Christianity 201

January 15, 2012

Too Much Salt, Too Much Light

This morning at church, the pastor read the familiar “salt and light” passage from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.  If you’ve been in church for a long time, it’s hard to imagine hearing anything new and different on this, and yet, the text is so rich that I am always amazed at the “take away” you can get from this passage.

First of all was the emphasis on being salt and light in the world.  There’s no thought of ‘salt for salt’s sake,’ or ‘light for light’s sake;’ but rather, the analogy exists to guide the Christian in living in a broader society.  

That said, salt is reactive, while light is more proactive.  The former deals with how we respond to the world around us, the latter deals with what added value we are infusing into that world.  

But then the pastor talked about the fact you can have too much salt.  In terms of the seasoning nature of salt, it’s easy to overdo it; and in terms of light, it’s not helpful if you’re shining it in someone’s eyes.  

And then he gave a rather interesting example that I’d never considered before.  He talked about people who feel the need to respond with a Bible verse who also give the reference, and how foreign that concept is to people who are outside the faith and/or outside the church. I’ve heard people say that we should know references so that we can open up a Bible and point them to what the Bible says and where it says it; but I have to agree with the pastor that conversationally, there’s no need to do that; we just need to pass on the heart of what God’s word says; the truth element of it without the precision of a GPS reference.

Really, it comes back to being able tell people — without reading it off a script — about the ways of the Lord. 

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.  (Hosea 14:9 NASB)

Our job is to know God’s ways in order to instruct others, but we are the best translation of scripture and our words should flow out of a general sense of God’s will and God’s ways.  When I start spouting chapters and verses (or Greek and Hebrew) to a non-Christian it all sounds like when my son who takes engineering starts talking scientific terminology.

And frankly, people who read a blog called Christianity 201, and obviously want to go deeper and be deeper are at the greatest risk of overdoing this.  We know a lot of stuff, and it’s easy to allow pride to creep into the equation as well.

…Today some people despair over ‘seeker sensitive’ sermon approaches that they say has had the effect of ‘dumbing down’ the gospel.  But there is something to be said for “putting the cookies on the lower shelf.”

  1. First, when we’re able to express the gospel in its rawest simplicity, we’re closer to the essence of the gospel, the profound nature of the gospel.
  2. Second, as stated, when dealing with unchurched or unevangelized people, we run the risk of scaring them off with responses or explanations that are too complex, even while we admire and relish the great complexity and mystery of the gospel ourselves.
  3. Third, in an increasingly Biblically illiterate culture, we’re going to increasingly be dealing with people within the church for whom what we consider basic theological and doctrinal discussion is more than they can handle

We want to be salt and light, but we have to be careful not to over-salt, or turn the lights up blindingly high.

May 21, 2011

Henri Nouwen on Social Progress

This is a long weekend here in Canada, and the tendency is to kick back spiritually as well, to get into that “summer mindset” or what we call here “cottage mentality” and forget that our relationship with Jesus doesn’t take a day off or a weekend off.  (Read more about churches that “power down” in summer here and here.)  Nevertheless, I’ll grant that today’s piece is a little lighter, or at least it is on the surface.  We tend to worship doctrine, but don’t think that items about the outworking of that doctrine, or orthopraxy, or ministry ethic is really all that deep.  Perhaps it is really most profound.

December 2, 2010

How Prayer Works

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Trying to dissect how prayer works is like using a magnifying glass to try to figure out why a woman is beautiful. If you turn God into an object, he has a way of disappearing…

The only way to know how prayer works is to have complete knowledge and control of the past, present, and future. In other words, you can figure out how prayer works if you are God. (Miller, A Praying Life p128)