Why Culture Rejects God’s View of Right & Wrong

The following post is actually a short essay I wrote for my ethics class recently about why and how secular culture rejects any notion of God’s view of right and wrong.

Check it out:

Culture essentially rejects the way God views right and wrong by adamantly adhering to one predominant, overarching worldview: cultural relativism. Cultural relativism essentially states that moral norms are not objectively standardized, but are instead determined in flux based on the specific situational factors of the culture at a specific time. This secular view rejects any notions of objectivity, absolutism, metanarratives, and standards about reality and the world. Instead, it emphasizes subjectivity and elevates inherent human potential and progress as the existential solution and savior for life as we know it. Therefore, cultural relativism refutes the need for God in society, believing human knowledge and ability can sufficiently run an ideal social structure. In general, cultural relativism operates upon two significant presuppositions about authority and design that ultimately lead to a divergence from biblical ethics. The following essay will analyze these two presuppositions of cultural relativism and will reveal how it causes a culture to reject God’s view of right and wrong.

Firstly, because cultural relativism rejects external objectivity and emphasizes internal subjectivity, the human individual immediately gains authority to determine the difference between right and wrong. This means that at a larger level—like a civil gathering of many human individuals—the consensual agreement by a majority about their own subjective beliefs determines the difference between right and wrong. However, when different individuals or different cultures collide, each entity’s beliefs of right and wrong grate against the others’ beliefs. Of course, a problem with a relativistic moral compass is that anyone can justify his own ‘immorality’ in the viewpoint of another by claiming it was ‘morality’ in their own viewpoint. And unfortunately, the victim cannot argue for his own justice (if he is intellectually honest), because making the perpetrator honor his own subjective rules would be terribly arrogant. Nevertheless, placing moral authority in the subjective hands of any and all individuals creates an exploitative impulse to set morals that only accord with one’s own desires, which may inherently conflict with others’ desires and morals. Indeed, each person likes to be the authoritative arbiter of truth for himself because it justifies actions and alleviates guilt from outside morals that intrinsically conflict with one’s conscious, habits, or lifestyle.

While there are countless examples of this in society, the most extreme case could be Hitler and his pursuit of the Aryan race. Hitler had strong subjective, personal convictions that the Aryan race was the solution to an ideal society. In fact, a majority of the German people supported the cause for the Holocaust. And according to cultural relativism, this societal endeavor can only be defined as morally right. Now, of course, our relativistic culture would respond, but of course, we all know this was morally wrong! But as a culturally relativistic society ourselves, who are we to say that the German culture was objectively wrong? Our own cultural relativism claims there is no objective morality after all. If we are intellectually honest, America can only admit that Hitler’s Aryan cause was wrong for our American culture, but not objectively wrong or even subjectively wrong for their German culture. And the same principle applies in every dimension of morality where cultural relativism is present. No one can tell someone else that their actions are ‘wrong’; they can only state that their actions are wrong to them. Likewise, in a larger social structure, society can claim that someone’s actions are only wrong to society, but not wrong in an ultimate sense. Cultural relativism makes the individual the final arbiter of ethics and truth. Indeed, from a biblical standpoint, making a natural sinner the ultimate determiner of ethics can only mean moral friction amongst both individuals and groups at every level in society.

Secondly, cultural relativism rejects the biblical notion of human design and human nature. Because cultural relativism gives ultimate authority to the individual for determining his existence, he is therefore permitted to establish what is right and wrong for himself. Many ethical issues of culture—such as sexuality, gender, and abortion—all stem from the base presupposition of what we believe about human design. Cultural relativism maintains that humans are the definers of its existence, while Christianity, on the other hand, emphasizes that God is the definer and creator of its existence. Therefore, a relativistic culture can argue that homosexuality is not morally bad, especially if the homosexual finds love, purpose, and satisfaction through a homosexual relationship; additionally, if homosexuality does not violate anyone’s rights, then it should be allowed. In the end, an ultimate sense of love, satisfaction, and purpose is only determined by the individual. So anything goes, and who is government or anybody else for that matter to tell you otherwise? For cultural relativism, what people believe about human design causes a belief in what is right and wrong for human design. It argues that if human design is in flux, then so also is morality related to human design. Christianity rejects notions of fluidity in human design, claiming that all humans were made in the image of God and in complementary genders of male and female.

