Can we be politically disengaged as Christians?

politics

As a Canadian, I find American politics intriguing. The way Americans engage—regardless of their views—is astonishing, and somewhat refreshing. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of how different not only our governments are1 but also how different we are as people.

By and large, Canadians don’t care about politics the way Americans do, certainly not to the same extent at any rate. So the debate on, say, the most recent State of the Union address, would likely never happen here.

We are, for the most part, a politically apathetic people. And if we’re not careful, for our culturally-induced political apathy can quickly seep into our faith, as well.

But as Christians, this should never be. In fact, we should care deeply about politics.

By this, I don’t mean the old stereotype of marrying the Christian faith and political activism, seeking cultural transformation through legislation, as the Religious Right and Moral Majority have often been accused of. Instead, we need to think about politics Christianly–that is, in light of three realities: the source of government, our identity, and our obligation to society.

1. The source of government: God. God establishes all governments. He is their source, existing only at his good pleasure. They are his instruments, existing for our good, and requiring our prayers (even if their leaders’ values do not align with our own). Their laws are to be obeyed willingly and in good conscience insofar as they are not in conflict with the commands of God (see Romans 13:1-8; Acts 5:29).

2. Our identity: Ambassadors of Christ. In Christ, all Christians are citizens of the kingdom of God. Thus, our primary allegiance does not belong to an earthly nation but to the Lord Jesus. God has also determined the times and places in which we live. As such, we serve as ambassadors for Christ in those nations (2 Corinthians 5:20), with the local church functionally serving as embassies of the kingdom.

3. Our obligation: to point others to Jesus. As Christ’s ambassadors, God has charged us point the lost and perishing to Jesus Christ. We are ministers of reconciliation, through whom God makes his appeal. We are to be salt and light in the world, letting our deeds cause others to give God praise.

Seen in this light, how should we think about political engagement?

I would suggest that it is an extension of our role as Christ’s ambassadors, and of the command to love God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). Thus, we cannot be “apolitical,” at least not in the way some may wish to be. While we are not all compelled to participate in the political process to the same degree, we all would be wise to participate. But to the degree to which we choose to participate, we have the opportunity to speak truth with conviction and compassion into situations where we might not otherwise.

We can show the lost the values of God’s kingdom in action, provided we stand by our convictions. And even when we “lose” temporally, we can be confident knowing that our loss is only temporary—and in doing so, we get to show that our hope for a better world comes not from politics, but from the promised return of Jesus, when he will usher in his kingdom in its fullness.

So, Christian, what do you think: should we care about politics?

Never make peace with death

This is among the saddest things I’ve seen in my life:

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Full size version available here: reproductiverights.org

Sixty-one nations—including Australia, Canada, and the United States—have few to no restrictions on abortion.

Sixty-one.

Meaning, simply, nearly 40 percent of the world’s population can have an abortion at any time, for virtually any reason. And it’s most likely paid for by your tax dollars. In fact, Canada, where I live, has no standing abortion law whatsoever, despite several failed attempts to place limits over the last 30 years (here’s a timeline of abortion laws in Canada for those interested).

All but one of the major political parties in this country are staunchly pro-abortion. One of these parties requires all of its members of parliament to vote in line with this stance on any bill being considered, regardless of personal conviction. But its not as though the remaining major party is pro-life; they simply allow party members to vote according to conscience.

Which means, generally speaking, no one is going to rock the boat when it comes to abortion in Canada.

And this is a shame, because ultimately, it means that people are willing to make peace with death for the sake of convenience. And so, tens of thousands of children die every year, conveniently forgotten by all but those who carry the emotional scars.

This should never be said of the church in Canada (or in any nation for that matter). We should never be so willing to capitulate to society that we would treat abortion as a mere political issue, something that is a hindrance to the preaching of the gospel.

This is nothing but damnable cowardice. It is a willingness to make peace with death—and it is this, as John Ensor reminds us, that is actually crippling the effectiveness of our gospel witness.

Abortion’s role in the consciences of [millions] is a boil that festers just under the surface of all Christian endeavors, and it needs lancing. It needs to be called out by name, confessed by name, and brought under a gospel that declares that there is no forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood except by the shedding of innocent blood, that is, by the blood of Christ. (Innocent Blood, 68)

Links I like (weekend edition)

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series is on sale for $4.99 each:

What did you see in heaven?

