Sunday, August 2, 2015


It seems that Christians in the United States and Western Europe are entering an uncomfortable era of disfavor in society. This is something new and daunting for us in the so-called "First World," but is something that Christians in the rest of the world are quite used to and familiar with. While this is troubling, and, like many other believers, I have fears of how this may become expressed in not just hatred, but outright persecution of those who name the Name of Christ, it is probably something that will make the church stronger and more truly authentic in living out the Gospel of Jesus. After all, when one has lots of enemies, there are more than ample opportunities to love them. 

Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philospher and follower of Jesus, remarked that the best way to destroy the Christian faith was for it to be favored by society. Well, we have experienced this "attack" of being favored over the past years in American society, and the result has been as Kierkegaard predicted: a weak and insincere Christianity that literally lusts after the affections of the prevailing culture. Like barnacles attaching to a ship's hull, we see many Christian groups today going the directions mandated by our society. Rather than being a church of the Word, we have become a church of the world. (This is true of not only the "liberal" church, but also the conservatives and evangelicals as well.) 

In the new context of disfavor, there is one very good discovery that is occuring. The Gospel message of Jesus being God in human flesh, living among us, teaching and modeling God's intentions for humans, then dying on the Cross for our sins, and being raised from the dead by God on the third day is becoming fresh and new again. For the believer, the amazing power of God is becoming clearer to see. For the nonbeliever, the incredible foolishness of such claims are seen in stark relief to the supposed wisdom of secular sensibilities and modern "group-think" rationalities. Kierkegaard encapsulated this point in his writing, A Sickness Unto Death.
Imagine the mightiest Emperor that ever lived; and imagine some poor peasant, who would think himself fortunate if he could but once catch a glimpse of the Emperor, and would tell his children and grandchildren of this as the most important event of his life. Suppose that the Emperor were to send for this man, who had not supposed that the Emperor knew of his existence, and informed him that he wished to have him as a son-in-law. In all probability, the peasant, instead of being delighted, would be offended, since he would suppose that this could mean only that the Emperor wanted to make a fool of him!
And now for Christianity! Christianity teaches that every man, say an ordinary man who would be quite proud of having once in his life talked with the King of Denmark, can talk with God any moment he wishes, and is sure to be heard by Him, that for this man's sake God came into the world to suffer and die. If anything would stun a man, surely it is this. Whoever has not the humble courage to believe it, must surely be offended by it.
While the Gospel was considered polite and acceptable by our society, the true nature of its claims were obscured, even hidden from believer and nonbeliever alike.  But now its truth jumps out like a lion springing from the brush.  We must deal with these audacious claims, as Kierkegaard so aptly states.  Most people will be offended, and see Christian belief as absurd, even dangerous. But for those with "humble courage," it is beautiful and life-giving, and is more important than having the approval and favor of the world.   
So, there may be some rough times ahead for Christians in the United States and Europe.  But now we will discover and share what Christians in the rest of the world have known for some time now: that the Gospel is a sweet aroma that smells like death to those who reject Christ, but has the pleasant smell of life to those who follow him. (II Corinthians 2:15-16*)  In these days, people will no longer follow Jesus because it is good for their reputation or business contacts, but will only follow because they are sincere in their belief that this is true and that they are called by God to live out this truth despite disfavor and rejection. (II Corinthians 2:17*)

*For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To one we are an aroma that brings death: to the other, an aroma that brings life.  And who is equal to such a task?  Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.  On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.