What if the Superstitious Peasant Is only Half Wrong?

For a generation, C. S. Lewis’ Miracles: A Preliminary Study was, at a popular level, the best book on the subject of miracles. Last fall Eric Metaxas published Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life. His work probably will be the new standard. Here’s just a brief excerpt:Miracles Metaxas

“What if we could accept that our childhood love of Santa Claus was indeed fantasy but not merely fantasy? What if we could accept that although Santa Claus didn’t really exist as Socrates existed, our desire for him to exist pointed to something that did exist, pointed to something that Socrates himself had longed for? What if those who simply believed in anything were only half- wrong, because their desire to believe pointed to something that was true, not just in the world itself but inside them?

 

And what if those who knew Santa Claus didn’t really exist were themselves only half-wrong, because their rejection of that kind of sloppy, childish belief pointed to a desire to only believe in what was real, what was really real and not just a myth or a childhood story, a desire to believe in things that are as true as the facts in history books and as real as the atoms and molecules we learned about in science books? What if the half-truth of the desire for something beyond us could meet up with the half-truth of the desire for only what is really real and true, which we can know and see and touch in this world too? What if those two halves could touch and become the one true truth we were both looking for?”

What if the superstitious peasant is only half wrong? Yes, those who will believe anything are mistaken. But so are those who believe nothing. Metaxas demonstrates that the Bible teaches that there is a discerning, seeking, middle ground. Miracles is thoughtful, provocative, and very fun to read. I recommend it highly.

Missionaries Made Modernity

“Missionaries profoundly shaped modernity.” This is the provocative conclusion made by Robert Woodberry, as he delivered this year’s Carver-Barnes lecture for the L Rush Bush Center for Faith and Culture. Woodberry, a sociologist at the Univ. of Notre Dame, makes a compelling argument that many of the positive features generally associated with the Enlightenment–worldwide advances in literacy, health care, and human rights–were actually accomplished primarily by evangelical missionaries.

To make his case, Woodberry has amassed a remarkable amount of data. But he presents the material in a manner that is both accessible and engaging. If you care about the Great Commission then you’ll want to watch his lecture. Enjoy.

 

Practicing Vs. Pretending

“I know I should have done the right thing, but then it wouldn’t have been sincere.” Such an explanation is sometimes presented as an amusing rationale for wrong behavior, or for failing to take the correct course of action. But it highlights a serious point. No one wants to be a hypocrite. Even in our nonjudgmental culture, few character flaws are considered to rank lower than hypocrisy.

For the believer wanting to make spiritual progress, this seems to present a dilemma. Paul instructs us, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children” (Eph 5:1). We are called to do the right thing even when we do not feel like it. Imitating? Isn’t that hypocritical? The process of learning the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life involves doing things that don’t come naturally to us, often when we don’t feel like doing them. Isn’t that just pretending?

The short answer is no, it’s not. We are not just pretending. There is a world of difference between practicing righteousness and pretending to be righteous. Let me briefly list three differences:

1. Difference in intent: Practicing and pretending have two different motives along with two different purposes. We practice the spiritual disciplines in order to learn righteousness. By contrast, the motive for pretense in our Christian walk generally is to hide the fact that we don’t want to change. Pretending allows our unrighteous traits to continue. Practicing and pretending have two very different purposes.
2. Difference in approach: When we truly practice the Christian life there is transparency in the struggle. We candidly depend on others for help in the journey. The very fact we need the spiritual disciplines in our lives is an admission of our weakness. Pretending at the Christian life, by contrast, does the exact opposite. Instead of honesty, pretending is intended to hide one’s true spiritual condition.
3. Difference in outcome: Practicing the Christian life results in the slow, gradual, and difficult transformation of the believer into the image of Christ. Pretending stunts the professing Christian and results in the retrenchment of ungodly thinking, traits, and behaviors.

The New Testament repeatedly instructs us to “imitate” Christ and his Apostles (1 Cor 4:16; 1 Cor 11:1; Eph 5:1; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 2:14; Heb 6:12). Practice makes perfect (in the sense of full maturity)—as God continues his good and perfect work within us.practice