Painfully accurate commentary from Adam Ford.

How to write a joke

A Soiled Bride He Will Not Have

Lore Ferguson:

But the presence of the gospel doesn’t change the presence of messy theology. In fact, the presence of the gospel sets us free to work all things out in submission to a singular reality: broken beyond repair in our sinfulness, the Father sent the Son to suffer, die, resurrect, and leave the perfect love of the Holy Spirit with His children in order that we might have a helper to bring us into all truth.

Is glorifying God a hate crime now?

Russell Moore:

Of course the chief wants to glorify God in his job. That doesn’t mean annexing his fire department for the Southern Baptist Convention. It means living with integrity, respecting other people, dealing honestly, as one who will give an account for his life.

That’s hardly surprising, just as it is hardly surprising the chief holds to a typical evangelical Christian (and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox and Orthodox Jewish and Muslim) view of marriage and sexuality.

Doing and being

Jeremy Walker:

There are times when – because of fear, weariness, laziness, busyness, sickness, doubt or other reasons – we have to take ourselves in hand and stir ourselves up and spur ourselves and others on. Nevertheless, we should not need to be beaten into testifying of the grace of God in Christ. It bubbles out of a man like the apostle Paul under a variety of motivations, but it rarely seems to need to be drawn out, only directed as it flows.

Links I like

$5 Friday at Ligonier

Today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier has a whole bunch of great resources on sale, including:

  • The Mystery of the Trinity teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio & video download)
  • Willing to Believe teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio & video download)
  • Reformation Profiles teaching series by Stephen Nichols (DVD)
  • The Psychology of Atheism teaching series by R.C. Sproul (CD)
  • Defending Your Faith by R.C. Sproul (ePub)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

The “Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” recants

Alex Malarkey, the book’s co-author, says “I didn’t die,” and “the Bible is sufficient.” Good on him for doing it, too.

Expositional imposters

Mike Gilbart-Smith:

Mark Dever rightly describes Expositional Preaching as “preaching that takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” However, I have heard many sermons that intend to be expositional, yet fall somewhat short. Below are seven pitfalls that one might try to avoid. Each of these pitfalls either doesn’t correctly make the message of the passage the message of the sermon, or doesn’t make it a message to that congregation at all.

Why and How to Be Self-Critical When You Write

Justin Taylor shares a great excerpt from John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.

5 Simple Ways to Teach Your Kids Theology

Aaron Earls:

How can you weave theological teaching into their daily lives, without necessarily setting them down for an in-depth family sermon (though there is nothing inherently wrong with that)? How can you impart good theology into the lives of your children, without possessing a theological degree (though hopefully there is nothing inherently wrong with that)?

You don’t need to feel like you’re trying out the latest parenting fad or complicated system. If you are like me, you’ll try it for a month or two and then give up because it didn’t feel natural.

Instead, here are five simple ways to teach your kids theology virtually every day.

 

The Way Home podcast

Check out this new podcast by my friend Dan Darling. The first episode is good stuff, and features interviews with Karen Swallow Prior and Matt Chandler.

The Indispensable Value Of Practical Theology

David Murray:

Reformed Christians are famous (some would say “infamous”) for our emphasis upon theology; especially biblical theology, systematic theology, historical theology, and exegetical theology.

Just look at our creaking bookshelves and impressive libraries!

Critics, though, often ask, “Where’s your practical theology?”

And they sometimes have a point. At times we do struggle to translate the knowledge our heads are bursting with into our vocations, our families, our evangelism, our ethics, and other areas of the Christian life.

Three things I’d like to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2015

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Over the last few years, I’ve developed a bit of a tradition: thinking about a few things I’d like to see in this strange corner of the Internet known as the Christian blogosphere each year (here’s a look at the 20122013 and 2014 editions). For me, this is somewhat therapeutic—and not in the “venting about all the things that grind my gears” sense. For me, it’s a chance to look back and consider where bloggers–particularly me—can grow and change as we represent Jesus on the Interwebs.

