Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Why Do We Easily Choose the False, Fleeting and Faddish?

The Christian life begins with spiritual astonishment at the glory of the gospel and the goodness and beauty of Christian truth, with the wide-eyed surprise of the infant brought into a new world of grace. 

But over time, our eyes grow heavy and our tastebuds dim—and that’s when errors creep in. Spiritual sleepiness results in a sagging sense of God’s love and diminished commitment to pass on the faith to the next generation. We become sluggish with the Scriptures; bored with the Bible; drowsy toward doctrine. Overfamiliar with the truth, we gravitate toward “exciting” new teachings or practices that promise to awaken us from spiritual slumber. And error—always dressing itself up as more attractive than truth—seizes opportunity when we are most prone to wander.

Why do we so easily lose our wonder at truths that have informed and inspired Christians for generations? How is it we find ourselves no longer wowed by old truths? Why are we drawn toward theological error? To better understand our susceptibility to this spiritual malaise, we should take a closer look at our context, to see the forces at work—in our world, in our churches, and in us—that diminish our devotion.

Cultural Chaos

We begin with the anxiety and unsettledness of these chaotic times, a result of political polarization, technological advances, and worldwide disasters. We are inundated by information (and disinformation), flooded by various views and opinions ranging from the absurd to the abstract, which make it difficult to discover what sources are credible. Anyone can grab a megaphone and shout down those who would deviate even slightly from whatever new orthodoxy unites a particular community or political party. We don’t know who, if anyone, we can trust.

For Christians, this sense of disorientation is magnified by the shifting moral landscape. No longer can we expect religiosity to be respectable. Long-held beliefs and values drawn from Christian doctrine are now “extreme.” Assumptions shared by nearly everyone a few decades ago are suddenly beyond the pale. As fewer and fewer people identify with a religious tradition, those who adhere today to institutional forms of religion fall further outside the mainstream.

In generations past, respectable religiosity and cultural Christianity presented their own set of challenges to true faith and practice. The way of Christ is never easy, and believers in every era are prone to forget their first love (Revelation 2:4). In our era, the danger of abandoning our first love manifests itself through the pressures of a society where Christianity is not the norm, and common Christian beliefs and morals no longer seem plausible. In the midst of constant flux, “stability” is now regarded with suspicion. Like everything else, faith is caught up in the whirlwind of change.

Church Confusion

Meanwhile, many churches are in a stupor—bewilderment drains the energy of the believers who attend. Congregations and denominations are embroiled in conflicts that resemble the world of hardball politics. Widespread disillusionment has settled into the church following the scourge of sex abuse scandals, abusive leadership patterns, and institutional coverups of atrocities committed by some of the world’s most trusted and admired faith leaders.

Hypocrisy has bolstered the anti-institutional sentiments of many toward the church, leading to an explosion of new religious options and narrowly tailored spiritual experiences. Cultural observer Tara Isabella Burton says many people are trading institutional religion for intuitional spirituality: “a religion decoupled from institutions, from creeds, from metaphysical truth-claims about God or the universe . . . but that still seeks—in various and varying ways—to provide us with the pillars of what religion always has: meaning, purpose, community, ritual.”

In response to this crippling confusion, some Christians call for the updating and improvement of the faith for a modern era. Others disavow aspects of historic Christianity but try to hold on to a few preferable parts. Several high-profile leaders have renounced the faith altogether. Meanwhile, large swaths of once-faithful churchgoers have quietly closed the door and just slipped away.

Christian Complacency

What happens to those who are left, the rank-and-file Christians who love their families and cherish their churches? In every generation, we face the danger of longing for the past while fearing the future. And this mix of nostalgia and fear leads us into a state of complacency—a mission-less faith. We file in and out of the sanctuary week after week, content to recite the same words with our lips, but our hearts remain unstirred by the truths we confess, and we are less likely to invite others to believe the good news.

Complacent Christianity causes compartmentalization—a convenient separation of Christian truth from the beliefs that frame our day-to-day activities.

Christianity becomes just one aspect of a busy life. What we believe, we’re told, isn’t as important as how we live. And even then, it’s fine if our life choices don’t line up with Christian teaching as long as our faith helps us be true to ourselves and keeps us from hurting anyone.

