His name is George, a 57 year old self-identified hippie. After exchanging a few pleasantries and finding out that we knew a few of the same people and places, he asked what I did for a living. He had already played his hand, so I knew he was an unaffiliated religious man, as most men are.
I told him I was a pastor. As 57-year-old men in the South are prone to do, he then asked me what denomination. (Millenials never ask that). So I said, “I pastor a Southern Baptist church.” A big, “Aha, I-knew-there-was-something-fishy-about-you” smile spread across his face. I said, “Yeah, we love Jesus and believe the Bible, we’re just not angry about it.” He laughed, and then eagerly volunteered his faith story.
He confessed his frustration with church people who are just “going through the motions” on Sunday, but overlooking people in need right in front of them. He named church-going friends he had confronted about their unfaithfulness in tithing their income to the church. Interestingly, he finally told me he believed that people should be able to believe whatever they want to believe. Exclusive claims of truth bothered him. And then George asked, “Have you ever talked to a Mormon?” I said I had. He continued, “Those guys are crazy. They believe some wild stuff.” Our conversation continued.
I can’t tell you how much I genuinely enjoyed those moments with George. His easy smile, warm personality, honest observations, and compassion for others were refreshing. But that conversation also revealed that committed, Bible believing, Gospel preaching evangelicals are only reaping in this generation what we sowed in the last.
Although George is a religious, but unaffiliated, 57-year-old man (aka a Done), he is also the parent of young adult children who have no religious disposition at all (aka Nones). While evangelicals were fighting the good fight of the culture war of the 1980’s, our religious moralism was actually undermining our influence with a compliant but unconvinced generation.
We identified with a social ideology that promoted big ideas that played well to a lot of Bible-believing churchgoers, but in the process, it seems we disenfranchised the very people we needed to win. George isn’t the only evidence of this miss, but he does serve as an example of how big the miss was.
The correction, one may assume, is to pivot away from historical biblical roots and adopt a more progressive approach that deemphasizes doctrines that may offend the skeptic. One of George’s propositions, however, was that all religions basically make the same claim. So he decided to both accept them all generally but reject them all personally. While his penchant for compassion led him to give everyone a pass, his logical mind forced him to reject the teachings of Mormonism out of hand.
If we ever needed more clarity on the things that actually matter, it is now. That’s one reason I signed the recently published Nashville Statement, which clarifies a biblical theology of anthropology, marriage, and sexuality. It’s not a perfect statement, but in an age of theological confusion, this statement makes an intellectually honest, biblically consistent, and genuinely compassionate attempt to say some things that we have not historically said very well, if at all.
But there’s more. It seems George’s most adamant objection to Jesus was not to Jesus or His teaching, but to His followers. George just didn’t understand how people who made such big claims could do such little good. It’s at this point I must confess my agreement with him. It’s not that we’ve done no good at all. We have built hospitals, responded to disasters, supported Pregnancy Care Centers, and established food banks and clothes closets. Those efforts, however, as important as they have been, are often viewed as secondary to who we are in Christ.
As orthodox theology champions “salvation by faith alone,” we forget it also tells us “faith is never alone.” Despite James’ exhortation in the New Testament letter bearing his name, we often relegate good works to a Christianly gesture reserved only for the bleeding hearts.
Jesus does not redeem lost men and women simply because we are nice to them. They must hear and respond to the Gospel to be saved, but when we fail to treat people from every nation, tongue, and tribe with dignity, we fail them, we fail God, and we reject His mission in the world.
That is why I also recently signed on with other evangelical leaders to a letter to the White House and Congress urging the protection of Dreamers. Dreamers are children whose parents came to the United States illegally. These Dreamers did not cross the US border on their own volition, but they have lived here for most of their lives and are now working or going to school, obeying the law, and raising a family. If they are not protected, they could be deported to their country of origin, which is no longer their home.
The immigration issue is complex, but this issue is not. While law-and-order Christians assume foreigners are not their responsibility, a biblical view of human beings says otherwise.
On another, but similar note, our prisons are filling up faster than we can build them and recidivism rates are skyrocketing. All the while many Bible-carrying Christians promote a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to criminal justice. Yes, criminals should be punished, but when will we follow Chuck Colson’s lead and understand it’s the heart of Jesus to build men now so we don’t have to build so many prisons later?
So rather than choosing between truth and love, the Gospel calls us to both. Jesus spoke God’s Word with bold precision, but he delivered it with uncompromising compassion. He was a Bleeding Heart Bible Thumper. He didn’t convince every George he met to follow him, and actually a few of them crucified him. His missiology didn’t win everyone, but it did win, develop, and deploy a whole new race of people whose identity was in Christ, whose purpose was to make Him known above everything else, and whose theological foundations have fueled the advancement of the Kingdom of God for the last two thousand years.
That’s a movement of a Bleeding Heart Bible Thumper I’m ready to join.
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