Feeling closer to non-Christians than to fellow believers  

Posted by Denis Haack in , ,


I need your help.

I am writing a book about living in an increasingly pluralistic world; about what Christian faithfulness looks like in such a situation. I want my thinking—and writing—to resonate with life as we actually find ourselves living it, to be authentic, in other words. So I would love to have your reflections on an aspect of pluralism that can be unsettling. I’d like to know whether you have experienced it and if you are willing, how you respond to it. I’m not looking for a worked out thesis but simple honesty.

Here is what I’d love to have you respond to: A friend of mine, Greg Grooms of Hill House in Austin, TX was commenting on pluralism and said something like this:

Not only are there a variety of non-Christian ideas, convictions, and worldviews, some of these beliefs and values can be closer to us—to our beliefs and values as Christians—than they are to each other. And some may even be closer to us—to our beliefs and values—than that held and practiced by many if not most of our fellow Christians.

What do you think?

I’d love for you to reflect on questions like these, to the extent you are willing:
     Have you experienced this—would you be willing to share a few details?
     How did/does it make you feel—what was/is your emotional response?
     How did/do you respond? (Whether good or bad, thoughtful or instinctive, short answer or long, or even a rant…)

And if you are a non-Christian, of course you may have experienced it as well, and I'd love to hear your reflections as well.

I can hardly wait to read your comments. And thank you.

This entry was posted at Friday, November 12, 2010 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

45 comments

Not a very well thought out or explored response, but for many years I've held it as axiomatic that there is more difference within groups of people than there is between groups of people. This is why generalized group traits are so often unrepresentative of many people within those groups.

If you're going to draw any conclusion from your observation, it just might be that you don't find yourself in the center, per say, of Christianity. And I don't say that to suggest that your beliefs or attitudes are less Biblical than those of the "center." The Pharasees were definitely in the center of Judaism, but Christ certainly found more in common with "sinners" and tax collectors than he did with them. I think of "center" more in terms of visibility within Christianity, which can entail either a large number of people, or a small number of very loud people. Or, I suppose, a large number of very loud people. Neither of those traits, however, are logically linked with any suggestion of orthodoxy or Christ-likeness.

November 12, 2010 at 9:18 AM

Denis,
thanks for posting this insightful blog. It reminds me of the beginning of "Tangible Kingdom" which I began reading this morning. Hugh Halter, one of the authors, begins by saying that he often feels most comfortable around secular people or disenfranchized Christians. I've felt the same way and would put myself in the latter category at times...I won't say any more since I just started the book and want to ponder this more. peace.

November 12, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Denis, my gut reaction,

At times I've struggled feeling closer to fellow Christians. I guess I've experienced this particularly with fellow seminary students who seem so detached from the reality of suffering and sin, throughout the world and within their personal life. Sometimes when a Christian presents me with the image that their life is wonderful, their marriage is wonderful, their job is wonderful... I ask them "So why then do you need a savior? If you have no need, then you have no need for Christ."

Yet at the same point I have a lot of friends who aren't Christians, to whom the high point of the week is going out, getting trashed, and hoping to get some action. The isolation these friends of mine express drives them to continue the addictive behaviors. They have no real friends, no real family, and no real community.

So I guess I struggle to identify with both.

