Does becoming a Christian make life better? Will converting to Christianity solve all your problems? Will you be happier or more prosperous? Will your circumstances will improve as you live by “Biblical principles”?
This is a common assumption in the church. You may have heard of a little booklet published by Campus Crusade (now called Cru) way back in 1952. Written by Bill Bright, it’s called “The Four Spiritual Laws,” and was intended to be used as an evangelistic tool to quickly and concisely share the gospel. According to this booklet, the first law is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That sounds so positive. Who wouldn’t want their life to follow a wonderful plan?
What if you had never heard of Christmas?
Here in the U.S. almost every house in our neighborhood has some sort of decorations up. Santa is at the mall, and the stores have been pushing gifts for months. At least one radio station has been playing Christmas music nonstop since Thanksgiving. Our tree is up, the stockings are hung, and the calendar is full of invitations.
One of my good friends read my “Bait and Switch” article and wrote me a thoughtful email about another kind of bait and switch that has become a significant issue in the church. She gave me permission to fill out her thoughts; the resulting collaboration is today’s post.
There is another bait and switch—not pulled off by God, but by the church—that is weakening the Body and causing dissatisfied “customers.” We, the evangelical church, are “selling” the gospel as merely therapeutic, rather than as the Good News it truly is.
After reading scores of stories describing how my Christian brothers and sisters are suffering and dying for their faith, I had to stop and ask, doesn’t God see this? Doesn’t God care? How can the good, loving God I know let such horrors happen to His chosen people?
I was having a hard time getting around these thoughts when I came across an article written by a contributor from the Middle East, and adapted for INcontextMinistries by Mike Burnard. (You can see the original adaptation here.) That article has provided the inspiration for some of my thoughts here.
We in the West are too comfortable. We have a hard time acknowledging that our God might ask us to suffer social ostracism, ridicule, or insult. Even more abhorrent is the idea that we might suffer physical loss for following Jesus. “Sacrifice” means getting up Sunday morning and going to church instead of lying around in bed reading the newspaper. (And our pastor had better finish the sermon in time for the afternoon football game!) While we hope that we would be willing to die for our faith, in reality we suspect that that level of commitment will never be put to the test. Thus, our theology can’t accommodate the true suffering of others.
I was reading yet another article on the travails of Mark Driscoll (a whole separate topic) when I came across this statement:
It seems that these are the three areas where Christians most likely to fall into sin—pride, sex, and love of money.” … First John 2:15-17 calls them, “All that is in the world—the lust of the flesh [sex], the lust of the eyes [love of money], and the pride of life.” In other words—passions, possessions, pride.
It’s true that we tend to consider these the “Big Ones.” Most sins can be placed into one of these three categories. For example, we’re told not to covet our neighbors’ goodies. That would fall under “lust of the eyes.” We’re not to covet his wife either, lest we succumb to “lust of the flesh.”
Today is Independence Day, the day we celebrate the birth of a nation dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’ve been mulling over just what that means, particularly in an age where our liberties seem to be diminished more and more. We read that we’re under surveillance by our own government, we trade our rights for an illusion of safety, and our elected politicians don’t obey the laws they’re sworn to uphold.
When telling someone else about your faith, what do you think is most important? A clear, concise presentation of the Gospel? Good theology? Answers to all their questions? An exciting testimony?
No question, all those are important. As the church, we’ve put a lot of effort into making sure we can explain the Good News in a way a non-Christian can understand. We have tracts, websites, and billboards. Churches and neighborhood Bible studies describe themselves as seeker-friendly. We take classes in evangelism, learn the “Roman Road” verses and memorize John 3:16. Fans hold up signs at ball games and players tattoo Scripture on their arms, crediting God with every win.
With all the witnessing going on, you’d think the church would be growing by leaps and bounds—but it isn’t, at least here in the U.S. Why not? Could it be that we’re going about evangelism all wrong?