God’s Broad Shoulders

One of the fascinating aspects of my profession is that I come in contact with a lot of Christians who want to engage with their faith in a deep way. Rather than being content with showing up on Sunday or being CINO (Christian In Name Only), these folks want to understand the Bible better and tease out the implications for their lives.

On the flipside of this, many of these same people are afraid to engage with their doubts in a deep way. It’s almost as if, doubts and questions are treated from a distance–“I don’t struggle with this, but…”

The biggest breakthrough in my own journey of faith came through (and continues to come through) engaging my doubts and questions as my own. They are not theoretical. They are honest struggles: problem of evil is the perennial one. I was in the throes of one of these bouts several years ago when a friend told me, “God can handle your doubts.”

I have used this same bit of advice for my struggling friends and self. If truth is not relative. If God is truth. Your doubts and questions will not overthrow this objective, transcendent truth. It’s not as though you are the first to struggle with doubts and fears and pain. The heavens will not collapse under the weight of your doubts. You won’t come up with a question that will cause God to close up shop. You can honestly engage with your doubts and fears and pain and suffering without having to be quick to give the typical and trite answers to matters of faith.

Go ahead, roll your burdens on God. He’s got broad shoulders.

Blow the Roof Off

Reading through Os Guiness’ new book, Fool’s Talk, for an Honors Seminar I’m leading on the art of persuasion. It is EXCELLENT.

I find that too many apologists take the defensive in explaining the Christian worldview. That has a place, but I would recommend that after you listen and listen and listen some more to the person you are engaging in dialogue, that you take the offensive. Of course, this is not being offensive, but taking the offense in showing the foolishness of the worldview. At some point the team has to score. If they only have defense, they will not score (okay, for the nay-sayers, the defense can score on a take-away…but even then there was an aggression to get the ball and not merely to prevent…BTW, prevent defense is such a great way to lose a ballgame, isn’t it?).

Here’s a juicy quote that I have underlined in the book:

From Jesus onward, the dynamic is crystal clear in Christian proclamation. “The tree is known by its fruit,” Jesus said–not by its seed (Mt. 12.33). If you had tried to persuade the prodigal son to return home the day he left home, would he have listened? If you had spoken to him the day he hit the pigsty, would you have needed to persuade him? Always “see where it leads to,” St. Augustine advised when dealing with false ideas. Follow it out to the “absolutely ruddy end,” C. S. Lewis remarked with characteristic Englishness. “Push them to the logic of their presuppositions,” Francis Schaeffer used to say. Too many varieties of unbelief are halfway houses. Too many unbelievers have not had the courage or the consistency to follow their thoughts all the way home –Fool’s Talk, p.118 (emphasis added)

Modern-day Power Encounters

I remember reading in my Perspectives Class on world mission a phenomenon called “power encounters” whereby a missionary would directly confront the idols of the day in some bombastic way to show the futility of such idols. For example, tearing down a totem pole or cutting down a tree (if these were the items of worship) in an area. While the confrontationalist in me loves the idea, I wonder how much was missed in these opportunities to really get to the heart of idolatry–namely, through teaching that idols are nothing (1Cor 8.4). Yet for those who worship an idol, it is very much a real thing.

I am currently reading Roland Allen’s formative text on mission, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, and have been immensely helped (in tandem with Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret). Regarding the moral and social condition in which Paul preached, Allen makes this side comment:

Incidentally I should like to remark that in heathen lands it might still perhaps be the wiser course to preach constantly the supremacy of Christ over all things spiritual and material, than to deny or deride the very notion of these spirits. Some of our missionaries know, and it were well for others if they did know, that it is much easier to make a man hide from us his belief in devils than it is to eradicate the belief from his heart. By denying their existence or by scoffing at those who believe in them we do not help our converts to overcome them, but only to conceal their fears from us. By preaching the supremacy of Christ we give them a real antidote, we take them a real Saviour who helps them in their dark hours” (pp.28-29)

Allen brings balance. Too often preachers can assume they are preaching the supremacy of Christ, but they never pinpoint what exactly he is supreme over. Put another way, we preachers can preach rather generically. “Jesus is Lord over all!” We declare full throttle. Yet those listening have not been helped.

What is he supreme over?

He is supreme over your doubts of salvation. Your incessant anger. Your slavery to lust and pornography. Your boring and romantic-less marriage. Your bad parenting. Your disobedient children. Your greed. Your self-doubt. Your self-aggrandizement. Your obedient children. Your good parenting. Your healthy marriage. Your pure eyes. Your self-control.

He owns you. Therefore, the world doesn’t revolve around you anymore. Instead, he sets you free to think of others. Even more, he empowers you by his Spirit to think of other more highly than yourself. Your fears that you will be passed over for the job promotion. Your self-righteousness toward your unbelieving neighbor is set under his lordship in such a way that you no longer possess the answers, but are possessed by One who does. You cannot gloat that you understand the world en esse. Rather, you are saddened by the way the world actually is.

So, Christian, we need a modern-day power encounter. Not where we smash totems. But by understanding the world around us and helping others see our need for a Savior. We limp forward together. We bind up wounds together. We use the splint our arm is wrapped in to bind our neighbors’ arms. Thereby we see that instead of hiding the idol in shame, our neighbor is free to admit the idol and know that he will not be condemned but helped.

There Is No “Better” Without a Standard

C.S. Lewis wrote:

“Our ideas of the good may change, but they cannot change either for the better or the worse is there is no absolute and immutable good to which they can approximate or from which they can recede” (“The Poison of Subjectivism” in Christian Reflections)

Without a standard that stands outside of the observer, there can be no judgment as to whether something is better than another. It may appear better to you, but you will be caught in a swirl when you seek to tell your friend that vanilla is better than chocolate. Thus, what is so wrong with our current situation in dialogue with others of opposing views.

Someone who does not hold to a standard outside of their puny world (myself included) has no right, whatsoever, to tout what is good, better, best for anyone save himself. We are, indeed, walking amidst thorns with Tom who claims, “Your truth is good for you but not for me.” Well, what truth is good for you? I might ask.

At face value, Tom may seem open-minded and accepting. But when we pull back the layers, we find that Tom is just as bigoted as I am! We find that he thinks I ought to believe x. Indeed! Upon what grounds? Tom has no grounds to tell me what I ought to do if he does not appeal to an objective, outside authority. Because, I might say, “Your truth, Tom, is good for you.”

This is not a primrose path, however. What we find is that when my truth and your truth are antithetical. For example, I believe that all men are created in the image of God and owe obeisance to their Maker. You believe that we evolved from monkeys who, in turn, evolved from a protein solution over billions of years (or was it billions of millenia? or was it millions and billions of billenia? Is there any consensus on this, really?). Perhaps the outside standard is Science. Is not Science formulated in finite, geographically, and culturally-bound  labs by finite, geographically, and culturally-bound scientists. Why ought the Easterner hold to a Westerner’s conception of what is observed? Johns Hopkins cannot possibly begin to give parenting obligations to the Bedoin who lives near the Aqaba Sea! Surely, our hubris cannot extend that far!

No, I believe based upon a objective, external, eternal axiom revealed in the pages of a Book by the Creator. My deontological claims do not rest in my assumptions and observations, but on the revelation of Another–who exists outside of my finite, geographically, and culturally-bound world.