What Makes Christianity Christian?

P.T. Forsyth’s words, written in the early 1900s in an almost MLK Jr-like style, still contain a brazen prophetic punch to gospel-less Christianity. Prepare yourself for pure gold:

The thing that marks Christianity is the objective gift of God in Jesus Christ

“…Christianity means much more than spiritual appetite or sympathy. Personal faith means much more than ideal religion or romantic. These pieties are too subjective, and they do not contain that which makes Christianity Christian. The thing that marks Christianity is the objective gift of God in Jesus Christ…

And to measure truly the Christianity of an age we must ask how far it grasps God’s true gift, and not how eagerly or finely it seeks it…Do not ask, What is its dream? or, What is its programme or its piety? but, What is its Gospel? Do not ask, What is its experience? Ask what emerges in its experience? It is not the lack of religiosity that ails the Church, it is the lack of a Gospel and a faith, the lack of a spiritual authority and a response to it.

For the leaders of the Reformation the gift was not an institution, nor was it vaguely a Christian spirit, but the Holy Spirit as a personal life. It was direct personal communion with a gracious and saving God in Jesus Christ. It was direct obedience to his authority. What they presented to us was a Kingdom finally won in Christ, and not one yet to be won by any faith or work of ours. it is what they called ‘the finished work,’ and what is now called the absoluteness or finality of Christ. And it is here that, for the hour, the Church is their inferior. It has fallen from their evangelical height. The world has gone forward in its religion, but the Church has gone back in its faith….

The spread of religion has cost us the depth of it. Its modern charm has cost us its power. We have vivid religious interests, but no decisive experiences. We have fine sympathies, but not a more fearless conscience; a warmer ethic, but a poorer courage; eloquence about morals, silence about holiness; much about criticism, little sense of judgment. The religious crowd has little discernment of the spirit of its prophets. Our religion has more moral objects, but less moral interior. It wrestles with many problems between man and man, class and class, nation and nation; but it does not face the moral problem between the guilty soul and God. It pursues a high righteousness on its own, but it is too alien to the righteousness which is of God by faith. It dwells upon a growing moral adjustment, it does not centre on a foregone and final moral judgment in which God has come for our eternal salvation. In a word, as I have said, we are more concerned with man’s religion than with God’s salvation. We compare and classify religions more than we grasp the massiveness of grace. And we are more tender with the green shoots of the natural soul than we are passionate about the mighty fruits of the supernatural Spirit.

[The Person and Place of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 22, 23, 24-25. Accessed online: http://www.luc.edu/faculty/pmoser/idolanon/ForsythPerson.pdf (March 15, 2012).]

The Apostle Paul’s unAmerican Dream

The Apostle Paul’s statement in Acts 20:24 is so unbelievably contrary to the ethos that I am used to as an American I have to read it again and again for it to sink in.

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself [STOP!]” (ESV). 

Let’s try that one more time and use a different translation:

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me…” (NIV)

Alright, let’s try a paraphrase. Surely that will help soften this a bit.

“But frankly I do not consider my own life valuable to me…” (J.B. Phillips)

Bummer.

Paul, its time for a prescription of SSRIs. Your serotonin must be low. Anti-depressants would help. Haven’t you seen the commercials?

So, I invite you to dream a different kind of dream.

American Christians don’t talk like this. I don’t normally talk like this. Some preachers and teachers talk and preach precisely the opposite of this. Paul, as the verse before shows, knows that instead of comfort and convenience prison and affliction await him in each and every city and yet he has the resolve to keep going on with is mission and purpose in life. He is not depressed. In fact, his view of himself is a portrait of grace-shaped mental health.

Let’s look at the whole verse:

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul doesn’t derive value and worth from within himself or bother with techniques to increase his own self-esteem, but from something else altogether. He’s overwhelmed with God’s grace in and on his life, and the calling and mission God has given him to proclaim this grace to every city he goes to. It’s not that Paul is clouded by some poverty mindset or after some ruthless asceticism and desire to get beat up every-other-day, but that his life has been gripped by the good news of God’s grace for sinful people who don’t want to hear it. He wants to share this message because his own identity has been re-shaped by it. Paul calls himself the chief of sinners (1 Ti. 1:15) because he himself persecuted sinners God had saved, yet God graced him with forgiveness anyway.

Paul was forgiven much. God’s grace was extravagant to him, and he knew God’s big gospel of grace is for the whole world no matter how big the sinner because he was the biggest. His identity was gospel-shaped and led him to look at himself and live life with a different ethos and dream a different kind of dream than what I’m used to in this culture.