What’s missing from this scenario is any sense of Christianity as a mission that requires obedience to a King, a rollicking adventure that brings us face to face with opposition, as we proclaim something bigger and more satisfying than personal preference. Christianity’s call to costly obedience may not appear on the surface as heroic or radical—we may experience seasons of stress as we struggle to raise our kids, clock in and out of an unfulfilling job, and do our best to serve the believers in a church filled with problems—but we must remember that the pathway of repentance and faith imbues even the smallest acts of self-sacrifice with eternal significance. The mission remains, and it stands in contrast to a complacent Christianity that would domesticate the faith and dampen its revolutionary passion. In countless ways that may not seem obvious to us or others, we are to rebel against the rebellion of a fallen world and witness to the rule of the risen Jesus over the universe.

The Diagnosis

I’m convinced that one of the primary causes of this spiritual malaise is our loss of confidence in the truth and goodness of the Christian faith. In every generation, we risk losing our wonder at the glory of Christian truth and the enduring witness of the church. Amid chaos and confusion, we can easily turn our focus on ourselves and, as a result, forget God. It’s as if we have inherited a vast estate—sprawling grounds surrounding beautiful buildings filled with priceless heirlooms—but we stay cooped up in a broom closet, complacent and bored, with no desire to explore all that we’ve been given in Christ.

We’ve been here before. Chaos and confusion are not new. Every generation faces these challenges, for different reasons. The key to renewal is not to do away with the aspects of Christianity we find unsettling in our time. (After all, if Christianity is true, we ought to expect every culture to come into conflict with its claims at some point or another.) Neither should we ignore new challenges and wave away hard questions about what we believe and why.

No, the key to renewal is to return to the only truth that is reliable and sturdy when so much in the world seems fleeting and faddish: the gospel of God delivered once for all to the saints. The gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins, rose triumphantly from the grave to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation by the power of the Spirit). Much more can and must be said about this good news and its impact on us and on the world. I’ve merely scratched the surface of what J. I. Packer used to tell his students is “the biggest thing that ever was”; ancient truth, ever new. The way forward is to reach back, to find renewal in something old—foundational truths tested by time, a fount of goodness that refreshes and satisfies, long-forgotten beauty from the past that lifts our eyes above the suffering and sorrow of the present.

The Thrill of Orthodoxy

What the church needs today is to recapture The Thrill of Orthodoxy

We need the “old, old story” of “how a Savior came from glory.” We need to be part of a courageous choir of Christians—reawakened to the beauty and majesty of the Christian melody, committed to right belief and right worship. To join our voices with the apostles of two thousand years ago, singing the one song that by the power of the Spirit still resonates today.


By Trevin Wax,  an adapted excerpt from his new book "The Thrill of Orthodoxy"

Monday, November 28, 2022

The gospel, the good news, is an announcement that God has acted to save you. I am not talking about any potential positive change in you morally or socially as the result of the gospel hitting your ears and exploding faith in Christ in you.

The gospel is how God rescues sinners from sin, death, hell, devil and the grave. It is not what it should or could do to you morally or socially. I am only interested here in placarding what the “Good News” is. The gospel is of vital importance and the gospel assumed is the gospel denied. And while it can be communicated in various ways, every place we find it in Scripture points us to the same truth:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 - “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”
  • John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
  • Romans 4:5 - “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 - “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The Gospel is an announcement of an actual event in time and space where Christ was crucified and cursed in your place and raised from the dead so that you would be raised from the dead. It was an event that happened outside of you, and that was done for you. It is good news as an announcement of what was done for you and what is actually being given to you in the hearing of this announcement. It is the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.

It is my conviction, which is bound by Scripture, that prevents me from identifying the gospel as anything outside of God’s action for sinners. Specifically, God’s action for you. Even more specifically, God’s action through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that is for you.

So, when we see the gospel made out to be national patriotism, social justice, how to be a better person, how to have a better life, how to have better health, how to be more successful, how to be more prosperous, or how to be thriving and amazingly blessed according to this world, where is the gospel? Where is Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins? It is nowhere to be found. It is assumed at best and at worst it is presented as a means of how your felt needs can be met through this fake gospel. It is our generation’s own offering of indulgences. It is a transaction of tithes and membership in exchange for the never-ending “seven step series’” on how to achieve what you want in this life.

I need to hear the gospel every day because when life gets hard, when trials come, when death is near, when death hits home, my default is to grasp at the law and to ask “What have I done? Have I done right? Have I done enough?” And law that is written on our hearts says “No, you have not done enough and will never do enough.”

Never forget the “for you” part of the gospel. The for you part transfers the historical event of the Gospel to an event of the gospel in real time that is being given to you and done to you. Not speaking about the gospel but giving the gospel. Not speaking bout Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, but about Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins given to you right now!

