Love God and love others, this seems pretty straightforward.
As far as loving others, though, the New Testament is not quite so clear. Some of the epistles concern Christians living together, but what I want to talk about today is how to love those outside the church.
One of the passages that addresses this complex issue is in Acts 17. Paul visits Athens, and here we see one of the best examples in the New Testament of a Christian engaging in discussion with someone who’s not Jewish or Christian. And interestingly, Paul makes subtle alterations to his usual approach. He points to a structure that the Athenians already understand—the altar to an unknown God—and uses it to describe the One True God. Paul was one of the most effective evangelists in history, and he intentionally used the culture he found himself in to assist his cause.
Today we find ourselves in a pluralistic culture of many gods, much like Athens in the first century AD. And we as the church constantly feel compelled, it seems, to stand on the sidelines of culture and condemn. Too often, we deny our part in culture, and as a result, we miss the opportunity to enter into important conversations in a timely way.
The question of sexuality, for example, has blown up in the church in the past five years. I recently had a friend on campus come out to me, and I had no idea what to say. Only God’s grace helped me identify my own limitations, so I could just be quiet and listen. I was unprepared to engage that issue on such an intimate level.
But the time has come for the church, including me, to stop finding itself unprepared to join these sorts of conversations. It’s time for the church, like Paul, to recognize the desire in people for truth, and to answer that desire. Many Americans have altars in their lives to an unknown God. They seek all sorts of truths to place on that altar. And they need the church to tell them what’s missing.
So how do we do that? How do we develop a voice that calls stray sheep into the fold? Before answering that question, we must ask another.
Who defines the values of our culture right now? In premodern theocracy, the church defined values. In early capitalism, the rich defined values. In today’s world, neither the church nor the rich tells us what is right or wrong, true or false. Today, those with cultural capital define our values.
So let me ask these questions…
Who has read Pope Francis’s last encyclical.
Who has read Bill Gates’ book, The Road Ahead.
Now who has seen pictures or videos of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMA’s.
Not the church. Not the rich. But those with cultural capital. That’s who has power. That’s who defines right or wrong, true or false.
Now many of you are thinking, “What’s happened to our culture? It’s going down the drain.” Let me answer your question with a few others. Why does our culture seem so flawed? Why do voices defining right as wrong and vice versa win out?
Where are the Christians?
Mr. Hein talked about loving God and loving others. We need to get better at these things. But we need to learn how to get better at loving those outside the church. Because right now, we don’t know our limitations.
So, advice: we don’t need more Christian nurses. We don’t need more Christian musicians. We don’t need more Christian politicians, or business people, or pastors. We need more Christians in all those areas, who are ready to do more than just be in those areas. We need more Christians who are ready to step into conversations, public and private, and share the love of Christ. We need Christians who aren’t just looking forward to heaven, with one foot out the door, but rather are living as dual-citizens of this world and the next. As ambassadors of Christ’s love.
But we have to pass the citizenship test of this world first. And that starts here. In the university. When we study for class, we aren’t just preparing for the next exam. We’re preparing for a friend who sits us down and tells us he thinks he’s gay, and asks if that makes him not a Christian anymore. We’re preparing—we’re studying—because God is Truth, and we can’t love that friend without knowing the truth. We can’t love those outside the church if we don’t submit ourselves now, in this university, to learning. To working. To studying. To late nights in Shattuck. And honestly, sometimes to that extra shot of espresso. Because we want those outside the church to see us acting in culture, and ask how they can join.
Because right now, we are not good participants in the larger world. When was the last time you read a book by a Christian that wasn’t in the Christian Literature section of the store? When was the last time you saw a movie by a Christian that wasn’t just for Christians? When was the last time we discussed something in our culture, not just to decide whether it’s good or bad, tattoos: good or bad: alcohol: good or bad, but rather to discover how it fits into Christ’s redeemed creation?
As we prepare for our future after Indiana Wesleyan, we have to learn how to love God with our minds, and use that knowledge to help us love others too.
Now is the time. Now is the time to read those books. To watch those movies. Now is the time to start those conversations. To stop condemning before thinking. Now is the time to equip yourself to talk to the Athenians. Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I might save some.” To change the world, we first have to understand it. And now is the time.
Written by: Tim Scurlock and David Priest
Influenced by countless late night conversations and classroom discussions