I regularly listen to a podcast from the RZIM ministries. It is normally one lecture/sermon a week with a recorded Q&A session on Friday. The main speaker is Dr. Ravi Zacharias, an Oxford graduate and Christian apologist. I like listening to his stuff because he handles the basic defense of Christianity better than anyone I know. Can Man Live Without God and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity are the two foundational books for the rational reasons to follow Jesus Christ.
That said when Ravi does more traditional preaching, more application of what it means to be a Christian, I don’t really track with it. Could be a communication style thing, but it just doesn’t reach me the way others do.
Occasionally one of the other ministers from RZIM are on the podcast and they connect with me. Recently I was listening to The Gospel In A Consumer Society by Stuart McAllister, which I plan to order on CD.
There were a couple of quotes that have stuck in my mind. One was a quote from someone else about how culture has shaped the church through the ages.
When the gospel came to the Greeks, they made it a philosophy,
When it came to the Romans, they made it a system,
When it came to the Europeans, they made it a culture*
When it came to the Americans, they made it a business.
* Culture as in art
Another author said you can tell what is most important in a society by looking at what has the biggest buildings. In Europe that was Cathedrals and Castles, the two leading powers for the middle ages. In America is it businesses, banks and insurance companies have much fancier buildings than the biggest mega church.
I find this interesting and true. I’m not sure it is inherently bad. In all things we will make things work in our culture. We just need to be aware of what our culture is doing and when it needs to change. When a missionary goes to a foreign country to preach, she is keenly aware of culture, because she is an outsider. She can see the things that are evil and need to change, as well as the things that are good and need to be embraced.
In the modern church we have a cultural blindness that keeps us from seeing what we’ve adopted from our culture that isn’t good. One of these things is that looking good and feeling good are the most important thing. In reality doing good and being good are the most important thing.
Think about that for a minute.
Isn’t it true in the church? Aren’t we concerned with looking good? To some extent I mean literally looking good on the outside, but also looking good in our behavior. We don’t want someone looking at us and getting the wrong idea. We keep things from our Christian friends because we think they might not approve. We hide our pain and hurt from our Christian brothers and sisters. That’s being concerned with looking good.
Then there is a therapy gospel. The gospel is here to make you happy, or make you feel good. If you feel good about something, then it must be right. If you feel bad, it must be wrong. In the secular world, feelings is all there is.
This is a practical application of apologetics. One of the best defenses of the theistic worldview is the moral law. Without a supernatural source, any concept of right and wrong is a matter of personal feeling. So feelings get elevated to the highest place. If we can change the feeling, then we redefine what is right and wrong..
But we’re Christians and we have a moral lawgiver. We have a perfect example in the life of Christ. We have a written word from God. These things mean we are not dependent on our feelings to decide what is right and wrong. Instead we have a standard we are held to.
And you know what? Sometimes doing good and being good doesn’t feel or look good. Sometimes we have to suffer. Sometimes we don’t do something that would feel good because it is wrong. Sometimes we have to sacrifice ourselves and our feelings to do good for someone else.
This lesson is one of the reasons Stuart McAllister connects with me. I can argue moral law as a reason for a supernatural god with the best of them, but what does it mean to me? Is it there just as a proof God exists? The moral law isn’t the babelfish. It is a foundational principle of our lives.