Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Christian & the Secular

Boundaries were never intended to become inescapable prison cells, where the external actions are more important than the heart and where God is patterned after our image. Yet that is exactly what happens when we treat boundaries as inviolable boxes. God must be comprehensible. Life must be reduced to the lowest common denominator. The world must be classified as either/or with no room for “both,” “and,” or “neither.” Everything must be Christian and therefore safe for consumption—or not.

Such a view of our world, however, denies both the doctrine of human fallibility and the gift of God’s common grace.

Author J. Mark Bertrand puts it this way:

“You cannot draw a line between the Christian and the non-Christian, between the evangelical and the non-evangelical, between us and them, and declare everything on one side safe and everything on the other suspect…For one thing, every person and thing is tainted by the fall which means there are no pure influences under the sun. For another, God’s grace and truth are active throughout creation, which means that not only do we get lies from truth tellers, but we also get the truth from liars.”
(Re)thinking Worldview, Chapter 7, “A City Without Walls: Five Lessons for Siege Warfare”

What Mr. Bertrand is saying is that Christians can and do make mistakes. Often such mistakes are unintentional, but it doesn’t change the reality that we too are “sinners saved by grace.” Moreover, we all start our journey in following Christ as infants, who must grow up into mature believers. And just like physical babies, children, adolescents, and even adults, we will err and even outright disobey some aspect of Christ’s teaching along the way as we learn to live according to our faith. Yes, those mistakes should become rarer as we grow. Yes, those things labeled “Christian” have increased odds of conforming to the standard of Scripture. But this doesn’t mean wrong teachings and interpretations never happen.

So when we automatically assume something “Christian” must be true, we lower the defenses around our minds and hearts. This, in turn, allows error to creep in unchallenged and undetected, which can then infect other areas of our lives. Even worse, we become easy prey for false teachers, who excel at getting themselves braded as “Christian.”

Now just as we can “get lies from truth tellers,” it is also possible to “get the truth from liars.” Or as apologist Gregory Koukl notes in his book Tactics, “a nonbeliever’s conclusions should not be dismissed because he is not among the ‘faithful.’” (Chapter 12, “Rhodes Scholar”)

Yes, just as the Christian has increased odds of conforming to biblical truth, the secular is less likely because the god of this world has blinded their eyes (2 Corinthians 4:4). Yet God frequently uses those not of His people (think Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus in the Old Testament), sends the rain on the righteous and unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), and has displayed His power in creation so even a non-Christian can’t miss it (Romans 1:20). Moreover, the non-Christian has to live in the world God created and abide by its rules, whether or not the person acknowledges those rules. As a result, the secular often becomes an unwitting vehicle of truth—if we will only listen.

But when we trash the secular as having no value simply because it is secular, we develop an attitude of spiritual superiority, which is nothing more than pride in one of its most heinous forms. This results in our churches becoming ingrown, and we lose touch with the very world we are to evangelize. Finally our vision narrows and our perspective deteriorates until we become irrelevant—even though the God we serve and the message we proclaim are anything but irrelevant.

And that is a tragedy indeed.

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