This past summer (2009), inaugurated by a conversation on Twitter, I became friends with Aaron. A heated conversation about alleged “humility of doubt,” he suggested that we needed more than 140 characters to continue to have intelligent conversation on the subject. What follows the first piece of correspondence I exchanged with him:
Thanks for the chance to dialogue a bit via email. Firstly, I have a personal vested interest in the substance of the church’s message to the world as I am a worship leader (and sometimes Sunday School teacher) who sees his role in singing and planning services as primarily a teaching one with a close secondary creative one. I write music on occasion and my congregation sings that music with some regularity. Because of my passion for teaching and my responsibility to plan services as a mere 27-year-old, I take words very seriously…not to belittle others, but so that the glorious news of Christ will not be shrouded by anything that God Himself hasn’t shrouded it with.
For example, there is mystery in what Christ has done. “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” is identified as a mystery in Scripture, and what an awesome mystery to behold! In another passage, Paul tells us that the mystery of godliness is great: that “Christ was manifested in the flesh (born of Mary), vindicated by the Spirit (His ministry was endorsed by the third person of the Trinity), seen by angels (there are witnesses apart from man to what He did), proclaimed among the nations (the Gospel went out in accordance with the Great Commission), believed on in the world (saving faith was granted by God through the preaching of His word, which is foolishness) and taken up in glory (He ascended as Acts 1 says he did).”
There is mystery to our faith…a faith that was handed down to us in Scripture, once for all delivered to the saints (that is, the believers). There is also a clarity to the Scriptures. Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, tells us that those who are being saved are like an aroma…to those who are being saved they are the aroma of life. To those perishing, they are the aroma of death. Our faith has specific things which characterize it, namely, belief in Jesus, who has paid a ransom for us (Matt. 20:28) as a part of his predestined love for us (Eph. 1:5-10).
This faith (or trust, or belief..biblically they’re interchangeable) is not something we do. It’s not something everyone has and then invests it, like a bond. Eph. 2:8-10 illustrates this, amongst other passages. It is vital that we have biblically based definitions for biblical terminology. Let me illustrate one way this is important and I will ask that you keep this example anonymous.
Someone glancing over Scripture will assume that the word “homosexual” is used in the same way that we use it here in America so often, as both a noun and a verb. In Scripture, someone is characterized as a homosexual with a verb form, as in 1 Cor. 6:9. This is why the NIV attempts to rectify this problem by describing them as “homosexual offenders,” thus putting it back into a comparable verb form. But someone simply reading a different translation which only featured the word “homosexuals” would assume that a person who is attracted to other people of the same gender is automatically disqualified from the kingdom of God. This, of course is not the case for a variety of reasons, namely that Paul goes on in verse 11 to tell the church that that is what they WERE…but they’ve been washed, sanctified and justified in the name of Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Additionally, we know that temptation is not sin because Christ was tempted in every way as we are, and yet was without sin.
This is a personal illustration because I am a celibate homosexual. I’ve grown up in evangelicalism and was told at a young age that there was no repentance for the homosexual. I knew that I loved Jesus, so I hid my attractions into my college years. I had nowhere to turn in those years, in part because I sat under lousy teaching which wasn’t biblically based in its definition of words. I didn’t realize that there was repentance for me, so I tried working my way to God by singing on the praise team, helping lead Bible studies, and showing up for prayer meetings. This simply isn’t the Gospel, as we both know. The Gospel is that Christ died for all of my sins, that His perfect obedience to God is counted as my righteousness and that He has called me out to reign with Him eternally and has not left me to my own devises here, both giving me the Spirit and interceding for me himself at the place of prominence (ie, right hand) before the Father. If you would like to talk more about why I’m celibate now, we could do so…but I simply offer up my story to illustrate why I believe biblical definitions are vital.
So now that I’ve set up my case, I want to (briefly) address the Maher quote you tweeted. Biblically speaking, doubt is not a component of humility. Now, you followed that statement up with a conjecture that doubt wasn’t perhaps the best word, and then implied that a healthy amount of uncertainty is probably a better way to categorize the situation, including fear of the Lord and knowing one’s place. I think you’re getting closer to biblical humility at that point. Humility is the posture of one’s heart, knowing one’s place before God and man and preferring to be lower even so. Christ told his listeners to prefer the lowest seat possible so that one could be exalted later instead of being demoted at a dinner, which I think is a poignant example.
Having humility is vital. So much of what characterizes so-called “biblical” evangelism isn’t actually biblical at all because it’s presented by people who needed a Savior to get saved, but think they live out the law just fine, so Christ was someone who brought their account balance before God back to zero so that they can go forth and scream at others to repent. That’s, of course, a caricature in some ways, but painfully true in others. I’m not here to take pot-shots at a straw man, so let’s move on to a positive presentation of what biblical humility, specifically in evangelism, looks like from where I sit.
Humility is knowing that we are fallible, but we have a Word which is not. We make mistakes in reading that Word, but that indicates a problem on our part, but not the part of the Word, nor on the part of the One who wrote that Word. As such, we can study the Scriptures knowing that the Spirit testifies to its truth and we can fearlessly proclaim to a broken, dying and sinful world that Christ died as a ransom for many and that the solution to sin is repentance and Christ’s forgiveness through His death on the cross. This is a rather foolish message, but it is the one we are given to proclaim (Luke 24, etc.). So when I’m talking to friends of mine about Christ (which seems to happen a lot these days, even at parties with 3 margaritas down the hatch and a raucous stand-up routine on DVD at a friend’s house), I present that news in a variety of methods, but with always the same substance. The specific party in question featured my being grilled as to why I believed I should be a celibate homosexual…and instead of simply telling them about my story (which, by the way, I did tell them a bit of my story), I pointed them to the fact that Christ redeemed me, explained briefly (not like this email is turning out, but actually in a sentence or so) what that meant and then proceeded to tell them the good news that Christ died to take away all my sins and to pour out his blessing on me not on the basis of my doing anything, but on the basis of Christ’s work by itself.
My declaration and delivery doesn’t presuppose arrogance…it presupposes boldness which I have in Christ. They asked me questions I couldn’t answer and I told them I didn’t know. They asked me how my theology would work out in such-and-such a situation and I shared with them as best I could while admitting that I’d never been in that specific place and hadn’t even dated someone before. I was not a bible answer-man, but I did (and do) have assurance of the Gospel because the Scriptures declare it to be true.
My point is, I didn’t re-imagine the message. I didn’t suppose that I knew better than the Bible as to what these guys needed to hear. Instead, I, in as much humility as I could operate in as a human being who messes up (dare I say, sins?) a lot, proclaimed a message which I neither authored nor had anything to do with…a message of God’s operating apart from me, years before I was born, in order that I might find peace with Him. THAT is good news! Now, was the presentation very much like anyone from a “traditional” background would’ve liked? Not my background! I grew up Pentecostal! The alcohol alone would’ve been a deal breaker, never mind that there wasn’t a straight guy in the whole apartment! So the form was DEFINITELY different. But the message…the message was the same.
I know I’ve talked your ear off. I love talking to other men who have a passion to see the Church flourish and are trying to reach those who have not yet heard of Christ…or at least, don’t think very much of Him because they’ve encountered messed-up followers of Him who’ve pissed them off in the past. I look forward to reading your blog article and hopefully interacting in the future. Have a great rest of your morning, what’s left of it.
And interact we have. What resulted has been a deep and challenging friendship that celebrates the redeeming and sanctifying work of Christ in our lives. We continue to exhort and admonish one another as we seek to proclaim the Gospel until Christ returns.