So it seems that I’ve been getting some traffic here on asthéneia from people out there in the blogosphere—people I don’t know at all. Some seem to be Christians of one stripe or another. About others, I could not guess. All are welcome.
I guess this sort of attention is what every blogger hopes for—or at least one thing that every blogger thinks would be really cool. But it never really occurred to me that such would happen on my little blog like it seems to be happening lately. I am honored.
But my primary aim in this post is to apologize for the fact that I don’t really have the time or the focus to respond with much reciprocity. It’s all I can do these days to put a thought or two of my own here on asthéneia. I’m afraid I just can’t squeeze in the time for visiting the blogs of everyone who drops by mine. I’m very sorry. Perhaps some day…
In the meanwhile, if you are not offended by my lack of reciprocity, please feel free to drop by asthéneia and/or leave your thoughts here any time. All comments will be posted just as soon as I can approve them, unless they are of a highly offensive nature (undue profanity, illicit subject matter, racist rants, etc.). And I will always do my best to reply to comments, of course.
With that, then, please allow me to wish you a blessed New Year!
This Christmas, I was blessed once again to have a conversation with a very sweet young person who espouses the worldview of naturalism (a.k.a. atheism).
At one point, the Nickelodeon cartoon called “Avatar: The Last Air Bender” came up. My young friend has not as yet seen the show, though she generally has an appetite for sci-fi and fantasy. I was explaining how I see some Christian values portrayed in the show, despite the sometimes rather overt effort of the producers to advance some form or other of Buddhism.
As a great example of Christian truth making its way onto the stage of the show, I referenced my favorite episode. It is the one called “The Southern Raiders.” In it, Katara, one of the main characters, learns that she will have the opportunity for revenge against the man who killed her mother when she was a little girl. Zuko, another character who understands the bitterness of having been wronged so badly, is prepared to help her. Aang, the title character also knows what it is to have people he loves savagely taken from him. But he tries to talk the two of them out of their revenge plot.
When he calls Katara to embrace forgiveness, Zuko says, “That’s the same as doing nothing.”
“No it’s not,” replies Aang somberly, “Doing nothing is easy. Forgiveness is hard.”
Though this does not by any means amount to a biblical or Christian sermon on forgiveness, it sheds a bit of light on the thing that makes Christian forgiveness different from all the other forgiveness the world knows.
My naturalist friend believes in forgiveness as a principle for a number of reasons. It frees the offended person from the torture of bitterness. It is crucial for the interrelationship of people and people groups which is so necessary for the healthy progress of the human race. And so forth.
But what she and others of my non-Christian friends cannot understand is that forgiveness provides the Christian with the opportunity to grow in the personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what the distinction between Christian forgiveness and other forgivenesses means at the ultimate and personal level. But this was the more communicable aspect of the distinction which I was able to share with my friend: All of the non-Christian notions of forgiveness boil down to a “letting go” of the offense. But Christian forgiveness is more than a letting go; it is a taking on.
When the Christian forgives an offender, he does not merely say, “You do not have to pay for your sin against me.” He says, “Someone must pay. But I will not make you be the one who does it. Instead, it’ll be me. I will pay for your sin against me.” And in taking on the sin of his offender, the Christian joins his Lord on the cross—his Lord, the One who ultimately took all of this sin upon Himself. In fact, what the Christian comes to find is that the Crucified Lord is actually the One who is forgiving the offender through him.
The Air Bender episode does not really come very close to teaching this truth, but I appreciate the honesty with which it acknowledges that “forgiveness is hard.” And I appreciate the opportunity it thereby affords to make the point I have been making in this post, the point which I also was able to make to my friend.
For the Christian, knowing Christ in His death and resurrection is the central thing in all the universe. And the death we experience when He extends His forgiveness through us becomes one of the most powerful ways we can ever know Him.
The other day, I gave a test… One girl, after working on the test for over thirty minutes, called me over to show me a note she had written me on the back. It was an appeal to let her take the test the next day based on the fact that she had been absent one time about four or five days earlier. Obviously, I had to tell her no, if for no other reason than the fact that she had already been working with the test for a half hour.
But here’s the best part! Her first sentence was, “Mr. Stewart, I wasn’t here on the day I was absent.” :-)
Christians who think that satire is an un-Christlike form of persuasion would do well to read this article.
The spirits of the prophets are alive and well! :-)
I just read a review of a book by Jim Wallis called On God’s Side. I couldn’t help myself. I just had to leave a comment in response.
Then I realized that, in the course of writing my comment, I had finally found an analogy for what I have been trying to say for some time now about the essence of the gospel. It is not necessary to read the review to understand what I’m saying here, so I’ll just copy my comment. Here it is:
I appreciate your even-handed review. I have not read the book, nor do I intend to, at this point. But I have paid some attention to Wallis over the past several years, including the ongoing war between him and Glenn Beck. Personally, I am not much of a fan of either one. In my mind, they represent two sides of the same misguided coin. One thinks God is a Republican; the other thinks He is a Democrat.
What I want to say here, though, is this: The problem is not that Wallis (and many others like him, e.g. Shane Claiborne or Brian McLaren) “conflates the implications of the gospel with the gospel itself.” The problem is that, having recovered a lost aspect of the gospel, he then jettisons the parts which have rightly been guarded by evangelical Christianity all along. The social justice stuff is not an additive or even an “implication” of the gospel. It is the REST of the gospel.
Insofar as evangelicals have dropped the ball on social justice, we have preached an incomplete gospel. We have four books in our Bible which we call “gospels,” but what we evangelicals call “THE gospel” is really only the last couple of chapters of each. Nevertheless, the gospel–the WHOLE gospel–is the whole story of the King, including the “social justice” stuff which leads up to the climax of the story where the powers kill Him, not just so He can atone for sin, but also so He can conquer them through His death and resurrection and give birth to a crucified and resurrected people who will live in and live out His kingdom.
Wallis’ (et al) mistake, then, is not a “conflation” but a trading of one key piece for another.
To have a hot cup of tea, you need both hot water and tea leaves. It is no good to have one without the other. They are both needed. But when they are both present, the result is not two things together, but one cup of tea. So it is with the gospel. We must have the hot water of redemption from sin AND the leaves of social justice; when we do, we’ll have the actual cup of tea that the gospel truly is.