May 26, 2017

A God-Shaped Void? Maybe Not

selfsatisfied.jpgNevertheless, young people do not feel disenchanted, lost or alienated in a meaningless world. “Instead, the data indicated that they found meaning and significance in the reality of everyday life, which the popular arts helped them to understand and imbibe.” Their creed could be defined as: “This world, and all life in it, is meaningful as it is”, translated as: “There is no need to posit ultimate significance elsewhere beyond the immediate experience of everyday life.” The goal in life of young people was happiness achieved primarily through the family…The researchers were also shocked to discover little sense of sin or fear of death. Nor did they find any Freudian guilt as a result of private sensual desires. The young people were, however, afraid of growing old.Recent article in the London Times.

“I am a deeply religious nonbeliever…. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.” -Albert Einstein

Romans 3:11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.

A few months ago, I noticed a mosque had appeared in suburbs of a community I drive through several times a year. It was the first visible reminder I’d seen that I was no longer living in a Bible belt culture in which the Christian faith, in some form, was dominant.

I’ve lived most of my life submerged in the world of churches, Christians, Biblical language, and the Christian worldview. (Sorry Joel) As I’ve moved into the second half of life, I’ve become aware that I need to separate myself from the Christian culture that has dominated my life, and to look closely for where my own assumptions are deeply embedded with the concepts, presuppositions and categories of the spiritual/intellectual/social/religious environment that surrounds me.

As part of my journey to deconstruct this evangelicalism I’ve lived in, I have consciously attempted to appreciate the thinking and experience of those who do not share my Christian faith. This process has been difficult, because the “house” of my personal experience is completely furnished with the furniture of a Christian society, church language, Biblical presuppositions and the basic beliefs of the Christian community.

One of the incidents that began this journey was a simple observation by a student. “Steve” had been at our Christian school for several years, and had never made any outward steps of faith. He wasn’t very verbal about matters of faith, but it wasn’t hard to tell he had thoughts he chose to keep to himself. One day, in a class discussion about a recent chapel message, Steve spoke his mind. I can’t quote him, but it was something very much like this:

“Why do Christians always say that you can’t be happy unless you are a Christian? It’s insulting to a person who isn’t a Christian to be told that they will never be happy without Christ. I’m not a Christian, and I am happy most of the time. I am happy with my friends and they things I enjoy doing. I don’t want or need Christianity to be happy.”

To quote the hanky-waving lady in the local African-American church….”Well……” So should we argue this point? “Steve, you just don’t know what happiness is. Trust me. You have no idea how happy I am compared to you.”

This post begins with a quote and link to a London Times story that you need to read. Seems the Church of England is trying to find ways to tap into the spiritual interests of England’s church-abandoning younger generations. After extensive research, the conclusions were not at all the expected.

There was little interest in God at all. There was little interest in heaven, spiritual matters, or even life after death. What was meaningful to the young people interviewed was life, family, love, work, relationships and the enjoyment of this world. They were comfortably, happily attuned to this world. Spiritual tattoos aside, they had little thought of much beyond what their senses or experiences presented to them.

In other words, Augustine’s famous “God-shaped void” didn’t make its expected appearance in anything near the numbers expected. Those with interest in some aspect of non-Christian, alternative spiritualities were often simply engaging in the enjoyment and exploration of culture, social groups, symbolism, trends and/or their own this-worldly curiosity and preferences.

Several months ago, I told many of my friends that when I turned off the “Christian stream of consciousness” in my head and just listened to the young people I work with, it was quite obvious that most of them had no interest in God at all. I mean no interest in God at all apart from practical, pragmatic results in very “this worldly” matters. Of course, the problem is that I’m simply not taking this into account in much that I do. “Now turn in your Bibles to Obadiah, and let’s pick up where we left off last week in our series on “Major Moments In The Minor Prophets.”

I do hear about God. I get those Bible questions and the questions that go along with a Christian school full of kids made to go to church and forced to adopt the values of their families. Occasionally someone will ask me about an unbelieving relative who has passed away, but I have never seen anyone truly disturbed about their own relationship with God or worried about what God thought of them. Exactly like the young people in the Times article, there is almost no interest in spiritual things. The great majority of interest in “God” or “the Bible” or “religion” comes down to wanting to know how this might make life here and now more interesting, satisfying or pragmatically effective.