Here are three things I’d like to see (and am hoping to do) this year:

1. Fewer blind eyes turned to serious issues. This is a strange one for me to include, since I’m not a fan of chasing controversy. But one of the reasons controversies happen in the first place—at least to some degree—is because people are silent. As the curious ethical decisions and/or compromises of many Christian-famous types continue to come to light (see, for example, Christianity Today’s recent piece on buying your way onto bestsellers’ lists), my encouragement would be that we not shut down discussion, ignore or turn a blind eye. Instead, we should actually wrestle with the issues being raised—and talk about them.

 

2. More admonishing with tears. However, even as we do speak up about problems, we must avoid seeming prideful and arrogant in how we address them. Ad hominems should not be known among us. Instead, we should model ourselves after Paul, who wept for those he warned. Where I feel compelled to offer correction or speak up on an issue, I want to do so in a way that makes it clear that I’m doing so out of great concern for those involved.

3. Write like you like writing. If you’re a blogger, I’d hope it’s because you do it for a really good reason… like because you enjoy writing. It’s easy to get overly concerned with figuring out how to drive traffic to your website; but the problem with getting overly concerned about numbers is it’s easy to start caring more about traffic than writing content you care about. (I’m especially talking to myself here.) Don’t worry about finding the perfect formula, or the right combination of times when to tweet a link or update Facebook, or whether or not you’re SEO-ing hard enough. Write something you like. Something that matters to you. Play. Have fun. Write like you like writing, and let the Lord sort out the rest.

That’s what I’m hoping to see in the months ahead—and what I’m going to be trying to do. What about you?

Links I like

Spurgeon’s Sorrows

spurgeons-sorrows

Be sure to pick up a copy of Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine for $5.50 (or $4.50 when buying four or more) at Westminster Bookstore.

Quoting “Heretics” Approvingly

Mark Jones (note: the quotation marks are important):

Who are Reformed Christians, theologians, and pastors allowed to read? Or, more specifically, who are we allowed to cite positively in our writings and conversations? Are we allowed to speak positively of anything N.T. Wright has written, for example, without getting accused of all sorts of things?

Consider Thomas Goodwin, an important member of the Westminster Assembly who helped craft the Westminster documents. Those he read and cited approvingly provide a fascinating test case into how a Reformed theologian from the seventeenth century regarded the writings of those from within and those from outside his own theological tradition.

Our seared conscience on abortion

Matt Chandler:

One of the things I have found so interesting around this topic in particular is when I sit across from unbelievers, they will often bring up … scientific data to prove their point. “How could I believe that? Look at this!” The reason I’m becoming more and more inclined that what we’re dealing with here is no longer sane but rather insane is the science of the matter falls on deaf ears when you speak to those who are secular around this matter.

Stress destroys your brain

Jane Porter:

But before you get stressed about your ever-shrinking noggin, know that we are talking about prolonged chronic stress here. There are plenty of healthy kinds of stress we experience in small doses—the kind you feel before an important meeting or presentation, for example, that can give you a boost of energy and adrenalin.

A Word for Writers and Publishing Houses

Joey Cochran shares a thought-provoking quote from William Bridge.

How to Write More Gooder

Kevin DeYoung:

I wish I knew better how to articulate the keys to good writing. When I write it is a very intuitive process. After the fact I can look back and tell you why I did what I did, and looking at an intern’s paper I can point out what needs to be improved, but coming up with the ten most important principles of effective writing has so far eluded me. What I can point to are a few simple practices which may help a great deal.

You might also enjoy my similarly titled eBook on this subject.

My Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal For This Year – It’s Not What You Think

Mark Altrogge:

Maybe BHAGs work for companies and even for some churches. But I would submit that the Bible encourages a different kind of BHAG. Here’s the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal that I am going to shoot for this year: to be faithful. Better yet, I want to be faithful in a few small things.

The Bible doesn’t encourage us to pursue greatness, but to be faithful servants. To be faithful in small things.

Gospel Formed

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It’s all the rage to talk about being gospel-centered, shaped or formed these days. We have gospel-centered conferences, gospel-centered discipleship, gospel-centered blogs and teaching… With so much emphasis is being put on being gospel-centered, it’s easy to forget that we also need to live it out.

