On Matters of Religion Today, Is Everyone from Missouri—“Show-Me”?

No matter where one lives today, it seems like everyone’s from Missouri—the “Show-Me” state. Missourians are often characterized as non-credulous: they are not easily convinced; sufficient evidence is required. When it comes to matters of religion today, many people are increasingly suspicious of religious claims, unless they are backed up by actions. One has to back up words with deeds.

Perhaps the author of James in the New Testament was from Missouri, too. Notice how he talks about the need to show faith backed up by works; otherwise, faith is useless:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (James 2:18-20)

I am especially struck by James’ words in 2:19: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” What’s the difference between the church and the demons in this case? Both believe in God. So, what’s the difference? The demons go so far as to shudder over the truth. In contrast, the church to whom James writes does not shudder over how useless their faith in God’s unity is apart from actions (James 2:18-20). The church then and now needs to unite faith and actions.

In a world where more and more people are from the state of mind called Missouri—the “Show me” state, it is important that Christians not only take to heart Josh McDowell’s apologetic claim that there is evidence that demands the verdict that Jesus is Lord (Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, rev. ed. {Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992}). As I have argued elsewhere, Christians also need to take to heart that the verdict “Jesus is Lord” demands evidence in our lives that he is Lord. (See “How Is Christ’s Church God’s Apologetic?” chapter 5 in Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths {Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012}). In this light, our faith must be backed up by works that demonstrate care for the poor (James 2:1-7) and the orphan and widow in their distress (James 1:27).

The unity of which I write here does not only entail integrity between faith and social action. Such unity entails integrity involving one’s personal life and social action. James writes, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27). Unity of faith that involves caring for orphans and widows in their distress and caring for the purity of our words and personal lives is increasingly important today in the state of mind called Missouri—“Show-Me.” Not only is it important to those increasingly cynical of religion, but also it is always important to the God of justice before whom we stand continually. Perhaps God is from Missouri, too.

I am excited that The Justice Conference Portland will be hosted by New Wine @ Multnomah U. This event is a great opportunity to engage justice themes such as those I’ve raised here. I hope you’ll join us on February 21+22 for The Justice Conference Portland. Here is a short video addressing themes set forth in this blog post and their relation to the conference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBiBrQnDZMM&feature=youtu.be.

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