I don’t meet people concerned about sin, and my crowd hears about sin all the time. When I have question and answer sessions, I hear church kid questions and a bit of curiousity about this and that. I’ve begun to realize that when a Christian begins talking about a Biblical story or text, the vast majority of the people I know see these texts having absolutely no relevance to their lives at all. These are things Christians talk about. A Christian giving the meaning of a Bible passage is like a student of the red-winged woodpecker explaining its habitat and habits. If he/she weren’t making you think about it, you would never think about it.

We talk about hymns or choruses like God cares a lot about this. People who aren’t part of church culture know that God isn’t caught up with hymns or choruses. We talk about this church or that new teacher, and these things are very important to us. They fill up Christian television, radio and web sites. Our friends outside of the Christian aqaruium look at us swimming around and think we are funny, odd fish. So concerned with what we think is real, but which they consider meaningless or just a story to try and make you act like someone wants you to act.

The people I know are consumers, not seekers. They consume entertainment, movies, personal events, possessions, experiences and relationships. The idea that God has a claim on them is comprehensible, but virtually meaningless. What they want and what they need is in this world, and is not on the other side of a prayer. (I wonder if “Seeker Sensitive Churches” might consider “Consumer Friendly” as a better name.)

Of course, such people look at those of us who are Christians as very different from them. We tell them our story. We explain the Biblical message of salvation. We describe life with Christ. We talk about “knowing God” and “worshipping Jesus,” and they hear us. They may admire us. They may sometimes feel we have said something very valuable. (A recent sermon series on marriage created a lot of interest by our students because it talked about some things they care about.) But if we talk about “your need to accept Christ,” we might as well talk about “your need to wear elk horns and walk in circles.” They give us our meaningful rituals, but they don’t want to be told they need the ritual as well.

I recently commented on the BHT regarding an evangelism method used at the “Thunder Over Louisville” event during Derby Week. The “Joe Photo” ministry takes free pictures of people at public events, then gives them the option of hearing a Gospel presentation when they download the photo. I do not object to the desire to share the Gospel. What I object to is the sales technique of capturing interest with a less than fully disclosed agenda. Christians in America have become well known for approaching people with any number of “baits,” that are designed to create the space for a presentation about Christianity.

Perhaps it’s just my personality, but I resent indirect sales approaches. If the phone rings and someone says they want to give me a CD, but I learn that the free CD is actually going to be a prelude to a 3 minute presentation on life insurance, I’m irritated…and insulted. If I truly believed that someone, for example, needed to send their children to our school, I would provide straightforward information, and I wouldn’t approach them in a way that baited, then switched, or attempted to buy openness with gifts or promises.

Why can’t we just talk like human beings talk to one another?

It’s as if we don’t believe non-Christians can be talked to on their own terms. We have to pull them into our presentation; into our “script.” They have to become the subject of our questions. They must be the dummies and we must be the ventriloquists. Evangelism training, preaching and apologetics must create some kind of a “subject” willing to allow, hear and answer the right questions. “Canned” presentations seem to be primarily about the Christians need to dominate a conversation. These all betray our fears that we may not be able to control what is presented or the conversations that might follow.

Atheist debater Brian Flemming puts the following “Statement of Beliefs” on his website (HT to my personal psychiatrist):

STATEMENT OF BELIEF

I believe it is possible that Jesus did not exist.

I believe there is no evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ that dates to the time of his alleged life.

I believe there are no written eyewitness accounts of the existence of Jesus Christ.

I believe the names of the Gospels were added well after their composition, and there is no good reason to believe that these names correspond to the original writers.

I believe there is no good reason to believe that any of the Gospels were written by disciples of Jesus Christ, or that any eyewitnesses to Jesus were involved in their composition.

I believe the Bible is not infallible. I believe it is common for religious cults to make things up.

I believe it is common for religions to influence each other, and for young religions to be derived from older religions.

I believe that any claim can be part of Christian tradition and also be false.

I believe that no figures such as “God” or “The Holy Spirit” or “Satan” performed any supernatural actions that had any significant effect upon the formation of early Christianity.

