Aaron, nice post. However, while you are addressing some extremes that need attention, I would like to also present some extremes we should correct, along with some balanced principles which I think xians should be pursuing. But my concern is not so much with making unbelievers happy with us (although that may happen as some imbalances are fixed – and of course, that is a laudable goal), but with making believers mature.
10. Inner Life v. Life of the Mind – Develop your inner life first, and your mind second.
Better than being intellectually superior or being right is to be Christlike inside. It is easier to learn argument and rhetoric than it is to allow God and the truth to change you on a daily basis. Make time to spend with God in study, meditation, reflection, and praise.
9. Personal Faith v. Church Involvement – If you are not part of a spiritual community, you can’t be spiritually mature.
Being spiritual without spiritual relationships is like being married without a loving relationship – you think you’re all mature, but an actual relationship tells you where you are really at. Being a church member alone won’t make you mature, but developing an inner life AND being in relationship in a spiritual commuity will make you mature. If you are not in vital relationships in a local church or parachurch ministry or some spiritual community, you’re probably just a clanging gong, of not much use to God. Lone-Ranger Christians are kidding themselves if they think they are going to mature on their own. But so are church members who don’t maintain an inner life with God in addition to vital church involvement.
8. Isolated faith v. Worldview Development – apply scriptural principle to all of life.
The Bible is not just some handbook for how to pray in your bedroom. It’s filled with principles for all of life, including relationships, career, finances, AND how to relate to God. Don’t make the mistake of separating faith into a corner of your life. Make Jesus lord of all, and you will prosper in every area. However, be careful to not exercise a type of Bible idolatry, where you reject wisdom because it comes from a non-biblical source. God spoke through a donkey once, and he can speak through any “ass” if you are listening. ;)
7. Biblical principles v. Religious Principles – not all of the bible should become civil legislation, but some of it should
Just like scripture speaks to every area of my personal life, it has much to say about public policy and public life. However, it does not recommend a theocracy, but it does have spiritual principles which need to be applied. In the public realm, we must attempt to apply scriptural principles that can be supported with appeals to natural law and a common ethic, not just appealing to the bible. For example, we could attempt to create legislation that helps track down and make dead-beat dads take responsibility for their kids (which is biblical, but also, can be argued from natural law and ethics), but we can’t make women wear head-scarves, since that is purely a religious idea with little natural law or ethical impact on society.
6. The Gospel v. “Isms” – we need to keep the gospel as our primary focus, but not let go of pursuing biblical ends in all of life and society.
Aaron piped up that we should preach less on Creationism and more on the gospel. Some, like the venerable author of The Purpose Driven Life, ONLY preach the gospel so that our other isms don’t interfere with faith. Others focus so much on apologetics that they don’t preach the gospel at all, and give the impression that you have to agree with them or you are not Christian.
We should do both, but keep them in proper perspective. Is there value in learning about and teaching about creationism, or biblical policy making, or saving the unborn from abortion? Absolutely. Do people need to buy into these to become believers? No. As it is said, “in the essentials, unity, in the non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity.” But let’s not throw out biblical thinking and social reform because they interfere with the gospel. This tension between the gospel and other biblical teachings will always exist – the gospel is for the beginning of xian life, and biblical living is for those who want to move on to maturity. Let’s not make maturity part of the entrance requirements, nor conformance to our ideas about the non-essentials.
5. Being In the World v. Of It – we should not withdraw from society, and can be culturally relevant, but should not bow to the world’s value system
We are not supposed to live in our little religious cloisters, but to live in the sinful world, being “salt and light”, i.e. having a preservative and enlightening affect on society. However, we must be careful to not adopt the world’s values – that is, giving in to the lusts of the flesh (over-indulgence or immorality with food and sex), the lust of the eyes (the desire for possessions), or the pride of life (seeking fulfillment through power, prestige, and wealth). Also, we need to be “wise as serpents but harmless as doves” – that is, we should know how the world operates, and not be naive, but we should not be harmful to others (note: truth may be painful to some, but it is not harmful any more than the surgeon’s knife).
Another way we can stop being like the world is by not stooping to angry, name-calling rhetoric in public debate. Jesus said “they hated me, they will hate you also.” But hopefully, they hate the content of our message, not our lack of compassion or our prideful or patronizing presentation of the content. Easier said than done.
4. Legislation v. Preaching the Gospel – Following the Tripartite Model of Man in a balanced, prioritized fashion.
Social reform must address the spirit, soul, and body of man, in that order (though efforts can be made in parallel). What this means is that we should first address the spirit of man by preaching the law and the gospel to awaken and transform individuals. This is the church’s job. Second, we need to address the soul of man, educating the public by employing the media and universities to educate the public on biblical wisdom for living and society formation. Lastly, we need to physically limit (the body) of the minority who are still bent on doing society harm. We do this through legislation. In recent times, xians have spent more time on legislation than in the other two areas. We need to catch up in these areas, esp. preaching and living the gospel.
3. Service v. Proclamation of Truth – we should be doing more serving and less talking – until we have earned the right to speak.
It is easier to preach than it is to serve others while living out the truth ourselves. This is because the latter is sacrificial, while the former does not have to be. Paul the Apostle said that faith, hope, and love, are all important (so we should not jettison any of them), but that love was the most important. James says “if any of you are wise, let him show it by his good works.” James also defines true and undefiled religion as “helping widows and orphans in their time of need.” Does this mean we stop preaching the gospel or teaching the bible? No. However, it does mean that we should emphasize a life of service as a primary part of our lifestyle.
2. Asceticism v. Enjoyment – we need to see the hurting world and make financial and time sacrifices to make a difference, without losing our love and enjoyment of life.
Christians often fall into one of two extremes – in America, we often overdo it with enjoyment, and forget about the poor and needy. Some on the opposite extreme live joyless lives of sacrifice, looking down upon anyone who believes that “God has given us all things to enjoy.” Each person needs to obey his own conscience, but I think we need to keep the needs of the world in front of us so that we are out there making a real difference.
1. Hubris v. Cowardice – we need to pursue God’s directives without being afraid of what worldly people think, while remaining humble enough to realize that we don’t know it all and can learn from others.
The problem with truth is, as Paul said, it makes people proud, and it separates people. Any time an immature person is given truth, it’s like giving a child a sword – they feel the power of it, but since they are untrained and immature, they can end up hurting themselves and others. Christians may have a lot of truth, but that’s no excuse to be all prideful and feeling like we are any better than others. Anyone who has pursued the life of faith for more than a decade knows how many misunderstandings one can have in the early years of faith, and even in the later years. However, this understanding should not keep us from boldly proclaiming truth – we need to do so so that others are “rescued from this present evil age.” As Paul says, we should humbly entreat people to repent. But we should also rebuke those in error, and be “bold as a lion.” It is possible to be bold and humble at the same time. Let’s not be quiet cowards or loud pride-mongers, but loud and happy that Jesus is giving us life every day and for eternity.