Keeping the Faith – A Wrap Up

For the past several months, we have been addressing the issues raised in Dr. Ruth Tucker’s book, Walking Away from Faith.  We started out by emphasizing the importance of love and humility in how we respond to our young people’s doubts and questions as they stand on the brink of leaving the faith.  And we explored these five broad reasons folks identify for walking away from faith:

  • Scientific and philosophical issues, particularly evolution and naturalism.
  • Biblical perplexities and higher criticism.
  • Disappointment with God regarding personal and wide-scale suffering.
  • Hypocrisy and lack of caring among leaders in the church.
  • Lifestyle and perspective, including homosexuality, feminism, secularism, and pluralism.

We worked our way through this list looking at biblical answers to these faith challenges, and at the risk of overly simplifying the answers, let me recap our discussion.  On point one [Oct 21, 2011 to Oct 28, 2011] we emphasized the unnecessary box we place our students in regarding the creation/evolution debate.  God is the author of all science and is not surprised or taken out of the picture by new discoveries, even in the field of old earth geology.  Does that mean God has nothing to say to us in Genesis chapter 1?  Heavens no!  Genesis 1 emphatically teaches that God created the world from nothing.  This point was very important to Moses’ audience at the time since they were surrounded by cultures that worshiped the creation – sun, moon, stars, animals, etc. – not the Creator God.

We continued through the list [Nov 1, 2011 to Nov 7, 2011] by showing that we often compound the challenge of biblical perplexities by insisting on rigid theological boundaries that are not that clear in Scripture.  In doing so, we remove the appropriate mystery of the Sovereign God and in its place set up confusion around apparently contradicting scriptures.  We also add to the perplexity challenge our young people face when we fail to teach them all that changed between the old and new covenants.  We teach a distorted message when we inadvertently or on purpose present Christianity as an add-on to the consequence, rule-keeping based model of the Old Testament rather than emphasizing all that is “new” in the New Covenant, particularly its provisions for joyfully living the Christian life.

On point three [Nov 9, 2011 to Nov 21, 2011], we stressed that God is not the author of evil.  We emphasized the work of Satan, God’s arch-enemy, in perpetuating the flow of evil and suffering in this world.  The New Testament makes clear that while not God’s equal, Satan has been given rule, for a time, over our present world.  But Satan has a flesh and blood enemy opposing his rule, and that is us; Christ’s body on earth.  Jesus enlists us to join Him in “destroying the works of the devil” (I Jn 3:8).

On issue four [Nov 28, 2011 to Jan 13, 2012], we spent a long time diving deep into the topic of love and how the new commandment to “love one another” plays out in our interactions within the body of Christ.  The lack of love problem is not confined to church leaders as I believe hypocrisy and lack of caring is a church-wide problem.  We have elevated knowledge over love.  We have elevated a preferred personality over the diversity of the body as God formed it.  We have elevated numbers over depth.  We have elevated programs over relationships.  We have elevated leadership by the professional class unconnected to the body.  We have elevated things we can measure:  attendance, budgets, small group participation, number of staff, etc. over things we can’t measure:  faith, hope, and love.  And the greatest of these is love.

Finally, we have just concluded our discussion of lifestyle issues [Jan 30, 2012 to Feb 24, 2012].  We framed the lifestyle discussion in terms of the sacred and the profane.  As holy temples – sacred dwelling places for God’s Spirit – our lifestyle is a reflection of who we are more than the rules we keep.  We also talked about separating the true biblical position on lifestyle issues from the caricatures our young people think they are being asked to embrace.

We bundle it all together by highlighting the things God highlights in the New Covenant.  The power of love, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our confidence in God’s Word, and the strength found in the whole body working together all lift us above our doubts and help us realize the beauty of Christ and His bride.  And we invite all people, young and old, to join us on the path to discovery.  The gospel is indeed “good news” to all who seek and find it.  Remember, Christianity is not a narrow view to be defended; it is a wide open invitation to be extended.

Love Lifts the Burden

Another challenge we all face in the area of lifestyle is the high standard of Jesus’ call to discipleship.  When we reduce that standard to a list of rules to keep and the burden to keep the rules becomes too great, there is a temptation to give up on the Christian life.  But under the New Covenant, rule-keeping by will power has been replaced by an unfolding of our new nature as we more and more yield to the new influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  A way to think about getting out from under the burden of rule-keeping is this.

