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We've Won the Lottery—Now What?
Why does the evangelical community end up with sinners like Governor Mark Sanford (adultery) and Ted Haggard (immorality) and CEO Kenneth Lay (fraud) and evangelist Jim Baker (licentiousness)—to take but a very few examples! A year doesn't go by that we aren't treated to another major scandal. Who will be next?
Unfortunately, history is a discomforting witness to the truth that church leaders and followers are all too easily mesmerized by money, sex, and power—or just plain sloth. In recent history, evangelical jeremiads were usually lamenting the sorry state of liberalism. Today, the jeremiads are self-directed, from The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind to The Scandal of Evangelical Politics to Pagan Christianity. It's now pretty much agreed that the evangelical church mirrors the dysfunctions of secular society, from premarital sex stats to divorce rates to buying habits. Much to our dismay, we are hardly a light to the world, nor an icon of the abundant, transformed life.
What has gone wrong? The first answer seems to be that we are not thinking right or doing enough. Some put their chips on redefining the gospel in social terms; they assume the problem is individualism. Others bet on spiritual formation; the problem is that we're lazy and spiritual disciplines point the way to a more godly future. Some say we need the dynamism of the Holy Spirit; the problem is formalism. Others plea for more accountability groups or more thoughtful worship music or more time in prayer or more of some other magic bullet. If we only do something more, things will improve.
We've tried all these, and tried them time and again. The lamentable conclusion seems to be that while the gates of Hades will never prevail against the church, the spirit of moral mediocrity has pretty much won the day. This is not to deny those wonderful moments when the church really acts like the church, when outsiders notice Jesus Christ as a result! Such moments are pure gifts, signs of the coming kingdom. But history suggests they are intermittent. The usual reality is that the church, from corrupt Corinth to amoral America, remains a sinful institution, full of sinful people.
Perhaps it's time we try a new approach, and do less.
To do less seems scandalous, because the very justification of Christianity is on the line. Jesus promises that we'll not only enjoy full life (John 10:10), but that we'll be salt and light to dying society (Mt. 5:13-16), and an example of love to a watching world (John 13:35). Paul says that in Christ we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), that we are called to become like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). If we do not evidence a transformed life, the Christian faith will seem like a fraud. If our churches look no more vital than the Kiwanis' Club, what's the point?
No wonder we panic in the face of our own corruption—or when someone tells us that there may be something more important to do than reckless striving for righteousness.
The problem is not a new one. Many early churches were a mess—just read Paul's correspondence to the divisive, sexually libertine Corinthians. In fact, Paul, for all his ethical admonitions, admits that while he wants to do good, he often seems unable to do it (Rom. 7). Even at the end of his life, after decades of living for Christ, he thinks of himself only as the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:16). This does not sound like the victorious life to me.
And yet Paul seems unfazed. He remains confident of his transformation in Christ. How can this be?
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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