Evangelist: “Brother, are you saved?”
(Not satisfied) Evangelist: “When were you saved?”
(Exasperated) Theologian: “About two thousand years ago after a short walk from Jerusalem to Golgotha.”
Do you see what happened there? A very important interchange took place. It was an interchange between two people who both agree on many things and are miles apart on other profoundly substantial things. I would like to contrast the two men’s emphases and take the next two weeks doing so.
Part 1: The Evangelist. AKA: the Self
The first man, the Evangelist, has a very definite emphasis on the self–the subjective. The intellectual seeds of this came about during the Renaissance and were really jump-started by Roman Catholic philosopher René Descartes’ statement, “I think, therefore I am.” It began taking hold of Protestant theology through Pietism in the late 17th Century (which began as Moravian, moved to Lutheranism, and was the major impetus behind Wesleyanism). The unintended focus is “me” and “how I’m doing.” It is a common and very well-meaning and understandable tendency of our fallen human nature: a Christianized focus on the self.
If you look, you can see how this has affected American culture. When “the culture” is discussed in Christian circles, it is often referred to as “out there”–something having to do with Hollywood, Coastal decadence, and that sort of thing. While that is part of the truth, it is not the whole truth. It belies a Christian tendency to locate the problem “out there” rather than within our own hearts.
As Christians, though, we should always be at the foot of the cross confessing our own sins. Within the Christian subculture there is very often an automatic acceptance of a consumer-focused mindset. This is also understandable but, unfortunately, goes unconfessed.
I have had many people come confess sins to me; this is a good and healthy thing. Almost always, they are the sins of “out there”, though–mostly having to do with sex or lust. To the point, I have never had a person come into my office and confess greed. Never. The Bible has an immense amount to say about greed, primarily as a manifestation of “self”-centeredness. (Do you see where this all ties together?)
Our culture (Coastal and Heartland) is predicated on the leverage of a transactional economy. This can be sexual, economical, or relational. It is then often imputed to the church and to its ministers. Many people see the church as a service provider: sort of like the grocery store. You pay and get what you are paying for. Sometimes we encourage this without thinking (we live in the same culture, after all).
An example: I have had some (none here, thankfully) engaged couples come in to get married and believe they are engaging a service provider (as I mentioned, we probably have something to do with propagating this). I have had to say in the past, “Look… I am not here to win your business. I am here as a presbyter in the church of God to join Christian people in the rite of Holy Matrimony.” This is almost always a sea change in thinking.
The Kingdom of God is profoundly different from the kingdoms of this world. The emphasis is the selfless–self-denial–lavishing freely and without price. The very Revelation of God is Jesus Christ on the cross, giving Himself freely. The church gives freely, and without condition, the grace of God in Jesus Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel. A congregation of Christians receives this message with joy, gladness, and gratitude; giving, without condition, the first fruits of their resources to the church (in time, talent, and treasure) for the spreading of the Gospel and giving, also, to their communities.
I must stop here because I will discuss this next week. The takeaway from this is that emphasis on the self takes many forms. Some are frightening and foreign; others are socially accepted and right under our noses.