When I read this, I find myself wondering what the typical Christian school would do with a student who articulated these beliefs clearly and with support? What do we do with people who have thought it all through, know the score and say “Fraud?”

Let me suggest what would happen at many schools or churches: This would make many Christians angry. It would intimidate. It would frighten. Parents would call. Emails would say “Do you know…” Many Christians would not want another “evangelist” presenting another “gospel” with the potential to convince. This student might be labelled “disruptive” and “too controversial.” It wouldn’t surprise me to find some- not all- of the Christians dealing with such a student lobbying for his removal from the environment.

I say this not to be hurtful toward Christian (some of whom would never respond like this), but to simply ask if we are aware to the extent that we insist everything outside of our belief systems conform to our own thoughts, presuppositions, concepts and beliefs? Most of us are desperately afraid of any kind of conversation or relationship that puts us in the position of allowing unbelievers complete and total respect. We avoid the kinds of conversations that put us in the position of being “evangelized” or, even worse, simply told our message doesn’t matter at all.

Notice the way that a film like The DaVinci Code makes so many Christians uneasy because of the “errors” that will be promoted. The fact is that DVC has taken the conversation about Jesus away from Christians, and thrown it into the culture, where anyone can say what they want. This, of course, is torture for many Christians. We are not in control. Someone else has the floor, and we must put up with it. We’ve had our say, and the audience is bored.

No wonder so many Christians- especially preachers- shout a lot.

Now, for the irony. Scripture tells us that if there a God-shaped void, we will rarely see or encounter it in obvious ways. What we will see is a race numb and dead. A planet of people refusing to think about God or think about God except in idolatrous- self-serving- terms. A world of people who see no more relevance to the Gospel than to a thousand other things that make absolute no sense or have no claim upon a person at all.

In this sense, I affirm completely those who say that our evangelism be modeled on New Testament principles of the work of the Holy Spirit:

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. (2) But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (3) And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. (4) In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (5) For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (6) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

This is what must happen, and if it doesn’t happen, nothing else matters.

At the same time, I am amazed at the hostility many of these same Christian friends have to the notion of having extended, equal and fair conversations with unbelievers. In affirming the necessity of a spiritual operation on the mind and heart of a person, and the importance of making Christ the central focus of saving faith, we are not told to do nothing but preach, and to preach only in the way, voice, content and forms that we are comfortable with. The call to be a witness or a missional communicator is an invitation to incarnation and Christlikeness in motive, method and message.

If we take seriously the unbelief of unbelievers, then we pray, share the Gospel and do so in a way that is completely incarnational. We do not make them into projects. We fully humanize the process of evangelism, and we take unbelief seriously.

At this point, I can’t recommend enough that every person who sees a need to retool evangelism in the postmodern culture study the ministry of Francis Schaefer. Schaefer was a master of what it means to engage a culture and the persons in it with all the respect, love and humanity that the Gospel should bring forth in Christ’s witnesses. One of Schaefer’s worthy interpreters is Jerram Barrs, and his book The Heart of Evangelism is must reading.

The God-shaped void is absolutely there. It is the HUMAN PERSON! But it is not a void…it is someone made in God’s image, a person loved by God; a person for whom Christ did all his mediating work. This person and their beliefs (or lack of beliefs) are not a threat to us. We do not need to manipulate or control them. We can allow them to have their life, their journey and their experiences. We do not need to demand anything of them for us to present/represent Christ to them.

Yes. Today’s young people are bored with God. They are not “seeking” God at all, but are living on the hardened surface of a fallen human experience, seeking to make sense of what is incomprehensible apart from Christ. We cannot “create” interest apart from the work of the Spirit. Our calling to be witnesses is not to approach the world like cattle to be herded, but as persons to be loved in the way God loves this fallen world through Jesus Christ. We live in a generation and time dead to God and alive to entertainment and a consumer mythology that promises and delivers meaning through stimulation and amusement.

Christ has become the servant and savior of such a world. We live in that world, fully human, fallen, redeemed, rescued, living and hoping in the new creation. How do we speak of these things? It’s a question we must keep answering fearlessly.