November 12, 2010 at 9:56 AM

Oh no! My comments got lost I think...and I will try to rewrite. I am looking forward to this work and discussion. It's something I have long thought about.
I have often found myself at odds with the church.
For example, I believe we are stewards of the earth, not plunderers. People in the church (at least mine) seem to make blanket statements as if everyone ought to roundly agree. I've heard buying organic is dumb, and all manner of comments mocking any sort of environmentalism. And to respond in certain situations is just not "safe."
I took a break from church, which I am still on, when the gay marriage issue came on the ballot in my state. There was a young man in my Bible Study who was generally known to be insensitive, and needed to be reeled in regularly, (He has a disorder) but instead of reeling him in, the leaders let him ride rough shod. He brought up how we need to "protect our families," and went on and on about how we need to pray the measure passes. I asked that we as a group not couch our politics in prayer, to which everyone agreed in word. But, he kept going. And then someone asked, what kind of children will gay parents raise? This in an exasperated tone. Um, kids like me. My dad was gay. I was a product of his attempt at going straight. I was more damaged than narrow minded bigoted people than his lifestyle. I think there are such more important issues than worrying about that. Why not put the same amount of money that went into the campaign against gay marriage into the stop sex trafficking of children campaign?
So, where did I go? I started a yoga, that trust me is not spiritual. If anyone read Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler's take on yoga, he said "you're not doing yoga." For me, it's just a workout. Anyway...it's also a community. I found myself with people who actually care about me. People know I am a believer. They are surprised, because the stereotype is not good. I can hold to my beliefs without being mocked, and it's okay that we all believe differently. It seems like at church people cling to being right. I also found even within the church people mocking other Christian expressions of faith, guilty of it myself at a time in my life.
I wish my original comments hadn't disappeared, they were a little more cohesive.

November 12, 2010 at 10:03 AM

Dennis, I believe that C.S.Lewis touches on this in both Mere Chritianity and The Abolition of Man. I'll try to post something more meaningful at some point, but off the top of my head with a thousand other things to do...that's what I thought of.

November 12, 2010 at 10:39 AM

I'm sure this is true. I think immediately of the dissonance between a biblical worldview and the political policies many Christians adopt uncritically as part of the conservative package. For example, what is a biblical immigration policy? Many evangelicals assume the Strong Borders policy of the political right without duly considering God's requirement to show mercy to the alien and sojourner, and to provide cities of refuge to those in danger.

Oh, but that could be costly and risky.

Yes. So?

On this one, I feel more in common in worldview with some with whom I would have sharp worldview differences on many, probably most, other issues.

November 12, 2010 at 11:08 AM

I appreciate how you delve for others' thoughts to stimulate your own. It is a joy to interact and be inspired to think intentionally as well.

For me, I have described myself as someone who feels most comfortable when I am the "most 'conservative' person in the room rather than the least 'conservative'" (note: I am generally described as a 'conservative' person). Although this applies to many areas, two that come to mind immediately, relate to emotion and creative self-expression (i.e. any of the arts). For the conservative, evangelical Christian, emotions have become scary and too mysterious for comfort. Art (music, poetry, movies), so often reflecting uncomfortable and raw emotions or evoking them in the viewer, gets pushed aside and avoided by conservative, evangelical Christian community. My own need for emotional and creative expression drives me toward involvement wherever I may find it - which alarms me. I run into the arms of pluralistic society, for there, at least, my gifts and nature find affirmation - I can still hold on to my core beliefs, while avoiding persecution for my gifts. What troubles me is that the Lord is Creator: the one who made beauty, and who made me as a reflection of Himself to delight in such beauty and seek to sub-create in His honor. My belief is that to walk faithfully in this age often means I must be salmon-like: swimming upstream towards Him and against the flow of both secular culture and "sacred practice" that is not God-honoring...

So, what is unsettling to me is that this area (passion/emotions/the arts) of pluralistic society is not wrong, per se; rather, we the church have been wrong: we need to bring this area firmly under the Lordship of Christ instead of sweeping it under the rug.

(praise the Lord there are more voices out there, including your own, that are saying similar things).

November 12, 2010 at 11:22 AM
Anonymous  

To be honest, this very situation is causing me to experience a crisis of faith.

I live in the Bible Belt, in a city where to be a "Christian" is considered the norm and a place where local Christians are heavily involved in local, state, and even national politics. One thing that has made me furious is that a Catholic Christian was voted out of office, though she held views that conservative Christians would certainly agree with, because she was the wrong party. A local powerful Christian university organized the students to vote for the "right party", in order to remove this person from office.

Instead they chose to back a candidate who switched parties in order to run, who ran on a "tea party" like stance (this was two years ago, so the tea party was just emerging), and who made no apology for his "we tax-paying upright citizens need to protect our wealth" ideas.

Because the Christian university organized the students and bussed them to polling places, they tipped the vote. The conservative Christian Democrat incumbent lost the race by a few hundred votes. The will of the college students overrode the will of the city who was actually represented. The VAST majority of these students are from out of state and will never be affected by one vote this person makes. The administration whipped them into a frenzy and then used them to place someone in office that could be controlled.

