Remember when what you believed was relatively simple? As young children we believed that our parents were the best. We believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and that if we were good kids we would be rewarded with gifts and money under our pillows. We believed that the President was someone to be admired and that we could trust our leaders.
Then we got older. Our parents slowly lost their mojo. Their failures became more recognizable. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy . . . well, let’s just say that they suffered along with our parents’ mythical invincibility. And as we joined the workforce and saw our wages eroded by taxes and our politicians and Presidents morphed into talking heads whose only interest was padding their pockets and insuring their post political life was one of power and comfort. Life is way more complicated than the Pollyanna version that we believed as children.
What about God? When we were children, those of us raised in a church-going household were instructed that God created everything, and that he loves us. In fact he loves us so much that he sent his Son Jesus to die for us and pay our sin penalty so that any one of us who believes and confesses Jesus Christ as Lord will be saved from going to Hell when we die.
Then we go to school. And from very early we are taught that the universe and the earth were created by the forces of nature, slowly over billions of years. We are taught that there are other religions and that not everyone believes the same things about God that we believe. In fact, eventually we learn that there are some who don’t believe in God at all, but simply believe science and nature are they only things that can be proven to exist, so in all likelihood God does not exist.
Now here’s where it diverges. With politicians and parents and Tooth Fairies, we don’t make excuses, we don’t form apologetic systems to explain why Presidents are corrupt, and why parents are actually very flawed . . . rather, we adjust our expectations. We begin to expect corrupt politicians, and we expect our mothers and fathers to be less than perfect. So we make adjustments to how we view and understand the world around us, and in doing so we extend grace, forgiveness, and understanding more liberally to everyone.
Not so with our beliefs about God. Our beliefs about God are challenged by science, so we get our own Christian scientists to debate and offer new alternatives, trying to squeeze scientific explanations for things out of a book that isn’t actually a science book. Our beliefs about God get challenged by other religions, so we build apologetics teams that debate worldviews, challenge the veracity of their holy texts, and sometimes reduce their argument for Christianity down to a philosophical and logical matter. And then on top of those things, our moral framework is challenged by alternative lifestyles, so we protest, we boycott, we lobby our already corrupt government, effectively deepening the polarization of culture that makes sharing the Gospel difficult.
Let me confess: this was me. I have been in protest lines. I have boycotted. I have studied apologetics. I have studied Intelligent Design vs. evolution vs. evolutionary creationists. I dug deep into anthropic principles and irreducible complexity. And here’s where it led me. I became engaged in a political ideology through the protests and the boycotts. I became entrenched in defending the existence of God. I listened to scientists, I listened to apologists, and I was getting to where I could hold my own with most people in a debate on those issues. But something was amiss. In all of the protests, boycotts, discussions, debates that I entered into, none of them produced any new disciples. In fact, looking back, all those things did was make me into something I never wanted to become: a Pharisee.
By nature, I’m not an abrasive guy. Seldom was I making a public judgment about people. But I knew what I was thinking in my heart. And if I learned anything in Sunday School, I learned that a sin in your heart was just as real and sinful as a sin committed in action. However, that wasn’t occurring to me for a long time. I felt justified in my judgments. I thought things like, “How can any real Christian believe in evolution?” “How can a real Christian possibly support any business that gives money to Planned Parenthood or LGBT organizations?” Or how about this one: “How can a real Christian have alcohol in their home?”
Slowly, God began to show me that none of my judgments, none of my debates, none of my political action was doing anything to expand the Kingdom. In fact, I was doing more to widen the divide than I was to close it. What then? I was facing a crisis of belief. I had invested so much energy into things that were not only unfruitful, but damaging. I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do. I wasn’t even really praying very often because I had placed so much of my sufficiency in what I could do and what I could learn, that prayer kind of got left out of my life.
God began leading me to some friendships with men who by no means are perfect, but they have a deep desire, a deep longing for God. Gary, John, Khris, Byron, and Sean are five men who each in their own way put a fire within me to really pursue Jesus, and not bury myself in all of these other things. Through my friendships with these men, God began steering my attention away from the political action, the apologetics, the philosophical arguments, and back to Jesus. It was through these men that I was introduced to authors like A.W. Tozer, John Piper, Francis Chan, and Matt Chandler. Their books and their podcasts all helped me reorient my vision.