But what does that look like? What does it look like as we should know grow by, in, and with the gospel—and what does that even mean?

This is the heart behind J.A. Medders’ book, Gospel Formed: Living a Grace-Addicted, Truth-Filled, Jesus-Exalting Life. Divided into five parts, Medders’ offers 27 accessible and thoughtful meditations on the gospel, and its implications for our lives and identity.

He writes it like he means it (and that’s really important)

There’s a lot to like about Gospel Formed. Medders does a great job of laying an accessible theological foundation for Christian living in each chapter. He takes these nebulous concepts we float around—the buzzwords too many of us use, and almost all of us fail to define—and helps us get a sense of what they really mean.

For example, consider his definitions of the four primary aspects of gospel-centered living:

Gospel worship: “Gospel worship is the glorifying of God in all of life, in light of and in accordance with, motivated by, and empowered by the gospel of grace… [It] is living in response to the gospel in spirit and in truth.” (49)

Gospel identity: “Gospel identity is discovering the Christian’s meaning, purpose, acceptance with God, and position in the universe based on our union with Christ.… [It] is first, foremost, and always that we are ‘in Christ.'” (111)

Gospel community: “Gospel community is a group of Christians encouraging and exhorting each other to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.… [It] is the people of God living out the gospel ethics of the kingdom of God.” (146)

Gospel mission: “Gospel mission is the call and commitment to spread the good news of the gospel of grace to all kinds of people in all kinds of places.… [It] is the spread of the name and fame of Jesus by gospel proclamation.” (168)

There’s a lot here, but as far as overarching definitions go, these are pretty good. And where it gets better is when Medders actually digs into the details of each of these. For example, central to worship is the joy produced by the gospel. And about this, Medders writes with joy:

Gospel worship has a certain zest to it, a nuance that is much more than simply a catchy melody or guitar riff. A gospel-centered heart dances tot he beat of a different exegesis. It looks for a crucified Galilean; it listens for the echoes of “It is finished!” Many claim that if churches aren’t giving eye-popping visuals, people will be lumps in the pew; the gospel, however, gives a different perspective. The gospel doesn’t need to be dressed up to inspire worship; it just needs to be seen with the eyes of the heart. Faith in Jesus ignites worship. The person and work of Jesus wills et your heart ablaze for him. (70-71)

Hopefully you caught the same thing I did in reading this paragraph. Where Medders succeeds in his writing is that he writes as though he really means it. There’s a difference between explaining something and demonstrating. What I find Medders does well consistently in Gospel Formed is the latter—as he explains, he actually demonstrates. His excitement about the gospel comes through. And for the reader who is desperately lacking that in his or her own life, this is a great gift.

It’s only funny if it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to be

Though a very strong book, Gospel Formed is not without its weaknesses, only two of which I’ll mention for the sake of time:

First—and this is one of those hard to quantify things—at times I felt like there was a disconnect between the tone and the content of the book. The only word I could use to describe it is “swagger.” Please do not read this brief critique as an accusation of pridefulness. This is an intangible—it wasn’t that Medders wrote something specific that jumped out as such. It may simply be a case of misreading on my part. If it’s something you pick up on as well, my recommendation is to chalk it up to first-time author jitters (something we all deal with).1

The second, for me, is connected to this, but a bit more serious. Where Gospel Formed suffers most is that Medders tries too hard to be funny at times. It’s not that being funny is a bad thing, by any means. But the best kind of humor is that which doesn’t call attention to itself—that seems almost effortless (which takes an extraordinary amount of effort to pull off, incidentally). However, what I found in Gospel Formed was that I was frequently distracted by the jokes—to the point that I frequently wanted to cross them out just so I could focus on Medders’ main points.

Sit and steep

All that being said, Gospel Formed is a very well-crafted book, especially for a first-time author. So if you choose to read it (and I do think it’s worth your time to do so), here’s what I’d recommend. Do not read it in a couple of sittings (as I did in preparing to review it). Read a chapter a day. Sit with it; steep in its message, with your Bible open. Soak in the good encouragements Medders offers and be reminded afresh that the good news is actually good. If you do that, I believe you’ll find this book a worthwhile addition to your library.