It made me ill. The constant party line of "you can't be a Christian and a Democrat" has caused me to regret even being tied to these people through the name of Christ.

That is a very ugly and superior way to feel, and yet, I still feel that way. It is hard not to be judgmental.

November 12, 2010 at 12:23 PM

I think this is an interesting quote from Greg. It is very broad in its scope and these terms (ideas, convictions, worldviews..) can all refer to our core thinking on a certain matter.

Perhaps you could say that we are accessing that solid core gradually through knocking flakes of stone off it. In terms of your study of pluralism, who can say by looking at the flakes on the ground what is being formed?

A line an illusion, a plane is an illusion, one must make decisions in every direction at once.

November 12, 2010 at 6:09 PM
Steve  

Jerry Bridges says we should not be scandalized by each other's sin. While that's true (very true), I believe it's equally true that we should not be surprised by one another's goodness. No, not morally meritorious self-righteousness, but image-of-God "very good"-ness. I was helped by Tim Keller's challenge that we should expect to see non-Christians doing many genuinely good things and affirming many good beliefs because it affirms who we are as human beings. The "very good"-ness we see in non-Christians is not in any way contrary to the distinctiveness of the Gospel or of our lives made new in Christ, but is rather the grandeur of God, the "shining from shook foil," the deep comfort that God is present even where he is not named or known.

However, I can't escape feelings of embarrassment that many non-Christians seem to have a more thoughtful understanding of, delight in, and unselfish stewardship of the world than many Christians who live with an underlying disdain for such material things because, after all, "it's all gonna burn." I'm embarrassed by these attitudes and actions of my brothers and sisters that are emphatically contrary to the Gospel. If I'm honest, I'm embarrassed when I see these same contradictions in my own thoughts, affections, and actions.

The antidote for disdain is a large-scale life-view adjustment. The resurrected Christ is the promise and first-fruits of the world made new. God is giving the world back to his people, and he's going to come live with us forever.

That leaves the Christians who really do want to figure out how to be a part of the "very good" enterprise of human flourishing but find themselves still stuck on the outside or on the fringes. My very unscientific hunch to explain this phenomenon is that we work too hard at making commonly good things "Christian." Of course we bring our devotion to Christ, our biblical understanding of sin and brokenness, and godly ethics to everything we do. But we work so hard at trying to make commonly good things "Christian" that we end up sucking the "very good"-ness out of them. I'm not interested in losing the few brain cells I have left to figure out how to grow a Christian tomato (and don't get me going on so-called "Christian music"). Is it not enough to grow tomatoes well without having to create this artificial bubble around tomato-growing that ends up turning human flourishing into something artificial, something cloaked with a creepy spiritualism? Tomato-growing to the glory of God is little more than lovers of Jesus growing tomatoes well. Tomato-eating to the glory of God, as some chap fond of wearing knickers would say, would be to let the juices dribble down your chin as you are provoked by the "very good"-ness of the tomato to say "thanks be to God." But for many of us, many of us functional idolaters, simply growing and eating tomatoes well is not enough -- we do not believe God will be glorified in it, and we do not believe that the omnipotent Spirit can use it to bring life to the truly hungry. But he is, and he will.

In the meantime, Christians who revel in the "very good"-ness of tomato growing should not be surprised to find a happy kinship with non-Christians who find an unfettered joy in the soil of God's grace.

Having pontificated, I must go repent again of my idolatry and lack of faith, hope, and love.

