It has become a “don’t back down, double-down” world.
Many increasingly feel like they are being pushed too far. The “other” is more so all the time… and there is felt to be little truth in them. As time rolls on we seem, as Charles Murray has put it, to be “coming [further] apart”.
Tomorrow, several lawmakers plan on boycotting the inauguration of the President of the United States. In like fashion, pro-life woman, out of step with modern feminist ideology, are being excluded from participating in the Woman’s March on Washington. Many on the left also wish that they could boycott Peter Thiel, whom they consider to be insufficiently gay or not really gay at all. And among calls for government and big business-assisted action, more conservative reporters and news organizations were basically identified as a contagion to be isolated by the New York Times already in last November (right before the election of Donald Trump) for producing “fake news” (see my own analysis on the “fake news” issue – in short, “selective reporting” is a common human practice).
I am therefore not surprised when a Pew study shows that those who are “consistently liberal” in their politics are much more likely than those who are “consistently conservative” to “drop a friend” because of politics.
But politics, as we Christians know well, it is not all there is. For we know of the news that is really important and interesting. That is, the good news that Jesus Christ is the light of the world – the light no darkness shall overcome!
And now is the time for the church to shine!
This doesn’t mean that we can avoid “doubling down” ourselves. It means that we “double down” in a peculiar kind of way, a way that is distinct from the world around us. “Repent!,” in fact, is the language of love. Unlike many harsher phrases, it, even if it is said badly, must not mean “to cut-off” or damn. No. It must look to unite all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10).
So how, in particular, can Christian schools continue to remain Christian, looking to be that shining city on a hill (no that is not America!) that Jesus spoke of?
First, we need to realize that, generally speaking, we really are much more eager be kind and patient with those we disagree with than they are us. When people say we are being unreasonable, mean, harsh, demeaning, close-minded, intolerant, etc. – and that they are even thinking about “unfriending” us – we typically want to know just what we are doing wrong. Truly saddened by their evaluation, we want to listen. We don’t want them to feel “unsafe” around us!
But we cannot be so blissfully unaware, so hopelessly naïve. Rather, because it is the truth which frees us, we need to be “anxious for the fray” – loving them by anticipating their moves and planning ahead. After all, when it comes down to it, there is nothing less safe than being outside of Christ and His love – and hence, His people, His beloved bride, His church.
This leads to the second answer, which is the main one: to realize that the positive message we proclaim – Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection that saves from sin, death, and the devil – is a treasure beyond all human comprehension.
Not only does the world not even begin to realize this – the bride of Christ itself, the church, does not even understand just how good this message is. Just like Jesus’ twelve disciples were perpetually clueless and of little faith, the same holds true for us!
And, perhaps, sometimes it takes outside voices to help us see this… Teaching an introductory class to Christianity at Concordia University – Saint Paul for six years now, I’ve been blessed to interact not only with students who are Christians, but also those who are nominally Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, animist, black, white, gay, lesbian, agnostic, and atheist. Given the fact that I try not to water anything down – teaching about both God’s law and gospel – what I hear from many of them has often surprised me.
In sum, I see, from unsolicited words that I have received (they are required to do two-sentence journal entries about anything they want), that God has made many of them see more clearly….
Just a few examples from the last year (here is a more complete list of quotes I published yesterday)….
A married atheist-lesbian student wrote to me:
“I have a greater understanding of the salvation Jesus gave when he offered his life as payment for sin. Most importantly, I have a greater respect and admiration of Christianity and the hope and positivity it offers.”
The first week, knowing full well where I stood, she said this to me:
“I don’t know for sure if my religious beliefs will change, but I know the Bible has enriched my life. To me that is a good enough reason to keep pursuing it. Thank you for offering this course with such grace and honesty.”
One of my Jewish students, recalling the required church-visit assignment, noted the following:
Going to this service was quite an eye-opening experience. Reading the Bible over the past few weeks has been interesting, and reading the commentary in the NIV study bible even more interesting… However, hearing the Bible verses, teachings, and lessons from the Church was a whole different experience, especially when you add the community aspect. I can now see why the Bible states that Church is so important. These words could not be more true: “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17)
An animist student writes:
“As someone who knew nothing about the religion, it continues to interest and provide me with a different perspective of certain situations whether around the world, or here at home. What has stuck out the most with me is the love God and Jesus has for human beings… I enjoyed the class and learning about the Christianity faith! Thank you!”