Overall, the strong tendency of the naturally sinful individual to prefer a relativistic moral framework—which maximally elevates his own authority for determining reality regarding ethics and design—is not at all surprising. Indeed, why wouldn’t a sinful individual who rebelled against God’s lordship not follow the natural impulse for his own lordship? Cultural relativism predominantly pervades American society because it is self-justifying, self-glorifying, and individualistically self-authorizing. Cultural relativism, I believe, principally remains at the heart of how cultural rejects God’s views of right and wrong.

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How Do You Percieve God?

How you see God sets the course of your spiritual life. It also determines the nature of your spiritual life as well. Does your perception of God ultimately cause guilt? Or fear? Or the feeling that you’re walking on ice? Or does it cause confidence? Or graciousness? Or fearlessness? It’s ok. This is just a blog; you can be honest with yourself for just a second.

Unfortunately, a majority of our culture—and even Christian subculture—sees God mostly in two extremes. They perceive God as either a Zeus-like deity waiting to throw a lightening bolt whenever you even get near sin, or a God who is sappy-sweet, loving pushover who tolerantly sweeps sin under the cosmic rug. These two perceptions either paint God with a gray beard, deep voice, and large scepter—whom you deeply fear—or paint him with flowing hair, soft hands, and a beauty sash—whom you couldn’t actually take seriously. Either extreme doesn’t induce any true sense of love or devotion to God.

But the truth is, in the Scriptures, we see God illustrated as a tension of these two extremes: full of grace and truth (Jn. 1). The problem is, grace with no truth is simply liberal sentimentalism. And truth with no grace is simply cold-hearted fundamentalism. But only the gospel—the biblically right expression of God—paints God both as a just Judge who is perfectly holy and a loving Father who is perfectly gracious. At the cross, we see the perfect intersection of justice and grace. The justice of God unwaveringly requires the penalty of sin to be paid, but the grace of God willingly paid it himself—and at the highest cost to himself.

Therefore, God is not a pompous, cold-hearted king who demands that we kiss his ring and bow at his feet. He is a king who has washed our feet, and who has sweated drops of blood in love for us. He is a king who did not  justly condemn us, but who graciously took our penalty of condemnation and lovingly gave us his royal position.

Therefore, in light of all that, God’s command for us to love him is not a selfish or megalomanias request—it is essentially a call for us to come home.

Your perception of who God is directly affects how you relate to him. He is indeed King, but he is not an impersonal, judgmental, or hardened Ruler—he is a personal, gracious, and unselfishly strong King who deeply loves his people. He rightly demands all, and it is only right for us to give him all because he is King. But he is also immeasurably good to us, which inherently compels us to want to give our devotion to him after all. His strong, personal love for us is what ultimately produces strong, personal love in us for Him.

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10 Questions/Answers On BIG Topics

The following blog is essentially a short Q&A about big questions concerning life, religion, politics, and some stuff in between. Just a caveat, not every answer to each question is completely thought through, nor is each answer totally a comprehensive or worthy response either. Nevertheless, here are the 10 questions/answers about big topics in life:

  1. How did life come to be on earth?

I believe that it all started with God, as described by the Bible as the Trinity, who collectively created all things as an overflow from the glory and love they shared with one another so that other creations might share in and know that love and glory too. (Gen. 1-3).

  1. Who is God and why do you believe this?

The evangelical Christian Bible is the standard and basis that foundationally defines what I believe about God and who He is. Essentially, the Bible defines God as utterly, completely, and perfectly holy, righteous, just, loving, and gracious. While the general revelation of creation points to this transcendent being, the special revelation of the descendent, God-man Jesus Christ—including his perfect life, substitionary death, and supernatural resurrection—is how we can best see, know, and wonder at the nature of God.

  1. Why is there evil and suffering in the world?

The reason for all evil and suffering in the world traces back to the biblical episode of the garden of Eden where mankind chose to rebel against God, to seek their own glory, and to act out upon their desire to follow their own lordship. Mankind moved outside of the natural order and design God put in place, and as a result, the natural order and human design immediately faced the repercussions, which the Bible calls ‘sin’. Evil and suffering entered into existence and pervades every aspect of life: individually, corporately, and cosmically. It manifests itself in an unruly natural world (such as tornadoes, disease, miscarriages, etc.) and in depths of the personal world (selfish motives, racism, immorality, jealousy, etc.).

