I distinctly remember the days when I believed that salvation was a sales job. I grew up in a church that placed a premium on achieving “decisions for Christ” and that believed those decisions directly depended on my behavior.
First, there was the apologetics. I always had to have a “ready answer” for those who questioned my faith—and by that, my elders meant a snappy response to virtually any challenge, whether about the origin of scripture, the origin of the universe, or the ethics of Freud.
Then, there was the “lifestyle evangelism.” A “ready answer” is much less persuasive when it comes from an imperfect vessel. Thus, we had to live our lives with more joy, more wisdom, more love, more courage, and more perseverance than anyone else. What’s more, our friends and co-workers had to see our superiority so that one day they would turn to us and ask that magic question: “What is it that makes you so different?”
Finally, we worried about the competition. I sat through Sunday school classes about Baptists, about Calvinists, about Catholics, and about Mormons. I learned what “they” believed so that I could rebut it, so that my “ready answer” included a very specific defense of my very specific denomination. (Oops. I said “denomination.” I didn’t belong to a denomination but instead “the church.”)
The problem? The model couldn’t possibly work. No matter how much I studied apologetics, I’d never know more about evolution than a biologist, more about Kant than a philosopher, or more about Catholicism than a priest. I could have a ready answer about my faith, but about not much else.
As for my lifestyle? Simply put, I’m not that great. Why would anyone turn to me and say, “How can I be like you?” I struggle with a myriad of fairly obvious flaws and sins, and I’ve known people of many faiths who live with more courage, more love, and more wisdom than I ever have. I’m going to be the beacon that leads men to heaven? Really?
But—thanks be to God—Christianity is not a sales job. We’re not like used car salesmen, running flashy commercials with a shiny product asking our customers, “What can I do to put you in this car today?” In biblical Christianity, as opposed to consumer Christianity, God is the Prime Mover in our salvation, not man. And the goal is not life enhancement, but the reconciliation of our broken souls with a Holy God.
This is plain from scripture, from Jesus selecting his disciples, to Paul’s Damascus Road conversion, to the miraculous interaction between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, to the definitive declaration: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” In fact, since His strength is made perfect not in my awesomeness but in my weakness, my tremendous “lifestyle” wouldn’t be much of a draw anyway.
I haven’t thought much about the Bad Old Days of Sunday school, at least until I read Warren Cole Smith’s June 9 interview, where he stated “people’s souls” were at stake if a Mormon became president. What a perfect expression of consumer Christianity. Do our immortal souls hang on so fine a thread as the public image of politicians?
Sadly, if actions speak louder than words, I’d say that many Christians believe that “image is everything.” Slickly-produced stage-show mega-church Christianity is oft-criticized. But the yin to its yang, the “keepin’ it real” alt-culture of the emergent movement is just as image-conscious. Again and again, we worry about appearance and presentation and debate who is driving people away from God and who is pulling them close.
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Why do we believe that God would entrust something as precious as the individual soul to something so trivial as our voting decision? That’s not to say that votes don’t matter. Politicians help shape our culture, they make life-and-death decisions, and they can impact (though we often overstate their influence) an economy that shapes the material dreams of our own lives and our children’s lives. But presidents don’t save or condemn us, and their influence is inconsequential in the face of a sovereign God.
Is there any good fruit to come from the circular, fruitless, and sometimes nasty debate about Mormons in the White House—when ignorance about Mormonism is often trumped only by misconceptions about the very nature of God’s interactions with man?
Perhaps yes. Perhaps we can use this debate to remind ourselves that it is God, not man, who governs the fate of nations, and God, not man, who draws our souls to Him.
Salvation isn’t a sales job. It’s a miracle.