The gospel is not a transaction where you decide to take the offer of the gospel. It is not as if God places forgiveness of sins on account of Christ on a table in front of you, waiting for you to pick it up for it to now then belong to you and be for you. That is not how the Gospel works. It doesn't become “yours” or “true for you” when you decide to take the Gospel. The Gospel is a gift, and you can’t take a gift. You receive a gift. The gospel is therefore not activated nor initiated by you to be true for you. God chose to give it to you and sent someone to announce this good news to you.

I looked for the Gospel in these ancient sites in Scotland. I saw crosses. Ornate crosses. I looked for “Christ crucified for my sins.” At the Celtic site in Scotland, a church still meets. Inside, they had a poster listing seven points of their beliefs all of which revolved around their first point, that the gospel commands them to see peace founded on justice and that costly reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian faith. While I saw the gospel in this ancient site displayed in the crosses which proclaimed “Christ crucified for my sins,” this message of a gospel which commands rather than promises is unfortunately not the gospel of Christ.

The gospel is not a command to do something for God for him to save you. It is an announcement that God has done something for you to save you. For Christ’s sake this is most certainly true.


By Zack James Cole, Associate Pastor at Suwannee Station Family Life Church in Suwannee, Georgia.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Politics Makes a Lousy Worldview

Recently, a denominational leader said to me that the best thing that the Church could do to handle the challenges of this cultural moment would be to “stay in its lane.” That the so-called “culture wars” have been grueling, and the Church is primarily called to spread the Gospel. That when it comes to the most controversial issues, the best strategy is non-confrontation and to focus on what is most important.

I think I know what he meant. There’s certainly truth to the idea that Christians overemphasize politics. 

As I’ve said on more than one occasion, politics makes a lousy worldview. In a culture without better answers to life’s biggest questions, politics too easily assumes the place of God, determining everything from our values to our sources of truth to who we’re willing to associate with. When Christians embrace a political identity rather than a Kingdom identity, the riches of Christ are exchanged for the porridge of political gamesmanship.

However, telling the Church to just “stay in our lane” and out of politics is an equally unhelpful answer. Typically, the “stay in your lane” mandate is only applied to unpopular issues, like abortion, marriage and family, or religious freedom. No one ever tells the Church to stop fighting against sex trafficking, or to no longer dig wells for communities without fresh water, or to cease sustainable economic development in impoverished nations. Christians should absolutely engage worthy causes because the Lordship of Christ and the implications of the Gospel demand it, not because they are deemed culturally uncontroversial.

Historically, the Church’s shining moments have often come in direct conflict with dominant cultural beliefs and practice. The Roman world needed Christians to take in abandoned children and oppose the gladiatorial games, precisely because the pressure was enormous to do exactly the opposite. When we engage with culturally acceptable causes but “stay in our lane” on unpopular ones, we fail the tests of courage and integrity. It also exposes a Church that loves the approval of our neighbors more than we love them and wants to fill pews more than practice what is good and true.

Also, every law and state action reflect a worldview and are based on consequential assumptions about human value, the nature and purpose of sex, what and how children should be raised, the scope of the state, and a million other things. The question is never whether politics will operate from worldview assumptions, but which worldview it will operate from. Systems that value work, protect human life, and allow for dissenting voices instead of silencing them will always be superior to systems that don’t. Therefore, Christians should engage the political “lane” as a way to love God and to love our neighbors.

However, the biggest issue with this “stay in your lane” approach to the Church is the question of what exactly the Christian lane is in the first place. Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper put it best: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” In other words, because the head of the Church is Christ, who is Lord of everything, Christ’s lane is the entire cosmos.

The Scriptures are clear on this. Colossians 1 states that Christ is “before all things and in Him all things hold together.” God was pleased through Christ “to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood shed on the cross.” This means it all belongs to Him. Christian musicians should make music as if God is sitting next to them on the piano bench. Christian bakers should make sourdough as if God is going to have a slice. Christian citizens of a democratic republic should strive, with humility and wisdom, to influence and govern and live together as if Christ is over it all, because He is. We contend for the well-being of our neighbors, even when it’s unpopular. The question isn’t whether Christians should engage politically, but whether we will do it well. We don’t live in a theocracy, and pastors aren’t policy makers. But Christians are to apply God’s truth about everything to everything.

So, Christian, stay in your lane: Do the good works which God has ordained for us to do from the foundations of the world. Just know that they encompass every conceivable aspect of human existence.

By John Stonestreet and Kasey Leander (Colson Center for Christian Worldview

(This Breakpoint is republished from 8.2.21.)