We Christians talk about some strange things and have some really interesting priorities at times. As a child of the 70’s, prophecy and the end times seemed to dominate theological conversations of the adults that let me listen in. As a precocious child with a great deal of curiosity, I quickly came to understand that most of the adults were very concerned about the second coming of Jesus Christ and thought that world events seemed to be indicating that it not only it could happen at any moment, but it seemed more imminent by the day. Books like The Late Great Planet Earth, movies like A Thief in the Night and songs like I Wish We’d All Been Ready set the tone for many conversations and frankly scared me to death. I didn’t sleep well for weeks after seeing the guillotine scene in one of the end times movies and often wondered if I was even going to become an adult before Jesus returned.
During the 80’s, the priorities of the evangelical church community that I was a part of seemed to shift dramatically to a focus on family issues defined primarily as opposition to abortion, support of marriage (which seemed to be under significant attack) and opposition to secular values that supported the growing movement for gay rights. This shift led to an emphasis on political engagement with the clear idea that if we could elect the right people, these issues would start to change in a positive direction. I was pretty influenced by this perspective and as late teen in college I even spent a semester as president of college Republicans at the school I attended.
Over the next twenty years as I moved into adulthood, started a family and pursued a career and eventually a ministry, it was amazing to watch the priorities of the evangelical church evolve and change again. At different times the conversation focused on the charismatic movement and the prosperity gospel. At other moments the focus was on the growing megachurch movement and new forms of doing church. This evolved into a conversation about the emergent church and how young Christians were reacting to old forms of Christianity in a post modern world.
Today, the conversation has changed again and things like social justice and earth care seem to be the dominant issues of discussion in some circles. In the midst of the cacophony of ideas, a new thing seems to have crept into the dialogue and it scares me even more that the end times movies did. The concept of what is essential for a Christian to believe is eroding faster than the beaches in New Jersey. While many of us have been chatting about the latest method of doing church, a whole group of people have begun to question what it even means to be a Christian. As we had heated debates over speaking in tongues or what music was OK to sing in church, some influential young people began to listen to voices that said that maybe Jesus wasn’t the only way to heaven after all. As we sought power through politics and hoped that we could change the tenor of the culture in our country, some began to question the validity of the Bible as really the word of God at all.
Satan has used distraction, obfuscation and a focus on peripheral issues (as important as many of them are) to get our eyes off the essentials of our faith. As the support for religious pluralism (a fancy term for universalism) and “errant interpretations” of the Bible lead to questions about the inerrancy of the Bible itself, the core of our faith is under attack. This is nothing new, except that it is now happening from within as well as without. Books are now being published by leading evangelical publishing houses, blogs are booming and churches are growing that no longer keep the “main thing the main thing” as my pastor would say.
As an optimist at heart, these are difficult things for me to swallow and yet I do not believe that all hope is lost. I believe that there is a way back to to to foundations upon which our faith was based in the first place. The centrality of the cross, the work of Jesus in dying for us and the transforming power of the gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives must become our primary focus again. We as Christians have to embrace the seeming contradictions of a God of Love and Justice as core to the challenges faced when reading our Bible. He is “other” and His holiness is something that we need to stand in awe of every day. We must once again lift our eyes to the hills where our strength comes from and restate a robust defense of the essentials of the gospel that embraces the whole council of God who speaks to every issue of life. There is such a thing as a biblical world view and it must infuse all that we say and do. This radical world view of a just God showing unfathomable mercy in sending his son to die for us is worth shouting about. If we have any desire to impact our world in the years to come with this truth, we need to lay down our petty squabbles about non-essentials like eschatology and power politics and speak with unity about a God who changes lives in the here and now and for eternity. As we live out of that kind of reality we will develop the “aroma of Christ” that the writers of old so revered.