Title: Gospel Formed: Living a Grace-Addicted, Truth-Filled, Jesus-Exalting Life
Author: J.A. Medders
Publisher: Kregel (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series is on sale for $4.99 each:

Also on sale:

Also, Logos Bible Software users should be sure to get a copy of Mark from R.C. Sproul’s St. Andrew’s Exegetical Commentary series, free while this deal lasts.

Trying to market your book? Here’s the number one thing you need to know…

Jesse Wisnewski nails it.

Batkid Begins

This made my wife cry. I suspect the whole documentary will do the same:

Should We Leave Our Children Inheritances?

Randy Alcorn:

If parents decide to give most or all of their estate to God’s Kingdom, they should explain their plans to their children. This will prevent false expectations and free their children from later resentment. It will also alleviate present guilt feelings stemming from what children might imagine they have to gain by their parents’ death. Even though they know they shouldn’t, grown children commonly find themselves thinking about and looking forward to all the money and possessions that will be theirs when their parents die. Some go into debt now because they expect to, so to speak, win the lottery through their parents’ deaths. The sooner these attitudes are defused, the better.

What Is Practical Atheism?

R.C. Sproul:

What is deadly to the church is when the external forms of religion are maintained while their substance is discarded. This we call practical atheism. Practical atheism appears when we live as if there were no God. The externals continue, but man becomes the central thrust of devotion as the attention of religious concern shifts away from man’s devotion to God to man’s devotion to man, bypassing God. The “ethic” of Christ continues in a superficial way, having been ripped from its supernatural, transcendent, and divine foundation.

The Calloused Hands of Faith

Erik Raymond:

There are too many smooth hands in the church. We have it easy and give up too quick when the fight is upon us. There is resistance without, via the unbelieving world; and there is resistance within, via our sinful hearts. Instead of caving in we must press on. This life of faith is a persevering, believing life. It endures amid adversity to show the object of our hope, that is, God himself. God has not revealed the mountain of his character for us to go forgetting our hope amid the subjectivity of our experiences or the transitory nature of the world. Hope in God!

Should you separate the message from its messenger?

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Maybe I’m too cynical for my own good.

I’ve been wrestling with an article written by one of America’s more abrasive mega-church leaders on how the best pastors, like the best athletes, are the ones who aren’t afraid to take a hit. Taken on its own, it’s certainly a fair enough encouragement. But at the same time, whenever I see the name of this person show up on a blog or on Twitter or…  well, anywhere for that matter, it’s rarely in connection with anything godly or virtuous (though perhaps that simply means I’m following the wrong people).

And this brings me to my struggle: should we separate a half-decent encouragement from its author’s ministry? More pointedly, is this even possible—can our content stand alone, or do we need to pay more careful attention to the context from which the message stems?

When I think about pastors embroiled in controversy, I can think of no better example than the apostle Paul. Wherever he went, he was dogged by groups of false teachers determined to subvert his teaching and turn people away from his message. In Corinth, so-called super apostles questioned his ministry and turned the people away from Paul. And being maligned, Paul—though he called himself a fool for doing so—defended himself (2 Corinthians 10-11).

But what was strong about his defence was what he ultimately pointed to. He didn’t simply encourage the Corinthians to look at the fruit of his ministry, though he could have. He didn’t tell them to consider his teaching. He told them to look at how he conducted himself in ministry—his humble disposition and his refraining from taking financial support from them so that it would not be a stumbling block.

You could look at Paul himself—not the results of his work, but the man—and discern whether or not the criticism he faced was valid.

I’ll be honest: I don’t see that with a lot of modern church leaders. There doesn’t seem to be a willingness to open their lives, and to ask people to verify for themselves. To test the messenger, as well as the message. Instead, when controversy comes, it seems most often to be met with claims of unjust criticism.

And this is where the struggle comes in for me. Even when the message is fine taken on its own, how much should the author’s own baggage factor into how we interpret it? I tend to struggle to be able to easily separate the two. When I read warnings of unjust criticism from those whose names only ever come up in the context of controversy, to me, it seems a bit disingenuous.

But should it? Is it fair to wonder what prompted an author’s words, or to potentially second-guess them—or is it a sign that I, as a reader, am simply too cynical?

