Sunday, December 21, 2008

So what?

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:19

I was in Barnes and Noble today, trying to pass the time after having my flight home to Portland for Christmas canceled because of the snow and ice there. (I finally got a new flight this evening but won't be able to fly out until Christmas day.) So while I was there I decided to check out the "Christianity" section, always a perilous adventure in a secular bookstore. And of course all of the regular jokers were well represented from the blatantly liberal Anne Lamott, to the unfortunately compromised Brian McLaren to the plain whacky gnostic "Gospel" trash. I worked at Barnes and Noble in Vancouver, Washington for almost three years, by the way, and while I had a great time working there, I eventually had to quit because my conscience would not allow me to sell a lot of the stuff we did.

So back to my story and my point. I was in the Christianity section and I noticed a face-out of two or three hardcovers of what was obviously a new book. I don't remember the title or the author but I could tell right away that it would fit well into the whole "emerging church" genre. I knew I was asking for it when I picked it up and what I found on the back and in the inside front cover was the same tired old refrain that I've heard so many times not only from emerging "Christians" but also from old-school mainline liberal Protestants. And here's the refrain: "secular unchurched people don't like Christians so we must be doing something wrong." The quote, "Lord, save me from your followers," was in large print somewhere on the cover of the book and two or three quotes, assumedly from the non-Christian-man-on-the-street, were also there, apparently to drive the author's point home. These quotes included the usual complaints, "Christians want to convert people," and, "Christians are selectively intolerant against certain groups."

Now, if by intolerance, these non-Christians, whom we are so eager to please, are talking about the likes of Fred Phelps then yes, I agree, we should be trying to counter-act that image. But I don't think we need books and sermons and tours of popular emergent speakers to do it. But the fact is that it is not the intolerance of Fred Phelps that is the problem. It is the intolerance of the Word of God that non-Christians and many Christians can't seem to handle.

The fact is, though, that I am very tolerant if you are defining tolerance the way it has been defined up until the last decade or so. When I say tolerance, I mean that I will live in a civil society with people with whom I disagree. It means that as an officer in the U.S. Army that I will give my life to defend the freedom of those with whom I vehemently disagree. But it does not mean that I affirm a person or their behavior in any way. In fact my attitudes and words and actions may be as far from affirmation as you can get. And thus we have the source of the "intolerance" attributed to Christians. I am the culprit. I must say that while I might not be affirming of many things about a person, I will always affirm that all people are made in the image of God and that God, in His love for people, desires that all would turn from their sin and accept the salvation that is offered only in Christ (1st Tim. 2:4). But I don't think those are necessarily the affirmations that the secular despisers of Christianity are looking for.

Another thing that strikes me as ironic is that these baleful cries of "people not liking us" are coming from the same people who tend to be so critical of schemes that would seem to "market" the church. But they seem to be suggesting that since Christians have a bad reputation we need to get a better advertising campaign going for Jesus. Maybe we'll just downplay all that stuff he said about hell and morality and we'll just portray a hippy-esque "buddy Jesus" à la the film Dogma. The fact is though that the most culturally friendly churches, those being the mainline/old-line Protestants are also the fastest shrinking. Last night I went to a Christmas service at a classmate's church which is part of the Independent Fundamentalist Churches of America. The pastors there went to the über-conservative Master's Seminary of John MacArthur. And this place was crawling with young families. There were more kids and youth there than I've seen at any church in a long time. And yet the liberal mainliners cling to this hope that if they can just be watered-down and progressive-culture-affirming enough then the floodgates of young, successful people will open into their churches. I think many emergents, perhaps subconsciously, have the same hope. I will continue to hope that their hope remains unfulfilled.

So in the end I say, "so what?," to the fact that a lot of people don't like Christians. I'd be more concerned if Christians were simply known as uncontroversial do-gooders. The message of the cross is supremely controversial and Christians also should inspire strong feelings and controversy. I was recently talking with the same classmate with whom I attended the Christmas service about a biography of Charles Spurgeon he recently read. He told me that Spurgeon was so persecuted on all sides that his wife hung a banner in his bedroom with Matthew 5:11-12 on it, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." I think we should be expecting the hatred and persecution which a great Christian and preacher like Spurgeon earned because of his faithfulness to God and not the favor with non-Christians that liberals and emergents seem so strongly to desire.

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