Here on this blog, the contributors claim a distinctive. We are different from any other pack of novelists. In several ways. Yes, we bring an international flavor, but deeper still, we make a bold claim. We are Christian.
I’ve been asking myself what that means and how it should define me and us, both as writers and as people.
I read a disturbing book recently: unchristian: What a New Generation Really thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. It reports on the Barna research done on thousands of “Christians” looking for what sets them apart. Most of the book focuses on the opinions of non-Christians and what they think of us. The results are less than flattering. When outsiders view Christians, their first impression is “hypocritical.” Other equally unflattering opinions follow: homophobic, only interested in conversion, right-wing political, etc. etc. Where is the love that Jesus said would be the characteristic that defines us?
Perhaps more disturbing is the data revealing little difference in behavior when comparing non-christians with those that consider themselves part of “the flock,” including percentage recently visiting internet pornography sites or the tendency to lie to present oneself in a positive light on the job.
There were other categories, but those serve as adequate examples.
What are we to conclude from such a failure?
I see three options: 1. The people surveyed aren’t real Christians at all. Perhaps they are culturally Christian, but the faith never really “took.” I believe (sadly) that this is a partial answer and a scary one at that. The passage in Matthew where Jesus explains the separation of sheep and goats is telling. The goats thought they were sheep! They complain, “didn’t we prophecy in your name, etc.?” 2. The people surveyed are real Christians, but the gospel isn’t really powerful to exact a change in people’s lives to the point where behavior is affected. (Please understand that I reject this option out of hand, but to be complete, I include it here.) 3. The people in the survey are real Christians, but they have remained infantile in their understanding of the power of the Gospel to transform. They came to Christ by grace, but attempt to walk forward (having little teaching) trying to please God in their own efforts.
I think (hope) that option three, not option one is responsible for the largest segment of responders in Barna’s research.
I believe we have failed a generation of Christians that have embraced a “John Wayne-pick-yourselves-up-by-the-bootstraps” approach to faith. I love what Pastor Mark Driscoll says about this: The false gospel of works says, “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps; the Gospel says, “You don’t have any boots!”
Romans 6:14 teaches that sin will not dominate us because we are not under the law, but under grace. Hmm. That means grace doesn’t excuse bad behavior. Grace elevates behavior.
In Titus 2 we read that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness. Wow, grace touches our lives not just to bring us to salvation, but to keep us from sin after we are “in.”
I believe that many, many Christians have settled into a life where their faith has been defined as a weekly hour in the pew and hope has given way to a frustrated inability to overcome sin. Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be!
I know the issues are complicated and I can only scratch the surface here, but suffice it to say that I believe that walking in a life of grace saturation is key. In scripture, it is tangled inseparably with the concept of dying to self, understanding our own weakness (and His strength), walking in the Spirit, and looking to Christ. Focus on sin and we fall. Again and again. Focus on grace and we begin to find deliverance. I have written in some detail about a life of grace saturation in the book Breathing Grace: What You Need More Than Your Next Breath.
The best thing about writing a book on God’s grace is that I don’t get to take any credit. If I stood up and patted myself on the back, it would be proof-positive that I just don’t get it!
I really don’t believe the Christian life can be defined by externals. God knows the heart and I can’t judge.
But didn’t Jesus say that we will know a tree by its fruit?
And what did he tell his disciples? “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
How do people know me? Do I have the reputation of being reckless or lavish in love? Or something less? When I read from the Bible that we are to be the aroma of Christ, I wonder how often I’ve left off the stench of someone enthralled with myself instead of a sweet scent of the Savior.
What about our writing? Should we not different from the rest of the pack? And shouldn’t we be defined by a positive instead of a negative? Do we just write entertaining stories that lack graphic sex and R-rated language? (Or because this is an international forum, are we just writing good stories of far-away lands that lack offensive adult content?) Or does our writing carry the fingerprint of love?
What defines us? What sets us apart?
I hope it isn’t that I write stories with an African perspective.
Sorry for the heavy, gang. Understand that my fingers are pointed at my own heart here. My sincere hope is that we can prod our readers with these truths. Our protagonists ought to be coming face to face with grace and their own inability to pick themselves up on their own.
And when our readers lay aside our books, I hope they have the sense that we have loved them well.