Giving and the Disciple

One of the characteristics of discipleship is giving. Disciples are called to make giving a part of their spiritual lives, whether it is through the giving of their time, talents, etc.  One type of giving that continues to be a point of sensitivity and even embarrassment in the church is the giving of money.  A key reason for this is the tele-evangelism scandals of the 1980s where glitzy and over the top television evangelists made incessant and heavily emotional appeals to their viewers for money.  The appeals were often mixed with emotional tears and pleas that if they didn’t receive X amount of dollars by the end of the week, they would be forced to go off the air.  By and large these appeals worked, until two of these tele-evangelists ran into scandals with one of them sent off to jail while another was defrocked by his denomination.

The end result was shame and disgrace brought upon not only these television ministries but to the church overall.  Their practices reinforced the stereotypical view amongst skeptics and critics that churches are filled with lying, cheating hypocrites who only want people’s money to feather their own nests.  The response from Christian pastors and preachers was to duck for cover when it came to talk about money.  Pastors refrained from preaching sermons on giving as many feared it would give the impression that they were just being greedy, like those fellows on TV.  As a consequence, teaching on the spiritual discipline of giving was lost on a whole generation of Christians who grew up not knowing what it was all about.  The after effects of those dark days in the 1980s still lives on, with many Christians not making giving a priority in their spiritual lives.

Despite those horrific scandals, the teaching of scripture on giving still lives on and disciples of Jesus are still called to give to others in order to show generosity. (2 Corinthians 9:6-15).  In this essay, I’ll go over some basic principles of giving that a disciple should consider.

Be Generous and Cheerful

When it comes to giving money, the first question many disciples ask is how much?  That is an understandable question and, although the Old Testament teaching to the nation of Israel was to give a tithe of ten percent of their wealth, the New Testament teaching to the church defines no set amount.  In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus points out the rich putting their wealthy gifts into the Temple treasury while a poor widow puts in two small copper coins.  He notes that the widow put in more than all the others because they gave out of their wealth.  It was not a sacrifice to them but, to the widow, it was a great sacrifice as she gave out of her poverty and put in all she had to live on.  Although the ten percent tithe is a reasonable starting point, Jesus teaching on the subject and the rest of the New Testament should give the disciple pause and to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit. Factors such as sacrifice, generosity and cheerfulness in giving should guide the disciple in deciding how much to give.

Be Consistent

Another factor, which is even more important than the amount of giving, is being consistent in giving. Are you giving consistently, be it weekly or monthly, out of your regular income?  Consistency is key because, regardless of how much you give, you are reinforcing a habit of giving where the release of your money to others becomes a regular part of your spiritual life.  You do not hesitate about giving and you often don’t even think about it as you do it.

Consistent giving enables the recipients of your generosity to count on your giving to plan their own lives and ministries around it.  You are not simply throwing your money into the wind but giving to help those in need live their lives and conduct their ministry of aid to others.  In effect, you are partnering with them in their various enterprises and being ministers of God’s grace to them. Giving is a solemn responsibility.

Be Focused and Committed

In order to be consistent, a disciple needs to be focused on what charities to give to.  While one cannot give to every worthy cause and ministry out there, a disciple can focus on a few and give consistently and deeply to them over a long period of time.  Be committed to giving to a charity over the long term, especially if you believe in what they are doing and if you are benefiting from their efforts, such as your own local church.  Such focus and commitment by disciples will help keep charities and ministries healthy and enable them to serve others over the long haul.

Disciples of Jesus should not hesitate about giving their money. It should be an integral part of their spiritual lives, like regular Bible reading and prayer.  In the same way, pastors and teachers should not be shy in teaching about giving, from the pulpit, the classroom or the coffeeshop.  Disciples need to learn, understand and apply this spiritual discipline in order that the church of Christ is built up to do the work Jesus commands her to do.

2017 © Ed LeBlanc

 

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Separation of Christian and World

PEI Vacation Day 3-1008The Christian’s relationship with the world has always been a complex and rocky one. In theory it seems straight forward and clear. In John 17:14-16 Jesus prays to the Father about His disciples:

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”

In His prayer Jesus outlines the relationship between His disciples and the world. Jesus describes his disciples as being not of the world or not of the world’s system of beliefs and views. The disciples were given a different worldview, one that is centred on Christ. The difference is so striking that Jesus acknowledges that the world has hated them because they are not of the world any more.

The divide between Jesus and His disciples and the world is strong and clear. The two are by nature so different that a gulf of animosity exists between them. Yet, Jesus prays that His disciples not be removed from the world but that they be protected from the prince of the world, Satan. Like it or not, disciples of Jesus Christ must live in the world with this tension until He comes again.

