January 22, 1994
Last week I lectured at a local church on the issue of missions. After
the lecture we had a question and answer session. There were two questions
from the audience that really got me thinking. The first was from a young
man who is studying to be a teacher. He's anticipating being in the
classroom and he desperately wants to make an impact for Christ. And he
asked, How can I minister in the school when they don't allow ministry? He
wanted some suggestions from me on how to work through that. And a few
moments later there was another question from a man that said he has
difficulty sharing his faith. His friends say, "That's good for you,
but I don't need that." He wanted to know how to respond to that.
These two questions are linked in a very important way. This isn't
something that I've thought deeply about. It actually occurred to me as I
was talking with them and the thoughts began to formulate in my mind. The
thing that is difficult in talking about this idea is that it requires us
to be self-reflective in a way that we're not used to. I mentioned that
it's hard for us to be self-reflective about our own culture in the
context of missions because we're immersed in our culture and we can't see
things in our culture without going outside of it by going to another
culture. By the same token, to reflect on our Christianity we run into the
same problem. I think it was Francis Schaeffer who used the illustration
of what it must be like for a fish to describe what it's like to be wet. A
fish is always wet. He knows nothing else so it's very hard to describe
that particular thing. When we reflect on the way we view Christianity in
the context of our culture, we can't reflect very effectively because
we're in the midst of it. So I'm going to grant that this may be kind of
hard to work through, but I'd like you to chew on this idea.
These two questions that were asked are related in a critical way. My
first answer went something like this. The question shows some confusion
about the way we view our Christian life in that we are Christian people.
It shows that we view our Christian lives in rather a narrow fashion. We
think, for example, that Christian impact comes from doing ministry rather
than from being a Christian. What's the difference? There's a very
important difference. Back during the Reformation there was a notion of
your life as vocation. Christian vocations were not holy orders. They
weren't being a minister or being in full time Christian work, per se.
Christian vocation was any manner of life that you happened to choose with
the idea that your entire life and everything you touched was going to be
transformed by your Christian commitment. So ministry wasn't something you
do. Ministry was something that you are. You made an impact on people
because you were a Christian, but it goes beyond that, of course. It's not
simply enough to be a Christian. It's a particular kind of Christian that
we have in view here. Here's how it comes together.
We have our greatest impact when we are living a robust, broad based,
Biblically informed, thoroughly Christian life, in which our Christian
world view informs everything we do and everything we are about: our
ethics, our behavior, our view of government, our view of human
responsibility, sexuality, art and aesthetics, work, human value, nature,
recreation. It deals with everything that we deal with and it ought to be
integrated because we understand that Christianity is not just chapter and
verse that deal with "religious" topics. It entails an entire
way of looking at the world, such that everything in our world is somehow
informed and influenced by this broad based, rigorous, entirely Christian
world view. When that happens it overflows into everything we do, whether
it's teaching, or being an attorney, or a gardener. If it's your goal to
be a Christian like that, you don't have to worry about doing ministry;
you are being ministry.
The question that the first individual asked can only be asked because
the Christian asking the question doesn't understand the breadth of
Christianity. And because we don't understand Christianity, we don't know
how to respond to the second question.
If we had an expansive view like that, then we would understand what's
behind the unbeliever's remark in the second question. Why was the
question so difficult to answer for this other Christian? The problem here
is the unbeliever's view of the world. The question is not the real
question or problem. The Christian and non-Christian are speaking two
different languages. The Christian is either wittingly or unwittingly
holding to a particular view of the world and the unbeliever has an
entirely differently view. But because the Christian is not
self-reflective on his world view and doesn't understand it completely, he
doesn't realize that he's speaking a different language. In fact,
sometimes I'm not always sure that the Christian understands what he's
What I mean specifically is this. The question is not the real
question. The problem is not that the nonbeliever doesn't "need"
Christianity. How do we get them to feel the need for it or change their
minds? What's happened is that the non-believer does not have in his
perception of reality that there is such a thing as truth. He's a
thoroughgoing relativist. To him, Christianity is just a preferred
activity of the Christian, or preferred notion or belief. It's simply a
preference. He prefers something different. Why would you fault him for
his preference? Why does he have to be like you in your preferences?
There's no sense that this is a world filled with both true and false
notions and that we have a rational obligation to separate the two and a
moral obligation to follow truth. We don't understand that because our own
Christian world view is not broad. We don't have a rich understanding of
the ramifications of what we hold to be true. Instead, things aren't true
or false; they're pleasant or unpleasant, appealing or unappealing, liked
or disliked. The fact is that our Christianity is not our preference. It
ought not be for you. If your Christianity is what you prefer, you're
missing entirely what Christianity is all about. I do not prefer
Christianity. I prefer agnosticism. It's much easier. It's much less
troublesome. I could do more of what I want. The fact is, I believe that
Christianity is true so I'm rationally and morally obligated to follow it.
And because it's true, there is a necessary quality to it. I can say that
because I understand about world views. That's why I can approach this
issue in this fashion. But if we don't understand that our Christianity is
necessary, that it's "true truth", as Francis Schaeffer used to
say, then we are caught up short when we try to talk to someone who
doesn't share out preference.
In acquiescing to that, we try to appeal to the false view instead of
telling them the truth. We try to make Christianity more likable, more
pleasant, more appealing rather than clarifying that it is more true
because that's what they're looking for, rather than clarifying that
Christianity is more true. And so the trap we fall into is resorting to
entertainment rather than advocacy.
Another way of putting it is that the true starting point is not man,
ultimately, but God. If in fact man is all there is (the perspective of
the person we're often sharing with), then the only place he can start and
end is with man. Then preference becomes supreme. But if God is there
(which is what the Christian says), it doesn't matter what is preferred.
It only matters what is true.
Part of being a Christian involves a change in our world view, not just
a change in what turns us on. We adapt our lives to a new, truer view of
the world rather than offering a view that is meant to be adapted to our
lives. So instead of trying to find a way of making Christianity more
pleasant and preferable to the nonbeliever, we explain that his view of
the world is wrong and that we cling to Christianity because it's true. We
conform our desires to the truth rather than the truth to our desires.
Yes, it's important to make truth appealing, but we can't substitute
appeal for the truth.
So both of these questions are tied together in a very important way
and it says something about our frame of mind, our way of viewing the
world as Christians. And what it says is not good. It shows that our world
view is not informing all aspects of our lives. Indeed, it shows that we
have no Christian world view at all, in any comprehensive sense because we
can't even understand the questions that are being asked of us. The
statement that Jesus died for our sins is not a world view. It's a
statement of truth that really has very little meaning or makes little
sense outside of a broader way of seeing reality. It needs context. When
you do that, you're an apologist because you're capable of speaking to any
area of life, showing how it relates to a coherent world view. That is,
you're a thorough-going Christian and you have a thorough-going Christian