Resigned to a Powerless Christianity?


I talked with fellow believers a few days back after hearing a message about forgiveness. The topic is a standard in Christian circles, but the speaker was well known, so I thought we might hear something new.

The speaker talked about the power of forgiving another person and how freeing that is to the soul. No arguments from me.

But I think that people today don’t need to hear more messages about forgiving individuals. I think many of us realize that we are dust and so are the people who oppose us. How can we be mad at other people then?

When I look around America today, I don’t see people who are mad at individuals. I see people who are mad at systems.

A system is hard to define. It’s more than just a mass of people. It’s a way of doing things. It’s the collective processes that lead to a result, often which is unintended, which in turn causes anger. And sometimes those systems possess an almost palpable malevolence.

Americans today are mad about out-of-control health care systems. I know I certainly am. My health insurance company sent me a note a couple weeks ago saying they will be raising my premium 30 percent March 1. They raised it 30 percent back in September.

Yet to whom should I direct my anger for this? At motorcyclists who don’t wear helmets and don’t have insurance so that my rates go up to compensate their lack of payment to hospitals when they sustain a costly head injury? Or should I blame doctors who order round after round of tests just to ensure they account for that one percent chance at catching a rare disease and thus avoid the inevitable malpractice lawsuit? Should I blame Congress for not removing state-imposed protections for insurance companies, thus preserving high premiums due to a lack of open, national competition?

If I don’t know at whom I should be angry, how do I know to whom I should offer my forgiveness?

Aren’t we all more likely to feel anger at entrenched systems we seem to have no ability to change? Doesn’t that define the corporate anger Americans are feeling right now toward Wall Street, Capitol Hill, and the world at large?

I brought this up with these other Christians. I asked them how we can forgive systems. And if that’s what many people are angry at, why aren’t Christian leaders addressing that anger—and the subsequent means by which we can forgive nameless, faceless systems?

The answer, I was told, is found in the classic “Serenity Prayer” of President Obama’s favorite theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

I want to focus primarily on the first section of that prayer.

My issue with American Christianity today is that you and I have somehow taken that idea of acceptance and “gigantified” the bucket containing “the things I cannot change.” In short, our “wisdom to know the difference” between the alterable and inalterable is hopelessly broken.

I’ve had some very sad conversations with young, 5-point Calvinists in the last few years. I’ve never met people so resigned to “fate.” Their concept of God’s sovereignty has gone so far off the deep end that they see no reason to ever wrestle in prayer for anything that seems unchangeable. In truth, they are nothing more than nihilists. I have no idea what they must think of Abraham’s pleading before God in Genesis 18 for the sake of Sodom. They resign themselves to think that God has set the top in motion and nothing can be done to alter its course. They are like the unbelieving leaders in John who asked,

“Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
—John 9:19b

How indeed.

But it’s not only the young Calvinists who seemed resigned that nothing can be done. It’s us other Christians too involved in our own lives to lift a finger to make a difference. Our inaction in the face of evil systems will cry out against us come Judgment Day because we loved our own lives too much to become martyrs for some “unchangeable” cause.

Folks, where is the Christian battle?

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
—Ephesians 6:12

Look, you and I can’t change our chronological age, our ancestry, the era into which we were born, and a few things like that.  But nearly everything else is up for grabs. Ours is not a calling to serenity but to go out there and fight systems, no matter how innocuous they may seem.

And we can do it too:

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
—2 Corinthians 10:4

So how is it that so many Christians just roll over and play dead?

If Christians in Rome didn’t fight the prevailing evil Roman system of leaving the old, infirm, and sick to die, how would the Church have grown so rapidly?

If Martin Luther didn’t pound his worthy complaint to the door of the monolithic Roman Catholic ChurchSword-wielding soldier, where would the Church universal be today?

If William Wilberforce rolled over and relented to the seemingly unchangeable slave trade in England, where would our world be today?

If Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t stand up for the cause of civil rights in the face of catcalls, baseball bats, and the ever-present threat of a noose on a tree limb, where would American society be today?

And that list can go on and on.

When I hear Christians telling me nothing can be done, the simple answer is that they don’t want to be bothered. They won’t put in the time, energy, prayer, and faith to help make change happen. They don’t want their status and incomes threatened by standing up against tough, systemic opponents.

Increasingly, resignation seems to be the state of much of the Church in America. Doesn’t matter that the Bible repeatedly says that all things are possible with God. We keep thinking that some things are beyond His ability to change.

As for me, I contend that such a god is not the God of the Bible.

Christian, the Enemy is at the gate. Don’t resign your commission by resigning yourself to the way things are. Stand up and make a difference.

The Faith That Isn’t


You can’t be a Christian very long before you must come to grips with the meaning of faith. And in America that faith will come down to either a naïve faith or a mature one.

Maturity, at least if the brochures are right, is the true hallmark of Christian enlightenment. It’s easy to spot someone with a mature faith. They have that knowing, philosophical smile whenever they spot some brand spankin’ new believer anxious to be about God’s work, that person with a naïve faith that hasn’t been around the block a time or two.

The person with a mature faith understands that very few people ever see real results in prayer. That mature person knows that it’s one thing to believe something and altogether a different thing to make it happen. Supplementing one’s wishes with a little elbow grease never hurt anyone. The mature person of faith knows that backup plans are needed when idealism falls through. Sure, God is ready to say yes to the faithful, but it’s smart to hedge one’s bets against failure.

When Joe Sixpack loses his job during the recession, the counselor with the mature faith readily advises Joe to immediately find another job, any job. “God can’t drive a parked car,” the counselor says—with a wink. Because there’s always a wink or a reassuring pat on the back when mature faith is involved.

No, the American Christian of mature faith comprehends what the person with the naïve faith doesn’t. And his church makes him an elder or a committee supervisor for his discernment. Because we need his common sense wisdom and leadership. We don’t want to make the mistakes of blindly following some starry-eyed dreamer with a naïve faith who wants to change the world for Christ.

So we hold up the person of mature faith. He’s the model. And his common sense faith is an example for us all.

Except, as I see it, that mature “faith” isn’t really faith at all.

The Lord makes it clear:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven….”
—Matthew 18:1-3

You see, it’s the person with the naïve faith, the one who believes there stands no impediment to the God of the Universe, who is the real warrior in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the one who believes that nothing is impossible with God. This is the person who takes God’s word at…well, His word. This is the one who sends the devil scurrying back to hell.

I’d like to find a real Christian today who believes the following:

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
—Psalms 127:1

Instead, we of “mature” faith like to force God’s hand. When we feel we’ve waited long enough, we build the house, we watch over the city. Because faith in God is nice, but if you’re going to build houses and protect cities, nothing beats the sweat of the brow. Yes, Jesus, I believe you...So leave the waiting in the prayer closet to the naïve, and let’s get the real men out there to do the job pronto. And for all our sakes, make sure we have a Plan B.

This is what passes for maturity today.

No, man’s common sense is just that, common. It takes a real naïf, a true fool, to think otherwise, to see with uncommon vision, to have God’s perspective.

Frankly, I’m a bit sick of all the people with supposedly mature faith who sit around saying, “Yes, but….” Those “buts” have a knack for getting in the way, stymieing the work of the Lord. Whenever those mature people bless us with their smarts, you can almost hear someone muttering along with them: “Isn’t that just Jesus, the carpenter’s son?”

You’ve got poor, uneducated nobodies in India leading thousands to Christ, laying their hands on the sick and watching them get healed. Meanwhile, you’ve got hyper-rationalists masquerading as the mature people in the church who raise their objections and quote from their science and philosophy books all the reasons why none of that can be happening.

Me? I’ll stick with Isaiah on this one:

…and a little child shall lead them.
—Isaiah 11:6b