And then, getting away from all of this “identity” stuff, there are also these general reactions (again, all of these are unsolicited comments from the past year):
- “I enjoyed your class! It has put a new perspective on the bible for me now and has also encouraged me to read it more often!… I adore Concordia university curriculum and even more that there is a theology requirement because if it were not I probably would not have had taken the class. Again, Thank you for everything!!!”
- “I’m enjoying this class more than I thought I would which is great. My home dynamics are changing around dinner discussions and plans of finding a “home” church, I didn’t like the idea of the school having this class as a requirement, but I think it’s great and everyone SHOULD at some point take this class.”
- “As I wrapped up my last week, I had a co-worker sarcastically ask me did I really learn anything. I was offended and by the end of our conversation she was in tears with all that I learned and the testimony I told her about of the person I interviewed.” (one assignment in the class is interviewing an active Christian known to the student)
- “There is a lot about the Bible that I maybe did not put all together before now, but this class has honestly made it extremely interesting and made a difference in how I am viewing reading the Bible. Like you said in class, I think that many individuals just see the Bible as a what God wants us to do and what God doesn’t want us to do, but looking at the Bible as an epic story of God’s love for us and how He sent His only son here to die for our sins is one of the greatest stories that I have ever heard.”
- “I have taken many courses and by the end of them, I have generally been able to see how the content contributed to a more well[-]rounded education by adding professional skills and preparing me for career advancement. I feel like this course is different (in a good way.) I can see how the content from this course helps me as a human being and prepares me for flourishing as a human being, living a thoughtful and purpose filled life. I hope you are aware of how much the work you do matters.”
- “Last night when I was working on my paper I realized that it would be the last week of class and it made me feel a bit sad. I’m not really sure why since I will continue to have God in my life. But I think it might be because this class brought me closer to God. I usually don’t really have time to read and actually study the Bible, but this class gave me a reason to study it and to see the Bible in a different way.”
- “About three years ago, I was confident in my beliefs. This has since changed. There are events in life that can shake you to your core and make you question everything, even your own existence. This is where I am now in my life. Trying to sort through what I believe to be true and what others want me to believe…. Reflecting on this class I see that it was exactly what I needed at this point in time.”
- “What I did not realize is that this course would become more than a requirement. At a time when there is so much chaos in the world I have looked for something to hold on to… through this course I have realized something, I can hold onto God…. This course helped me to reopen a chapter in my life that I thought I knew all about. I am so happy that I took this course and took the time to understand the Bible and Christianity better.”
- “I think with this knowledge [of Christ] I feel safe. I feel as though no matter what I have God on my side, and that’s the most important thing I can take away from this course. I feel with this knowledge I feel comfortable sharing the Bible with others. For there is nothing for them to lose, except gain a relationship with an ever-loving and forgiving God.” (italics in quotes above mine)
So much hope! So much light! So much life! “God,” we Christians know, “is love”.
But how we tend to lose the plot! One might think that it would be obvious for example, even to the world, that there is something wrong with reading the Koran in a Christian worship service (more! – even reading a specific passage from the Koran that asserts that Jesus Christ is not God’s Son!). One might think that it would be obvious, even to the world, that a military chaplain’s first responsibility is not to his earthly masters, but to the glorious, beautiful, wonderful King of Heaven and Earth.
To many it is no longer “obvious” (even if, deep down, they know this…we suppress it!). Not even to many who claim the mantel of Christianity.
So these are the days when we must politely resist those who would gently try to help us be more accepting and supportive of “diversity” (oh, how much is subsumed under that term!) … in part by urging us to establish “safe spaces” at our schools and universities.
These are the days where we absolutely must, taking our cue from the prophet Isaiah and the Apostle Paul, run to the Scriptures and test all we hear against them (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11).
If we do not, we ourselves will lose the One who will not lose. The One who scatters the darkness and is the only source of Goodness – Love, Light, and Life.
To conclude, I’ll say “Amen” to another student’s comments (even as she gives me an “Amen” herself):
“The more that I read of the Bible, the more firm and faithful I feel when it comes to God. I have read so many of these passages before but at this time in my life, they seem to be taking a greater effect. I’ve always been a Christian but I am realizing how blessed I am to be a Christian. It really is a faith unlike any other… Kind of like you said it class, that you’re glad Jesus is God.”
Candle: Sara K, Aphotic Melancholy 1, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)