  1. Should homosexuals be issued a state marriage license?

While God created marriage and sexual intimacy within the context and design of one man and one woman, Jesus’ ministry never focused on the politics of the day. The Jewish people—and even his closest friends, the disciples—consistently pushed Jesus to assume a political messianic role to free Israel from the dominant rule of the Roman Empire and Caesar, however, Jesus continued to honor the government that was in place and never aimed to refine the government of his day either. And that’s because his mission was never politically concerned, but spiritually concerned. However, while the Bible clearly prescribes homosexual unions as universally and timelessly sinful, I am not sure it is appropriately warranted for Christians to say whether or not homosexuals should be able to have a marriage license. Certainly, Christians should desire that all people follow and submit to God’s design and lordship in all things, it is another thing to say that people should be legislatively required to follow these codes on moral superficial basis without paying God lordship on a deeper, spiritual level. In addition, it would seem unwise or sinful for Christians to vote for homosexuals to be able to marry since that would essentially indicate their endorsement of a homosexual lifestyle.

  1. How do I determine if an action is good or evil?

The Bible is God’s gift of authority for all things, including ethical standards. The Bible maintains three types of laws: civil laws, ceremonial laws, and universal laws. First, the civil laws were designed only for Israel. Second, the ceremonial laws were only given to those priests in the tribe of Levi for the purposes of sacrificial and ceremonial purity and sanctity. Third, the universal laws are those ethical decrees that will always be binding and relevant for any time, culture, and people group. Because Jesus came as the fulfillment of the nation of Israel who would bring the fullness of God’s righteousness to earth, and because he perfectly atoned for the sin of the world in his sacrificial, substitionary death, the Bible informs us that the civil laws and ceremonials laws in the Bible are fulfilled and are now obsolete. However, the universal laws are still in effect for our ultimate good.

  1. What is the role of government?

The Bible describes the role of government as fundamentally having a dual purpose. First, the government is to exact justice, enforce the law, and punish the violators. Second, the government is to uphold righteousness and reward those who keep the law by continuing to protect and guarantee their human and civil rights.

  1. What is your opinion of Christians?

As a Christian, my opinion of Christians is difficult to articulate because they (including myself) are different from what people expect. Regardless of the necessary hypocrisy (in whatever degree observed) or their countercultural beliefs (in light of our modern day, secular worldview), they should always point the secular, unbelieving world to its Christ, who is never hypocritical and always full of grace and truth. Don’t throw out Christianity because of its Christians. And don’t paint Christianity by its Christians. Know Christianity by its Christ. And this is because Christianity is not about its Christians, but about its Christ. If you keep the first things first, then the secondary issues won’t be crushed under the weight that only the first things were designed to support.

  1. What is the purpose of life?

If we were created by God and for God, then the purpose of life is to glorify and enjoy Him for all of life. Just as a fish can only find full purpose of life underwater, so also do we—who were designed for fellowship with God—find ultimate full purpose of life by living to glorify and enjoy God.

  1. What is your opinion of abortion?

The presupposition behind all propositions about abortion is how you answer the question ‘What is the unborn?’. From a sheer biogenetic standpoint, it is only logical that the unborn is a human being, inherently bearing 100% of DNA of life, and fully deserving of all rights that born humans do. I believe abortion is murder because it kills a human—unborn or born—who has rights to life like anyone else. The environment or state of development of this human being has no bearing on their inherent rights or value. Overall, this position against unjust killing is rooted in the biblical theology of Imago Dei, which explains that all human life is equally valuable because all human life is made in the image of God.

10. What happens after we die?

The Bible explains that humankind, unlike all other creation, are made in the image of God, which means that at the most fundamental level of our being, we have a spiritual dimension like God’s. The Bible seems to suggest that this spiritual dimension gives us metacognition and makes us capable of perceiving the reality of death, including time and eternity (Ecc. 3). The Bible also describes that when we die, we will all be judged by God. Those who have placed the weight of their soul on the righteousness of Jesus to make them right with God will be saved. And those who do not place their faith in Jesus’ righteousness on their behalf will be damned. Their own merit–no matter how great–will be enough because a perfect God demands perfect righteousness. Thankfully, the same God who makes the perfect demands for us meets the demands perfectly for us in Christ, who lived the life we could not live and who died the death we were deserved to die so that we might be forgiven and reconciled back into fellowship with Him. Therefore, the Bible declares that there are two destinies for the human soul after this natural life: eternity with God and eternity without God. There is no other option. Jesus, the God-man, who bridged the gap between God and man is the only way. Without Jesus, there is no bridge to God, and therefore, no eternity of salvation; to refuse Jesus is to actively refuse God’s offer of life. Additionally, the Bible describes that the next life will be a new and better version of the earth that we currently inhabit—not a heavenly bliss with naked angels playing the harps. It will be perfect and renewed, restored from sin once and for all.