The Cover Of Christendom

Not too long ago, it was easier for Christians and the church to live in the western world since Christians had more in common with the culture in which they lived. This was mainly because the culture drew much of its own formation from Judeo-Christian teaching and tradition. Even though people would not consider themselves religious, they still had a basic respect for the church and the Bible. Basic Christian morality was widely incorporated into the laws, institutions and basic practices of society. There was a time when almost everyone went to church, when the Lord’s Prayer was prayed in public schools and stores were closed on Sundays.

The key reason why it is getting harder for Christians to live in the western world is because of the collapse of Christendom. Western Christians have had it easy over the centuries by living in the world without being openly rejected and persecuted by the world as Christendom provided the foundation for that ease.

Today, broad acceptance of Christian values has turned into indifference, dismissal or even outright hostility. Christians in the west are continuing to find themselves in an environment where they must tread carefully while trying to live out their faith in the public square. Not only has the world discarded Christian values and beliefs, it seeks to actively discredit them and to portray Christians as harmful and dangerous bigots whose religion must be kept in the closet. A growing number of secularists believe that Christianity must never have a seat in the public square again.

Many churches and Christians have reacted to this sudden shift from accommodation and respect to rejection and hostility by doing what 1 John 1:15 tells them not to do. They reverse biblical teaching and embrace the morality of the world that is in contradiction to the plain teaching of scripture in order to gain the acceptance of the world. This has taken place in the areas of the value of human life, sexual morality, the reliability of the Bible and even the nature of Christ. This has been particularly noticed in churches that were once solidly biblical for centuries but who have rapidly abandoned certain key doctrines by replacing them with the world’s key doctrines.

Such churches should look to the historical record of Christian liberalism. Its main focus over the past few centuries has been to shape Christianity into the mold of the world, thinking that this is its future and that the world will be more accepting of Christianity. However, the liberal Christian experiment has failed massively in this regard. Churches that have gone down this path have found their membership in steep decline while the world considers them more and more irrelevant anyway. Liberal churches may be escaping the axe of persecution for now but their pact with the world system is sending them down the spiral of spiritual oblivion.

Living in the World

How can orthodox churches and Christians in the west live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in an environment that ignores them and displays open hostility towards them?

The first step is to continue to be faithful to the Word of God and to Jesus no matter what happens. The western church needs to look at her brothers and sisters in Christ in many parts of the world who are being persecuted for their faith but who have not bent their knees to other gods. Jesus has made it clear that those who love him will be hated by the world (John 15:18-19). Western Christians have forgotten this because of the cover of Christendom but with that cover rapidly disappearing, they are now discovering anew what Jesus was talking about.

The second step is to live in the world by loving its people and not its system. Much has been written on this subject and it is not easy to do but it is what Jesus Himself did when He walked the earth. He interacted with and loved people who were lost and hurting while calling out the world system everyone was trapped in. He calls on His disciples to do the same by loving and serving people genuinely even if they are indifferent or hostile to Christianity, while challenging the world system they embrace. This is especially difficult in the west today as most westerners believe you must accept the belief system of a person in order to accept them. However, the gospel of Jesus teaches that humans are much more than the values they find their identity in; they are made in the image of God.

The third step is to live prophetically in the world by living the out the gospel in a manner that is pure and loving while being prophetic at the same time. Christians must declare to the people in the world that there is a better way than the false gospels of the world.

The fourth step is to remember the promise that this tension will not last forever. As James wrote:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

The Unethical Evangelist

IMG_5322Is it possible to do evangelism unethically? That question may seem hard to understand. How can you do evangelism unethically when it’s the gospel of Jesus you are sharing? What can be wrong with that?

To be clear, the gospel itself is not unethical, although I can think of a few prominent atheists who would consider it unethical and worthy of banishment from society. The gospel itself is not a problem as it is something that Jesus Himself communicated during his three-year ministry and entrusted to His apostles. The gospel is good news, a message of hope to all humanity rooted in the very person and work of Jesus Christ.

A problem can arise in the transmission of that gospel in the form of evangelism, which is the vehicle that communicates the gospel from the church to the world, from one person to another. Can evangelism itself be corrupted to the point of being unethical?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. A dramatic example was the great tele-evangelism scandals of the 1980s where corruption, fraud, immorality, deceit and more were used in peddling the gospel of Jesus for profit and power. It was a horrible stain on the church and made a mockery of the gospel and Christianity in the public square for years.