Have you ever heard someone say about their job, “It doesn’t really feel like work, because I am doing what I love?”  It does happen.  And it happens in the Christian life as well.  “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (I Jn 5:2-3).  Depending upon how you were introduced to the Christian life, “His commandments are not burdensome” may be news to you.  It was sure good news to me.

Tying the flow of God’s love to our keeping of the commandments – as John does twice in this passage – always seemed like a “catch” to me.  Aha! This love of God is not entirely unmerited.  There is a performance required on my part to earn God’s love.  There is a requirement to obey and, by the way, the standard – all that Jesus asks – is incredibly high.  Not just high, but maybe out of reach.

Then I began investigating why I was not experiencing “His commandments are not burdensome”, because honestly I found them quite difficult.  You cannot read the gospels with an open mind and not recognize that this discipleship business is serious stuff.  It really goes against our natural grain.

The promise of I John 5:3, “His commandments are not burdensome” came into view for me as I began to understand the provisions of the New Covenant.  I came to see that the joy in following Christ’s commands was not found in working harder, it was found in resting in and appropriating the new nature that He has given us.  It lies in abiding in His love.  “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (Jn 15:9-10).

When we abide in Christ’s love, we are inviting the facts of the New Covenant to become our experience of the New Covenant.  And when we do, His commands are not burdensome, because they were exactly what our new nature was made to do.  Just as someone may say about their vocation, “I enjoy this because this is what I was made to do,” so we too can say about the commands of Christ, “I enjoy them, because this is what I was made to do!”

Celebrate the Heartbeat

My father and grandfather both passed away due to heart attacks.  I recognize the likelihood of a genetic predisposition to heart disease.  I trust that my diet choices and heart healthy understanding have improved from previous generations but I do not trust in these things; I trust in the Lord, aware of the fact that none of us have any longevity guarantees.  What I do know is that I celebrate every heartbeat.  I celebrate every moment.  I celebrate every small victory and movement forward in my marriage, my children, my friendships, and my walk with the Lord.

Our daughter, Bethany, is an RN at a local hospital.  She also volunteers at a pregnancy center performing ultrasound evaluations for the newly pregnant clients who come to the center.  She told me that the heartbeat of the baby is the first sign of life she sees by way of the ultrasound.  In the earliest weeks of this child’s life, even before the rest of the body takes form, she can see the steady pulse of a heartbeat.

The significance of this picture to me is here.  The heart, as described in Scripture, is the center of our intellectual, emotional, volitional, and spiritual life.  Our heart is what ties us closest to God, our creator.  Our creation in God’s image starts with our heart and that is why it is no surprise that it is first to appear in the womb.  That is also why a baby in the womb is sacred; created in God’s image with a heart beating in rhythm with a life infused by God Himself.

In the heated political debate of abortion, I fall short of providing any quick answers to stopping it.  I am not sure how to criminalize the act in our current confusion as a country over this issue.  I do know I am uncomfortable with the “legal” label attached to the practice as it suggests that we as a society condone this atrocity.  In the long run, maybe it comes down to providing tangible help to those in a crisis pregnancy while continuing to educate a public that has become blind to the fact that abortion stops a beating heart.

And blind is not too strong of a word to use.  How else can we describe those who willfully ignore these commonly known facts from tenth grade biology class?

1)  Human beings procreate human beings.

2)  Abortion kills a human being.

3)  Abortion must stop.

No matter your political or religious bent, it really is that simple.  Celebrate the heartbeat.


One of the obstacles young people face in fully embracing the Christian message is the struggle with pluralism.  That is, what about all these other faiths?  Can they all be wrong?  The exclusiveness of the Christian message borders on intellectual arrogance in their mind.

I would approach this objection from two angles.  First, understand and be able to explain that Christianity does not have a corner on common grace, God’s general revelation to man.  The golden rule, honoring one’s parents, and caring for the poor are not exclusive to Christian teaching.  With an attitude of humility, we must recognize and celebrate God’s truth that is revealed in a variety of belief systems.  We can agree with unbelievers in their goal of strengthening their marriage and loving their children.  By virtue of being created in God’s image, all people have some level of moral ability.  And we demonstrate generosity, when we acknowledge truth wherever we find it.

