American Christianity: Incredible Lightness of Being.

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(Originally Posted October 2004)

The other day my class at SPU got feisty on me when I argued that American Christianity is shallow and superficial. It occurred to me that to me this is so obviously true, that I often fail to explain how my position evolved to this resolved point of view.

I suppose the easiest way to illustrate would be an experience seven years ago. I had just visited persecuted church members in China including a pastor who spent 18 years in prison camps. He was beaten, had purple grooves in his wrists from the chains he had been told his son had committed suicide and his wife was about to do the same. All that was required for his release was to renounce Jesus.

He tearfully shared that whenever he was tempted to forsake Christ his mind was drawn to Philippians 2.

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross.”

We were all moved by his story and strengthened in our resolve to serve Christ in our own country.

The day I returned from China I found at the top of my pile of mail, a postcard from a local “seeker’ sensitive church.” It pictured a man in a ball and chain and asked: Does church feel like jail time to you? When I turned over the card I read how the church offered comfortable stadium style-seating. Popcorn, balloons for the kids and “talks that will never preach at you—will only help you become successful at who you want to be and already are.”

I asked myself. Is this a different religious faith than the one I saw in China? Or is this simply a cultural adaptation of the same faith?

A few months later I heard Dallas Willard make the comment, “Jesus never called anyone to be a Christian, he only called people to be disciples. American Christianity makes Christians not disciples!”

I had already been sensing dissonance between the faith I saw in Scripture and the version I saw in American church-life, but the combination of these experiences made it clear to me that deep Christian faith is patently different from the superficial version I see all around me.

Here for food for thought are ten marks of deep faith.

1) Pursues God as 1st Priority
2) Commits to Jesus over self
3) Spiritual
4) Thinks
5) Behaves Like Jesus
6) Pursues God in the Community of Friends
7) Follows Jesus into the World as a loving, Loving, transforming, presence
8) Resists the Dark Side
9) Enriches the Culture
10) Goes the distance

Whaddya Think?

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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