Thankfully, the vast majority of Christians do not turn personal evangelism into a means of making a quick buck. Unfortunately, it is quite possible to be the unethical evangelist and not even know it.

Evangelism as Business

One characteristic of unethical evangelism is the turning of evangelism into a straight business model that is geared mainly to generate results. Running a business is not unethical but evangelism is not a business. This philosophy turns evangelism into a series of actions where success is measured by getting people to attend events, getting them to talk about certain things and, ultimately, to make decisions for Jesus. On the surface, it all looks okay. After all, how can you argue against people making decisions for Christ? Isn’t that the whole purpose of evangelism?

It is unethical if this is the heart and soul of evangelism. Getting people to do certain things, to make certain sounds and giving the appearance that they have been born of the Spirit (making decisions in ignorance), can be horribly misleading. It can give people the impression that being a disciple of Jesus is all about learning a certain lingo, attending certain events and doing a few different things. This is not discipleship but the practice of an ancient religion known as Christendom, which gives the appearance of Christianity but does not possess the Holy Spirit within it. Evangelism is unethical if it misrepresents the gospel of Christ as the gospel of Christendom which is nothing more than a cultural form of Christianity.

Insurance Policies for Heaven

Evangelism can be unethical if it becomes a means of selling life insurance policies for heaven. In the past, certain forms of evangelism were concerned about selling people a means of getting into heaven through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. While this is a wonderful theological truth and a terrific gift of the gospel, it is not the full gospel. In this form of evangelism, heaven and self become the ends. It is all about me and me getting into paradise. Jesus becomes strictly the means.

Jesus is the way whereby people enter into heaven. This is a marvellous biblical truth where Jesus Himself said that no one comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6). However, unethical evangelism misses the greater point where heaven is not the ends but Jesus is. To coin a phrase, it is all about Jesus. It isn’t all about getting to a specific place but about being with a specific Person. After all, who is in heaven and is central in heaven? An evangelism that is too heaven-centric and less Christo-centric can misrepresent what is truly important about the gospel message.

I may be too harsh to call this kind of evangelism unethical but in doing so I’m pointing to a large problem that needs to be dealt with. When the gospel places the emphasis on heaven being the good news, there is a tendency to assume that we have secured tickets for our destination (heaven) and nothing more needs to be done except to make sure our bags are packed. If evangelism emphasizes Jesus as the good news, there is a tendency to to assume that we must follow and commit our lives to Him as His disciples. This includes denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily and following Him (Luke 9:23).

People as Projects

A final form of unethical evangelism is the “people as projects”. In this form, the unethical evangelist treats people as projects to achieve their aims rather than as persons who are created in the image of God.

The unethical evangelist will pretend to be interested in and care about people only if they reciprocate by being interested in the gospel message or at least in spiritual things. If they are not interested, the unethical evangelist gives up on them and moves on to more promising prospects.

This form of evangelism is devoid of the unconditional love that the gospel conveys, where people are viewed as being made in God’s image and thus are worthy of respect and love regardless if they are interested in Jesus or not. In ethical evangelism, love, care, concern and friendship are not dependent on how people respond to the gospel but are bestowed upon people as an act of God’s grace. We love others because He first loved us (1John 4:19), not because they love us or the gospel in return. The true gospel of Jesus calls us to love the whole person and to be a source of good for that person regardless of how they respond to a particular evangelistic project.

The Ethical Evangelist

The gospel of Jesus Christ is truly good news. It is the news that God has come into the world in the Person of His Son to redeem humanity from its sinful state and be brought into communion with God. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings with it many things including peace with God, a new ability to love others unconditionally and eternal fellowship with God in heaven. But the gospel is not simply a spiritual transaction that gives us these things. It is the news of being in a relationship with Jesus and how the Christian’s life is transformed as a result.

Evangelism is a call to invite others to receive this good news and enter into relationship and discipleship with Jesus. Anything less distorts the gospel into self-serving spirituality and misrepresents what being a disciple of Christ is all about. May God preserve His church to be truly ethical in her evangelism.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

The Decline of Bible Reading

20160310-Bible Cover

People of the Book?

According to Islamic tradition, Jews and Christians are referred to as “the people of the Book”, in this case, the Book being the Bible. Christians have been known as the people of the Book, not just because the Bible is their holy book, the book of ultimate importance to the faith, but also because they are a people who read, study, meditate, memorize and talk about the Book. Being “people of the Book” means people engaged with the Bible.

