Sometimes words are so aptly put that they seize you with conviction and you find your head nodding in assent. Such were these by David F. Wells in his rather scathing review of modern evangelicalism:
Our is a ‘Christian faith that is conceived in the womb of the self’ rather than in the forge of God’s truth. Compared to historic Christianity, ours “is a smaller thing, shrunken in its ability to understand the world and to stand up in it…Where the self circumscribes the significance of Christian faith, good and evil are reduced to a sense of well-being or its absence, God’s place in the world is reduced to the domain of private consciousness, his external acts of redemption are trimmed to fit the experience of personal salvation, his providence in the world diminishes to whatever is necessary to ensure one’s having a good day, his Word becomes intuition, and conviction fades into evanescent opinion. Theology becomes therapy, and all the telltale symptoms of the therapeutic model of faith begin to surface. The biblical interest in righteousness is replaced by a search for happiness, holiness by wholeness, truth by feeling, ethics by feeling good about one’s self. The world shrinks to the range of personal circumstances; the community of faith shrinks to a circle of personal friends. The past recedes. The Church recedes. The world recedes. All that remains is the self.”
(No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, pp.172,182-3)
I haven’t read the book yet though I read an extensive precise and my interest is definitely piqued! Wells has written with scholarly passion for nearly twenty years warning the church of its dangerous departure from solid theology in favor of a worldly self-focused pragmatism. I ordered my first sampling of his books today!
But, about this quote…does it ring true to you? I’ve been reading and re-reading it for several days now and I admit that at first I read it with a smug “Yep, I see that (in others)”. But it didn’t take more than a little reflection to realize that this self-styled form of faith has fingered its way into my life. I have been shaped by culture as well. The pre-occupation with self that pervades the world and makes self’s pleasure the measure and motive for just about everything…has crept into my life. The question must be asked: Who is at the center of my universe?
Imagine a universe where we are gods. Where our pleasure is of paramount importance—after all God wants us happy (doesn’t He?), and our concerns are what matter most (aren’t they?). Just as God declares who He is and what He wants us to know about Him in the Bible, so we have Blogs! And like frogs in a world-sized frying pan we have warmed our egos to a deadly temperature quite far from the manufacturer’s specifications. It’s so cozy in here that it’s hard to see how far we’ve come from a God-centered faith. David Wells summarizes our contemporary evangelical generation: “Where we should expect, for all the opportunities we have for hearing God’s Word, a vibrantly repentant, gloriously sanctified, humbly serving, boldly outspoken, and energetically activist community, instead we find a religious people stretched out on the therapist’s couch, endlessly fixating on their personal needs and hurts.”
The question is, how do we get out (or stay out!) of this frying pan and take our proper position as creatures designed for God’s glory and pleasure above all else?
That’s the question I’ve been pondering today and here’s what I have to offer. First of all a new-to-me Twila Paris song came to mind. It ran through my head yesterday driving and later, exercising…the refrain says: “One small sacrifice—I give you all my love, I give you all my life—a token for a prize, that never could be worth the honor you deserve…” (from her “Small Sacrifice” 2007 album) The song succinctly puts my life’s significance in perspective by contrasting it to God’s own sacrifice. I am indeed not my own. I’ve been bought with a price. “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service” was Paul’s way of saying it and by his own life he exemplified this expenditure of His life for God’s glory:
“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” Phil.2:17NASB
What does that look like for a 21st century home-maker with a dwindling supply of offspring to launch into the world? My body a living sacrifice… Could it be that faithfulness in the small things is what’s required? The meals, the schoolwork help, the housekeeping, and the trips into town for orthodontic appointments….Today I made a quick trip, just time to run to the mall and get some recyclables refunded before picking Rachel up again… but in this tiny bit of errand-running I ran into three different people I know… one standard ‘How are you’ turned up the unexpected news that Al has just been diagnosed with ALS. Already his speech is slurred and his hand affected. He can see the end of his life rushing toward him but hopes that God will spare him. He is a believer, but now has contact with others with ALS who don’t know the Saviour… As a fellow member of Christ’s body, what do I have to offer Cal that will leave him refreshed as though he’d just passed by a spring of living water? Or the young mom battling persistent cancer whom I ran into on the way into the Dentist’s office…what is there to say? I came home keenly aware that for me opportunity comes in little unexpected chunks—and that I have need to be overflowing with something other than ‘self’ if I’m going to have anything to offer at these moments.
This morning I had a chance to dip into Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality. In a chapter expounding the implications of our salvation, past, future and present he made this statement: “Whatever is not an exhibition that God exists, misses the whole purpose of the Christian’s life now on this earth.…We are to be living a supernatural life now, in this present existence, in a way we shall never be able to do again through all eternity” –a life that is by faith, not yet having seen Jesus face-to-face. He goes on to say that Christians are to be the demonstration to the world that the normally unseen world does exist, and more than that, that God exists. (True Spirituality, 72). How do we do that? At some length Schaeffer amplifies on the experiential, moment by moment reality of living as the bride of Christ, letting the Bridegroom bring forth fruit in me through His indwelling Spirit, by faith. The reality of the resurrected, glorified Christ working through us is the supernatural life we are called to live out…
I confess, this is far more theoretical to me than I would like. But I’m eager for it to become more and more the reality in which I live. I love Mary’s story—when the angel came pronouncing her assignment—you’ve been chosen to bear the Son of God… In a distinctly different sense this is true of every believer. What a daunting idea! Flesh and blood to show Christ to the world. She could have run in panic or balked in unbelief at the preposterousness of such a thing. But instead she said: “Behold, your handmaid—be it unto me according to Thy Word.” (Luke 1:38) No exertion of her personality or any amount of energy could accomplish this thing. But she could offer herself, a living body, into God’s hands to do with as He would. And so she did.
As self is yielded up with all its members ‘as instruments of righteousness’ (Rom.6:13) I escape the womb of self and Christ lives through me. That’s what I want—a life yielded and expectant, looking to God to accomplish with my lifestory what I could never do by myself. Then mine will be a story that shows Him to be the reason for life, the universe and everything!
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)