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Friday, January 23, 2009

Nice People or a New Creation?

Much has been made of Rick Warren’s participation in the inauguration of Barak Hussein Obama as President of the United States. Writing for Salon.com, Mike Madden asks, “How the hell did Rick Warren get inauguration tickets?” On The Huffington Post Jeffery Feldman wrote, “News that Obama invited Rick Warren to say a prayer at the inauguration is a troubling sign for a president elected to be a new kind of leader.” He added that, “Marriage equality for gays and lesbians…is the current epicenter of the civil rights movement in America.” Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal priest, called the choice of Warren “a slap in the face.”

On Obama’s choice of WarrenTime magazine’s Amy Sullivan recently wrote about the “Two Faces of Rick Warren.” I doubt, however, that he was much offended. Two-faced is probably one of the tamer insults hurled at Warren by those who were livid at the fact he was chosen to participate in the inauguration. According to Sullivan, the uglier side of Warren is “The one who proclaimed a week before the 2004 election that the five ‘non-negotiable issues’ for Christian voters were abortion, gay marriage, human cloning, euthanasia, and stem-cell research.”

She summarizes that, “In short, Warren wants to be both the universally admired pastor who speaks to the nation and the influential leader who mobilizes religious conservatives for political ends. But those are two inherently conflicting roles, and he cannot be both, no matter how hard he tries.”

All of this is very revealing. Many outside of Christianity, and many who feign to be a part of it, have an especially distorted view about what it means to be a follower of Christ. They seem eager to embrace His message of love and forgiveness, as well they should, but they easily forget His message of repentance and salvation. Also, they fail to notice that He was and is, of all things, a very controversial and divisive figure.

Consider these words or accounts of Christ: 
“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33).” “Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent (Matt. 11:20).”
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out (Mark 9:43).” When sending out His disciples He said, “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you…’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town (Luke 10:10-12).”

In John 14 Jesus said, 
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him (John 14:6-7).”

Of course, the thing that got Jesus in the most trouble was putting Himself on equal footing with God. It is, after all, what got Him crucified. His miracles were done not only to help others in need; they were also meant to validate His claim as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He not only performed miracles, but He also forgave sin and directly claimed to be the Son of God. As C.S. Lewis put it, this either makes Him Lord, liar, or lunatic, not simply some great moral teacher who did good deeds that we need to emulate.

You see, what many people seem to want out of Christianity and its followers are simply nice “do-gooders” who go about their business without causing any trouble. The greatest miracle recorded in Scripture that Christ performed was raising someone from the dead. (There are three recorded instances of this occurring.) This was not done merely out of “niceness,” only to save the lives of those who had died. They would, after all (with apologies to James Bond), “die another day.” His ultimate goal was to give them “everlasting life.”

This could be said of every miracle Christ performed. It is true that He healed, fed, and cast out demons because of His great love for those in need. However, these acts alone did not save anyone. Those healed of one disease or sickness would someday die of another. Those fed would someday be hungry again. Christ’s ultimate goal was to bring people into His Kingdom. In other words, God became man not simply to improve us, but to make us into new creatures.

“Niceness” and “good deeds” are excellent things. Jesus told His followers to 
“let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).” Inversely, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world.”

Lewis continues, “We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power, to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where we all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeed in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.”

It is not cruel, or even rude, for a Christian to speak out against, or even condemn, acts such as abortion, homosexuality, lust, greed, etc. We are, after all, in a war—a spiritual one with eternal consequences. There is little time to worry whether others see us as playing “nice.”

Copyright 2009, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

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