Because we live in an age in which people are willing to believe almost anything except the truth, there is a continuing and urgent need for those who follow Jesus Christ to advance a serious approach to Christianity.
By serious Christianity I mean an approach to the Christian faith that applies itself to every dimension of life—the intellectual, the behavioral, and the experiential — and seeks to view them as an integrated whole.
I have noticed (to my surprise and chagrin) that my use of the terms ‘serious Christianity ‘ and ‘serious Christian’ occasionally provokes a negative reaction from others—as though it implies some sort of judgment toward them.
No offense is intended. It is true, however, that any time one adds a modifier to a commonly used noun, it naturally signals a distinction that raises questions. When C. S. Lewis published his book Mere Christianity he immediately had not only to explain his title but to defend it.
Ironically he had to defend it most vigorously against accusations and misunderstandings of people who might naturally be expected to embrace it. Moreover he had to come grips with the fact that, once he had coined the term, it took on something of a life of its own. It created its own definition and context in the minds of those who encountered it—both those who read the book, and those who only read or heard the title.
To announce a quest to advance serious Christianity, however, implies that there is some kind of Christianity, embraced by someone somewhere, that is not serious. It moreover seems to imply a critique or criticism of these other kinds of Christianity. Serious Christianity compared to what?
Permit me therefore, please, to explain the distinctions I intend to highlight. You are free then to draw your own conclusions.
Serious Christianity obviously contradicts any approach to Jesus Christ that, consciously or not, regards him as less than the Lord of all.
There are those who dabble in Christianity for whatever social, cultural or personal reason who have never seriously regarded his claim over their lives. There are those who may stand behind the banner of the cross, or who use the cross to prop up their own agenda, but who know nothing of carrying the cross.
But this kind of Christianity is Christian in name only. When I use the word "serious," I mean not merely genuine, sincere, without hypocrisy. All of that goes without saying. I have something more specific in mind.
Serious Christianity stands in contrast mainly to popular (‘pop’) Christianity.
Pop Christianity caters to people on the level of their felt need for some level of attachment to God. It seeks to reach them by appealing to the natural human desire to get something for nothing or not much. Pop Christianity, in other words, tends to be mostly about what (and how much) God can do for the individual.
Pop Christianity has its place. It is the marketplace. Only a theological snob would fail to recognize the positive, often life-changing impact that it has had on the lives of many. As the apostle Paul said, "What then? Only this: that in every way … Christ is preached. And in this I rejoice and will rejoice." (Philippians 1:18)
The serious Christian, however, finds most popular expressions of Christianity to be too shallow and compartmentalizing to satisfy the needs of a soul. Too self-serving and self-indulgent to satisfy the demands of our time for a credible gospel. Too hollow and lightweight even to appreciate fairly the comprehensive claims of Jesus Christ and the vast scope of his Lordship.
Serious Christianity may be compared more positively to what I call ‘earnest Christianity.’
There is in this cynical world, I am glad to say, an approach to the faith I call earnest Christianity. Earnest Christianity urges those who would follow Jesus to follow him devotedly. The earnest Christian recognizes the power and necessity of commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and seeks a deeper and purer love for him.
The earnest Christian has gone beyond looking for what Christ can do for him. He wants to make his own contribution to the cause of Christ. Nevertheless, many believers who follow Christ with true devotion still conceive of their faith in individual, subjective terms. For this reason, earnest Christianity may indeed possess depth, but it seldom possesses breadth.
Many earnest Christians have been taught to follow their heart, by which I mean not merely the emotions, but the deeper issues of what Jonathan Edwards called “religious affections.” This is a good thing, but it is often not balanced by a corresponding interest in developing the Christian mind.
God created the heart and mind to be married and to work in harmony. They must not be divorced. The heart cannot righteously accept what the mind rejects.
The serious Christian is indeed an earnest one—but he is an earnest Christian who is unsatisfied with individualism and subjectivism. He is concerned that his faith be anchored to unchanging truths, and his devotion to transcendent realities.
The goal of serious Christianity is not to replace the preaching of the gospel with intellectual argumentation, but to proclaim Christian truth in all its dimensions.
Serious Christianity is not an achievement, but a quest, a pilgrimage.
It seeks to discover the extent of the dominion of our Lord in every department of life and Creation. Nothing is off-limits to Christ. No subject matter is outside of his boundaries. No realm is beyond his jurisdiction.
Serious Christianity acknowledges a triune dimension to faith and spirituality. It therefore resists the urge to segregate spirituality into its own private compartment. Rather it seeks to integrate the three dimensions of faith into a life of wholeness:
. • Objective truths, studying foundational doctrines and evaluating theological ideas;
. • Behavioral imperatives, implementing the principles of life in obedience to God's commandments;
. • Experiential authenticity, being directly engaged spirit to Spirit in a vital relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
In short, serious Christianity is a life of discipleship in which we pursue Christ through a renewed mind, a holy walk, and a fervent heart.
This is my quest. If you would like to accompany me for all or part of it, I'm happy to have you join me.
Copyright 2008, Garry D. Nation, All Rights Reserved
The heart cannot righteously accept
what the mind rejects.
Garry D. Nation
The Night Watch
Rembrandt van Rijn