A man recently went into a bookstore and asked the manager what most popular books are these days. The most popular he said were books about how to get rich in the new information economy. No big surprise. The second most popular, the manager said, were books about spirituality, and in particular, books on Buddhism. Why are books on Buddhism so popular, and not books on Christianity?
The very astute manager replied, “Perhaps because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief.”
We have reduced Christianity a professed faith rathe than a practiced faith.
For when our faith has been reduced to a belief system, we care more about the acquisition of information and the endless quest for techniques, methods, programs by which we hope to “achieve” spiritual fulfillment. This reduces our spiritual life to routine and dutiful acts religious performance. This is what Jesus vilified the Pharisees for! (Matt. 23:23-28) More often than not, it makes us proud for having “achieved” a superior “position” than those around us.
Most troubling is it becomes about the haves and the have nots; those who are in and those who are not are seen as a threat to be discredited at all costs. Belief systems turn us into mean people. If you don’t think so, try disagreeing with someone’s belief preference. (I am not talking about sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is essential in matters of faith. But even then, we must exhibit grace to those who disagree with us that they might be won over by our love for them.) I don’t know about you, but I have been on the receiving end of such things and it has been neither kind nor pleasant.
What we discover is being well taught does not make us more loving. Knowledge does not necessarily transform our hearts. Mindy Caliguire wrote, “It is entirely possible to keep acquiring more and more information about the Bible but be less and less transformed by that knowledge.” Without pulling any punches, Brennan Manning wrote, “The idolatry of ideas has left me puffed up, narrow-minded, and intolerant of any idea that does not coincide with mine.” There is something wrong when we care more about being right, than how we treat other people.
Look at John 5:39-40 ™ “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.”
If true believing faith is to be realized in our lives then our Bible study must catapult us into a living, thriving, growing, changing, adjusting relationship with the God who inspired the Bible. It is more the transformation of our own hearts, rather than the acquisition of more facts to be defended. Otherwise, we will miss the abundant life Jesus offers and died to give us. “…and that believing you may have life in His name.”
In John 13:34-35, Jesus, at the discourse during the Last Supper, said….”A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus places this new commandment as only second in loving God with all your heart. This, it seems, would be the distinguishing mark of those citizens in the Kingdom.
Francis Schaeffer called community the “final apologetic.” The ultimate defense…the ultimate proof…of Christianity is the community it lives in. We can look at scientific evidence and historical evidence and literary evidence and archaeological evidence and build proof after proof after proof to defend our beliefs. But at the end of the day, the proof is in the way we relate to one another. That is the final apologetic.
The ultimate defense for Christianity is how well we love. Even those who, and maybe especially, those who disagree with us. It’s not about as heads full of knowledge but hearts transformed and shaped and marked my love for our fellow man.
The force of John’s gospel is this: The Christian life is not a belief system; it is a real, meaningful, interactive friendship with Jesus. We move from one to the other only through the actions of surrender, trust and an encounter with the Living God. Christ did not die to give us a belief system. He died to give us himself; that he might live in us whereby our lives would be marked by love and compassion.
Will Willimon, wrote, “Just when I get my church all sorted out, sheep from goats, saved from the damned, hopeless from the hopeful, somebody makes a move, gets out of focus, cuts loose, and I see why Jesus never wrote systematic theology. So you and I can give thanks that the locus of Christian thinking appears to be shifting from North America and northern European where people write rules and obey them, to places like Africa and Latin America where people still know how to dance.” (Leadership Journal, summer 1994.)
Lord, teach us to dance.