November 12, 2010 at 9:46 PM
Anonymous  

At one point in my life, I was experiencing intense emotional pain. Details are withheld for the sake of those who could read the blog. I'm unable to make a blanket statement about either Christians or those of other world views than my own. At that point, I did find that many Christians were afraid to approach me or face the reality of what was happening. If they handled my situation like they did others' who were going through difficulties, they were quite willing to share "prayer requests" which amounted to nothing more than quite detailed gossip. These facts combined to motivate me to pull farther into myself. At the same time, I found a friend who pursued my pain with tenacity and compassion; and she made no pretense of being a Christian. She would pull me aside, look me in the face and say, "Talk to me". She would listen without judgment, even though she knew I was making terribly dangerous choices. I had to wonder why the non-christian was more apt to display the character of Christ while a Christian withdrew with what sounded like a very hollow, "I'm just not comfortable [with that situation]". I rather doubt that the cross was comfortable, but Jesus endured it out of love. Since that time, I have found many Christians who will listen then listen some more, carefully think through their responses, then speak with compassion and grace. It's this foundational character trait that I look for in a person and what I hope to see Christ develop in my life. That down time in my life does still baffle me but I also know that there are many Christians who embrace the broken... which includes all of us at some point in our lives. I can't allow myself to be defeated by others' decisions. I can, however, surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

November 12, 2010 at 9:56 PM
Anonymous  

I'm not sure I would be someone who would have much to offer to help you. Please don't share this unless you think it actually pertains to what you were talking about. This is my first comment to you. So I may not be on topic given my ignorance of the entire rest of your website. But the first thing I think about regarding your book topic is the early church, not just in Acts, but the actions of the Hugenot and the stories from the Dark Ages. I think about missionaries when they enter any unreached culture. And how God has left His imprint in every culture, leaving His truth around and in creation so that the gospel fits perfectly when introduced.

When I think about my neighbor who may not love Jesus and how much in common I have value wise with her compared with a Christian friend who lives in another country, and how we have differing values, I hurt. I hurt because I have a bond and a desire to realize that bond with my brother. It seems to me that my brothers in other countries see my values that are similar to my neighbors as hung up on cultural values that may not line up with their view of the gospel. And I might see the same of them and their neighbors. But the funny thing is that as time has passed I'm learning about some areas that my brothers are right about. (eg- american materialism)

My neighbor who may not love Jesus, on the other hand, may have similar values as mine because I believe some areas of God's truth are revealed through common grace.

This became personal to me as my husband almost died of an addiction. My church had no clue what to do and some were afraid of even Christian psychological approaches to the issue. God made it massively apparent to me that He was leading me to go to Alanon. I was scared. I felt vulnerable and scared that in my vulnerability I might be taught something unbiblical that would lead me to believe untruth (forgetting the Sovereignty of the Provider.) I listened to all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds offering their experiences and learned principles of living with an addict. I realized that He brought me there to learn new ways to live in relationship with my addict and show me new areas that I need to depend on Him for. These people reached out to me, listened, gave me time, came to my house, hung out with me. I share my horrible events and fears and thoughts with them, just as they do. I share about my Higher Power and the actual miracles He's done in my life with them. He's not someone that I made up based on books from the library, or a conglomeration of thought that I glean from the groups.

November 12, 2010 at 10:02 PM

I don't think that is true. I think and experience, that the truly regenerate of any and all denominations sense a kinship with each other that is very much missing with interacting with the unregenerate, even where the unregenerate person in question has a much more substantial similarity in interests.


If one's beliefs and values are those of non-Christians and distant from Christians, perhaps ones beliefs and values are out of alignment with God, and the mind of Christ we ought to be cooperating with developing in ourselves through soaking our minds in the Word. Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Lutheran or Anglican, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox or Church of the East, certain basic doctrines which comprise our worldview are the same: pristine creation > fall > redemption, the Trinity (and thus love and communication from all eternity), the centrality of the Cross, Christ fully God from all eternity and fully Man from His mother's womb, Human beings created in God's Image and Likeness, renunciation of power over others, etc. The differences are trivial in comparision.