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“Preach The Gospel At All Times, Sometimes Use Words” …No | VIDEO

Hey everyone,

About several months ago, I wrote a blog called ‘Preach the Gospel At All Times, and When Necessary, Use Words’ …No in response to the popular quote of St. Francis Assisi.

This quote pervades Christian culture and while it communicates an admirable sentiment of “letting your light shine for before men,” it is nevertheless a quote that is fundamentally flawed. Here’s what I mean, because the gospel is news about what Jesus has done–and because is news is fundamentally words–that means that news can only truly be communicated with words. Therefore, you can’t explain the gospel with your actions; it’s simply not possible. Sure, you can demonstrate the gospel and reflect it to others by virtue of living a life in line with Christ’s life. However, it will only give a faint, ambiguous message that way. It might be apparent that your actions and lifestyle reflect some significant reason–but that reason can’t be fully known just by your actions.

In the video, I propose that the gospel must be explained and heard in order for it to be truly known.

Hope it encourages ya!

-Austin

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What Does Mark 7:24-30 Mean?

I have never been able to decipher the meaning of the story in Mark 7:24-30 when Jesus talks to a Gentile woman about her demon-possessed daughter and something else about not giving food to dogs–all until yesterday when Tim Keller provided the significant context and metaphorical language Jesus and the lady were using in their conversation.

The following blog will simply feature an entire 6-page excerpt from Keller’s book, Jesus The King, and then I’ll add some thoughts about several implications of this story as well. I hope Keller’s excerpt gives you as much clarity as it gave me.

Check it out:

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
(Mark 7:24–26)

The story begins with the mysterious statement that Jesus went to the vicinity of Tyre and did not want anyone to know it. What was going on? Well, Jesus had been spending all of his time ministering in Jewish provinces, and that ministry was drawing overwhelming crowds, and he was exhausted. So Jesus left the Jewish provinces and went into a Gentile territory, Tyre, in order to get some rest.

But it doesn’t work. A woman hears of his arrival and makes her way boldly to Jesus. Though she’s a Syrophoenician, because of Tyre’s proximity to Judea she would have known the Jewish customs. She knows that she has none of the religious, moral, and cultural credentials necessary to approach a Jewish rabbi—she is a Phoenician, a Gentile, a pagan, a woman, and her daughter has an unclean spirit. She knows that in every way, according to the standards of the day, she is unclean and therefore disqualified to approach any devout Jew, let alone a rabbi. But she doesn’t care. She enters the house without an invitation, falls down and begins begging Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter. The verb beg here is a present progressive—she keeps on begging. Nothing and no one can stop her. In Matthew’s Gospel chapter 15, the parallel account, the disciples urge Jesus to send her away. But she’s pleading with Jesus—she won’t take no for an answer.

You know why she has this burst of boldness, don’t you? There are cowards, there are regular people, there are heroes, and then there are parents. Parents are not really on the spectrum from cowardice to courage, because if your child is in jeopardy, you simply do what it takes to save her. It doesn’t matter whether you’re normally timid or brazen—your personality is irrelevant. You don’t think twice; you do what it takes. So it’s not all that surprising that this desperate mother is willing to push past all the barriers.

So what is Jesus’ response to this woman as she is down on the floor begging? The story continues:

She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
(Mark 7:26–27)

On the surface, this appears to be an insult. We are a canine-loving society, but in New Testament times most dogs were scavengers—wild, dirty, uncouth in every way. Their society was not canine-loving, and to call someone a dog was a terrible insult. In Jesus’ day the Jews often called the Gentiles dogs because they were “unclean.” Is what Jesus says to her just an insult, then? No, it’s a parable. The word parable means “metaphor” or “likeness,” and that’s what this is. One key to understanding it is the very unusual word Jesus uses for “dogs” here. He uses a diminutive form, a word that really means “puppies.” Remember, the woman is a mother. Jesus is saying to her, “You know how families eat: First the children eat at the table, and afterward their pets eat too. It is not right to violate that order. The puppies must not eat food from the table before the children do.” If we go to Matthew’s account of this incident, he gives us a slightly longer version of Jesus’s answer in which Jesus explains his meaning: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus concentrated his ministry on Israel, for all sorts of reasons. He was sent to show Israel that he was the fulfillment of all Scripture’s promises, the fulfillment of all the prophets, priests, and kings, the fulfillment of the temple. But after he was resurrected, he immediately said to the disciples, “Go to all the nations.” His words, then, are not the insult they appear to be. What he’s saying to the Syrophoenician woman is, “Please understand, there’s an order here. I’m going to Israel first, then the Gentiles (the other nations) later.” However, this mother comes back at him with an astounding reply:

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
(Mark 7:28–30)

In other words, she says, Yes, Lord, but the puppies eat from that table too, and I’m here for mine. Jesus has told her a parable in which he has given her a combination of challenge and offer, and she gets it. She responds to the challenge: “Okay, I understand. I am not from Israel, I do not worship the God that the Israelites worship. Therefore, I don’t have a place at the table. I accept that.”
Isn’t this amazing? She doesn’t take offense; she doesn’t stand on her rights. She says, “All right. I may not have a place at the table—but there’s more than enough on that table for everyone in the world, and I need mine now.” She is wrestling with Jesus in the most respectful way and she will not take no for an answer. I love what this woman is doing.

In Western cultures we don’t have anything like this kind of assertiveness. We only have assertion of our rights. We do not know how to contend unless we’re standing up for our rights, standing on our dignity and our goodness and saying, “This is what I’m owed.” But this woman is not doing that at all. This is rightless assertiveness, something we know little about. She’s not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness—and I need it now.”

*          *          *          *          *

I love it. Of course, the meaning of the passage can only be unlocked with knowledge of the context and the figurative language being used. However, while the storyline is certainly meaningful, there exist several significant truths that are implicated more deeply beyond the surface of the narrative as well.

For example, the fact that Jesus reached out to this Gentile lady has massive implications about the distinctive nature of Christian salvation. In Jewish religious culture, it was understood that one’s standing with God was predicated foremost upon their Jewish ethnicity and, secondarily, upon their degree of religious practice. Therefore, to be ethnically Gentile (not Jewish) was to be inherently outside of right standing with God. Ethnicity, then, was an important factor for your status before God.‡

In addition, in Jesus’ day, women were also regarded as social outsiders–in society and also in the religious spheres. Back then, 3 women’s testimonies collectively held as much weight in court as 1 man’s testimony. To be a woman meant social inferiority, religious marginality, and political inequality. Indeed, his individual has two strikes against her–being a Gentile and a woman. Yet, this woman is the first one to hear and understand Jesus’ parables in the entire gospel of Mark. This account, in and of itself, shows a great deal about the nature of the salvation Jesus welcomes into the world: a salvation for all people groups and all people statuses, completely independent of people’s religious merit, and totally dependent on His grace.

The fact that Jesus reached out to this Gentile woman fundamentally shows that Jesus comes for the broken, the sick, the outsider, the sinner. Of course, all people–because of their inherent sin–are positionally alienated from God, and are therefore spiritually broken, sick, outside, and condemned. This is an important truth that can be gleaned from the story.

And if we put ourselves in the shoes of the Gentile woman, I think we will find another truth that is very practical to our own lives. Here’s what I mean: quite likely, it’s only until you realize that you have no leverage in your position before God that you will finally begin to hear and understand His voice and call on your life–just like the Gentile woman who had nothing to offer Jesus–to lean on His grace alone.

Additionally, this story can also serve as a defense for the honesty of the Bible’s authorship as well. Many scholars argue that the historical validity and honest authorship of the Bible is compromised due to the presupposition that it was fundamentally written out of political motivations.

However, if you–as an author–are trying to ignite a political scheme, you would not have included this story in your texts–unless, of course, it actually happened, and that the purpose of the gospel account was not politically motivated after all. Regardless, the story would have no power or resonance among the sociopolitical structures of the day anyways. A Gentile? A woman? And also, why include that Jesus’ closest, Jewish, male disciples did not understand Jesus’ profound parables, but the Gentile woman did? Hypothetically, the inclusion of this story into an inherently political text would prove completely insignificant and even counterproductive. If the gospel of Mark was intended as a political document, then the inclusion of the story’s pagan woman and buffoon-ish disciples would be like shooting yourself in the foot as an author. Therefore, this account in Mark serves as an apologetic proof against the notion that the gospel of Mark was written out of political motivation, and instead argues that the text was recorded for another purpose.