Where Christianity does have exclusive claims, we need to be firm in our teaching.  Jesus’ own words could not be more clear; Jesus is the only way to eternal life with God, the Father, our Creator.  There is no room or need to compromise on this foundational tenet of our faith.  All paths do not lead to heaven.  Our rescue from sin, our deliverance is only through faith in the work and name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12 and a hundred other texts).

The second angle is to proclaim the exclusive message of “Jesus is the only way” in love, not condemnation.  Rather than excluding people, love emphasizes the inclusiveness of the wide open invitation.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world should be saved through Him” (Jn 3:16-17).  The salvation message of Christ is open to all.  There are no limits; no barriers of race, culture, sophistication, location, or time in history.  “For there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile [or any race, for that matter]; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:12-13).

If you think about it, most religions are basically cultural and nationalistic.  Christianity is just the opposite.  And because of that, its movement has spread at various times and in various ways across the whole world.  We so often associate Christianity with Western Europe or the United States, but that is because our understanding of the history of the church is naturally colored by our own cultural experience.  The cultural variety of Christianity extends from families in Palestine who have a Christian heritage going back a thousand years to the explosion of Christianity today in the global south.

We partly dismantle the pluralism objection by emphasizing the wide open invitation for people everywhere to join in.  In my opinion, Christianity is not a narrow view to be defended, but a wide open invitation to be extended.  There is incredible cultural diversity in Christianity.  And young people may be surprised to find this out.

Headship with a Heart

As we think about these lifestyle issues, one of the challenges faced by both unbelievers and doubting Christians is the caricature of the biblical standards on these issues that is called “Christianity.”  Our culture’s confusion about feminism is a good example.

The caricature is a concept of male headship that is colored by the abusive patriarchal model of many cults, domineering husbands and fathers operating under a misunderstood biblical mandate, and a vague notion of what the term “submission” implies.  Attaching the Christian label to the abuse of male headship has thinking people running for the exits, and I don’t blame them.  But the concept they are rejecting is not the biblical teaching but a cheap imitation.

The biblical concept of male headship is covered many places in Scripture, and the most succinct is, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (I Cor 11:3).

Our Christian bookshelves are filled with books about “the man is the head of a woman” running the gamut from the man is always in charge no matter what to trying to explain away the concept altogether as a first century cultural overprint.  What I have rarely seen is a book that tackles “God is the head of Christ.”  Maybe that concept is a little too much to get our minds around.  I bring it up because a proper understanding of male headship is inextricably linked to understanding the relationship between God and Christ.  And Jesus explains it for us in John, chapter 5.  (Much of what follows here is based on a Christianity Today article Headship with a Heart by Steven Tracy.)

“For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.  Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son does in like manner.  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel” (Jn 5:18-20).

The Jews clearly understood Jesus’ repeated claim to equality with God, the Father; so much so that they sought to kill Him.  In this passage we see this equality in action as the work of God the Father and the work of God the Son is shown as the collaboration of intimate equals.  Their relationship is rooted in equality, not superiority.  Does this equality diminish God’s headship?  Apparently not.  Thinking about how this applies to male headship, particularly in the marriage and family setting, this is the first application:  we are to treat our wives as intimate equals.

Continuing, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.  For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgement to the Son” (Jn 5:21-22).  God shares His authority with the Son.  Does this diminish God’s headship?  Apparently not.  Christ did not use His shared authority to usurp the Father.  He was responsive to the Father’s authority; He did the will of the Father.  We are to share authority with our wives.

Finally, God shares His honor with the Son.  “So that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (Jn 5:23).  Isaiah wrote, many years before, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another” (Is 42:8).  But God does share His honor and glory with the Son because He wants all people to honor the Son.  Does honoring the Son diminish God’s headship?  Apparently not.  We are to honor our wives.

When we take this back to I Corinthians 11:3, we find the concept and practical implications of male headship are rooted in the relationship of God and Christ explained in John chapter 5.  This approach to male headship also fits the example of Christ’s own ministry in which He honored women far above the cultural expectations.

The feminist answer to the abuse of male power is to reject the concept of male headship altogether.  The biblical response is to clarify, explain, and celebrate headship with a heart.