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Christianity can Save the World (Part 2 of 2)

Okay, is it just me, or does anyone else see a resemblance? But I digress…
As promised, here is the rest of
Christianity can save the world”:

One of the paradoxes of history is the relationship between the beliefs and the practices of the early Christians as compared to those of the culture around them.

The Greco-Roman world’s religious views were open and seemingly tolerant–everyone had his or her own God. The practices of the culture were quite brutal, however. The Greco-Roman world was highly stratified economically, with a huge distance between the rich and poor. By contrast, Christians insisted that there was only one true God, the dying Savior Jesus Christ. Their lives and practices were, however, remarkably welcoming to those that the culture marginalized. The early Christians mixed people from different races and classes in ways that seemed scandalous to those around them. The Greco-Roman world tended to despise the poor, but Christians gave generously not only to their own poor but to those of others faiths. In broader society, women had very low status, being subjected to high levels of female infanticide, forced marriages, and lack of economic equality. Christianity afforded women much greater security and equality than had previously existed in the ancient classical world. During the terrible urban plagues of the first two centuries, Christians cared for all the sick and dying in the city, often at the cost of their own lives.

Why would such an exclusive belief system lead to behavior that was so open to others? It was because Christians had within their belief system the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity and peace-making. At the very heart of their view of reality was a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. Reflection on this could only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who were different from them. It meant they could not act in violence and oppression toward their opponents.

We cannot skip lightly over the fact that there have been injustices done by the church in the name of Christ, yet who can deny that the force of Christians’ most fundamental beliefs can be a powerful impetus for peace-making in our troubled world?

Compare the early church to where we are today. To say that we’ve strayed off point would be one of the biggest understatements of this century. Many of us are so focused on what we (and others) shouldn’t do that we lose focus on what we should do: “Jesus replied:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:27-30)
If these are in fact the greatest commandments, then shouldn’t we strive to fulfill them? Should they not be a litmus test for everything else we do and say? And if “all the law and the prophets hang on these two”, are we not being obedient to all of God’s laws when we strive to follow these? As my friend and pastor is fond of saying, “Following Christ isn’t easy, but it’s not complicated.” We need to get back to the basics. We need to love God and each other, and because we love God and each other, we take care of each other. Not just our family and friends, but enemies and strangers as well.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. (John 3:16-21)
Gimme that old time religion…..It’s good enough for me.

Christianity can save the World (Subtitled: Pardon me, I’m a bit blogstipated…)

To borrow a term from a friend and fellow blogger, I’m a bit blogstipated. I have a few ideas in my head, but I just can’t seem to get them down the brain stem, through the arms and fingers on to the keyboard. I’ve also been a bit preoccupied with life in general. I hope you won’t think this is a cop out, but I wanted to share a small snippet of an amazing book I’m reading.

I first saw Tim Keller earlier this year at a church planting conference in Florida. Among all the cool, hip, young church planters and pastors I heard speak, Tim Keller stuck out like a sore thumb. I knew absolutely nothing about him and was completely unprepared for what came out of his mouth. This very conservative looking man comes out, sits down in front of his notes and proceeds to talk about the Gospel of Christ in a way that had me and the majority of the audience absolutely riveted. You can have your Rob Bell and your Donald Miller. To me, Tim Keller is a rock star.

In his book, “The Reason for God”, Keller makes a strong argument that both secularism and orthodox Christianity are on the rise, and we must engage in dialogue instead of writing one off as the radical left or right wing of society. If you are a skeptic, atheist or agnostic — read this book. If you are a Christian — read this book. I promise you, it will answer many questions and doubts that you may have about those who don’t share your beliefs, and even questions and doubts you may have about your personal spirituality or lack thereof.

This book is jammed packed with cerebral awesomeness. The following excerpt is from Chapter One: “There can’t be just One True Religion”. Don’t let the title mislead you. Part One of the book is devoted to addressing arguments against Christianity that skeptics have posed and have been largely left unanswered. This is one of many.

Christianity Can Save the World (Part 1 of 2)

I’ve argued against the effectiveness of all the main efforts to address the divisiveness of religion in our world today. Yet I strongly sympathize with their purpose. Religion can certainly be one of the major threats to world peace. At the beginning of the chapter I outlined the “slippery slope” that every religion tends to set up in the human heart. This slippery slope leads all too easily to oppression. However, within Christianity–robust, orthodox Christianity–there are rich resources that can make its followers agents for peace on earth. Christianity has within itself remarkable power to explain and expunge the divisive tendencies within the human heart.

Christianity provides a firm basis for respecting people of other faiths. Jesus assumes that nonbelievers in the culture around them will gladly recognize much Christian behavior as “good” (Matthew 5:16; cf. 1 Peter 2:12). That assumes some overlap between the Christian constellation of values and those of any particular culture and of any other religion. Why would this overlap exist? Christians believe that all human beings are made in the image of God, capable of goodness and wisdom. The Biblical doctrine of the universal image of God, therefore, leads Christians to expect non-believers will be better than any of their mistaken beliefs could make them. The Biblical doctrine of universal sinfulness also leads Christians to expect believers will be worse in practice than their orthodox beliefs should make them. So there will be plenty of ground for respectful cooperation.

Christianity not only leads its members to believe people of other faiths have goodness and wisdom to offer, it also leads them to expect that many will live lives morally superior to their own. Most people in our culture believe that, if there is a God, we can relate to him and go to heaven through leading a good life. Let’s call this the “moral improvement” view. In the Christian understanding, Jesus does not tell us how to live so we can merit salvation. Rather, he comes to forgive and save us through his life and death in our place. God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.

Christians, then, should expect to find nonbelievers who are much nicer, kinder, wiser, and better than they are. Why? Christian believers are not accepted by God because of their moral performance, wisdom, or virtue, but because of Christ’s work on their behalf. Most religions and philosophies of life assume that one’s spiritual status depends on your religious attainments. This naturally leads adherents to feel superior to those who don’t believe and behave as they do. The Christian gospel, in any case, should not have that effect.

It is common to say that “fundamentalism” leads to violence, yet as we have seen, all of us have fundamental, unprovable faith commitments that we think are superior to those of others. The real question, then, is which fundamentals will lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive to those with whom they differ? Which set of unavoidable exclusive beliefs will lead us to humble, peace-loving behavior?

There are a few more paragraphs that complete this discussion. I will share them with you tomorrow.

For me, the deeper my desire to live a life devoted to Christ, the more I realize how, in the past, I have sometimes been a Pharisee and lived under the false illusion that God’s love for me was somehow greater because I loved Him. When you begin to make the effort see others through the eyes of Jesus, to speak the truth without judgement or disdain, I believe you are moving closer to the fullness and abundance of a life of service to the King. I have seen some positive movement within the church to return to the practices of the early church. I pray that this movement is a revolution and not just a fad.

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