The recovery of orthodox Christianity—the shape of faithfulness (I)  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , ,


It grieves me to know that a watching postmodern world, our world, looks at the Christian community and concludes we have little or nothing to offer. This is not the way it is supposed to be. Jesus expected us to flourish in such a way as believers that our community, rooted in relationships of compassion to those inside and outside the church would stand out in a world were loneliness, alienation, and isolation are the rule rather than the exception. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples,” he said, “if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). If we truly believe that according to the Scriptures each person bears the dignity of being made in the very image of God, our treatment of them should demonstrate that belief (Genesis 1:27). “As far as living is concerned, we are on the knife-edge of time,” Francis Schaeffer insisted. “What will matter is our relationship to the Lord Jesus, individually and then corporately, at this existential moment. What counts, as [people] look upon us... is whether we are exhibiting God and his character, now. The Christian position is not static, but living.”

I have not been called into a position of influence in the central corridors of power and influence in our postmodern world. So when I propose a discussion on this blog about the “recovery of orthodox Christianity” I am under no illusion that we will be exploring a way to change the direction of history, a path for the church to follow to restore its authority and authenticity in our times. I don’t even think in those categories. What I am interested in exploring is more immediate, essential, and personal: What does Christian faithfulness look like for ordinary Christians—like you and me—in our increasingly pluralistic world?

Here are the first two elements I think should be included in our answer to this question.

Element #1—Our calling is to be faithful in the ordinary and routine.
            It easy to be distracted by programs promising extraordinary things, but mostly that’s all they are: distractions. At its most central core, our calling before God is not to do something spectacular but to be faithful in the ordinary things of daily life. Since I have written on this before—you can read it here—I won’t bother to develop the idea here or show its biblical foundation.
            It is a simple idea but profound in its implications. We need not add activities to our schedule in the hope of achieving something significant, because the work of our hands and the loving of those God has brought into our life can be done to his glory. Doing these things well may not result in notoriety but then the only approval that really counts is the “Well done” of our Lord. We may not see the results of our faithfulness but then God has not promised to always let us see them and said we are walk by faith in him.
            For some people this principle will mean taking time in community with trusted, safe, and godly friends to gain a sense of their giftedness and to determine what priorities the trajectory of their spiritual pilgrimage seems to suggest. They can be given opportunities to learn and experiment as a sense of calling slowly takes shape. For others this principle will require reducing commitments to open room for what’s important instead of what’s merely urgent. They can restore a better balance between work and rest, and then build from the knowledge of their calling to how their gifts and time can be used most creatively. For all of us we can ask whether we are flourishing as human beings. It will never be perfect, of course, but truly being faithful to God’s call in the ordinary and routine of life will be a path of flourishing because it is what we were made for in the first place.

Element #2Let’s start asking an obvious question.
            The question is one I believe we should ask ourselves, and one another, at the end of each Bible study, Sunday service, church discussion, personal devotions, or reading of a Christian book. The question is this: How can I talk about this creatively and winsomely to the non-Christians in my life so that they might be prompted to ask questions or be interested in talking about it more?
            My premise is simple. We live in an increasingly pluralistic world where more and more of our neighbors are unchurched. We have a faith that speaks intelligently, substantially, and creatively to every facet of life and culture because Christ is Lord of all. And so following Jesus in the world means among other things a willingness to speak in ways that intrigue unbelievers.
            Read Mark 4:1-20 and notice how Jesus talks to people. Here is the Second Person of the Trinity come in the flesh, and a big crowd gathers to hear him speak. He can say anything he wants. What does he say? He tells a story about a farmer sowing seed and how the crop develops in four kinds of soil. And with that he is finished. Reflect on that fact for a while.
            Here is the point: the story turned out to be so intriguing that “those around him with the twelve,” in other words, his disciples plus some of the crowd who just heard the story, stuck around and asked him, “What? We’d like to hear more. What did you mean?” And Jesus continued the conversation. You are the ones, he told them, to whom “has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.” Too often today when we talk about our faith or when someone asks about our Bible study all we can think to say is something that is factually true, but that also happens to be a conversation stopper. Whatever we say tends to be in language non-Christians do not normally use, about topics non-Christians tend not to discuss, and in terms so banal that they tend to end the conversation not intrigue the listener to want to hear and discuss more.
            How can we talk about this creatively and winsomely to the non-Christians in our lives so that they might be prompted to ask questions or be interested in conversing about it more? Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt to come up with something intelligent and winsome seems impossibly difficult. Most of us have never thought to pose or answer this question, so it will prove difficult. That’s why we need one another, and can profit from an array of gifts in a group. Keep at it, and let the creativity flow. And pray God’s Holy Spirit be at work in your minds and imaginations. If our Bible study was on Mark 4:1-20, and someone at work asks what we did last night, perhaps we could say something like this (choosing what would work best in our particular work context): Got together with a group of friends and talked about what it means to be spiritually receptive. Or, was in a discussion of an ancient text that speaks to some challenging things that can subvert our spiritual pilgrimage. Or… the possibilities are probably endless.
            We live in a pluralistic world that has become convinced that orthodox Christianity has nothing of substance to offer a postmodern person. The way we talk about faith should at least give them pause.

I hope you will leave comments about my first two ideas, pro and con, and suggest ideas of your own.

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6 comments

Being content to live an ordinary everyday life was one of the most freeing things I learned from the Schaeffers. To covet and hope for the sensational, the miraculous, the heart-stopper - as if I could orchestrate that anyway. But then to find the holy and sacred in the small things of life - that has been nourishment and delight. Thank you for helping me think further about this.

August 18, 2012 at 7:20 AM

It's been a delight and a challenge to spend a lifetime with you trying to live this out. I've come to think of Toad Hall as the little corner we've been given and within which we are to be faithful. Wanting a bigger slice of life can seem exciting but soon reveals itself to be a folly. This is sufficient, and walking together with you a great grace.

August 18, 2012 at 8:31 AM

I breathed a sigh of relief all over again reading your first point. I am constantly insisting that I be someone in history noteworthy - someone worth a biography someday. To think in these terms perverts a healthy desire for purpose which is rightly fulfilled in the glorifying of our Heavenly Father; it's the mixing-in of our fragile egos which drive us to compare ourselves to our brothers and sisters, staking out our worth in terms of books published, positions held, or the number of demands for lectures. (Does world-wide connectedness exacerbate this?) I sigh because the truth is I don't need to leave a legacy in these terms because, as you mentioned, our only real audience is God. Rather, I have to seek to be faithful with what he has already put right in front of me: my wife, my education, my home and budget, my work here at Covenant, etc. The truth is, when I humbly apply myself to these things, I find them hard enough.

August 22, 2012 at 4:09 PM

I've been praying for direction. It's possible that I'm already doing what God wants me to do. It seems to be the recurring theme of things I'm hearing. Very timely.

August 27, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Joseph:
You are so correct--ordinary things are extraordinary for finite people like us.
Thanks for commenting,
Denis

August 28, 2012 at 7:49 PM

24/7 Mom:
Glad it's timely. It's also timeless, which is sweet.
Thanks
Denis

August 28, 2012 at 7:50 PM

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