The Canadian Bible Engagement Study (CBES) conducted by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) in 2013, casts some doubt if Christians in 21st century Canada can still hold on to that ancient title. The study, called Confidence, Conversation and Community: Bible Engagement in Canada, conducted a survey of 4,474 Canadians on their views on how they engage the Bible in their lives. The full report can be read here.

Regular Bible reading has been on the decline in Canada for several decades and the CBES report bears this out but what the report has to say about those who self identity as Christians is of particular interest. As more Canadians don’t consider themselves Christian, it is understandable that this group pays little attention to the Bible but are Canadian Christians far behind?

Taking Christians as a whole, the report’s findings were remarkable. For those who identify themselves as Christian, six percent read the Bible daily, six percent read it a few times a week and only three percent read it once a week. Astonishingly, 70 percent of Canadian Christians seldom read or never read the Bible. This kind of survey result would seem to indicate that Christians are no longer the people of the Book and might be called the people who ignore their Book.

But is that the end of the story? The study breaks down the numbers a bit further into Christian traditions. Catholic and mainline Protestant Christians read the Bible far less than their Evangelical cousins. Mainline Protestants and Catholics who read their Bible a few times a week or weekly are in the single digits. Monthly French Catholic readers are in the single digits as well while English Catholic and Mainline Protestant monthly readers are in the double digits but just barely. Evangelicals seem to do much better with those reading their Bibles at least a few times a week at 44 percent, weekly at 51 percent and monthly at 58 percent.

Although some may see this as evidence that Evangelicals have healthy Bible reading habits, the results also tell us that the other half of Evangelicals are not reading their Bibles even on a weekly basis, let alone a monthly one. Mainline Protestants and Catholics have seen weekly Bible reading decline by more than one half since 1996 but Evangelicals have seen daily readers fall by one third in the same period. Evangelicals may be the tradition with the strongest Bible readers but a sizeable number still do not have regular reading habits and the trend in daily readership is not that encouraging.

Followers or Disciples

So why is Christian reading of the Bible falling in such dramatic numbers? The survey found two key factors that affected regular Bible reading amongst Christians: confidence in the Bible and a seriousness about their walk with Jesus.

The survey showed that those who had a strong confidence in the reliability and the authority of the Bible were found to read it once a day, week or month by a wider margin than those who had even a moderate confidence in the Bible. Those who reflected on the meaning of the Bible in their lives, who engaged in discussions about the Bible outside of church activities and who regularly attended worship services, were found to read the Bible much more frequently than those who did not.

The scriptures teach that the Bible, the Word of God, is critical to the spiritual development of Christians. As Jesus famously said to The Adversary, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes form the mouth of God”. The Bible is spiritual food to feed humanity’s spiritual soul. If this survey showed that the majority of self identifying Christians in Canada only ate physical food once a week or even once a month, there would be screams of a crisis in Canadian churches. Christians seem to be starving themselves by eating the spiritual food of the Bible very sparsely and yet few within the church seem to be concerned.

What can be done to turn the situation around? Simply telling people to read their Bibles because they need to is an exercise that will fall on deaf ears. Christians who are not reading the Bible regularly need to recognize their own spiritual malnourishment and to see the Bible as true food.

One key way to address this problem is to re-establish confidence in the reliability and power of the Bible. Many Christians have fallen victim to the secular modernist take on the Bible that in effect waters down its reliability and, by extension, its relevance to life. By marginalizing the Scriptures, Christians will turn to other writings to find spiritual fulfillment such as the latest self-help book. Christian leaders need to not only do a bit of apologetics for the Bible in the church but they also need to encourage everyone to share how the Bible has and is changing their lives. The Bible says that it is living and active. Let others share their stories of how it has been living and active in their lives and not just a repository of ancient knowledge.

The second key way to address this self-starvation of the Bible, is to show Christians that Christianity is not about showing up on Sundays and getting to use the title Christian in their spiritual resume. Christian leaders of all kinds need to show to those under their spiritual care that Christ is calling them not be mere followers of Him but to be His disciples.

The words follower and disciple seem to mean the same thing but in reality they are not. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus had plenty of followers who followed him all over the countryside. Those who followed Him did so looking for free food, free healthcare and political freedom from the Romans. But when Jesus pressed them on the cost of following Him to the point of denying oneself and taking up one’s cross in order to follow Him, many left Him. Jesus wanted disciples to deny their lives for Him, not followers who could come and go as they pleased.

