As is usually the case, there are ranges on a spectrum when it comes to the question of whether believers should speak and live in such a way that unbelievers would be attracted to the gospel of Christ.
There is one side—usually driven by the Bible and theology, even Reformed, Calvinistic doctrines such as the depravity of man and the need for irresistible grace—of those who argue that Christians and the gospel cannot be attractive to sinners and therefore any attempt to make ourselves winsome is naive at best and probably actually dangerous, you know, slippery slope and all.
On the other side—sometimes driven by the apparent callousness and unloving nature of the Bible-theology folks, and/or sometimes driven by the apparent gravity of Jesus demonstrated in the Gospels—are those who maintain that Christians and the gospel can be attractive to sinners and therefore any refusal to make ourselves winsome is at best immature and probably actually ungodly.
I am a truth guy. I think the Bible is the ultimate standard. My wife and I named our only son Calvin. I have served my time in very man-centered churches and can see with my eyes how compromised much of the Christian message is today because of those who try to win the world by being like it. One of my favorite books ever is Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur, and I read it at a time when I was first learning the doctrines of grace. His book gave me categories to resist pragmatism along with the heroic narrative and quotability of Charles Spurgeon.
However, Solomon said it was worth gaining wisdom in order to increase persuasiveness of speech (Proverbs 16:21; 16:23). Wisdom works to be winsome. Paul told the Cretan slaves that they should “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior“ in their behavior (Titus 2:10), not on their book selling tours. Adorning makes it look good, appealing, desirable. Paul also said that “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 5:15-16). Speaking about Christ and living lives for Christ is a smell, detestable to some and delightful to others. Don’t we want it to be delightful? And when does the delightful, life to life part start? Only after a man believes, or as God’s Spirit is sovereignly drawing him to believe?
Of course if no one can hate what we’re doing, we may be seeking the wrong kind of attractiveness. Do not be ashamed of the gospel, and don’t be conformed to this world. But if no one wants what we have, we may be an ungodly sort of unattractive. Life can smell like death to the dead, but deadness also smells like death to the dead.
2017 – I don’t share Forster’s view on the Christian-or-not founding of the United States, nor do I share his view on a variety of other specifics in the book, but I definitely share his enthusiasm for “awakening from the dogmatic slumbers of fundamentalism” and very much enjoyed sharing the “victory feast of [his] liberation” from dualism (page 16). I would recommend this for anyone trying to add a little more Kuyperian into his worldview who doesn’t necessarily want to read about, or by, Kuyper himself.
2018 – Reread this and talked through it with the men’s group at our church. Forster is not Kuyper, and I think he’s more happy about that than I am, but it still provoked a lot of good discussion about how Christians can influence our neighbors with more joyful living and labor.
The world prefers that we do not confess when we disobey God. For that matter, the world prefers when we do not obey God. It might seem as if this puts us in a position where we cannot win. By faith we know that it means we are.
Noah showed how this works.
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
Noah believed God and did all that God commanded him, and look what it accomplished: “by this he condemned the world.” His obedience to build a boat–not his letters to the editor, his weekly sermon podcast, or his public revival meetings–declared the disobedience of the world. Noah trusted and submitted to God and, because his generation saw him do it, they were accountable for it. They couldn’t say that they didn’t know.
They were responsible for 100 years of mockery-of-mouth toward the ark-itect, 100 years of laughing off the ridiculous idea of rain, 100 years of evidence they couldn’t un-see.
Just because our obedience isn’t as dramatic doesn’t mean that it isn’t as effective in condemning the world. Even when we disobey but then acknowledge our sin and seek God’s forgiveness in Christ, we show the world what they should do. By faith we trust the judgment of God on His Son, by faith we expect the judgment of God by His Son, and by faith we become the heirs of righteousness. Our obedience of faith is antithetical worship and a witness to the unbelieving culture.
God chose man-made products to represent something that man could not do for himself. Bread and wine are modest when compared to Solomon’s daily menu, yet bread and wine are too elaborate to be found in the world unprocessed.
Joe Rigney writes about this in chapter 7 of his book, The Things of Earth.
God mediates grace to us through created goods that have been cultivated and transformed by human effort. Bread is grain, but transfigured. Wine is grapes, but glorified. Human creativity and labor mingle with the stuff of God’s creation, and then God establishes the result as the church’s sacramental meal. (147)
God gave man grain and grapes, but men took those and developed more complex carbohydrates. This is the work of image-bearing, and God ratified the cultural advance by using bread and wine to honor the body and blood of His Son.
