This sense of mission set Christians apart from other religious groups, including Jews, in the early Roman empire. The notion that it is desirable for existing enthusiasts to encourage outsiders to worship the god to whom they are devoted was not obvious in the ancient world. Adherents of particular cults did not generally judge the power of their divinity by the number of congregants prepared to bring offerings or attend festivals. On the contrary, it was common for pagans to take pride in the local nature of their religious lives, establishing a special relationship between themselves and the god of a family or place, without wishing, let alone expecting, others to join in worshiping the same god. Christians in the first generation were different, espousing a proselytizing mission which was a shocking novelty in the ancient world. Only familiarity makes us fail to appreciate the extraordinary ambition of Paul, who seems to have invented the notion of a systematic conversion of the whole world, area by geographical area.
—Martin Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations
If you’re young, say south of 40, stop now; you’ll think these the irrelevant musings of an old man (middle aged nowadays, but whose counting). If you’re in your 40s you’re starting to relate to what I’ll have to say (whatever I end up saying), and if you’re in your 50s and beyond, fuggedaboutit. We’ll be winking at each other the whole time. I am almost always tripping out (yes, I’m a child of the 60s and 70s) on this vicious predator called time, and on a recent trip the image of the before personal computers video game Pac Man came to mind. I used to love that stupid little game. In one of my first jobs out of college in the early 80s every lunch I’d head up to the lunch room and battle that exhaustless Pac Man eater, not realizing it was such a good metaphor.
Being a person of extreme apologetic bent, I’m always looking to validate Christian truth claims. Apologetics is critical in a Western culture drenched in secularism, where most people fit into one of the Triple A categories: Atheist, Agnostic, or Apathetic. For them this life is all that matters, even as short as it is, and they have no curiosity to see if there is any meaning beyond sheer material existence. As Christians we must be endlessly curious, asking the big questions all the time. So I have one to share with those who are more like me: In the history of the world where did the idea of a personal, Creator God come from? This is no trivial question. (more…)
[T]his dichotomy that is now readily accepted between matters of private faith and public life belies a betrayal of the very identity Jesus sets forth for his followers. The hope within the Christian is not something we are able to keep private—for if the very public act of Christ’s resurrection from the dead was not real, then the very faith our culture would have us keep in private is futile. The events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and the faith that upholds them, do not allow for the dichotomies of public and private, spiritual and physical, sacred and secular. The call of Christ is one that encompasses every possible realm, thus making “private faith” an unintelligible distinction.
—Jill Carattini, “Practical Atheism”
All Evangelical Christians know what the gospel is, right? It’s the good news (in Greek) that Jesus died for our sins. Unfortunately, most Christians see the gospel as the means of becoming a Christian, and then it’s on to other things, like learning how to become a better Christian. The problem with this mindset is not only that it’s untrue, but that it turns Christianity into moralism, more law than gospel. The former is the means by which sinners think they can gain approval and acceptance before God, and at the same time proves we can’t. Law shows us the need for gospel! But unfortunately we too often confuse the two, and turn law into gospel, and gospel into law. That’s like confusing the Titanic with a rowboat!