Followers of Jesus will treat the Bible as an optional reading lesson. Disciples of Jesus will treat the Bible as the bread of life. Serious Christians will see the Bible as indispensable in knowing Jesus more deeply. Causal Christians will see the Bible as a dusty, boring book that has little relevance to their earthly pursuits. If the church in Canada wants to regain the title people of the Book, she must be willing to disciple her people and show them the riches and treasures contained in God’s Holy Bible.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

The Decline of Biblical Authority

St John the Baptist ShrineAuthority: The Dirty Word

In his 1974 book, The Authority of the Bible, John Stott opens his book with the following:

“Authority is a dirty word today – dirty, disliked, even detested. I doubt if any other word arouses more instant aversion among the young and the radical of all kinds. Authority smacks of establishment, of privilege, of oppression, of tyranny. And whether we like it or not, we are witnessing in our day a global revolt against all authority, whether of the family, the college, the bosses, the church, the state or God.”

With the chaos of the cultural revolution of the 1960s firmly in his rear view mirror, Stott’s opening paragraph summarizes the attitude and worldview of modern society when it comes to the general principle of authority. Over the past 40 plus years since this book was published, the dirtiness and disgust of authority has been successfully passed on from the Baby Boomers to successive generations and has been firmly rooted in the western cultural ethos of the 21st century.

As a result of that cultural revolution, esteem in the reliability, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible by the wider culture has eroded dramatically. Once upon a time, people who hardly went to church or rarely read the Bible, held the Scriptures in great esteem. This general submission to the authority of the Bible was one of the hallmarks of the cultural force of Christendom upon much of the West. With the rapid collapse of Christendom, the general belief in the authority of the Bible has collapsed as well.

Authority: Challenged since the Dawn of Time

Simply stated, biblical authority is the recognition that what the Bible says is not only true but authoritative in that it must be obeyed over the wisdom and authority of Man. The Bible is authoritative in that it is the Word of God and reveals the character, wisdom and will of God. Because God is omnipotent, omniscient and all holy, He is worthy of humanity’s worship and obedience. As a consequence, God has authority over Man. If the Bible is the divine will God communicated to Man, it too has authority over Man. The Bible itself claims authority every time it says “Thus saith the Lord God”. When God speaks, humanity is to listen and adhere.

The challenge to biblical authority is nothing new and in fact goes back to the dawn of humanity, in the Garden of Eden, where Satan’s first words to Man was “Did God really say?” Satan’s first words were a sly and subtle attempt to discredit the authority of God’s word. The consequences of Man’s rejection of the authority of God’s Word in the Garden were catastrophic.

Throughout the history of Old Testament Israel, the authority of the Word of God was constantly challenged by the Israelites who regularly flouted that authority through their disobedience. Again, the consequences of the rejection of God’s authority were disastrous for the nation.

Authority: A Collapsing Belief

Biblical authority has collapsed in mainline liberal Protestant denominations and is collapsing in evangelical churches at an alarming rate. In mainline Protestant denominations, that rejection is based on a common consensus that the Bible is a flawed and very human set of documents. The writings are errant and thus lack the full and complete inspiration of God. Because of this belief, that the Bible is more human than divine, it is subject to the judgment of Man in determining how far its authority and reliability can go. In reality, biblical authority in mainline circles no longer exists as it is always trumped by the authority of human wisdom and the need for ancient scriptures to accommodate the desires and whims of modernity.

Mainline liberal Protestants have few qualms about admitting this publicly and many believe it is necessary to dispose of such authority in order to make the Bible and Christianity more attractive to the outside world. Theologian Marcus Borg believes the church needs to adopt a post-critical naivety view of the Bible where its accounts are true but their truth doesn’t depend on facts. In his view, we all do our own picking and choosing of what is authoritative in the Bible anyway, but we must do it responsibly, prayerfully and as a community. Borg’s approach sounds reasonable and even humble but in divorcing truth from facts, he is creating a “relative” truth while still retaining Man as the chief authority over the Bible but in a more politically correct and less arrogant fashion.

Although some evangelicals are courting the mainline liberal Protestant view on biblical authority, others are doing so in a manner that attempts to retain an appearance of submitting to its authority. Instead of saying the Bible is a flawed document that no longer merits our total submission, such evangelicals are using the tools of exegesis and hermeneutics to show that the interpretations of the “difficult” parts of the Bible are not what we originally thought they were. Thus, the evangelical is able to proclaim the authority of the Bible and acknowledge submission to it but at the same time develop an escape hatch to evade those sections that are too repulsive to be submitted to. Thus the tools of exegesis, hermeneutics, cultural studies, etc. are used to develop novel interpretations that defang the authority of the Bible in selective and convenient ways.