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new deals to start your week:

Hate to fly? It’s your own fault

This article presents an interesting point.

5 Ways to Love (or Hate) the Church Nursery Workers

Aaron Earls:

Look, let’s be honest. If there is anyone at church who deserves all of our respect, appreciation and perhaps hazard pay, it’s nursery workers.

There are times when I drop off my two year old and yell, “I’m sorry! Good luck!” as I run off to a nice, peaceful (adult) small group time.

Despite nursery workers’ value and obvious sacrificial love for the church body, we parents often don’t help matters when it comes to creating a smooth experience in the nursery.

Would Jesus buy his way onto a bestseller list?

Jackson Dame responding to Christianity Today’s piece debating the merits of the practice.

What to Say to Church Members Leaving for Bad Reasons

Jonathan Leeman:

There are better and worse reasons to leave a church. Are you moving to another city? That’s a good reason. Are you harboring bitterness toward someone who has offended you? That’s a bad reason. Does the church neglect to preach biblical sermons weekly? Good reason. Don’t like the church’s style? Probably a bad one.

So how should you respond to a fellow member who is leaving for what sounds like a bad reason?

Is The Bible Too Complicated For Those Who Struggle To Read?

Adam Prime:

Is the Bible only for the professors, the boffins, the academics, and the geeks? Is it only for John Owen and not for Andy Prime? Is it only for the preachers and not for church members? Is it only for the middle class? Can it be for the schemes in my neighborhood or the slums in yours? Is it too difficult? Is it beyond the reach or normal people, and only for a select few?

What to Do When Someone Is Wrong on the Internet

Mike Leake offers some good thoughts here.

Links I like

Kindle deals

In addition to yesterday’s big list, here are a few other deals very much worth your consideration, including one of the best leadership books I’ve read (which is quite the compliment since I hate leadership books), The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler for $2.99.

Zondervan’s Counterpoints series is on sale for $2.99 each, including:

Be sure to also check out The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens for $2.99. It’s a great read.

Honest Christian Book Titles

This was fun.

8 Responses to Friendly Fire

Jim Stitzinger:

When Christians default to sinful assaults on other believers, the glory of Christ is diminished, the gospel message is muted and fellowship is destroyed. Hugh Hewitt recently challenged a room full of leaders to “expect to get hit from behind.” Anticipate that your most scathing, personal assaults will often come from those you partner with in ministry. Those you learn from, recruit, hire, mentor, lead, and serve. It’s not the attacks from unbelievers in the community or even from believers on the periphery of the ministry. It is assaults from those who have direct access to your heart, who for whatever reason, use their access and knowledge to launch accusations, spread gossip and advance slander. Similar to the volley of war, it is anything but friendly.

Hubble returns to visit “old friends”

Still stunning:

Watching Naked People

Lore Ferguson:

In recent months I’ve been convicted about the little foxes that ruin the vineyard of my heart. I have a bit of a tender constitution to some things I see on media, or hear about from others, but I realized my propensity to mindlessly watch popular shows containing nudity was growing in the past year. I wasn’t watching them for the nudity, but I was still complicit in their popularity. I like smart writing and good character development and there are a few movies I enjoyed this year that contained brief scenes that would be better left out of both the film and and my heart.

Three reasons (some) pastors don’t equip

Eric Geiger:

Some pastors are like the occasional church sound-guy that doesn’t want anyone else fiddling with the soundboard. If you have encountered this sound-guy, you likely first concluded that he probably knows best. After all, he is able to find that buzz, has saved the day multiple times, and uses words you don’t understand. You reason that you are an idiot and “that you should not concern yourself with things too marvelous for you” (Psalm 131:1). But as time passes, you wonder if the system has been intentionally designed so no one else can possibly run it. The sound-guy has built the sound-system around himself, for himself. In the same way, some pastors build ministry around themselves, for themselves, for at least three reasons.

What did you think would happen?

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A year ago, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, Ryan Bell, announced he would spend 2014 living as an atheist to explore “the limits of theism and the atheism landscape in the United States.” His experiment ended on December 31st, 2014. So what happened?