So yes, I’m a recovering Pharisee. What about all the challenges that Christianity is facing from science, philosophy, and other religions? Let me be clear and say that I think apologetics and Christian scientists, and the study of philosophies are important things, and I’m not suggesting we should stop doing those things. I still listen to apologists. I still study up on science. I still engage in philosophical discussions. But let me offer you three things that God is doing in my heart that maybe will help.
First, and most importantly, God is helping me rediscover the Gospel. This maybe the only one really worth mentioning because it’s so huge! The Scripture is first of all God’s story. What is the story about? The overarching theme is that of redemption! See, here’s where we get messed up. Creation scientists, and the guys at the Answers in Genesis have, for all their good intentions, helped people treat the Scriptures like a science textbook. I heard a man defending the literal seven-day creation say, “The Bible is the source of all truth.” Is that true? Can I turn the pages of the Bible and somehow decipher the complex mathematics that lead us to e=mc2? No. Is everything in the Bible true? Yes. Does the Bible contain all truth? No. Some will argue that the Bible’s history is incomplete or inaccurate. Same logic: can I turn to the Bible and learn anything about Chinese history or the history of the Indian people? No. Can I learn about the history of the Jewish people? Yes. Is everything in the Bible about the Jewish people reliable and accurate? Yes. We’ve got to stop treating the Scriptures as something that they are not!
So the logical question: What is the Scripture about? The Scripture is about redemptive history! God gave us the Scriptures so we could know him, and know how he has worked in human history to redeem sinful humanity! The only history you will find in the Bible is that history that is relevant to God’s redemptive plan for humanity in Christ! You won’t find scientific facts in the Bible except those that are relevant to explaining God’s plan to redeem humanity through Jesus Christ! Everything that God has revealed to us in Scripture is revealing to us his plan to redeem humanity and redeem the entire created order through Jesus Christ. That’s the Gospel! The Scripture is about the Gospel, nothing less, nothing more. So when you read all of the stories of the Old Testament, all of the violence, and when you read Revelation about all of the death and destruction, it isn’t about God’s wanton desire for violence, it is about God recreating everything – humanity and all of creation – so that his redeemed people can have a redeemed creation where there is no danger of sin, no temptations from flesh, no oppression from Satan. Scripture is all about God’s redemptive plan! Pulling out any other message dilutes its authority.
Second, the Gospel touches every area of my life. Simple statement, but deep implications for my emotions, my thoughts, my motives, my actions. What does that look like? How does that change me? How does that change the way I relate to others? How does that change the way I work? At every possible level, the Holy Spirit wants to mold me into the likeness of Christ. My maturity depends on my willingness to let him work on me deeply. This is one of those things that I was taught very early in my new life, but until I understood the Gospel, I really had no idea how to let the Gospel change me.
Finally, my desire to witness is growing. I’m not a huge evangelist. I don’t have a long line of people who have been born again because I witnessed to them. Plus, until recently I’ve always struggled with what to say. I was so caught up in the things I mentioned earlier that a simple Gospel presentation was always hard for me because I wanted to defend the faith, not present the Gospel. But since God has reintroduced the Gospel in my life and helped me understand what the Scriptures are all about, I don’t feel like apologetics and always being on the defensive are so necessary. Most people don’t have philosophical or scientific hang-ups with God. Most of them simply need to hear that God has already made a way for redemption in Jesus Christ, so stop striving and start believing! See, as the Gospel has become clearer, more beautiful, and simpler in my heart, sharing it becomes a delight. It’s like tasting a delicious apple pie, then calling my wife in to take a bite. Sharing is the natural response to something so great.
Remember when what you believed was relatively simple? The good news is that it can be that way again. I’m not saying that you can return to the same simplicity of five-year old belief. That is gone forever, ruined by growing up in a fallen world. However, child-like faith is uncomplicated, and having a redemptive view of Scripture, knowing that God’s Word contains all the truth that we need for understanding his redemptive plan in history, and to know how he’s redeeming the world through his son, Jesus Christ, restores simplicity to the message. It has made witnessing a greater pleasure. Why wouldn’t I share something so beautiful? God is calling us to something deep, something simple. That’s the Gospel.