Comments

  1. (HT to my personal psychiatrist)

    That was too funny, Michael! I haven’t finished reading the post yet, but had to let you know that I got a chuckle out of that.

  2. Rachel Robinson says:

    Wow

  3. Yep, those are the kids I deal with every day alright.

    Thanks for this – I’ve scribbled some ideas about why I think it might be and what we can do about it here.

    Basically, I’d put it down to having no sense of God’s holiness, transcendent authority, their sinfulness and mortality and the fact that true joy can only be found in Christ.

    And I think that’s our fault as Christians because we don’t model those. I don’t do so well enough anyway.

  4. This essay has some great points and a lot of food for thought. I have often thought about Paul’s words in Romans 1:16…”For I am not ASHAMED of the gospel…”. I really believe that by being so absolutely frightened to be exposed (or have our children exposed) to beliefs that are contrary to Christianity, we prove that deep down we are ashamed of the gospel. Deep down we think, “the gospel is great and all but we really don’t want people picking it apart and comparing it to ________”. We wonder “is the gospel REALLY the power of God to salvation?”. Introduce the absurd measures of isolating ourselves (Christians) from the world and the man-made schemes and cleverness intended to improve upon the gospel and urge the Holy Spirit along in His work.

    Thanks Michael.

  5. This essay is hardcore.

    Thanks!

  6. Great essay! You’re right on target. I especially liked the part where you said, “The God-shaped void is absolutely there. It is the HUMAN PERSON! But it is not a void…it is someone made in God’s image, a person loved by God; a person for whom Christ did all his mediating work. This person and their beliefs (or lack of beliefs) are not a threat to us. We do not need to manipulate or control them. We can allow them to have their life, their journey and their experiences. We do not need to demand anything of them for us to present/represent Christ to them.”

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how judgmental Christians are to nonbelievers, and you’ve hit that idea square on the head here. Thanks for your eloquence.

  7. Brian Pendell says:

    Thing that bugs me …

    Far as I can tell the gospels don’t promise happiness. Not in this life anyway. If anything, it promises the reverse, that “in this world you will have trouble”.

    So I think the whole “I’m happier than you” thing is a false trail. Unbelievers can be quite happy. As Lewis put it, he didn’t come to religion to be happy — for that he had port.

    Likewise, there have been many miserable believers. David himself wrote the “why have you forsaken me” psalm, and Jeremiah’s life doesn’t bear thinking about. Or Paul’s, with the stoning and being beaten with rods and surviving on the open sea, being in danger from just about everything, being “the scum of the earth, like criminals condemned to die in the arena”. Paul certainly wasn’t a happy camper.

    The attitude the Bible teaches doesn’t seem to be happiness so much as hope — determination — in the face of adversity. Believing that God has a plan to do good, therefore we push through today. Not that we’re happy, but we have trust in him and hope in him, therefore we have joy in him. We live not because our circumstances are good or we particularly like them, but because we have our eyes set on something else.

    Lots of unbelievers are happy. Few have the attitude described above. That’s what sets Christians apart from the world — not our happiness, but our hope.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P

  8. Great insights here. Consumerism/materialism is one of the biggest hindrances to spiritual hunger, because people think they have found satisfaction in material wealth, and desire nothing more. It is only if/when they become dissatisfied that they seek something deeper. Young people in our wealthy society have usually not lived long enough to become dissatisfied with their materialistic lifestyles. My parents are missionaries in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a very consumer-driven city. The biggest obstacle they face on a daily basis when sharing the Gospel is the apathy of the people, resulting from a totally materialistic outlook on life.

  9. The problem is that the Pascal-described “God shaped hole” is like the circular pit in my car trunk (or boot, for y’all overseas); it is not only made for a spare tire, the time will come when you really, really need it to be in place — but you can go a long, long way with old newspapers and a case of Diet Pepsi neatly filling it.

    I could tell the driver i’m with that they really would feel better driving with a spare tire in the well, but when they shrug and answer “I’m not likely to have a flat, and if i do, i can always call someone,” what do i say?

    God is surely more than a spare tire, but with accidents and breakdowns kept so safely at a distance, the traditional means of preaching and communicating urgency to the world about the need for ultimate truth and meaning (“you may not live to see next Sunday’s service; you might be in a wreck this very day”) are undermined when death is not seen as inevitable, but old age is.