Well, after a year of living as an atheist, Bell no longer believes that God exists.

“I think the best way I can explain the conclusion I’ve come to — and conclusion is too strong a word for the provisional place I now stand and work from — is that the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us,” he told the Huffington Post.

Bell is not the angry disillusioned stereotype you usually see presented in stories of this sort. He comes across as a very sincere, likeable man. He simply believes “the existence of God seems like an extra layer of complexity that isn’t necessary.”

Which, of course, is not surprising in the least.

No doubt many saw the result of this experiment coming the moment it was announced. When I first read of it, this was certainly my reaction (though, not snidely, I hope).

The problem, is, of course, us. And more specifically, it’s our sin nature. Of course living as though God does not exist is going to be easier for us. When we acknowledge God as God, it means acknowledging his authority—which, yes, does make life more complex in some ways.

But so, too, does denying his existence.

An example of the greater complexity of denying God

For example, although, as Bell points out, atheists in general are not amoral people, we should recognize that there is a fluidity to their morality simply by virtue of there being no recognized objective, outside standard from which those morals emerge. We can more easily justify our wrongdoing as mistakes or errors, or point to the end result for our justification (see: “little white lies”). You do what’s right, you do your best to go to bed with a clear conscience, and you do it again the next day.

But here’s the rub: this is actually a far more complicated way to live. Not because going to bed with a clear conscience isn’t a good thing. Not because we shouldn’t be morally praiseworthy people. But, as Paul says, it’s our right deeds that present a problem for us. For when those “who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves” (Romans 2:14, emphasis mine). This is the same law, the same objective standard, he later says condemns us—not because the law is bad, but because it does not save us. Just because it’s easier to not recognize the source of morality doesn’t mean he’s not there, and it doesn’t mean we will escape the consequences of our falling short of it.

The greater concern with denying God

But there’s a greater concern that I have with this whole situation—and it, again, is one that comes as no surprise. As a Christian, as someone has been saved by Jesus, had my sins forgiven through his death on the cross, I cannot fathom the idea of living as though God did not exist. And I understand backsliding, straying, letting your love for the Lord grow cold, all that. It happens to all of us. But this is different. here’s something terrifying about the idea of being to so easily say, “Yep, I’m going to live this way now,” for it means something else entirely. That the Lord you professed to know, you did not know at all.

That, to me, is tragic. Not because I’m naïve enough to think this doesn’t happen all the time—I know far too many people who have either fallen astray for significant periods of time, continue to walk in rebellion, or have outright denied Christ who once claimed to be believers for my liking—but because the conceit of the project seemed to be self-deceptive. One doesn’t simply decide one day to be an atheist; it’s the result of moving along a trajectory toward unbelief. And one doesn’t engage in such a project if he or she is intending to come out the other side a more committed believer. Instead, the results show the experiment for what it was: one man getting comfortable with being able to say, “I don’t believe God exists.”

And it’s tragic because someday he’s going to meet the God he’s just denied.

So what should we do? We should not make callous comments. We should instead pray for God to reveal himself to Bell and people like him. That genuine believers would come into their lives. That they would meet the real Jesus—the one they never knew—so that, when they stand before him someday, it will not be in judgement, but as being welcomed home.


photo credit: Pliketi Plok via photopin cc

Links I like

Google got it wrong

Lindsey Kaufman laments the open-office workspace. Having worked in these spaces, I definitely share many of her frustrations.

You (Yes, You!) Should Consider Global Missions

Jason Carter:

Let’s not gloss or oversimplify the Great Commission into a metaphor for “going across the street” or “being bold for Jesus at the water cooler.” It’s so much more than that. It’s a global clarion call for disciples to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all nations.

In our good intentions to help people serve right where they are locally, let’s not stamp out the few remaining embers of fire in the local church for global missions.

Kara’s End

Kara Tippetts:

And now, now I’m learning what it is to die by degrees. Parts of my body failing, parts of my abilities vanishing, and what then? Yesterday, I kept thinking- I drove for the last time and didn’t realize it was the last time. I don’t remember the last time in the drivers seat or the music we played.  I just realized I will likely never again drive. It’s this weird event that marks the fading of a life, and I have no feeling other than wonder over the fact that it’s over. That chapter. All the driving my body can no longer do will now be captured by my community, my loves, my people. And there will be other strengths that will languish, and my people will press into love and provide us the needed strength and support to manage that new edge.