One can say the difficult passages of the Bible are an issue of hermeneutics and, in many cases, this is the real issue. However, it is interesting to wonder if deeper motivations are at work to use novel interpretations to dispose of the unpleasant passages. Is it any coincidence that the current re-interpretations of biblical passages on sexual morality within evangelicalism are occurring at the same time the sexual revolution is reaching its high water mark in western culture?

Cultural pressures on western evangelical churches are enormous, pressures that are influencing and forcing churches and Christians to abandon the clear teachings of Scripture and embrace the spirit of the age. But western churches can learn something from churches in parts of the world where Christianity is under great persecution. Last year, a group of young Christian men were videoed kneeling on a Libyan beach just before they were to be beheaded because of their faith in Christ. Their lives could have easily been spared. All they had to do was renounce Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. Yet, they did not. Instead, they submitted to the authority of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:32-33:

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”

They paid for that submission to authority with their very lives. Can we in the west do any less while we bend the plain meaning of biblical texts that we don’t want to submit to and believe in?

The game of using novel forms of interpretation to dispose of unpleasant biblical passages can be addressed by a direct question. If it could be proven to the ultimate satisfaction of any rational believer that a particular passage of scripture means something that we do not like or believe in because it sounds so anti this or anti that and is offensive to our ears, would we still submit to it? If our answer is no, then there is no point in debating exegesis or hermeneutics. It simply means that we do not want to obey God in everything He desires. If this is the case, we need to question how much Jesus is really Lord of our lives and how much we are truly faithful in submitting to His Word.

The authority of the Bible is critical for the future of the church and for the world the church has been sent to with the gospel. If the church is to totally compromise in this critical area, she will become a part of the world and the hope of the good news of Jesus will flicker out.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

Christian Lukewarmness – Book Review: Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan (2008)

Crazy LoveCrazy Love is a book about the Christian’s relationship with God but in particular, it is a book about the serious state many North American Christians are in regarding their relationship with God.  At the crux of it is an incorrect view of who God really is and a failure to grasp his eternal, holy, all powerful and all knowing nature.   As a consequence, many Christians place themselves in the centre of their lives and rather than the Lord Jesus.

Chan tells his readers to get over themselves:

To be brutally honest, it doesn’t really matter what place you find yourself in right now.  Your part is to bring Him glory – whether eating a sandwich on a lunch break, drinking coffee at 12:04 am so you can stay awake to study or watching your four-month-old take a nap.  The point of your life is to point to Him.

Within that realization is the truth of the great love God has for His children and the love we are to have for Him.  If we grasp who God really is, Chan argues that our lives should then be characterized by a great transformation. But there are distractions.  As Chan puts it pointedly “Are we in love with God or just His stuff?” God’s stuff, His material creations that He has provided to us for our sustainment and enjoyment, often serve as distractions or worse as idols.

In probably the most pointed part of the book, Chan recalls Jesus’ parable of the sower and cautions the reader “Do not assume you are good soil.”  He believes most churchgoers in America are the soil that chokes the seed because of the thorns; those worries, riches and pleasures of life.

Then Chan makes this stunning statement:

A lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing.  To put it plainly, churchgoers who are “lukewarm” are not Christians.  We will not see them in heaven.

Chan points to Revelation 3:15-17 where Jesus talks about the lukewarm within the Laodicean church and that He is about to spit them out of His mouth (3:16).  Chan says many believe this passage is talking about the saved but Chan argues how could the saved be spitted out of Jesus’ mouth?  In other words, Chan does not see this as a form of discipline but an outright rejection, an “I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers.”

But is this interpretation correct?  Looking a little further in Revelation 3:19, Jesus says to the church at Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. ”  It seems here that Jesus is saying His statement on the spitting out of His mouth to be more of a correction than a rejection.  He still loves those whom are lukewarm but will spit them out as a form of rebuke and discipline, not a taking away of their salvation.

This corresponds to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he details a set of serious spiritual and moral problems that many in the church are participating in.  Some, such as incest, are so serious one could question if these people really are true believers in Jesus.  Yet Paul calls them brothers, expresses love to them and never questions their salvation.  He affirms in his letter that God has called them into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ while at the same time rebuking them and calling on them to repent.

Chan follows up with another bombshell:

In an earlier draft of this chapter, I quoted several commentators who agreed with my point of view.  But we all know that you can find quotes to support any view you want to take. you can even tweak word studies to help you in your effort. I ’m not against scholarship, but I do believe there are times when we come to more accurate conclusions through simple reading.

Rather than examining a verse and dissecting it, I chose to peruse one gospel in each sitting.  Furthermore, I attempted to do so from the perspective of a twelve-year-old who knew nothing about Jesus.  I wanted to rediscover what reasonable conclusions a person would come to while objectively reading the Gospels for the first time.  In other words, I read the Bible as if I’d never read it before.

