December 9, 2009

unChristian

"Christianity has an image problem," according to David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (11).  In demonstrating this claim, the authors of unChristian (Baker, 2007) present extensive research on the perceptions of outsiders (their term) with regard to Christianity.  Their conclusion: Outsiders perceive Christians as hypocritical and overly sheltered judgmental homophobes who are primarily concerned with conversion as they foist their political agenda on the nation and world.  With these perceptions in mind, the authors propose an image overhaul that is characterized by listening and engaging Christlike compassion.  Without engaging in a full dress review, here are two thoughts that were constantly on my mind as I read this book. 

1. Any program that suggests charting a course for Christianity based on the perceptions of outsiders ought to be approached with caution.  It is hardly the case that those who walk according to the flesh who do not have the indwelling Spirit of God can be expected to have accurate perceptions about what Christianity is and what our mission is about.  Our vision of the church's future should be driven by God's revelation of himself in the person of Christ and in the writings of scripture.  Our vision of the future should not be primarily driven by outsider perception. 

2. That said, outsider perception might be telling.  The prophet Ezekiel chastised ancient Israel for profaning God's name among the nations.  The prophet declared the word of the Lord saying, "But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that it was said of them, 'These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.'  But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations to which they came" (36:20-21 NRSV).  As I read this book, I couldn't help but wonder if the prophet would say to the modern church, "But when they came to the outsiders, they profaned my holy name, in that it was said of them, 'These are the people of the Lord, and yet they do not manifest his holy character of self-giving love and righteousness.'"  If this is the case, then the Holy One will, of course, once again be concerend for his sacred name, and his people ought once again be wary of his judgment and welcoming of his discipline.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Matt, it's funny that you picked up on Ezekiel chastisement of ancient Israel for profaning God's Holy name among the nations. I've been thinking quite a lot about this very issue recently. Incidentally, this same idea that Israel profaned God's Holy name shows up frequently in other prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah ([Isaiah 48:11], [Jeremiah 7:30]).

If you ask most Christian's to explain why this is true; how did Israel profane God's name? Most answers are disappointingly weak and somewhat superficial, such as “Israel must have spoke God's name in vane.”.

Consider [Gen 12:2] where God promises Abram that he would make his name Great. Notice that this promise was actually part of the covenant He had with Abraham. People miss that. However God was not speaking about magnifying the name “Abram” or “Abraham” as most people think; for how can a God that gives glory to no man [Isaiah 42:8] give glory to Abraham. Why should God magnify any name but his own? Now consider, what is the name of the only man worthy of greatness, worthy of God's glory, and our adoration? It's obvious. It is He, who as a prince, has power with the Father who has been given authority over all things [Heb 1:3][Eph 1:22].

Look at [Gen 32:28] where God renames Jacob Israel which means to strive with God, to set in order, or have power with God. Though the answer is simple, people are blind to the relationship between God's Holy name and his covenant. God made Abraham's name great, not by lifting up the name of a mere man, but by allowing his offspring the privilege of carrying a name that pointed back to God Himself! God's Holy name was bestowed upon Jacob when Jacob was given the name “Israel”; a name that really only belongs to Christ Himself, who as a prince rules with God.

Testing this notion, examine [Isaiah 63:19] which makes it very clear that this is true when it says “We have become like those over whom you have never ruled like those who are not called by your name.” Also, [Isaiah 43:1,7] says that Israel was called by God's name and that it was God himself who did the naming! (Also see [Isaiah 45:3-4]). Israel profaned God's Holy name by not living up to it, and thus Israel's actions brought worldly judgment on Israel's God. It is something like what happens when Christians don't act like Christians. All Christians become judged by the world, and thus Christ himself is also judged.

This promise found in the first covenant, that those covered under the covenant would bear a name bestowed by God, a name reflective of God, is more perfectly fulfilled in the covenant that Christ fulfilled. What does [Acts 11:26] say about the name given to new covenant Israelites? It says that the name points back to the only one worthy of praise and greatness. “Christian” contains in Greek the same meaning that was first bestowed on Jacob in the name Israel, since to be “a little Christ” is to be like he “who reigns (or strives) with God”.

This was, of course, promised to Israel, in the promise of an ever lasting name in [Isaiah 56:5-6] and in [Isa 62:2](also [Isa 65:15]) which said Israel would be called by a new name. Those who look for Biblical Israelites today must adjust their sights a bit and see with eyes that can see, and hear with ears that can hear. Anyone can claim any name they like, but only those who bear the name bestowed by God, and reflective of Him, fulfill His prophecies. It is no wonder that His sheep hear his voice.

Lastly, [John 12:28] which says “Father glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” should have new meaning. Let us not tarnish the name God glorifies.