“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” -Jude 1:3
So how do we ‘Contend for the Faith’ without being caustic, close-minded, narrow, judgmental jerks? How do we enter the arena of ideas and competing truth claims and wrestle, fight, dialogue and debate without becoming the type of people that might be right, but do it all wrong? Our goal is to reach people not repulse people. Is there a way to be an Christian apologist without becoming a ranting and railing, inhospitable, mouth-breather?
Yes, but it won’t happen without a fight. This day demands a certain type of person that is willing to take and throw intellectual punches in contexts that demand mental and spiritual strength, passion and purpose. There’s too much internet and social media sucker punching going on today, where people attack and retreat like keyboard cowards. The online world is also full of patrons looking from their seats, anticipating blood from a few over-trained gladiators or under-trained innocents dragged into the fight as fodder for the crushing. Our classes, churches, coffeeshops and the blogosphere are coliseums full of relational carnage. The ground is littered with the bodies of men and women who were never trained for the war of ideas or world-views but instead were rooted in religious experiential feelings, social community needs and relational boredom.
Our religious gatherings are often missing the sounds of training, the crash of weights, the thud of a bag, the groans and grunts of strain and reach and the moans of defeat. Sparing has been replaced with praying, saying and playing. We’ve removed the evangelistic and missional context that study, the disciplines, prayer and even worship are meant to equip us to engage. Somehow a religious rec league has replaced what once was a gym full of bare knuckled, hungry street fighters.
Supposedly today the most loving thing to do is leave people alone in their lives. A great movement of Courteous Christianity have swept over the pulpits and pews. The great denominator of our time is tolerance, which in practice, is really a ploy for silence. Camouflage has replaced body armor in the bunker of battle and everyone wants to hide instead of hit…it’s all butterfly…but no sting.
Repentance is a wound…not a massage.
Men and women are brought to their knees by the blow of truth and love to their pride, self-sufficiency and crippling need. The hammer of God is not used to destroy but to build, but it must be wielded with strength, purpose and power. Pulpits should be lighthouses of fog penetrating way-showing, not nightlights for convenience. The confrontational Jesus has been edited out of the gospels, leaving us with a message that’s all pain reliever with no surgery.
Training means you need to have a plan, a coach, a gym. A place where you are going to called on to step up when you want to step out. A lot of the ‘at home’ spirituality needs to be confessed for what it is…unaddressed wounds, resentment, fear, worldliness, pride, rebellion, laziness and ease. Too many people have bought a lie that deep and substantial health can be gained in private without any public context. It’s untested. Christianity isn’t golf, it’s more like rugby. It’s a full contact sport that depends on a well trained team of high performance pursuing individuals. This takes a commitment to formation and that means all of us doing what it takes to prepare ourselves privately and publicly.
When it comes to learning, many people say they don’t read today, yet, read all day long in bits and chunks online. People say sermons are too long or that today’s attention spans wont handle messages over 25-30 minutes in church gatherings, but people sit and binge watch multiple seasons of tv shows. On iTunes and Youtube some of the most popular podcasts and video casts are sometimes an hour or up to two hours long, like the Joe Rogan Experience. People want to learn, explore and engage, yet, too often leaders and institutions dumb it down, shut it down or tone it down to a level of easy disinterest.
Appetizer size conversations, touching talks or bible bits tweets, do not produce thinking abilities that grow and nourishing of mind, heart or spirit. If you set the bar so low, no one will train to get over it, because there is no challenge. We don’t have athletes of the inner world because we provide little places to compete, conquer or challenge. We’ve reduced spiritual disciplines and community faith practices down to microwaved minutes that produce very little soul penetration or saturation. We’ve replaced learning with inspiring and deep-rooted theology with shallow, spiritualized pop psychology.
I think one of the main issues today is writers are boring, especially a lot of Christian writers. It’s rehashed, sanitized, mushy stuff for toothless people. Cotton candy doesn’t produce virile and virtuous men and women ready to wrestle with the mainstream undercurrents. I also think there’s way too much money/market driven standard publishing that just releases safe, middle of the road stuff. The indie publishing has a dismal reach. It’s just hard to weed out all the garbage that is either filler or toxic these days. Filtering out the masses with their everyone has a platform and everyone is an expert is way too much for most people to wade through. I hope book dealers and bookshops, especially religious ones, will become fermenting centers of knowledge, reflection, interaction and meaningful action again.
In‘’The Pugilist’ my upcoming sermon at Jacob’s Well, I will dig into how the advancements in printing and publishing and the courage to use them, were at the heart of the reformation’s impact and reach. Getting the message out to the most people, in the most places was instrumental in spreading the reformation’s message and work like wildfire. We need more fire starters and less firemen today.
The times call for people willing to lay down their lives, reputations, shallow acquaintances, compromises, dilly dallying distractions and crippling trepidation. The call is out for people willing to enter the dangerous ring of life, laced up, oiled up, alert, prepared and passionate about all that is true, good and beautiful worth fighting for in life and eternity. There’s a seat for you…but it’s in the corner of a ring.