Then, what is the purpose? Well, if Jesus’ ministry was fundamentally a political effort, it would make more sense to think he would have leveraged his already well-established, authoritative connections in the religious circles as leverage against the Roman empire. But his purpose was not about leading a political movement like everyone wanted him to (even his own disciples); instead, his purpose was to reconcile people to God by taking away their sin. Jesus understood the blockage of sin between humanity and God as the root cause behind all personal, political, ethical, religious, social, and familial strife. Therefore, this story is proof that Jesus’ mission was not about fixing the apparent problems of human culture so much as it was about redeeming the inherent problem of human hearts.

Overall, this story–while encrypted with context and metaphor–provides meaningful exposition about the nature of Christian salvation, and also inherently defends itself from accusations of a politically motivated author and a politically motivated King.

________________

Footnotes:

† Keller, Timothy. Jesus The King. p. 183-189. Penguin Group, USA.

‡ However, ethnicity was not an exclusive or foundational requisite for right standing with God, as there were countless Gentiles from the Old Testament who were saved because of their dependent faith in God and His grace. Several examples include Rahab, Ruth, and the city of Nineveh.

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“Preach the Gospel Always. When Necessary, Use Words” | No.

One of the most classic quotes in modern day Christianity when referring to evangelism is one that is most often attributed to St. Francis Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”.

You see this quote everywhere, and for good measure too. I think that’s because its message resonates with many Christians about the importance of living a life of such Christ-likeness that it makes the world stop, think, and inquire about the Jesus you serve. (Hopefully, not in a weird way, but in an attractive way). The sentiment behind Assisi’s quote certainly makes a point evangelistically, especially since the single greatest reason people turn away from Christianity is because of its members’ hypocrisy—those who claim Christ with their mouths and beliefs but proclaim anything but Christ in their actions and lifestyles.

So yes, exemplifying the nature of Christ to the world—by demonstrating to others what Jesus has demonstrated to us—is certainly an important, necessary, and critical part of what it means to be “salt” and “light” as a Christian.

However, when it comes to evangelism, it is important to note that good Christian living isn’t enough. In fact, according to Jesus, it’s not even the foundational basis of evangelism, either.

Also, let’s just be honest for a second: Even if good Christian living was sufficient for evangelism, there are many non-Christians out there who exude just as much—or maybe sometimes more—Christ-like character than some Christians do. So what do you do then?

There has to be something more—more significant and more distinctive—that fundamentally separates Christians from the rest of world and its, oftentimes, equally moral people. Therefore, the bottom denominator, centerpiece, and foundation of true evangelism is not just exemplifying a good Christ-like example.

This ‘denominator, centerpiece, and foundation’ of sorts is the gospel, which is a message not a morality. Jesus never described evangelism as a type of lifestyle that may need to give an account for itself every once in a while. Rather, Jesus fundamentally described evangelism as the sharing of its central, core message: the good news, the gospel. This means that all true evangelism has at its center the sharing of this message.

Therefore, St. Francis Assisi’s quote isn’t incorrect so much as it is incomplete. Or, another way to say it is that Assisi wrongly flipped true evangelism inside out by making Christian morality the core and the Christian message the periphery, instead of the other way around.

In effect, St. Francis Assisi portrays evangelism as expressive morality-showing hinted with the message, while Scripture (like the book of Acts) depicts evangelism as an expressive message-sharing of Jesus legitimized by a consistent morality like Jesus.

Quick side note: how could you share a message about a Savior you don’t care to emulate? Such inconsistency, in and of itself, would make this Savior look undesirable to follow anyways. But if the message of this Savior is shared from a life that follows Him dearly, then the alleged goodness of this message will only then become legitimatized and convincing amongst its hearers.

There’s also a key, distinctive point that needs to be made: the primary Christian mission is its message, not its morals. And significantly enough, the message of Christianity is not about the good things you have done or will do for God, but about the good things Christ has done and will ever do for you.

Let’s briefly look at the implications embedded in both evangelistic approaches that either emphasize morality or the message over the other. Here’s what I mean:

If the Christian mission is about its peoples’ morals for Jesus—and not its message about Jesus—then evangelism would focus solely upon human potential. This approach would inevitably cause people to direct their hope away from a worthy God and, instead, look to themselves for saving. This approach leads to a dead end morally, too: it makes its preachers and hearers either self-righteous and self-sufficient or self-despairing and self-pitying, depending how well they think they have measured up to pleasing God.