    I wonder if some of the odd credence given to the “Left Behind” genre is tied to Rapture as a more imminent threat than sudden death; we had a few centuries of frontier typhus & cholera, youthful childbed losses, and much wider-spread random violence, but now air bags and medicine and police protection pushes dying and death behind a nursing home screen or off to Florida. Christ in the clouds is suddenly more credible than the idea that i might need to be ready to “meet my Maker” in the blink of an unprepared eye.

    Very helpfully thoughtprovoking post, sir. Many thanks.

  10. I think Francis Schaeffer was right.
    He always said that a person without God is always living a contradiction. Our purpose is to identify that and help that person. Evangelism without the heart for the people is more destructive than helpful.
    I think we twisted Augustine words.”You have a car, a dog, a wife, kids. Don’t you want some god with that? that’s all you’re missing”
    What Augustine I think meant, is that we are “spiritual beings”, you can avoid it, deny it and so on. But we’re always going to be spiritual beings.
    Michael, just because people say that they don’t have a “void” it doesn’t mean that they don’t. On the other hand, I think that only Holy Spirit can make a person see this hole, and this is the first step in that person’s conversion.
    We should not worry about “creating” that thirst for more, we should do as Schaeffer did, create “shelters” where people who are thirsty will come and find water.
    Jesus did not say: You all come to me … he said: All who are thirsty, come to me.
    He came for the sick.

  11. ed lebert says:

    CS Lewis says that the world is happy making mud pies in the slum because it cannot fathom a vacation at sea. I don’t think Pascal and Lewis are at odds here. Pascal’s point is that we will be much more satisfied by a vacation at sea (or God’s Spirit dwelling in us). God is more satisfying than our mudpies, because we were made to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Lewis simply adds that the world is ignorant of this.

  12. Ed –

    The choice is more nuanced than Lewis put it. The “mudpies” are part of God’s creation, and are “good”s in and of themselves. And the “holiday at sea” requires staying at the home of the father whose inheritance we demanded and then ran off to the slums to spend…

  13. ed lebert says:

    I don’t think I agree, Doug. Lewis got it exactly right. We play with mudpies in the slum because we are far too easily pleased with God’s gifts and not God himself. And they are mudpies compared to God. Just like my wife’s gifts to me are mudpies compared to her, even though they are good.

    So the point isn’t to knock Pascal, because he’s right – we are created to enjoy God above all else – but because of our fallen nature we do not enjoy or worship him as we should (Romans 1:21-25). And Lewis illustrates this point wonderfully.

  14. Have you ever read Luigi Guissani’s, “The Religious Sense”. I only ask, because based on this post, it seems to me that you would appreciate his approach to evangelization that begins with man’s self-awareness and how one learns.

  15. “We play with mudpies in the slum because we are far too easily pleased with God’s gifts and not God himself. And they are mudpies compared to God. Just like my wife’s gifts to me are mudpies compared to her, even though they are good.”

    Well, here’s the problem. Just *how* does one have a satisfaction with God Himself? You can touch and talk to your wife. Where do you see that “concretness” in the relationship with God?

    Is this another hurdle that the Church faces in evangelism? That we are offering an intimacy and interaction with God that just isn’t the case for most people in real life?

  16. ed lebert says:

    Doug,
    I don’t know exactly, but we do love him. I’m sure you’ll agree there’s a kind of seeing and hearing that you do with your heart and not with your five senses. We know God and love God, even though we have not seen him. And you’re right: this is very hard, impossible even, for an unbeliever to understand.
    1 Peter 1: 8,9

  17. I am not certain that this report is valid beyond England. Some of the studies by the Barna Group indicate that the spiritual condition of American teens is markedly different. I blog on some of the contrasts here.

    In short, it may be a mistake to formulate a strategy for evangelizing the faith to teens of this country based on a survey of teens from another country, no matter how related those two countries are in history. They have grown to markedly different cultures.

    Not to say that I don’t feel for the Church of England’s situation. But their situation may not be ours by a long shot. At least, not yet.

