a church and as a people, are against terrorism in any shape or form. As Christians, we are against that. At the same time, in our church family there are Jewish Christians. There are Palestinian Christians. So, we can be brothers and sisters in Christ and still disagree politically. And I think we do ourselves a disservice and we, as Graham said, divert the Gospel when we want to wrap our particular brand of Christianity up in our particular political party. So, in a sound byte: Don’t bow down and worship a golden donkey or a golden elephant. Worship Christ alone. Worship Him alone.
Ephesians Chapter 2, Verses 18 and 19: “For through Him (it’s through Christ) we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the Chief Cornerstone.” Our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s our permanent address. We have many temporary addresses here on earth, or temporary labels here on earth. But our primary allegiance is to Christ and to His cause and to advancing the Kingdom of God.
It is so easy to get sidetracked in one political story or another and miss the essence of our faith, which is proclaiming His Gospel. Galatians Chapter 3, Verse 28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, [Democrat nor Republican (that’s my translation)] for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
So you see our primary identity must be who we are in Christ, not who we are when we go to vote in November. Our primary identity does not need to be our race, our gender, our country, though it is okay to be patriotic. Our primary identity needs to be men and women, desperate, hungry beggars, sinners who have grasped out, reached, and touched the grace of God, who have been transformed. Our primary identity is who we are in Christ, citizens of heaven, royal ambassadors, and sons and daughters of the King of Kings, of the Lord of Lords. That’s who we are.
I think many times when you get passionate about politics, and I confess at times I fall under that category, you can lose sight of who Christ is and what His agenda is. We can kind of get caught up in thinking, “Boy, if we can just elect Billy Graham and Pat Robertson and all these different leaders, then our country would be great.” No! The Bible says you can have all the external fence laws you want. You can quote the Ten Commandments till you are blue in the face and try to obey them, but you can’t do it. You need to change from the inside out.
So if there is to be a cultural transformation in our country, it’s not going to come from the top down. It’s going to come from the bottom up, as we are faithful to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. And that will begin to infiltrate all political parties and all flavors. Christ’s Gospel (remember this) spreads heart-to-heart, not vote-to-vote.
Let’s do a little church history. From the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in 33 AD, to the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, Christians had zero, pray tell, less than zero political clout. No religious lobbying from the left or the right. No moral majority. No conservative coalition…none of that. As a matter of fact, for the first 200+ years, and really all since then, Christians were getting the ever-living daylights beat out of them. They were persecuted and tortured in many ways.
Let’s go run down basically the first 300 years of the Christian faith. 35 AD Stephen is martyred—the first Christian martyr. In 64 AD, Nero the Emperor of Rome tortures and kills thousands and thousands of Christians. In 67 AD in Rome, Peter and Paul are executed. In 107 AD Ignatius is killed. In 155 AD Polycarp, a disciple of John, is burned at the stake. In 200 AD to 270 AD Diocletian and Marcus Aurelius slaughtered and killed thousands and thousands and thousands of Christians. From 300 AD to 304 AD more were persecuted. Scriptures are torched. More are tortured and burned and killed. And finally, in 313 AD Constantine supposedly becomes converted to Christianity, issues the Edict of Milan, which meant toleration, which gave Christianity freedom to spread and freedom to start churches and to do their thing, though persecution still continued in the East of the Roman Empire.
Now, let me tell you what happened to the Christian faith during this time period when they had absolutely zero political clout, power, muscle, money, Internet, radio, TV, calling lists, nada. Listen to where they spread. During the time period, the Gospels spread to Egypt, Sudan, Armenia, France, Italy, Germany, Britain, Iraq, Iran, India, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Croatia, Turkey, Albania, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Bulgaria, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland, Sahara, Belgium, Hungary, Luxembourg, and other countries. Is that amazing?
You can see ever since the Edict of Milan and Constantine, there’s been this weird, queasy relationship, if you would, between the church and the state. And some of the stories probably say it slowed down the progress of the Gospel. So once again, it doesn’t matter who resides in the White House. It matters who resides in the hearts of people. That’s what matters.
Now, some of you are wondering, “Ben, are you saying we need to draw back. Do we need to take a lesson from the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the anti-Baptists and not participate in the political system?” A thousand times, no. Vote! That is your duty as a citizen. Get involved in politics. If God calls you to run for local office or a national office, do that. Engage the culture. Engage our society. There is nothing wrong with that at all. It can be a noble calling. At the same time, we have to keep our balance and remember our ultimate allegiance. It is to Christ and to Christ alone.
So my long-winded critique of the Rushian Gospel would be how many people interpret him or take him and think that’s the answer. Get conservatives in office. Or if you are on the other side of the aisle, get liberals and Democrats in office then we will have the compassion and love in our country and then everything will be hunky dory. It doesn’t work that way. Salvation does not come through legislation. It comes through repentance and faith in Christ.
What’s been interesting to me in doing this series is to look at the religious backgrounds of Oprah, Britney, Rush, and O’Reilly. All four of them grew up in a home with a strong Christian influence. Oprah and Britney grew up Baptist. O’Reilly grew up Roman Catholic. And Rush grew up in the Methodist Church. So all of them have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and responded accordingly. I don’t know exactly how they have, but they have responded, I’m sure, in some way or another.
And I hope this series that we have done has opened your eyes to the different worldviews that are in our culture…some of them being taught by these four cultural icons; whether that be New Age-ism or religious pluralism or moralism or bellybuttonism – whatever. I hope you have seen how many of these people represent different worldviews and you’ve learned how to respond to these worldviews in a compassionate and intelligent way. I hope you have been able to appreciate again many of the good things and the truth that these people proclaim and at the same time, critique their errors, as well.
Now, what if you have an opportunity to sit down and have a cup of coffee with one of these four celebrities, and let’s say they put up a barrier through their publicist. You could only ask them one question. I thought about that. I thought what if I had the opportunity to sit down with Rush or Oprah or Britney or O’Reilly, if he wouldn’t interrupt, and ask these guys one question.
The other thing I thought about is what if I had the opportunity to sit down with each one of you that are gathered here in this congregation tonight. And I could sit down and talk to you and we could go to Starbuck’s across the street and sit down over a cup of coffee. And I could ask you just one question. What would that one question be? The question I would ask Oprah and Rush and O’Reilly and Britney, and the question I would ask you would be the same question that Jesus Christ asked His Disciples in Caesarea, Philippi. He said, “What’s the spin on me? Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “Well, some say you are Elijah. Some say you are John the Baptist come back from the dead. Others say you are Jeremiah or some other kind of prophet.” Then Jesus looked at them and said, “Well, who do you say that I am?” That’s the one question. Who do you say Christ is? Because how you answer that will affect your entire life in the here and now and your eternal life, as well. Think about it.
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]