I consider myself a nice guy. I genuinely like people. My ENFP personality type means I am very comfortable in front of a crowd, and that I’m always looking to help people connect with one another. I prefer conversation to confrontation.
When it comes to sharing my faith, I would rather speak of the goodness of God than challenge someone’s relativistic views. I believe a key to reaching people in a Post-Christian world is found in the Apostle Paul’s words to the Roman believers: “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” (Romans 2:4)
But that does create some issues for me. What do you do with the absolute statements that are contained in the Bible? How do you reconcile Jesus’ messianic claims with a culture that believes there is no right and wrong?
Anyone who has seen Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is familiar with Obi Wan Kenobi’s statement: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” This paints anyone who believes in absolute truth as evil. At best, absolutes are considered by younger generations to be relics of the past, or dangerous ideas used to control the population. Let me add the fact that Obi Wan’s statement is itself an absolute statement 🙂
So in such a Post-Christian climate, how do you handle the absolute statements of the Bible? Take, for instance, Jesus’ words as recorded by the Apostle John:
“I am THE way, I am THE truth and I am THE life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6, emphasis mine)
Such statements seem narrow-minded and divisive to younger generations.
Three things to consider
1. I think it’s important we never forget that having a relationship with Jesus Christ requires a leap of faith, not a leap of intelligence. The Apostle Paul wrote about this to a group of Jewish Christians in the First Century that were living in the heart of the pantheistic Roman society. In their world even Caesar was considered a God. But Paul wanted to make sure that these early believers kept their focus on what it really means to have a relationship with God:
Without faith it is impossible to please God. For everyone that comes to Him must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those that diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
We can only connect with God through faith. He will use our feelings and intellect to pique our interest. But in the end, we can only approach Him through faith – faith that He is truly there, and that He will respond when we reach out to Him.
2. No matter how welcoming and accessible your church desires to be, you can’t ignore the fact that Jesus throws down the gauntlet. He invited people to follow Him. This requires that we leave some things behind. We can’t afford to make the Message so “palatable” to an unchurched person that we fail to paint an accurate portrait of what the Christian life is truly about. Jesus didn’t invite His followers to join Him in a victory parade of global domination. His words were much more pointed:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
They knew exactly what this meant. It meant crucifixion – an excruciatingly slow death on a Roman cross. Crucifixion was a graphic, humiliating and public way of executing political prisoners and troublemakers so the rest of the population would stay in line. It wasn’t by accident that Jesus used this metaphor to describe the process of following Him. Following Jesus will cost you something. It may not cost you immediately. But there is always a price to following Him. The good news is that the payoff is HUGE!
3. Jesus Himself didn’t hide who He was, even though in those days it was dangerous to claim to be divine, or even a divine messenger. Jesus welcomed people that the religious world had written off. He seemed to enjoy their company. And it’s obvious that they enjoyed Him. But He didn’t mix words. If you read through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s biographies of Him) you’ll find that His words are saturated with insinuations (and some outright statements) that He had come in fulfillment of prophecy as their long-awaited Messiah. Statements like this confront us with a choice. We either believe He is who He says He is, or we don’t. You can’t have it both ways.
The problem comes when churches draw a line and demand that people choose. And then whatever a person chooses determines his or her future in that local church – will he or she be an insider or an outsider? As I read my Bible I see that Jesus welcomed people that were just checking Him out. As He began His public ministry, Jesus noticed two men following behind Him.
When Jesus turned and saw them following him, he asked, “What are you looking for?” They said, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (John 1:35-39)
Jesus did ask some people to follow Him. But most others He seemingly allowed to follow along and hear what He had to say. Are we doing this in our churches? I like what Perry Noble, Pastor of Newspring Church in Anderson, SC says: “You can come to this church and not agree with me. You can be a part of what we’re doing, even if you don’t believe like we do. We invite you to come and check out what we’re all about.”
In our churches we need to have an intentional discipleship pathway with clearly defined next steps that lead to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. But we have to keep the front doors of our churches open to people that are still trying to get past the negative image they have of churches and Christians. We need to allow them to belong before they believe. They will be confronted with the truth, if we are preaching the Message correctly. It’s up to them to choose.
How do you deal with absolutes in a relativistic culture?
I always like your ideas Jon, but this time you really got to the heart of the dilemma of the way the western world lives. In particular I liked your example of Obi Wan’s statement as an example of an absolute statement.
I would like to rephrase your question for others as “How do you deal with absolutes?”
That’s a good way to put it! And it is a question we all need to answer. Much love to you and Janet!