We can say that God gave us bread, but He gave it through agricultural and culinary discoveries. God continues to give to us through farmers and cooks. God also gave wine to gladden the heart of man, but no wineskin or bottle dropped from heaven. Other than the miracle in Cana, God has men plant and pick and press and wait. Communion, then, is a cultured meal.
Communion is also a meal that creates culture. This Table teaches us the way of love, of giving, of sacrifice. It also reminds us to depend on God and one another who share Christ’s body. The bread strengthens us and the cup gladdens our hearts, by faith, through earthly means that God ordained. Here the fruit of the field and the kitchen remind us of the fruit of the cross. Here is the seed that the Spirit will grow into more cultured fruit.
For all our Kuyperian talk about culture and cultural advances and the importance of the things of earth, we do want to take seriously God’s warnings about worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. One brick-through-the-window sort of warning comes in 1 John 2.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)
The command is clear and so is the conclusion. Love the world or love God the Father, but don’t believe that both loves can coexist. Love your wife or love your mistress, it’s not a question of percentages. Saying, “I love you most” to your wife isn’t sufficient.
But, without trying to slip the hold of the warning, what exactly is the “world”? Genesis gives glory to God for creating it. Even most unbelievers know John 3:16, penned by the same author, which says that God loved the world. So we’re not supposed to love what He made and loves?
It would be inconsistent if we read verse 15 the wrong way. The easiest way to read it wrong is to read it without reading the next verse.
For all that is in the world—-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—-is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:16)
John has defined his terms and explained what he meant by the word “world” and “the things in the world.” The people and the stuff in the world aren’t the problems, the mindset of the world is.
The mortal flesh is fine. Eating and drinking are good and ways to glorify God until sensual pleasures rule us. The the “desires of the flesh” are corrupt. It’s similar with the eyes. Eyes are God’s idea. He wanted us to see so that we could avoid walking into walls and also to paint beautiful things to hang on the walls. But He does not want us to see and lust to grab what is our neighbor’s. Those are worldly desires. Owning things is also good, land and houses, flocks and 403(b)s. But it’s not fine if we say that that is our life, as if our pile of possessions could define our image rather than the Father who gave us His.
We must not love a world where we make stuff the god. We must also not love a God who didn’t make and give us stuff in the world.
I had a roommate in college who loved to play SimCity. Even though I’ve never been a huge video game sort of guy, he let me play every so often and it was strangely fascinating. At that time, SimCity was a fairly new game without the niche variations available today.
“Sim” in SimCity stands for “simulation.” It means to imitate or make a computer model of something. The goal of the game is to build a thriving city, keeping digital citizens happy and maintaining a stable budget. You, as mayor, start with a given amount of capital and you choose where and what to build. You need transportation (roads, railroads, airports), power companies, stores, schools, and homes for all the people. As the population grows, you also need an adequate amount of police stations and hospitals to keep people safe and healthy. Even in the two-dimensional world, without the complexities of personalities, it gave a bit of appreciate for the challenges of setting up a society.
Unlike SimCity we live in the world where your thumb hurts if you hit it with a hammer, not because you smashed the controller buttons too many times. Here there are life and death consequences without a reset or reboot. Even more unlike SimCity, we are not the architects of humanity, we’re not city mayors or presidents, and certainly we are not God. We do not get to make all the decisions even if we thought we knew all the ways to guarantee a glorious future.
However, even though we don’t get to be the boss, we are all called to build. We don’t get to start with a full back account and open fields, but we do get to invent and design and fix and remodel and renovate. We are cultural construction workers. We’re not building in order to make it nice for Jesus when He returns. We’re building because this is what Jesus made us to do.
As we start our fourth year of Evangel Classical School, I want to remind us who we are, what we’re trying to do, what we’re up against, and why we work hard with humility and laughter.
You are the imago Dei, the image of God. Each one of you, students, parents, and teachers are mirrors of God Himself. God revealed our reflective nature in the story of creation. According to Genesis 1 He made a world for men and then He made men to be makers in the world. Dorothy Sayers wrote the following in her book, The Mind of the Maker:
[W]hen we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.
The reason you color, cut and paste, write and paint, sing and dance, is because the creative impulse beats in your chest. At some point drawings are not only art for the front of the refrigerator, they become blueprints for better refrigerators. You cut paper made from trees and later you cut trees to make paper. You sing tenor in the school choir and then someday you give your report on the city council; both are better when you contribute your part.
