Tag Archives: exestentialism

The radicalness of ordinary

The best way to write a bestseller is to have a compelling, action-packed narrative. In the Christian market it seems the best route to take is to buck accepted wisdom, to tell everyone that what they thought was a good idea really isn’t and that what we should do is overhaul our lives.

This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, nor is it particularly wrong in itself to call to attention traditional practices of Christians that legitimately do need to be changed. Martin Luther was arguable one of the first christian bestsellers, and for a good reason. His books were lengthy and detailed. Luther wanted to convince his readers of the truthfulness of his position.

Today, however, I wonder if much of what passes for christian literature, is not meant (or otherwise merely has the effect of) producing an emotional reaction.

Take the grandfather of what I’ll call “get busy for Jesus” books. Charles Sheldon wrote In His Steps around the turn of the 19th century in order to encourage his readers to ask the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” The intent of the question is sound, to encourage people to be courageous Christians, but the method is wholly existential. In order to answer the question one is asked to, at some level, pretend they are Jesus. The result is that the answer to what Jesus would do turns out to be whatever the one asking the question subjectively decides.

The alternate to this approach, in case you’re wondering, is to ask “what did Jesus do and say?” This is the difference between a deconstructive and an analytical approach to the acquisition of knowledge.

But that’s the problem. Luther wrote to impart knowledge. Sheldon wrote to impart an experience. And it is Sheldon’s intent that I find in many Christian bestsellers today.

Three modern variations come to mind. Henry Blackaby’s bible study, Experiencing God, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, and David Platt’s Radical series. Each one has, at its core, a call to an experience. And each one, if closely analyzed, is inherently against the analytical approach to gaining knowledge.

Another common factor in these books is a call to “be radical”. To make sweeping wholesale changes, preferably without much analysis or forethought. Not only is this reckless, but it runs afoul of what Jesus taught about carefully calculating the cost of any decision we make.

Sometimes radical changes are necessary. But more often than not they are merely destructive and should be avoided in favor of slow and gradual change.

One of Luther’s radical conclusions was that the normal, average person was important. That even the most ordinary work could be glorifying to God. That one didn’t need to be a rock-star in order to have an impact on the world.

What is really radical are ordinary people doing ordinary things day after day. What is radical is a family that lasts. What is radical is a responsible financial plan that helps mitigate unforeseen circumstances while allowing for a slow and steady accumulation of wealth to be handed down to subsequent generations.

Here are a couple of other great reviews of David Platt’s Radical:

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Listening for the voice of God

Listening for the voice or looking for the will of God are trendy topics these days. Much ink has been spilled and many conferences have been produced around the simple question; “What does God want me to do?”. WWJD indeed?

For those of you who are wondering about the phenomenon I am talking about, here is an article that expresses the route most Christians take when attempting to answer the question above.

First, this desire to know and find God’s will1  generally comes about from a right desire to obey God in all facets of life which, therefore, appears to be a mark of one’s spirituality if we tell others that we are “listening to God”. In fact, we have many places in Scripture where we are commanded to listen to the voice of the Lord and not to harden our hearts. In fact, one evangelist used Hebrews 3:7-11 in conjunction with his evangelistic presentation to try to convince people that the feelings they had were really promptings from the Holy Spirit.

Second, the struggle comes in because this “voice of God” is usually rather elusive and the one in search of it is often left without a clear and concise answer to the question they are asking2. Many teachers use Elijah’s experience in the wilderness3 as an example here.

John Piper and Mark Dever have both written excellent articles on this subject, both offering very good outlines and rebuttals. But the most comprehensive work I’ve found has been a doctorial dissertation done by Garry Friesen which subsequently became a book titled, Descision Making and the Will of God.

The bottom line is that workmen approved by God4 know how to rightly divide Scripture, not some vague inner impression that may or may not be God’s voice.

From even a cursory reading of the Old Testament and New Testament we can see that when God spoke, the intended hearers knew beyond a shadow of a doubt both who was speaking and what was being said. It is only because of an intense and misguided5 desire for “religious experiences”6 that we tend, more often than not, to seek the “will of God” outside the definitive Word he left for us.

How we go about learning God’s will for our life (let alone others’ lives) matters very much. It is wrong for us to ask someone to trust our religious experience. It does not matter how real they are/were for us and regardless of how convinced we may be that they are genuinely from God, the fact is that we are not prophets which is what we would end up being if the generally accepted “voice of God” view is accurate.

Mary Baker Eddy, one of the founders of Christian Science movement, based her theology almost exclusively on the belief that people today can and should “listen to the voice of God” as it gave them more revelation than what was found in Scripture. In the most extreme sense7, one can also cite Joseph Smith and Muhammad‘s extra-biblical revelation in the same vein of “hearing from God”.

We should rather stick to the objective facts8 when it comes to what we claim and proclaim as the “Word of God” which, when carefully evaluated, can only be the Scriptures God himself wrote and preserved and it alone is what our faith should be based and built upon.

One final note, religious experiences are wholly bad in themselves but we should never ask someone to rely upon OUR experiences since that would be asking them to place their trust in us rather than God.

At this point I know many will ask: What about the Holy Spirit? This is another area I fear we have not taught very clearly on which I’ll address in another post, but I wanted to address the cancer this whole “voice/will of God” notion is in the Church today. Something I believe produces undue anxiety in too many Christians. Crippling them with a heavy yoke and burden which looks nothing like he light and easy yoke Christ claimed to bring in Matthew 11:30.

  1. Often expressed in the exhortation by many pastors to “listen for the still small voice of God, more on that later, though. []
  2. “Who should I marry?”, “What house should I buy”, etc… []
  3. 1 Kings 19:11-13 []
  4. 2 Timothy 2:14-15 []
  5. Misguided because it smacks of exestentialism. []
  6. That is, a subjective experience we attribute, rightly or not, to divine origin. []
  7. That is, not exactly the same as, but nevertheless, in the same vein. []
  8. Objective, because religious experiences are wholly subjective and therefore non transferable []