"Andrew, I understand what you are trying to do. But you've gotta understand that it's like a house of cards. One gust and the whole thing might come down."
These words came in a moment of real vulnerability from a good friend. We were on a mission trip together and, the day before, we had been discussing a contentious point of theology. I thought that if I could just intellectually convince her of my side, all would be well. However, where I saw a chance for communication, my friend saw a missile.
This same thinking is displayed on a grand scale with a couple of recent film releases, Noah and God's Not Dead, albeit in different ways. God's Not Dead is a successful film about an atheist professor's confrontation with a Christian freshman. The trailer shows what we've come to expect from such stories: a secular authority attempts to force his class into blasphemy, and one student publicly confronts him with dramatic results. Running throughout is a crushing view of non-Christians. "Everyone who's a true believer is depicted as kind, even-tempered, and wise," Claudia Puig writes at USA Today. "Non-Christians are portrayed as obnoxious, self-centered, and even cruel."
If our faith is driven by fear, we need a world like the one in God's Not Dead. As a recent article by Alan Noble points out, we long to know that atheist professors are really dumb, and freshmen Christians can overcome them; that all Christians are righteous heroes, and all non-Christians are self-obsessed villains. I'm not saying that God's Not Dead came from anywhere other than honest zeal. But we need to see how stories like these defend a crumbling foundation.
I have been in a real situation like the one in God's Not Dead. A good friend and myself, when we were in college, attended a course wherein the professor tried to convince us that all major religious texts offer valid roads to God. We fought pretty hard to protect the exclusivity of Christianity. So, basically, it was just like the movie—except there was no dramatic music, no one got converted, the professor was smarter than us, we alienated much of the class, and we left confused as to whether or not we were faithful in our actions.
Noah and Fearful Faith
Even more public has been the warfare over Noah. We've accused it of environmentalism on the front end and Gnosticism on the back end. In one of those rare moments where the outside culture shows any interest in our story and our opinions, we have mostly responded with a hermeneutic of suspicion.
Ken Ham, a recent participant in the creationism vs. evolution debate with Bill Nye, wrote a review of Noah on Time.com. Many of you may appreciate Ham's ministry through Answers in Genesis; certainly God has used him in meaningful ways. And yet, in this article written to a diverse and primarily non-Christian audience, Ham's tone is stark and punishing, describing Noah as "an unbiblical, pagan film from the start" and "an insult to the God of the Bible." Given a chance to have a winsome conversation over an important story in our tradition, Ham chose to lower the hammer instead. Many (though not as many as I expected, thankfully) followed suit.
I couldn't help but think that, after years of study and earnest engagement with the story of Noah, director Darren Aronofsky had shown up with a genuine attempt at communication only to have it torn up in his face.
Blessing to the Nations
It's easy to get lost in our Christian subculture. With each new step away from the world and into this subculture we say, "Your stuff is not good enough; we leave you to your own devices." Judging the world we echo God's judgment in C. S. Lewis's description of hell: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"
Here's the problem: it's not yet judgment day. And you and I aren't the Judge. Following in the example of Christ, we're supposed to offer an antidote to the world's problems. It's not easy. We may get fired from our work for holding upopular, biblical convictions. But we must resist the fear-based reaction of circling the wagons and firing away. We have a greater calling, one driven by the love and sacrifice of our Father in heaven: "Be a blessing to the nations".
This was the charge originally given to Abraham in Genesis 12. According to Christopher Wright, this charge implies a "relational element of blessing . . . [that] reaches out to those around. Genesis has several instances of people being blessed through contact with those whom God has blessed." If, when in contact with the world we are called to bless, we lash out in anger and judgment, we have to wonder if we have lost the plot.
I'm not asking Christians to give up our convictions. There is much to be admired about evangelicals' pro-life sacrifices and desire for doctrinal purity, for example. But if our convictions don't lead us to faithfully love God and man, what do they accomplish? We may feel threatened by our neighbors, but the world will never overcome God and his gospel. We stand on a sure foundation of a true event: the inbreaking of God through the person of Jesus.