God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and take dominion. What He had made was great and yet He wanted them to make more great things. God made little makers with minds and hands. You bear God’s creative glory as you create.
ECS exists to equip and encourage culture creators, or at least culture contributors. It takes faith to see how a kindergartner chanting phonogram jingles could one day write a novel that shapes the thinking of generations better than Virgil’s Aeneid. But phonemes become graphemes via penmanship which turns into published books. You will learn names and dates and places, not only so that you can rule at Trivial Pursuit (which you could), or even so that you can be thankful for the good foundation we stand on (which you should), but also so that you would want to do your part in these days in this place.
Not only can we honor Christ in our work, we must work if we want to honor Him. We’re made to make.
Again, we don’t reign on earth as sovereign kings and queens, but we are poets and plumbers and pilots and parents. We do flavor and preserve and influence and shape the world. If you want to be a Christian doctor or nurse, we want you to know the skeletal, muscular, nervous, sensory, reproductive, digestive, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and endocrine systems. We also want you to know in your bones that God loves life. If you want to be a Christian lawyer–and why wouldn’t you?–we want you to know the true law, to love righteousness and hate evil. If you want to start a business or write books or build buildings, then believe that God is pleased with those who do such culture construction.
It is true, however, that all image-bearers are also the bearers of bad news. We are all mirrors of God’s glory, but we are also all broken mirrors due to sin. Sin is what ruins our plans and spoils our relationships. You will, at some point, prefer laziness to labor. You will choose to be angry with a classmate who disagrees with you, or a teacher who corrects you, rather than serve or learn. You will seek to grab rather than contribute. This happens because of sin. The reason the world is so messed up is because of sin.
But we have a Savior. It is of first importance that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is the evangel. He saves us and is sanctifying us to be like Him, which includes enjoying and using all the things He has made. Math? He created the problems. Logic? He is the Logos. Poetry? His invented language and lovers and flowers and rhyme and rhythm. Biology, history, Engrade, recess soccer? He is Lord over them all.
One more thing. ECS is a training ground for cultural contributors. You will (hopefully) bear much fruit after you graduate. But you are also creating now. Working hard is never wasted. Loving one another now is loving one another. Confessing rather than covering sin is building, not destroying. The stakes are high, the Savior is great, the new school year is here. It’s not a simulation game. Let’s get to work.
When the laws regulating human society are so formed as to come into collision with the nature of things, and in particular with the fundamental realities of human nature, they will end by producing an impossible situation which, unless the laws are altered, will issue in such catastrophes as war, pestilence and famine. Catastrophes thus caused are the execution of universal law upon arbitrary enactments which contravene the facts; they are thus properly called by theologians, judgments of God.
—Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Kindle Locations 303-306
Over the last couple days I’ve argued that the start of our cultural problems is when man rejects God as God. The Supreme Court and the cover of “Vanity Fair” are fruit from an unsubmissive root. Then I gave three things that Christians could do. And we really must do something.
If the church fails to apply the central truth of Christianity to social problems correctly, someone else will do so incorrectly. (Carl. F. H. Henry)
Of course we will be less effective if we are hypocrites. If we do not acknowledge God ourselves or adorn God’s saving doctrine, we set ourselves up as targets. Of course we will be less effective if we argue politics without tying our politics to God’s principles. There is no neutral way; everywhere is a God/god demanding service. And of course we will be less effective if we are unrighteous in how we address unrighteousness, if we are proud when we talk about grace, angry when we talk about mercy, unwilling to sacrifice when we talk about love.
I wish that I had done more in the fight before now. I don’t mostly regret a failure to teach, but more my failure to acknowledge the Trinity and the Trinitarian shape of life. I have sinned by limiting God’s interests only to the verses that talk about Christ and the cross instead of realizing how those verses require us to take our our crosses daily…in relationships and responsibilities on earth. I have not adorned doctrine; I have been angry and selfish. I need to pray more, love more, sacrifice more.
But now is a great time for growing. Doing the “normal” (right) things will shine more brightly as the darkness increases. Husbands, now is your chance! Mothers, do something! Today, on the 4th of July, “don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). I know Paul was talking about spiritual freedom not national freedom, but the two are not that far apart as it turns out.
The Supreme Court of Heaven and Earth has one Judge and He already revealed His ruling. We see the consequences of rejecting His categories and disobeying Him in the first few pages of the Bible. We also see God respond with both justice and mercy. May He have mercy on us.