November 12, 2010 at 11:55 PM

Readers, all:
Margie and I are in Chicago this weekend, visiting our daughter. I am delighted at your comments and will respond as I can--but know my apparent silence or delay is not indicative of my interest.
Thank you.
I will return.
Denis

November 13, 2010 at 11:07 AM

Great quote and I resonate with it. For me what came to mind was a message I once heard, years ago, at a National Youth Workers Convention. The topic of conversation was why so many Christian college Freshmen bail on their faith once they leave their youth groups. And the thought was that they find better companionship OUTSIDE the walls of faith. That their faith systems did not prepare them for the opportunity to explore other faith traditions, geology, biology and the big world that lies beyond the box we tend to keep our faith in. The "answer" as to why kids bail on faith was that we've limited God. We've left little room for questions, mystery, curiosity, hurt, pain, chaos, and doubt. So, when kids encounter it elsewhere they resonate and go there. God is bigger than our box. So yeah, your post conjured up that image. I think it is true and it has stayed with me for a long time. We limit God and sometimes we make him so small that we cannot connect with the people in the box. Thanks for the thoughts and best to you on the project!

November 15, 2010 at 8:44 AM
Cal  

Denis,
What came to mind for me was the experience of escaping the Christian subculture. We live in a fascinatingly big world that has such variety. I love my non-Christian friends for what they bring to a friendship, even if some of it misses the mark. For me, I can't live in a world of exclusively "Christian music" - there is so much more. The notes of the Creator poke through. I prefer the local NPR station to the Moody station.

November 15, 2010 at 2:56 PM

Tracey, I love your post. I was at Bible college and still went through a serious time of questioning. Thankfully, there was a guy on our music team that responded to my questions with, "Ask your questions; you have a God that can handle them." It could well be some of the best advice I ever receieved. Denis, thank you for giving people a safe place to explore their deepest questions.

November 15, 2010 at 8:51 PM

The tie between pluralism and relativism interests me.

When I was a kid growing up in a small Alabama town, all the interesting people were white Baptists. As the culture of the small town South became more diverse, and I met interesting people who weren't white Baptists, I found myself in a crisis of faith of sorts.

The chief conscious reason for which I had become a Christian was to be like all the interesting people. Meeting interesting people who weren't Christians threatened my self-identity and the legitimacy of my faith. Retreating into relativism offered blessed relief from the tension. They aren't wrong; I'm not right. We're all just different.

November 16, 2010 at 8:38 AM

Scottie:
Your observations about Jesus and the Pharisees, vs "sinners" brings an interesting twist to the discussion. Part of the scandal that Christ represented involved relating to the wrong people in the wrong way, and as a result getting criticized by those who saw themselves as moral according to God's law. If we follow Christ, we should expect the same.

It's hard to know how to chart such things. Your "center -- loudness" scale is interesting, and is something I hadn't thought of before. That's worth mulling over, I think.

Thank you for commenting.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 10:41 AM

Doug:
Haven't read the book, but the one reflection you make concerning it makes me wonder if I should. I definitely tend to be, on average, more comfortable around non-Christians than Christians, for lots of reasons. Don't feel disenfranchised, per se, but am not certain what term to use that captures the sense I have. It makes me uncomfortable partly because I dislike, and do not believe in, an individualized faith. So I have intentionally placed myself in a historic tradition both ecclesiastically and theologically, and as a confessional evangelical believe that is important. Yet I also feel on the edge of the Christian community somehow, wondering why so many are so exercised about so much activity and blather. Of course, now I have crossed into hubris, and that must be resisted.

Perhaps this is what it feels like to be an exile.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 10:49 AM

j.a.crue:

Ah yes, distance on both sides. So true. Perhaps what we are struggling with is the yearning for home, a place where we can be fully, truly at home, without reservation, while we remain, for a while longer, in the place of exile. At least that is the one metaphor that seems to capture my sense of the struggle.

Thanks for your comment.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 10:52 AM

Cassandra:

No worry: your comment is both coherent and meaningful, and I'm glad you are part of the conversation.

You named two issues where I too have felt a disconnect from my brothers and sisters: caring for the earth and an insensitive political agenda effectively erasing the biblical command to love. Add immigration and undocumented workers to the list and the disconnect grows more severe.

I can see how your own life experience can make all this that more destructive. I am so sorry. The church desperately needs you, and yet will tend to resist you, your story, your gifts, your perspective.

May you find a safe place where you can find a sense of community where growth and grace are allowed to flourish.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:01 AM

choldridge:

Wouldn't be surprised: C. S. Lewis seemed to manage to comment on just about everything.

