For about thirty years, I have thought something was wrong with the way we practice Christianity.
At first, I thought the church’s methods were out of date. They were, but that was not the problem.
Then, I thought the way we did church was sad proof that we didn’t understand or really care about the uninitiated. That has, unfortunately, been the case. But that was not the problem.
Finally, I came to believe that the institutional church and modern Evangelicalism was so very different than Jesus, that we needed to start over. It seemed like we had made some sort of institutionalized game with its own rules about sustaining itself that too often didn’t seem much like Jesus at all. I believe that to be the sad truth, but that is not the core problem.
The ancient Greek philosophers who tried to summarize virtue, came up with these three guidelines: truth, goodness, and beauty.
So, we ask ourselves:
- Is it true?
- Is it good?
- Is it beautiful?
Apply those criteria to the way we have practiced Christianity.
We have believed we have absolute truth. Apologetics is the art of arguing to prove it so. We have tried to instill this truth upon the greater culture who has not lately been very responsive to our, “I have the truth, sit down and I will teach you” approach.
We have believed that we have a superior morality and ethics. We have tried to hold that up as the standard for the culture, but the tide has been turning the other way for a long time. Our “this is how should live and this is what our laws should be” approach has gained us even more disfavor.
But we haven’t exhibited much beauty along the way.
People don’t think we are right when we try to force beliefs on them, condemn them for having different views, protest against their ways, try to make our point in anger, or our demand our way through politics.
People don’t think we are good when our angry words or our self-indicting silence reveal the depravity of our own hearts.
They are not buying what we are selling. They don’t want to be like us.
In the video, Brian Zahn considers the stoning of the women caught in the act of adultery. Was is true or right? They could point to some Old Testament passages for support. Was it good or ethical? They could say they are upholding the value and virtue of marriage, however drastic their methods. Was it beautiful? Well, it is hard to make a pretty picture out of a bunch of self-righteous men stoning a woman, while the male offender’s sin is unaddressed. It was ugly on every level.
Beauty is sneaky. It gets past our defenses. It has to do with form and appearance. As Evangelical Christians, generally speaking, our methods have been ugly. We didn’t see it because we were so wrapped up with our superior beliefs and morals, but our delivery was too often just as ugly as anything our enemies could produce. What are we doing with enemies anyway when we instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to love those who think of us as enemies?
The world did reject the way of Jesus. It rejected the way of christians.
Beauty persuades people. God’s love, forgiveness, and grace drew us to him and keeps us in awe. It’s counter-intuitive, surprising, inspiring, and beautiful.
We don’t need to force anything on people. We need to live out the confounding beauty of Christ.
I basically summed up the ten-minute video presentation by Brian Zahn. Interestingly Brian is a pastor in my hometown (geographical origin) of St. Joseph, Missouri. He explains this all much better than I have. Give the video a look.