Shallow and narrow

Jeremy Walker:

I am not saying that we should indulge an appetite for pap or an itch for poison. Less mature readers usually need safer boundaries than more mature readers. But even the less mature could and should read beyond the hackneyed round of a few religious gurus. All should read those books which – without ever going outside the bounds of substantial orthodoxy – push us to think in ways we never otherwise would. Those starting out need to get into a groove, not drop into a pit. For most of us, it does us good to be stretched, challenged, engaged, taken out of our depth. If we are well-grounded in the faith, such a process can helpfully stir us, exercise us and ultimately strengthen us.

3 ways not to use Greek in Bible study

Justin Dillehay:

I’m not saying that Greek word studies are bad, or totally unnecessary (after all, we are not native Greek speakers). But unless you do them properly, they’ll simply give you the illusion of knowing something when you really don’t. Most of the time you’ll do better to simply compare a number of solid translations like the NASB, ESV, NIV, and NLT. After all, the people who translated these Bible versions understand Greek far better than you or I ever will. So don’t throw away their expertise. And as you read, pay attention to the context. An ounce of good contextual analysis is worth a pound of poorly done Greek word studies.

Evangelicals’ favorite heresies

You may have already seen this, but it’s pretty disturbing as “most American evangelicals hold views condemned as heretical by some of the most important councils of the early church.”

C.S. Lewis is coming to Logos

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Why Do We Blame the World for Being the World?

Jim Hislop:

The implication—what else should you expect? We expect someone who professes to be a follower of Jesus to act like a follower of Jesus, but too many followers of Jesus expect those who are not to also act like followers of Jesus. Jesus never did, why do we?

No kingdom builders or co-redeemers required

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My day job exposes me to a great deal of literature and communication from “activist” Christians—folks who are very (VERY) heavily concerned with social injustices, sex trafficking, poverty alleviation, and other causes (which, y’know, we should be concerned about). However, whenever I read books coming from this group, or written by people trying to appeal to them, I get a little squeamish about the language used, which usually sounds something like this:

We’re to be world-changers, partnering with God in redeeming this broken world and building his kingdom. 

But if that’s true… why doesn’t it ring true to what the Bible says?

Kevin DeYoung helpfully puts words to my awkward feelings about this in Why We Love the Church. There, he writes:

We need to be careful about our language. I think I know what people mean when they talk about redeeming the culture or partnering with God in His redemption of the world, but we should really pick another word. Redemption has already been accomplished on the cross. We are not co-redeemers of anything. We are called to serve, bear witness, proclaim, love, do good to everyone, and adorn the gospel with good deeds, but we are not partners in God’s work of redemption.

Similarly, there is no language in Scripture about Christians building the kingdom. The New Testament, in talking about the kingdom, uses words like enter, seek, announce, see, receive, look, come into, and inherit. Do a word search and see for yourself. We are given the kingdom and brought into the kingdom. We testify about it, pray for it to come, and by faith, it belongs to us. But in the New Testament, we are never the ones who bring the kingdom. We receive it, enter it, and are given it as a gift. It is our inheritance. It’s no coincidence that “entering” and “inheriting” are two of the common verbs associated with the Promised Land in the Old Testament (see Deut. 4:1; 6:18; 16:20). The kingdom grows to be sure, and no doubt God causes it to grow by employing means (like Christians), but we are never told to create, expand, or usher in the kingdom just as the Israelites were not commanded to establish Canaan. Pray for the kingdom, yes, but not build it. (49)

This, I think, is something we need to remember.

When I see people running around trying to be world-changers, all I see are people running themselves into the ground. Before too long, they’re completely frazzled; burnt out. It’s a burden that’s too much for them to bear.

Fortunately, God’s never asked us to be world-changers. Instead, he encourages us to enter into Jesus’ rest, and be thankful for what has been provided today. To trust him with the needs of tomorrow. And to do the work he calls us to—which, yes, does include social action—not in order to build our inheritance, but as those secure in the goodness of its Builder.


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