Wikipedia says the following about the American Dream

“[it] is a national ethos…in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, an upward social mobility achieved through hard work. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, ‘life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement’ regardless of social class or circumstances or birth.”

Paul’s dream is far different.

His dream is that people regardless of social class or circumstances or birth hear that they can achieve nothing before God through their hard work because they are sinners, but that God has achieved everything for sinners by sending his Son to die for the ungodly and save them from their sins. Paul’s good news is that even though you are a sinful failure, God comes for sinful failures in the person of Jesus and makes them perfectly righteous. You can’t achieve the gospel. You can’t work hard for it. You simply receive the grace God gives in Jesus.

And this dream of Paul’s did not make him prosperous or successful at least in the way that America defines it. Paul’s definition of prosperity and success is a life lived for God’s glory in God’s grace. The gospel message doesn’t promise you temporal success or prosperity. It promises something greater–being swept up in the glory of God and his ever-loving-you, never-ever-leaving-you grace.

Don’t buy the lies of psychologized self-worth, but theologize it with something far more meaningful, namely, God’s grandiose—not sparing of his own Son—love for sinners to make them sons. Don’t buy the lies of living for Americanized prosperity and success, but join the mission of eternal success and prosperity of “testify[ing] to the gospel of the grace of God” regardless of social, economic, and physical impact because one day “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

Grace can make you say “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself” without being self-deprecating and self-pitying because God in Christ is most precious of all. He is more precious and more valuable than life. Paul’s unAmerican dream is only unAmerican in that it is a kingdom of God dream for all people of every ethnicity and every nation (including America!) and carries an ethos that derives ultimate value from God and his gracious gospel not temporal comfort, convenience, happiness, and hard work.

So, I invite you to dream a different kind of dream. The church doesn’t necessarily need more dreamers but a different kind of dream. A dream soaked in more of God’s grace and more of God’s glory and less self. Dreams that are dictated by the shape and size of the gospel of God not the shape of size of the gospel of consumerism.

I know it starts here. In my heart. This dreamer in accordance with this gospel.

Come. Let’s join Paul.

Being the Bride (and the Blogger) in Love

Christian bloggers are known for being vigilantly (and sometimes annoyingly) after the pursuit of doctrinal faithfulness. Much of the purpose of the Christian blogosphere appears to be aimed at showing the popular preachers and pastors of large churches how, why, and where they are wrong. A sure way to increase traffic on your blog, no doubt, is to call out Christian leaders. Sure, at times, from the right person with the right attitude, this can be helpful. But the Christian blogosphere could use less heresy hunting and more writing encouraging readers to love Jesus with a love incorruptible (Eph. 6:24).

Affirmation of Jesus is not enough. He wants your heart.

That’s what this blog post is for. This post is about calling blogging and non-blogging Christians to love Jesus. Live the kind of life that shows you are the Bride of Christ in love with Christ.

Faithfulness to Christ, like faithfulness to your spouse, is not enough for a flourishing relationship. Obviously, your spouse wants your faithfulness. That’s practically assumed. But your spouse also wants your love–to have won your heart.

Jesus too desires your affection. The resurrected Christ had “this against” the doctrinally faithful church in Ephesus–they “abandoned” the love they had for him (Rev. 2:4 NRSV). The Ephesian believers were caught in that awkward position of being faithful to Jesus but not loving him. Jesus was not pleased by this. He is a jealous lover who wants the affection of his Bride.

Affirmation of Jesus is not enough. He wants your heart.

Francis Schaeffer, one of the best Christian philosophers of the twentieth century, called Christians to more than just intellectual acumen for a Christian worldview but to love Christ. He writes,

We must ask, “Do I fight merely for doctrinal faithfulness?” This is like the wife who never sleeps with anybody else, but never shows love to her own husband. Is that a sufficient relationship in marriage? No, ten thousand times no. Yet if I am a Christian who speaks and acts for doctrinal faithfulness but do not show love to my divine bridegroom, I am in the same place as such a wife. What God wants from us is not only doctrinal faithfulness, but our love day by day…

We must be the loving, true bride of the divine bridegroom in reality and in practice, day by day, in the midst of the spiritual adultery of our day. Our call is first to be the bride faithful, but that is not the total call. The call is not only to be the bride faithful, but to be the bride in love. [the Church at the End of the 20th Century (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1970), 129.]

How are you doing about being the bride in love?