May 26th, 2007
First, an announcement. Apt pictures which add materially to the overall impact of an article will probably not be appearing on this blog again soon.
Second, a word of background. I have re-entered the work force, participating in one of the positions presumably created to keep the excess population from rioting because of too much spare time. In this job I have lots of time to talk to people around me. One woman had a lot of emotional baggage pulled out through her feet by a metaphysical healer, and another one has had memories of her past lives.
Third, this leads me to think about the relationship of human experience and evangelism. This is furthered by the fact that I am reading Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am (thanks, Goodwill in Mesa).
And so, to the main course, which impinges significantly, if not obviously, on the topic mentioned above.
There are people who are seeking something because they are not satisfied with their lives; but their seeking is almost always idolatrously egocentrical. What they seek is happiness; relief from pain, from grief, from bitterness. And if their testimony is to be received at all, they have found at least a measure of these things by means which must be recognized as being antithetical to Christianity. It is no use telling them they haven’t experienced what they have; it is no good saying to them that they really were not helped (in the narrow specific sense in which they sought help). Sometimes I think we present the Gospel as the way to leave behind the bitterness of the past, or as some secret to a successful life — “God’s tips for happy living”. But they can have tips for happy living from a Mormon or a metaphysical healer (in that case accompanied with the nine essential oils and a hot towel). As long as we present the Gospel in this way, we are only offering one option among many; and others may be as good, or better. After all, the Gospel doesn’t give us a hot towel.
But say that we distinguish: say that we do not accept their idolatrous assumption that being all right (healthy, well-adjusted, cheerful, reasonably prosperous) is the real goal, the real point. What would happen then? Well, we wouldn’t have the pressure to preserve the Gospel’s uniqueness by trying to make it compete with the hot towel; we wouldn’t have to persuade everyone that Lipton brand chamomile tea really is the best chamomile tea out there. We could instead point out that to the Gospel all that they seek is secondary –a side effect: what they seek so hard is done almost casual and offhandedly by the more fundamental alignment of resting in the grace of God. Many systems and tricks can more or less deal with depression and feelings of guilt and negative energy and misaligned shakras and what have you. The glory of the Gospel does not consist in doing this a little better, but in being something entirely different.
Human devices can deal with feelings of guilt; but only the Gospel deals with sin. Human devices can deal with discontent; but only the Gospel bestows all things upon us.
Human devices can deal with anxiety; but only the Gospel can establish us in peace with God.
Human devices can manage anger, frustration, resentment and bring a measure of concord between man and man; but only the Gospel makes us all one in Christ Jesus.
Let us not make the mistake of presenting the Gospel as though it were only or primarily the answer to people’s felt needs (after all, it answers needs that many do not feel), one option for well-adjustedness among several (even if the best). And let us not make the mistake of maintaining the Gospel’s uniqueness by denying that any other brands are even tea at all.
There is reconciliation through Christ’s blood: God has commenced the restoration of all things. That is something more than valium, or even the unborn child-god, can claim for itself.