Gifts are not handed out fairly.
Thanks for commenting
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:02 AM

Keith:
Thanks for your comment--and you name a topic on which I too usually feel distance from my fellow Christians. The commitment to conservative ideology can be an idolatry--and sadly, often is.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:04 AM

becomingwhoiam:

You've touched on an area that is so vital, so central to biblical orthodoxy, and yet one where so often the Christian will find fellowship and affirmation not from fellow Christians but non-Christians: the arts. At least this is my experience, over and over, over all the decades of my life. I am not an artist, but it was beauty that brought me to truth in Christ, and so the arts have always had a central place in my heart and mind and life. There are circles where the arts are properly valued (like L'Abri Fellowship, and CIVA) but in the main I find non-Christians better able to respond to aesthetic things than the people of God.

You are correct: the Father is the Creator, so being blind to the arts is like being tone-deaf to your Father's expressions of love. Sad beyond measure.

The link to the emotions is a good one. For some reasons Christians think that embracing emotion means becoming Pentecostal--nonsense. The New Testament is so delightfully honest about the emotions Jesus experienced, and thus blessed in his being.

Don't give up.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:12 AM

Anonymous:

Your example of a political ideology becoming so dominant is an example, it seems to me, of idolatry. It is also selfish, since the political process was manipulated to enforce an agenda rather than used for the common good.

Sad.

The one thing I keep in mind is that being a Christian means being in a family, and most families have their share of assh*les.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM

Daniel:

Your lovely art metaphor reminds us of the fact we are on a pilgrimage, in a process of finding our way over a lifetime. The flakes don't reveal everything but they do at least indicate the process is underway, and can hint at the direction the yearning is taking.

Thanks for commenting.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:20 AM

Steve:
Your mention of the comments by Bridges and Keller are very apt, and your illustration of the tomato is right on the money. Thanks for commenting so thoughtfully.

And, sadly, your mention of embarrassment is also apt. It's a feeling I have often, and then find myself embarrassed at being embarrassed, and the cycle starts again, winging through guilt and anger on the way to naked hubris. It's a measure of my own fallenness, of course, but also, I think, a reflection of living in this in-between time.

I propose a toast, to tomatoes.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:26 AM

Anonymous:

During periods when we as a family have gone through very dark times, we too felt that discomfort from our fellow Christians. (Or received Hallmark-card like sentiments or mini-sermons on what to do.) Those that showed the most compassion simply were there, and listening, and said nothing. It was so healing.

May you know more safety with people, Christian or not, who can express glimpses of grace. I know I need them.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:30 AM

Anonymous:

Your comments are in fact very helpful. Your experience via your husband and addiction and Alanon is another naming of a part of life where the disconnect I have raised can become so evident. I am sorry you had to suffer this. Times like this can make us feel very much alone, too alone.

May you know glimpses of grace, and thanks again for commenting.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:34 AM

Stephen:

I do not doubt your experience, and do not question the kinship Christians have with one another. Your suggestion, however, that Greg's comment is untrue or a result of a lack of alignment with God is incorrect. It does not take into account either common grace or the fact that non-Christians are made in God's image. And it suggests that orthodoxy and orthopraxy is measured by similarity between believers rather than adherence to historic biblical teaching. To name merely one example, most conservative Christians are miles away from the biblical, creational mandate to care for God's creation. And as a result many non-Christians are closer, even though their reasons might be mistaken.

Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:40 AM

Tracey:

Great -- but sad -- point. I hadn't thought of what you brought up, though should have since I used to be in college ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It also mirrors my experience in the Sixties when I was in college. My church was threatened (apparently) by my questions, and every discussion ended with the insistence that if I loved God more my questions and doubts would be answered. So, it was my fault. My spirituality was poor, my faith was weak. My non-Christian friends, o the other hand, were eager to talk and found my questions and doubts interesting and worth serious conversation.

May the church become a safe place for questions, doubts, and even rants.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:45 AM

Cal:

Indeed, the subculture issue does creep into this, doesn't it. The example of radio is a good case in point.

As I read your comment, "We live in a fascinatingly big world that has such variety," I wondered how well that is believed--and embraced--by Christians. I mean really embraced as a grace, a richness, to be enjoyed simply for what they are.