This is the weakest point in the book.  In order to defend his conclusions on what it means to be lukewarm in the faith, Chan relies on an exegetical defence from the Gospels.  However, he sabotages that effort in two areas.

In the first area, he says he was prepared to quote several commentators who agreed with his conclusions but he decided not to so for the odd reason that you can find quotes to support any view you want to take.  Although this may be true to a certain degree, it does not invalidate the use of the thoughtful and rigourous findings of others who have seriously studied the scriptures. In effect, Chan is committing one of the gravest mistakes of contemporary evangelicalism: the personal interpretation of the Bible while ignoring 2000 years of serious biblical exegesis and scholarship by saints who have gone on before us.  Chan decides to ignore the work of others and rely solely on his own reading of the Bible, as if that gives his conclusion greater objectivity.  If anything, it is an example of subjective hermeneutics.  He himself says that one can tweak word studies to help you in your effort. How do we know that Chan didn’t do such “tweaking” in his simple reading of the Gospels?

In the second area, Chan didn’t want to examine a passage by dissecting it but to read each gospel in a single sitting and to do so like a 12 year old for the first time.  It isn’t at all clear how this method of exegesis is superior to doing proper basic Bible study.  Chan gives little in the way of explaining how this method provides greater objectivity than pondering the verses over and over again to see what Jesus is saying.  It would appear that Chan is saying simple Bible reading is superior to in-depth Bible study but he fails to provide arguments as to why this is the case.

Chan concludes:

Jesus’ call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing.  The thought of a person calling himself a “Christian” without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd.

Despite weaknesses in his exegetical approach, Chan draws an accurate conclusion.  Contemporary pop theology has produced a weakened definition of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus was quite firm about the need for obedience in order to truly follow Him and that it was not simply a matter of calling Him Lord (Matthew 7:21)

Chan writes: “Let’s face it. We’re willing to make changes in our lives only if we think it affects our salvation.”  In other words, the main focus of much of contemporary evangelicalism is ‘am I going to heaven and what do I have to do to get there’.   Going to heaven becomes more important (an anthropocentric view of the faith) than loving the Lord Jesus and following Him (a Christocentric view of the faith).

Chan could be accused of promoting a works-righteousness gospel but he rightly points out that all of us have lukewarm areas in our lives.  The difference lies in striving for obedience and surrender to Jesus day by day, all the while being covered by His grace.  The hardened lukewarm would never concern themselves about the areas of their lives that were not under Jesus’ lordship and it is to those people that Chan is speaking to.  He questions their motivation: Can I go to heaven without truly and faithfully loving Jesus?

Crazy Love highlights the depth of God’s love for His children and how that should motivate the Christian to live for Him and to move out of his comfort zone.  The book is a challenge to all Christians, and those who call themselves Christian, to examine themselves and determine if their lives reflect being a true disciple of Jesus, as the Scriptures define it.

Despite the weaknesses of his exegetical method and view of lukewarm Christians, Chan’s conclusions are consistent with what the scriptures do say about true discipleship and authentic Christianity.  Chan is not advocating a kind of works gospel but rather a true conversion that leads to repentance, dependence and obedience to the Master and Lord.  It is a message that many North American Christians need to hear and heed.

Three out of five stars.

2014 © Ed LeBlanc

Loving the Sinner, Hating the Sin: An Outdated Concept?

Sin Church and Moonand the Sinner

There is an old saying that many Christians believe in: love the sinner but hate the sin. I’ve heard a few secular humanists scoff at this saying but what does it actually mean and is it true?

The Bible says that every human being has sinned and will sin against God and against others, no matter what their intentions may be. Sin is an ugly and destructive force that destroys people’s lives, damages relationships and sours community. Above all, sin is something that God absolutely hates. Romans 3:23 sums it up, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This has been the human predicament since the Fall.

The Scriptures state that humanity is tainted with the sinful nature and that we have a built-in propensity to do things and think things contrary to God’s will. To paraphrase a current pop culture icon, we were born this way. But if this is so ingrained in the human nature, isn’t rebellion against God just the way we are? Doesn’t everyone simply have to get used to it, perhaps even to celebrate it? Is loving the sinner but hating the sin an outdated concept?