  18. I was cheering through your post. Excellent! A myopic view of “evangelism” was one reason I left off being an evangelical and eventually became Orthodox. Now that I’ve undergone such a paradigm shift (West Brain to East Brain) it’s too easy to point fingers at the evangelicals. In my anger at “evangelical culture” I was in a reactive mode for several years. Part of the reactiveness was that I didn’t want anything do do with “evangelism.” Now I find myself coming full circle and needing to explore this question anew: I’m completely in love with Jesus; how can I express this effectively to anyone else? Pop culture might say that this is my own private love affair and it’s inappropriate and maybe even vulgar to discuss it with others. Yet I feel this driving need to show Jesus to others as lovely. It’s as if the void is in me, not in them. Or that their void is not my business, but I’ve got to do something about this consuming fire in my own soul. I was just blogging about this here as it related to teens I work with.
    Tess

  19. Oops! “Here” is http://www.gardenofmirth.blogspot.com/. Post I’m referring to is “Jesus Obsession.”

  20. My understanding is that most people have the faith they embraced as teenagers or younger. At the same time, I’m not sure people use faith much until they are older. I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, but couldn’t take religion seriously because it was so ridiculous while science was so reliable. I was in my thirties before I wanted God to help me in my career and in my marriage. I was surprised that praying to Him actually did something.

    Before that I never would have listened to our having a God-shaped void, maybe a need for power, knowledge, love, and goodness, but surely not in the shape of God. Now I find I believe in this God who fills me much more than the fantasies of religion that never did. It’s not easy to describe what’s real when it comes to so many unseen things, but I’m confident that in the end, it is the real God that human beings will cling to, while the fantasies of religion die off. Maybe it will take 500 years, maybe longer.

  21. Peter Parslow says:

    Tesseract: your post there is beautiful. Thanks.

  22. When I read this, I find myself wondering what the typical Christian school would do with a student who articulated these beliefs clearly and with support?

    iMonk,
    After almost an entire young lifetime of being a Mennonite-raised evangelical Christian, I did articulate such views in my third year of Pastoral training at a conservative Biblical college. I was congratulated by many of my peers, shunned by others, and dismissed by instructors.

    I like the premise of your post, but until evangelicals get outside of their bubble, it is a pipe dream. I do not see this happening in the next few generations. However, this is more than feasibly for various liberal Christianities, including the liberal side of the emergent church. I suppose it also depends on who the target is. This is where our opinions diverge. You stated,

    …but I have never seen anyone truly disturbed about their own relationship with God or worried about what God thought of them. Exactly like the young people in the Times article, there is almost no interest in spiritual things.

    No interest? Sure there is. There is a great amount of interest in the spiritual in the secular societies of Europe and Canada. It just doesn’t manifest itself in perceived meaningless rhetoric of an archaic and outdated religion flawed by a an indefinite amount of philosophical and pragmatic contradictions that can only be reconciled by ignorance. People have moved on from the Christian superstition to equally unreasonable superstitions that appear to meet their current “spiritual” need.

    The problem I see is that there are people like yourself who really want to reach out, but are completely incapable of it. I know, I use to be in your position (not that this means much). You see a subtle hedonism in the naturalistic/materialistic lifestyle, whether you state it explicitly or not. I see the same in the almost universal religious insistence of an afterlife. You merely delay the hedonism and self-indulgence for the next life.

    -John

    P.S. I would recommend re-reading the works of Schaeffer after studying some entry-level philosophy before praising him. He spent a lifetime criticizing Christian existentialism without actually ever reading the works of a Christian existentialist (just try to look for a citation in his critique of Kierkegaard – you won’t find it, he only uses third-party sources). Schaeffer gave the American religious right its philosophical fire power which has only radicalized conservative Christianity in the United States and isolated such religionists from the rest of the world.

  23. I’ve got a Master in philosophy, and I’m aware of Schaefer’s limitations. As I am of Christianity and atheism.

  24. There are a lot of great points in everyone’s comments, and the post, Michael, is great. I think that while the “god-shaped void” exists, when one speaks to the current generation, I think that terminology gets lost. Oddly enough, I was reading another post to which I was directed to (Political Prisms, which was in many ways annoying itself), and while the topic may seem to be different, it is very much the same.

