Freeing your listeners to decide for themselves

leif

Leif Enger:

“The lovely part of being a witness is that you can’t compel belief. All you can do is say: here is what happened. In saying this the witness is only doing his job; how people respond is their own burden, their own responsibility. Whom would you say has more credibility: the man who pounds on the table insisting his story is true, or the one who, having the reputation of honesty, frees his listeners to decide for themselves?”

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Wesley, the most effective response

George Will:

“In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, published his report on the black family’s “crisis,” which was that 24 percent of black children were then born to unmarried women. Today, 73 percent are. Forty-one percent of all children are now born to unmarried women.

Moynihan, a social scientist in politics, proposed various family policies, but also noted this: When the medieval invention of distilling was combined with Britain’s 18th-century surplus of grain, the result was cheap gin — and appalling pockets of social regression. The most effective response to which was not this or that government policy, it was John Wesley — Methodism.”

The spiritual origin of worldly action

Rodney Stark, in his book Cities of God:

the Christianization of the [Roman] empire was not the result of ‘reactions to public calamity,’ but to religious influences per se. That is, religion did not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; it actually made life less miserable!

…The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as ‘Love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ and ‘When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.’ These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created ‘a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.’

It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth. But these material benefits were entirely spiritual in origin.

A great nation of righteous laws

Christopher Wright, in the New Bible Commentary, on the 19th chapter of Leviticus:

The chapter is remarkable for its breadth and depth of moral insight. It touches on the thoughts of the heart and the actions of the body, private and public behavior, and almost every major area of social life in a community. The application of some of its legislation would transform the lives of millions in today’s world. And the deeper one reflects on it, the more it seems that many Christians come nowhere near the standards it presented centuries before Christ (let alone Christ’s own development of it in the Sermon on the Mount).

Far too often in the Christian community, the Old Testament law in general, and Leviticus in particular, is dismissed much too quickly as irrelevant (that OT law doesn’t apply to us anymore, right?), impenetrable (how do you make sense of the maze of priestly codes and types of offerings?), and simply, sometimes humorously, random (regulations regarding mildew? commandments regarding the mixing of fabrics?).

Perhaps the best argument against this assumption is simply to get people to read the 19th chapter of Leviticus, which is rich, relevant and wise. Are all the laws found there immediately clear in their purpose and relevance to us today? Of course not. But this chapter is also remarkably clear, and should function as a sign to us that this book is not just some dusty collection of confusing and confused prohibitions. Rather it rewards study, and upon such, (like the rest of the book) shows itself to have both an inner logic, and a theological and social richness that is extraordinary.

That may seem like an overstatement. Yes, big chunks of Leviticus are slow reading and often dry. But if we push through, this ancient culture and more importantly it’s astonishing God, is still there to be found. He is still speaking.

Jesus’ testimony about the law should have pointed us in this direction. Indeed, as Wright notes, Leviticus 19 stands as a clear source behind the Sermon on the Mount. But Moses’ words as well should give pause to any of us who want too quickly to dismiss the law on our way to other things. Moses’ words on the law in Deuteronomy 4:6 – 8 point to it’s wisdom and utter uniqueness:

Observe them [the decrees and laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Prayer is the expression of hope

David Wells, in his classic article, Prayer: Rebelling Against the Status Quo

Against all of this, it must be asserted that petitionary prayer only flourishes where there is a twofold belief: first, that God’s name is hallowed too irregularly, his kingdom has come too little, and his will is done too infrequently; second, that God himself can change this situation. Petitionary prayer, therefore, is the expression of the hope that life as we meet it, on the one hand, can be otherwise and, on the other had, that it ought to be otherwise. It is therefore impossible to seek to live in God’s world on his terms, doing his work in a way that is consistent with who he is, without engaging in regular prayer.

The deep caverns of volition

Alan Jacobs, in his book, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis (242):

Objections to Christianity…are phrased in words, but that does not mean that they are really a matter of language and analysis and argument. Words are tokens of the will. If something stronger than language were available, then we would use it. But by the same token, words in defense of Christianity miss the mark as well: they are a translation into the dispassionate language of argument something that resides far deeper in the caverns of volition, of commitment. Perhaps this is why Saint Francis, so the story goes, instructed his followers to ‘preach the Gospel always, using words if necessary.’ It is not simply straight-forwardly wrong to make arguments in defense of the Christian faith, but it is a relatively superficial activity: it fails to address the core issues.