This quotation from Jurgen Moltmann brought me fresh appreciation for what Christ experienced on our behalf at the cross:
Not until we understand his abandonment by the God and Father, whose imminence and closeness he had proclaimed in a unique, gracious and festive way, can we understand what was distinctive about his death. Just as there was a unique fellowship with God in his life and preaching, so in his death there was a unique abandonment by God. – Moltmann, The Crucified God, 149
What depths of love, what heights of peace…
In 2008, about 50 million people in America checked the “Religious None” box. Ten million of those are ardent atheists. This means that the rest of these 40 million people aren’t really sure what they believe. The nones account for more than More than Charismatic, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Mormons and Muslims put together. You (hopefully) have friends, neighbors and coworkers that fall into this category.
People like David Noise, author of Unbeliever Nation, are on a campaign to claim the nones for the secularist camp.
Evangelicals aren’t the only people on mission.
What are You Doing About “Secularized” Faith?
But you don’t have to check the “none” box to be influenced by secular thinking. Many people are skeptical about cardinal Christian doctrines such as the incarnation, resurrection, and the Trinity. This may be surprising as the incarnation and the resurrection represent the two biggest holiday celebrations in Christianity.The Trinity, of course, gets at the very heart of God.
As our country fragments, different religious groups are isolated from one another more and more. Evangelicals are seen as militant and uninterested in genuine dialog. They often treat doubt as the eighth deadly sin. But the reality is that many Christians are struggling with the very same doubts.
The notion that God became a sinless baby seems like a fairy tale.
The idea that Jesus beat death is almost sic-fi
The Trinity, well that’s not even rational.
Closing our eyes to rising secularity and skepticism about Christianity won’t do. Mounding up evidence and demanding a personal verdict isn’t enough. We, too, have to take up the mission, but not as we have in the past.
Instead of treating doubt like the enemy, we will need to befriend those who doubt. Climb into their story. Empathize with their church perpetrated wounds. See the incarnation, resurrection, and Trinity from their perspective. And respond to skeptical perspectives with sympathetic dialog.
How Should People of Faith Respond to People of Unfaith?
The most recent survey I read pointed out that the “nones” have jumped to one quarter of the population. If this secularized segment of the population continues to grow at the same clip, the largest religion in the U.S. will be no religion at all.
Over a third of the population no longer attends religious services. This means church services are not enough. We need a witnessing church not just a ‘worshipping’ church. A people confident in the self-authenticating gospel of Jesus who live out its implications in an authentic way. People who don’t just argue others into submission, but submit their own failures in faith.
Our response has to include sympathy and strategy, cultural discernment and confidence in the gospel. We need a whole new line of resources, communication, church forms, and most of all winsome Christlike people to remain faithful to the mission of Jesus.
An Example Response
My friends at Moving Works have produced several shorts that explore the implausibility of the resurrection through narrative with a Terrance Malik, Tree-of-Life feel. If you like it, feel free to use it. You might consider screening the whole 40 minute film in a local theater and hosting a Q&A afterwards. Or host a discussion group over the shorts/chapters in a coffeeshop, home, or church. Invite your friends and learn how to sympathize with doubt and re-celebrate faith in the risen Christ.
I’ve also written a short book to engage unfaith in the resurrection. It’s meant to be read in an afternoon. Study guides and stuff are available. I’m working on two new projects that deal with the implausibly of the incarnation and the Trinity.
More resources are emerging, but we need much more in the form of conversation groups, video, art, and imaginative missional endeavors. You can’t out imagine the Trinity, so let’s move forward prayerfully and winsomely to love religious nones. They aren’t just numbers; they are our neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Each one has a story worth hearing, and once we’ve heard it, we can tell the gospel story in a more loving and understanding way.
Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.
– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 196 (emphasis added)