Despite the sinful inclination of the human heart, the Bible is clear: there are no excuses. Just because we are born that way doesn’t mean that we have to live that way. Even though a person may have a propensity to engage in shoplifting now and then or cheat on their taxes every second year, it doesn’t automatically mean that those actions are justified. Both the Bible and the Criminal Code have something to say on these matters. The defence of natural inclination has no standing. Instead, God has directed human beings on how they should live despite how they want to live. Even more, God has provided humanity with the means to overcome their sinful inclinations and live according to His ways through the power of Jesus Christ.

Born this Way

But if people are “born this way”, then why shouldn’t their sinful acts be accepted? One could argue that they have no choice, that is just the way they are. In today’s culture, the prevailing attitude is, if that is the way they are, we have to accept what they do if we want to accept them. In our multiethnic multicultural society, acceptance of people from other cultures is considered a supreme virtue. Society says that in order to accept others you must accept their culture. We are called to see the beauty in other cultures with the long term goal of preventing conflict, hate and war between peoples.

This form of multicultural acceptance has transferred itself into the area of morality and sin. Certain actions considered sinful by the Bible are no longer considered wrong in today’s culture because of this strong link between practice and people. Since accepting people is so important, we have to accept their practices as well, even if we don’t practice them or believe in them ourselves. This attitude has found fertile ground in the area of sexual morality. The acceptance of certain sexual practices and the acceptance of the disposition to those practices must be made if we are to accept the people who do them. In this view, you have to love the sin if you are going to love the sinner.

This belief holds to a tight interrelationship between disposition and being. The old saying, you are what you eat, has been modified to say you are what you do. But what if the “do” is not at all positive? Efforts then are made to make it positive by celebrating what was once considered repulsive. Not too long ago, homosexual acts were considered repulsive, so much so that they were criminalized. Today, these acts are celebrated in parades down the streets of major urban centres.

Let’s take this analogy further: today physical abuse of your spouse is considered repulsive. But if we are to accept spousal abusers, should we not accept their practice and disposition to abuse? Shouldn’t it be celebrated with parades in the streets? It is at this point the logic falls apart. If accepting and loving others means accepting their sin, you then can’t pick and choose what kinds of sin you want to celebrate and others you want to continuing classifying as horrific. This is the end result of integrating the person with the action and disposition.

This failed logic breathes new life into the old saying of loving the sinner but hating the sin. The two can and must be separated. If not, it brings a horrible form of anthropology that equates the value and worth of human beings to their sometimes terrible actions. This form of anthropology has no choice but to whitewash sin into something virtuous. Human beings are more than their actions, more than their disposition, more than their orientation. They possess a worth that is far greater than what the current culture wants to bestow upon them.

A careful reading of the New Testament reveals that Jesus practiced this old saying. He hung around people who were not only despised by their culture but who practiced lifestyles that were truly in rebellion to God’s ways. Jesus was quick to point this out to them. Yet, He saw beyond their lifestyle and wanted to embrace them instead. People have value because they are made in the image of God. Jesus saw value in people that went beyond how they lived and He treated people, not their sin, in a loving way. So much so that He died for them to grant them a life that was far more abundant, rich, free and holy than what there were currently experiencing.

How to Untie the Knot

If Christians are called to make the distinction between the sin and the sinner, how can this be done? The first step is for the church to recognize where is current practicing that tight integration between the sin and sinner and repent from it. In the past, the church classified certain sins so tightly with people that if they committed these sins once or were trapped in them, the church offered no sympathy. The attitude was hate the sin and hate the sinner. Fortunately, the church is seeing the error of her ways and is repenting in how she treats people trapped by sin. Ironically, the culture is following this old error where it now condemns those who do not embrace the connection between the action and the actor with its inverted love the sin in order to love the sinner.

The second step is to learn from Jesus how He dealt with sin and sinners. This requires the church to take itself through a very careful study of the New Testament on what Jesus taught about sin and how He related to people trapped in their sin. The classical doctrines of the sinfulness of man and the value of man in the eyes of God must be looked at again with fresh eyes. Each Christian has to constantly remember one thing: I am a sinner, too.

The third step is to recapture the essence of what the Bible says about forgiveness, repentance, confession, discipline and restoration. It is critical for the church to recapture all these aspects in order to know how to deal with sin, sinners and the separation of the two. Unfortunately, many have a distorted view of these biblical concepts or are not actively practicing them.

Preserving human value and worth while firmly rejecting sin is not an easy task but it is a necessary one. It is something that God Himself has done through the Cross and it is something that the church must emulate by carefully examining the Bible in order to know how to do this. Hating the sin and loving the sinner is not easy to discern or to do but it is critical. It is not what our culture wants to do but it is what Jesus did when He walked this earth and it is what He requires of those who follow Him.

2014 © Ed LeBlanc