Thanks for commenting, my friend.
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:49 AM

24/7 Mom:

You are welcome. And thank you for being part of the conversation. I am loving this.

Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:50 AM

Greg:

Nice gambit to expand the conversation! Of course relativism eased your tension, only to open a deeper more deadly one: If there is no difference, there is no meaning, either. A non-Christian can be more interesting than a Christian not because they are non-Christian but because they are made in God's image.

Of course, I don't live in Alabama, either...
Thanks
Denis

November 17, 2010 at 11:59 AM
Anonymous  

Okay, I read your comment on my blog comment and laughed. You are right. Most families do have their share of assh@les. I'm probably the biggest one of all most of the time.

I am reading Mere Christianity for the first time. In the first chapter, Lewis talks about what it means to be a "gentleman" and how the meaning of the word has changed. It used to be a station, now it is just an adjective. It helps me to think of these people (and sometimes myself) as "bad Christians" rather than heathens/fakes.

I think we do have to ask though if there are so many Christians being "bad Christians" in the political arena/arts/stewardship/showing love... Why? Why are we as a corporate body being so very, very BAD? Are we (as a group) deluding ourselves with our identification of Jesus as our Savior when we have no intention of giving up all we have so that we can follow him?

I guess I just find myself confused by what I hear and what I see... If God's love is so transforming, then why aren't we all more transformed.

November 17, 2010 at 6:27 PM

Anonymous:
The fact you weren't put off by my rhetoric means we could probably be friends.

You ask a wonderful question: "If God's love is so transforming, then why aren't we all more transformed?" I agree it is a surprising thing, and it is right to be confused by it--after all, Christ said the world had the right to conclude we aren't his disciples if we were not characterized by love (John 13:34-35). So, one possibility is the one you mentioned: "Are we (as a group) deluding ourselves with our identification of Jesus as our Savior when we have no intention of giving up all we have so that we can follow him?" I would say we all are not deluding ourselves, but could it be that some are? Sure. In many circles it's comfortable to be a christian, and that leads to delusion for certain.

But there are other possibilities.

Viewed historically, the church has a legacy of love: the abolition of slavery, efforts to educate and bring medicine, clean water and sanitation to millions around the world. Including into societies where the dominant worldview simply does not provide a basis for sacrificially establishing a hospital.

Viewed globally, the US church is a tiny fraction of the whole, and much of the rest looks very different. The church is growing in Africa, Central & South America, Asia and China. More people have been martyred in this century than in all previous centuries combined--we don't hear about them because they aren't white Americans. Globally the church looks very different.

Viewed in terms of past revivals, the church is complacent. Jonathan Edwards said that when the First Great Awakening broke out, the first wave of converts were leaders and "pillars" in the church. The American church has not been visited by the Spirit like that in a very long time.

And viewed in terms of faithful remnants (a biblical concept), there are pockets of lively faith that pop up in all sorts of places. Andi & Charlie Peacocke with The Art House in Nashville, Tim Keller with Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, L'Abri Fellowship in Greatham, England, and I hope it isn't presumption to list our little corner in Toad Hall with Ransom. If the church is, as I claim, truly living in exile as a fearful defensive minority in a majority non-Christian culture, then perhaps a remnant is all we can expect for awhile. At least we aren't alone.

Still, it is discouraging. But conversations like this help me keep on keeping on.
Thank you for having a part in that.
Denis

November 18, 2010 at 10:50 AM

Interesting side note re: persecution, Denis. I recently heard a quote of a Christian who's from an area of severe persecution. He said, "If you can be a Christian in [North America], you can be a Christian anywhere." He was referring to the fact that there's a strong tendency in North America to be unidentifiable as "Christian" in the true sense of the word. Last Sunday was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. The theme this year was, "Hearing Their Cry." I would suggest two things. One, that persecuted believers need us. Second, we need them. When we say that we have difficulty relating to other Christians, I wonder if that would be true if we broadened our scope beyond North America.

