Friday, August 04, 2006

I Was Dead Wrong

When Marty Herron was the director of Northland Camp, I often heard him say, "A message prepared in a mind reaches a mind. A message prepared in a heart reaches a heart. A message prepared in a life reaches a life."

This comment returned to mind when I read Mark Dever's quote from David Wells' Above All Earthly Powers in his T4G blog post yesterday:
The postmodern reaction against Enlightenment dogma will not be met successfully simply by Christian proclamation. Of that we can be sure.

That proclamation must arise within a context of authenticity. It is only as the evangelical Church begins to put its own house in order, its members begin to disentangle themselves from all of those cultural habits which militate against a belief in truth, and begin to embody that truth in the way that the Church actually lives, that postmodern skepticism might begin to be overcome. Postmoderns want to see as well as hear, to find authenticity in relationship as the precursor to hearing what is said.

This is a valid and biblical demand.
Faith, after all, is dead without works, and few sins are dealt with as harshly by Jesus as hypocrisy.
Dever ties this into the mission of 9Marks, and I heartily agree. But what struck me as I read Wells' perspective was his emphasis on the need for life-proclamation in concert with word-proclamation.

I recently wrote in a post here, "[T]he gospel cannot be irrelevant. It only needs to be proclaimed." After some reflection, I now realize that I disagree with myself. Although it's true that the gospel cannot be irrelevant, I do believe that our responsibility involves more than (audible) proclamation. Believers are also responsible for visible proclamation. "Walk as children of light." "Walk worthy of your holy calling." "Pure and undefiled" religion is to care for orphans and widows and to keep oneself unstained by the world. All men will know that we are Christ's the disciples if we "have love for one another."

In other words, our lives are to be visible demonstrations of the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Don't get me wrong. That doesn't mean life-proclamation replaces word-proclamation. I simply mean that Scripture seems to indicate that God intends to draw people to Himself through preaching of the Word that is authenticated by the gospel-centered lives of His people.

Could it be that the miraculous signs Christ and his disciples performed were intended all along to be replaced in their message-verifying purpose by the equally miraculous transformation of rotten sinners into children of light? Might this have taken place as the work of the gospel expanded and took root in the first growth spurts of the Church?

Ok, I don't see cessationists lining up to add this argument to their arsenal. No matter. Let me think out loud for a second.

Have we convinced ourselves that because we do certain things and don't do certain things that we are living out a counter-cultural message that will impress unbelievers? Is that the message of the Cross? Or didn't it have something to do with radically sacrificial love?

Is it possible that we would better communicate the central message of the Cross if we focused less on looking different and more on living different—less on doing what pleases ourselves (within morally acceptable parameters) and more on giving of ourselves to care for others. Whether we're caring for the needs of believers or unbelievers is a question worth asking, but I'm not sure it's the first question today's evangelical-fundamentalist churches need to address.

6 comments:

Jeff said...

Ben,

At the end of Wells' book he calls the church to "authenticity," which he describes as "believing and being, talking and doing, all joined together in a seamless whole" (p. 315).

He goes on to say that the Church was most influential when it "sought to live by [God's] truth and on his terms, when it sought to proclaim that truth in its world, when it was willing to pay the price of having that kind of truth, when it was willing to demand of itself that it live by that truth, when it sought above all else God in his grace and glory" (pp. 315-316).

I think this reinforces what you are saying and I agree wholeheartedly. Will Metzger, in his book Tell the Truth, uses the image of an airplane to describe God-centered witnessing. The airplane is the Christian Witness and the two wings are our Lives and our Lips. Without each wing the plane crashes.

Keith said...

This is exactly what some of us mean when we talk about Christians impacting culture.

P.S. not trying to start an off topic debate. I am quite impressed with this post.

Alan R said...

Impressed as well. Looks like someone is sloghing off the inherent insularity of fundamentalism. Glad to hear that you are realizing that the gospel is words plus feet. As St. Francis of Assissi told his missionaries, "Go out and preach the gospel...and if necessary, use words."

bob bixby said...

Ben said:Could it be that the miraculous signs Christ and his disciples performed were intended all along to be replaced in their message-verifying purpose by the equally miraculous transformation of rotten sinners into children of light? Might this have taken place as the work of the gospel expanded and took root in the first growth spurts of the Church?

Ben, you are in good company, I think. I believe it was Hansard Knollys (sp?), Baptist theologian and contributor to the 1689 Confession who argued against the Quakers that, contrary to what they claimed, his messaged was accomanied by signs and miracles: changed lives.

PT Barnum said...

Ben,

Seems like such a new concept for someone as myself. I grew up in a church that blasted any and every form of what they labeled "lifestyle evangelism". Biblically it is always a combination of our walk or the way we live and our words. I really enjoyed your post and pray that I will personally practice this Biblical model for ministry. Wouldn't it be wonderful if ALL fundies would endeavor to practice this lifestyle with the LORD's help?

Wonderful post.

Matthew

Ben said...

Thanks to all. I appreciate that historical perspective, Bob.

Keith, I really don't think my position has changed since our previous debates. Maybe we have a semantic difference or think in different categories. Or maybe we still have some fundamental disagreements. If there are cracks to be revealed, I suspect my coming post(s) on Carl Henry will reveal them.