    As I was reading this post, I was comparing it to the Political Prisms one, and I was struck by just how similar their revelations are. I am not equating politics with religion, but the such completely different “prisms” that life and experiences are being viewed through. The scripture passages that Michael quoted speak a lot to that. Regardless of culture, history, or emotion, it is all a God-thing. It isn’t ours.

  25. I think that folks like Ray Comfort are right: Jesus did not come to make our lives better/happier/etc but to provide us with a way to escape the wrath that is to come. American Christianity has forgotten that almost entirely. Those who do remember it seem to be the type who think standing in the back of a pickup truck screaming “You’re going to hell!!” and “God hates fags!!” is “loving”.

    Beating people over the head with Bible verses will not get them saved. This is why we use “bait and switch” methods to gently open the door instead of screaming “Turn or Burn!” at folks. We have something important to say and we want them to listen without being threatened any more than the Gospel itself threatens people.

    On the other side we have the more liberal elements of the emerging groups. They “love” people all the time. Do nice things for them, accept them etc. What good is this if you never mention that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven? Meeting them at their needs is great. If you meet a guy on the street who hasn’t eaten in a couple days and has clearly soiled himself, what good is it to buy him a Big Mac if you leave him sitting in his own waste?

    Yes, the lost are targets just like the lady in a car sinking in a lake. Bringing her a Pepsi and some Zingers isn’t really doing much good. It may make her more comfortable while she drowns. Being nice to someone will not get them saved.

    As a Pentecostal, this sort of discussion always amuses me. How many people who are so deeply concerned with how we can be “incarnational” strictly disavow the idea of the gifts of the Spirit still functioning today? How many stick to the idea that the reason Jesus, and then the Apostles, did miraculous works was to PROVE JESUS’ CLAIMS but claim that these gifts stopped because there’s no need for proof to our unbelieving world?

    Atheists can not believe because there’s no power in most of our churches anymore. There’s nothing that differentiates Christians (in most developed countries) and Islam or Bhuddism. Even the “changed lives” argument falls dreadfully short. Every religion has stories of lives turned around…even Jedi. Why should they believe us over any of the others?

    Praying for someone will not get them saved How will they hear unless they have a preacher?

    The real work lies somewhere in all three of these things. Some plant. Some water. God gives the increase. Why do we insist on throwing rocks at those who have a different job in that line? If we all planted (preach the Gospel) the seeds would die on dry soil. If we all watered (“incarnational living”) the seeds drown (we water down the reality of sin and the need for a savior). Hence, we should all strive to both plant AND water.

    God will handle the rest.

    DD

    DD

  26. If you asked St. Augustine at age 15 to 25 what he felt the need for, he probably would not have said he had a God-shaped vacuum. That was only something he discovered later. He seemed to have a pretty happy this-worldly life in his youth. It was later losses that drove him to find other answers. At 15 to 25 you are happy not so much if you are satisfied now, as much as if you expect to be satisfied at some point. (And is a 17-year-old who is satisfied at her job more mature and better adjusted than a 45-year-old who isn’t?)

    Many of these answers have different meanings at different ages. This goes beyond any consideration of Christianity being true or not. But an article on more secular themes that shifted from talking of 15 to 25 year olds to people in general would be making a jarring shift, too.

  27. One time at work a friend and I were (rather smugly) talking about the God-shaped void that all non-Christians must feel.

    Our other friend piped up with, “Before I became a Christian I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.” It was very thought-provoking. I don’t even remember her response when we asked her why she became a Christian, because I was so blown away by her simple and gentle debunking of our church-kid assumption.