November 18, 2010 at 5:59 PM

Denis,

I'm sure you've read James Davidson Hunter's helpful book, How to Change the World. It gets at some evangelical responses to plurality. I haven't read Christian Smith's work, but he, too, addresses many of the same issues of political diversity with in evangelicalism. If you haven't read it, I'd commend it.

I was recently at a conference where there was some work on the Christian Left. This isn't to say that Christian Right rhetoric is any more helpful, but it seems that, as a discursive strategy, folks like Jim Wallis (and even Tony Campolo) tend to use rhetoric that bring the Christian Left (as an audience) into being by making villans out of the Christian Right, perhaps by emphasizing only a prophetic "message of doom" (Heschel).

Of course, Hunter would probably suggest that this kind of communication is indicative that both Christian conservatives and progressives work from destructive presuppositions about power. Personally,
I have been fighting, since I was the age of 15, to not villianize my more conservative brothers and sisters. It is a murderous temptation to which I often succumb.

November 21, 2010 at 7:14 AM

Naaman:

Thanks for commenting--and good to hear from you.

I have read James Hunter and Christian Smith, and agree they are helpful. I have also experienced similar things with the various members/leaders of the Evangelical Left and Right, and always come away troubled by the encounter. Not that I always disagree, but I find the characterization unsettling.

It's so hard to be irenic, at times. I do not want to demonize either side, yet finding a way to disagree so that one can be truly heard seems to border on the impossible.

I believe that the Christian tends to have a disability in these matters. Since we are concerned for truth, and since we believe God has revealed truth, we slip into the trap of thinking that every issue is equally vital because it is an issue of truth. And quickly the polarization deepens.

Blessings
Denis

November 22, 2010 at 3:02 PM

My reaction is that non-Christian worldviews and such that are more basic in our culture resonate with us because they have influenced us so greatly... like say materialism or patriotism. Even with more advanced systems like say Atheism, I think we Christians still identify with the desires of the hearts of others (like in caring for our families or desiring to live life to the fullest) because we are all human and share that trait no matter what.

Because of general revelation and the image of God in humanity there should probably always be this kind of thing to one degree or another right?

November 22, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Ben:
I agree. Our basic nature, created in God's nature, means there will always be shared beliefs, convictions, and values even when the creedal profession of two people are drastically different. We all have to live in the same reality. My fear is that too many Christians too often act as if this isn't the case.
Thanks for commenting.
Denis

November 23, 2010 at 10:29 AM

I'm still giving this a lot of thought. I've sometimes been sick of the church in North America. I've often heard that we're like the church in Laodicea. That's been stated with disdain and even hopelessness. Admittedly, I've felt the same way. I haven't read Colossians quite the way I did the other day. Paul was "contending for" and "working hard for" the Laodicean church, as well as the Colossian church. Paul was impressed with the faithfulness of the believers in this area but was also concerned about the lies of legalism that were being disseminated there. I wonder what level of disillusionment led to the state of affairs in Revelation. I wonder if we see some practical warnings for us in comparing the two books; or am I way off base?

November 26, 2010 at 9:11 PM

24/7 Mom.

I think we feel closer to non-Christians at times because they are made in God's image and therefore can and do embrace important aspects of truth. And sometimes we feel closer because the church strays from demonstrating love, or because it has allowed legalism to overshadow grace. And then like Paul we must not dismiss the church, for it remains the repository of the word and sacraments.

There is a lot we can learn from the 7 churches in Revelation 1-3, but I think it wise to not impose too strong a hermeneutical grid on them. Some, for instance, insist they be read as a historical overview, meaning the church today must be seen as Laodicean. I would prefer to learn from them all, and see them all as existing simultaneously (as they did when John wrote). Besides, the statement that we are now the Laodicean church is usually said dismissively, usually followed by some program of recovery, rather than said in grace.

Thanks for thinking and commenting.
Denis

November 29, 2010 at 10:30 AM

I've tended to see them all simultaneously as well, especially in recent years in my contact with folks from around the world. I try to avoid dicey theological issues because I tend not to possess the quality of tact as much as you. Do we have similarities to the Laocicean church? Some, yes. I deeply appreciate your comments and will look for your book when it's published.

November 29, 2010 at 4:58 PM

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