However, if the Christian mission is about its message of Jesus’ works for us—and not our morality for Jesus—then evangelism would solely focus upon God. This approach would inevitably cause people to direct their hope away from themselves and to a God they can fully trust in. This approach, on the other hand, paves the way to a better and truer morality anyways: it causes its preachers and hearers to be humble, thankful, and confident because this message of salvation is not based on their faithful performance for God, but on God’s faithful performance to them.

But here is the main crux of where St. Francis of Assisi’s statement is wrong:

Saying that you can preach the gospel—but only sometimes use words—is to falsely imply that the gospel is not really words after all, but rather, actions.

But this is wrong because the gospel is fundamentally and totally words! The gospel is not a moral example that can be expressed mainly by actions and sometimes with words; it is good news that can only be communicated by words. And that’s because news is words.

Saying that you can preach the gospel—but only sometimes use words—is kind of like turning on the news channel but watching it with no volume.† Sure, you can see the news reporters giving their reports; and based on their gestures and expressions, it might be apparent that what they are saying is significant. But because there is no volume, you have absolutely no idea what is going on! It might look good on the surface, but it ultimately does nothing for you. That’s because the news channel is only beneficial when you can hear the news of what they are saying with the words they are using. And so it is with preaching the gospel as well. Living a good Christ-like life around your non-Christian friends will set a good example for them, but it will have the same effect as a muted news channel unless you vocalize the gospel message that compels your morality. Until then, you will do nothing for them in the scope of eternity. Indeed, one’s Christ-likeness does not have saving power, but the Christ-message does.

Here’s another example, too: saying “Preach the gospel at all times and sometimes use words” is like the equivalent of saying “Give me your phone number and sometimes, give me the digits.”‡ No one would ever say that! They would always give the digits because a phone number is digits. Similarly, just like you can’t give a phone number without listing the digits, you can’t share the gospel without giving words because it is words and must be communicated with words in the same way a phone number must be communicated with digits.

To conclude, while we can appreciate the sentiment behind Francis Assisi’s quote, it’s important to note that the gospel is not primarily a lifestyle or moral behavior. Christianity’s gospel is not about all the great things you have done or will do for God; it is about all the great things God has done and will ever do for you—by sending His Son to come and live the life we could not live and to die in our place, taking the penalty of sin and giving us His reward of salvation. And you can’t communicate that good news by acting like Jesus; you must tell the story of Jesus.

So to tweak the modern quote: how about let’s say, “preach the gospel always—and let the nature of your actions never deny the gravity of your words”.

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FOOTNOTES:

†, ‡ Both analogies come from sermons I have heard from pastor, JD Greear.

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EXTRAS:

“Preach the gospel at all times, sometimes use words” is a quote that pervades Christian culture. While it communicates an admirable sentiment of ‘letting your light shine for before men,’ it is quote that is fundamentally flawed. Because the gospel is news about what Jesus has done–and not an example to be followed–this news can only truly be communicated with words.

Many people say, “practice what you preach”; but to be fair, we also need to say, “preach what you practice.”  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0F4bU42nr4o). It’s show and tell. Do both.

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Follow-Up Support Raising

Hello blog subscribers!

As you might have seen this past week, my last blog post was a letter explaining how I am going to be spending the next year working part-time with Cru at UNC, and that I am striving to raise support to able to do this.

The responses have been overwhelmingly encouraging thus far, and I am very thankful for those of you who have already provided both verbal and financial support.

However, I am writing this blog as a follow-up because it unfortunately appears that there might have been some confusion in the process of donations.

It seems that some people who have donated to my cause forgot to indicate that their specific donation was given in my name.

This is crucially important: since I am working (and thus getting paid) on an hourly basis, I need to know how much total money is given in my name so I can know how many hours I can work.

It would be terrible if you gave to Cru at UNC without indicating my name, because then your money would go to Cru at UNC, generally, but it would not allow me to work there, specifically.

Therefore, for those of you who might have forgotten to indicate that your donations were in my name, here’s what you can do:

Email me at adgentry@me.com to let me know how much you gave.

If some of you would like to donate, but have not yet done so, here’s the link where you do so. But if you give, don’t forget to email me: https://give.cru.org/2284550

Thanks again to all who have partnered with me in this endeavor, and I am excited to serve Christ through Cru at UNC in the upcoming fall!

-Austin

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