  28. Kathy Temple says:

    All this has been fascinating food for thought, however, I think a basic point has been left out.
    We are created as a triune being with a body (our physical means to relate to the world), a soul (our mind, will, and emotions with which we relate to and express ourselves), and a spirit (with which we relate to God) I Thessalonians 5:23.
    Because of the fall our spirit is dead . Only when we accept the grace offered to us does our spirit become alive. Romans 5:12-19(also Read Watchman Nee)
    For the unbeliever,they have a dead spirit and therefore do not relate to God. They may be happy in all they are doing. But do not forget Paul’s words in Romans 1:18-20, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against the godless and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known of God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Hence the “God-shaped vacuum” – we need God whether we realize it or not and in some way we do realize it. (Why else would people be afraid to die?)
    So how do we get an unbeliever to realize his need for God. In short, we don’t. God does.
    Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
    Jesus goes on to say, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63
    In other words unless the Holy Spirit is leading us to witness to someone, meet someone’s need, do anything for that matter, it is an act of flesh and “counts for nothing.”
    “Lifestyle evangelism” is living an uncompromising life in front of unbelievers following the prompting of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit works through us in the life of that person, as Jesus said, “the Father who sent me draws him.” Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit in John 16:8-11: “When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me, in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer, and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
    Basically, my points is, if we truly want to reach others for Christ, be they old or young, we must rely on the Holy Spirit. He will tells us how to do it the most effective way.

  29. >…Because of the fall our spirit is dead.

    I can’t find a statement in scripture that says this. I believe we are dead in sins as human beings. I’ve never seen this distinction made.

    Am I missing a text?

  30. Kathy Temple says:

    Follow the logic of these Scriptures:
    Genesis 2:16-17 – God warns Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
    Genesis 3:10 Adam and Eve hide from God in the garden because they were naked and afraid
    Genesis 3:23 Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden

    Now nowhere does it say that they died as Gen 2:16-17 states. However, you believe we are “dead in sins” which Paul so clearly states in Ephesians 2:1. What does it mean to be “dead in sin”? Is your body dead – no, neither was Adam’s. Yes sin produced death in the physical sense but I believe the death talked about especially in the concept of being “dead in sin” is a spiritual death.
    Paul states in Romans 5:12-14 “Therefore, just as death entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.”
    He goes on in verse 17 to state, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
    It all goes back to identity. In Adam we are “dead in sin” which means we are sinners.
    Continue reading what Paul wrote to the Ephesians in chapter 2:1-10. We were dead in our sins but are made alive with Christ. He goes on to say that we ARE seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.
    What does all this mean? How can all that be possible? It’s about our spirit. We were dead in our spirit and made alive in our spirit.

  31. Kathy:

    I don’t disagree with your overall point, but I think you are taking the greek tri-partate description of human beings into the old testament. I normally urge students to not displace terms into times and places when they were not used, but to understand them in context.

    I also try to not “follow the logic” if the logic doesn’t land on a plain statement of scripture.

    In Adam we all die is the Biblical message, plainly stated.

    peace

    MS

  32. Kathy Temple says:

    Peace to you.

  33. I am not that surprised that the “God shaped vacuum” didn’t show up in the London Times study. It is not a hunger people, especially young people, are normally conscious of. An inner emptiness might bug them once in a while but are they going to mention that on a survey? I doubt it.

    What makes people aware of their vacuum is encountering a person who is Christ-like. Young people can tell when they are being processed through a church program and when they are encountering self-sacrifical love. True saints will unsettle people because they make people aware at how pathetic their lives are. The sad part is it is often the most religious people who won’t admit that and instead turn on the saint.

    So my question not would be whether young people are hungry for God but whether anybody in the church has enough God to whet their appetite. Are we more focused on making dead programs work or do we dare to truly love the kids starting with the ones society says are unlovable.

    Evangelism is hard. There are no shortcuts. Most church programs are designed to keep working even when nobody involved believes. People teach. People send their kids. Kids respond and say they believe. It can all happen year after year but be completely dead.

  34. Kathy, do you mind if I ask, do you meet with the “local churches”? It sounds like you learned this perspective from Witness Lee’s teachings, which are very strong on the human spirit. (To a fault in my opinion, because it leads to introspection and paralysis, i.e. always asking “is this my spirit or my soul?”)

  35. As an evangelical who has been moving away from a “seeker-sensitive” church, I’ve been saying for a few years that we’ve started to resort to techniques – whether seeker-sensitive church services, or ‘bait & switch’ evangelism, or trying to persuade people into the kingdom by our apologetics – instead of self-sacrificial love. I understand this is what drove the initial spread of the early church – that the non-believers saw the love Christians had for one another and for those outside the church. However, doing this today will cost us our lives and so we’d rather resort to evangelism techniques rather than giving our very life for others as Christ did.