Integration, Not Segregation

Salisbury_Cathedral,_cloister,_from_top_of_towerMuch has been said by writers about the artificial divide in publishing that has created the Christian arm of the industry. Some accuse Christians of cloistering against the world. It’s an unhealthy divide, they say.

Interestingly my pastor, Mike Erre, has been preaching about a similar topic as he works through the book of Luke. Christians, as opposed to the Pharisees of Jesus’s day, are not about separating ourselves from what is unclean, as the Jewish Law required. Jesus modeled this new paradigm in which relationship matters more than separation.

These concepts sound good, but the conclusions seem to be off.

In the writing world, any number of writers have advocated for grittier or edgier fiction, still with redemptive themes, but no explicit Christianity. After all, stories aren’t propaganda.

In life, the theologians seem to be saying, Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners, so we should go and do likewise.

In other words, in both instances, in order for Christians not to be cloistered, the answer being offered seems to say, mingle with the world. What’s off with that conclusion?

What’s off is that the gospel is offensive—prophets were put to death because they proclaimed God’s word; Jesus was put to death because He was God’s Word; the apostles were put to death because they announced the fulfillment of God’s word.

Therefore, I can only think of two ways a Christian can mingle with the world: (a) if “the world” is interested in the gospel or (b) if the gospel is missing.

In reality, there’s no indication that Jesus “hung out” with anyone. Rather, He invited people to follow Him. One of those He invited was Matthew the tax collector. Scripture says Matthew left everything and followed Jesus. But the very next sentence says Matthew gave a “big reception” for Jesus in his house, to which he invited tax collectors as well as others who the Pharisees labeled sinners.

So yes, at that one meal we know Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners—invited there by one of His followers. But clearly, the gospel was not absent during this reception. In answering the Pharisees about what he was doing, eating with tax collectors and sinners,

Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32, emphasis mine)

Jesus was not burying the lead. He wasn’t holding back. He wasn’t worried about being too explicit. He actually knew the gospel was divisive, and He expected some to take offense

Unlike those writers advocating an approach to fiction that would make a Christian story look no different from a Mormon story or a moralist’s story. Unlike those theologians who advocate Christian gospel-less good works.

But here’s the thing. The gospel should not be an add-on. Writers should not deliver a story with the gospel added in. In all walks of life, Christians should not do life with the gospel added on as a spiritual exercise.

Rather, God should be so important, so pivotal, so foundational, so integrated into our lives that He is who we think about and who we talk about and who we want to introduce others to. When people ask us what we’re reading, part of our answer ought naturally to be something having to do with God. When they ask us where we’re going, part of that answer ought to be something about God’s house. When they meet our friends, some of those people ought to be part of God’s family.

In other words, the gospel should be as hard to separate from us as oxygen is from water molecules. The essence of water requires oxygen. The essence of a Christian requires the permeation of the gospel in every area of life.

And as such, some people will be offended. After all, we believe all have sinned. We aren’t born good and we aren’t even born blank slates. And that offends some people.

It offends people when Christians say Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, no one comes to the Father but through Him. People are offended when we say sex should be reserved for a monogamous relationship between a husband and wife. They are offended when we say God gave different roles to a wife than to a husband. They are offended when we say the Bible is an absolute authority.

There’s really no way around it. If Christians integrate the gospel into our lives, we will cause offense at some point.

Not that everyone will be offended. Really, only those who have turned away from the gospel find it offensive.

And of course Christians should not be offensive for things apart from the gospel. Peter says it like this:

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1 Peter 4:14-16, emphasis mine.)

I don’t know how comfortable most of us are with the idea of suffering because we are Christians. I suspect the day will come sooner than later if today we decide the gospel is too offensive to put in our stories and too offensive to integrate into our lives.

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8 Comments

  1. This is absolutely tremendous Rebecca. AND, it answers the question I was going to ask in your last piece which is why I was asking about comments, but you answered it already here. 🙂

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  2. To this post, I say, “Amen!” Thank you for always stimulating my mind and encouraging me to stand for the One True God!

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  3. I’m not sure if I fully understand what you mean by an “add-on.” I think there is room for a Christian hook that could be said not to be overly Christian, especially for the young, secular reader who may not have considered God or Jesus in a serious fashion – in their past.

    I hesitate to say that there is more than one way to skin a cat, but easing a reader into thinking more about God and the implications of HIm in their lives, is probably OK. In my own novel, one the characters doesn’t take advantage of a young woman because of his respect for God, and the idea is to transfer that idea into the young reader’s head for future reference. I didn’t want to write a solely Christian novel because my strategy is to not alienate young readers, those who may put the novel down and complain, “Oh, this is just another Christian novel and I’m not taking the bait.” The strategy was just the opposite, to have them remember how these characters behaved, and how they made the right choice, and WHY they made the right choice, when they find themselves in a similar situation. One walks his/her dog across the street, as opposed to striking it on the hindquarters to get it to move.

    It’s impossible for me to be more specific without having you read the entire book. I suppose my main point is I don’t think it has to be all or nothing. Of course, a difficult subject to grapple with and come to full agreement.

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    • Russ, I am now very interested in reading your book. What is the title?

      As to your comments about easing readers into thinking more about God, I believe you’ve demonstrated Rebecca’s point. In the example you provided, your character’s decision rested on Christian truths without appearing preachy to nonbelievers. Basically, he “asked” people to follow him with his actions, not just his words. I believe such actions eventually lead to the opportunity to boldly share the Word of God. Of course, I’ve not read your book, so I could be assuming too much. I also do not claim to be a scholar. In fact, Rebecca’s posts often cause me to spend a lot of time reflecting on my own experiences.

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      • Ms. Brashear, I have an agent but she hasn’t yet found a home for it. In fact, I just landed her seven weeks ago, after searching for two years. We are just getting started and part of it is getting to know each other.

        It is named “To Slay the Lonesome Night.” My fingers are crossed and it’s hard to contain my daily excitement. I was asked to make a number of changes, but what I consider to be the Christian segments were not thrown out. That was a huge relief, of course. I came very close to giving up, suffering almost 100 rejections. That was no fun.

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        • Russ, please call me Angie. If you need any early reviewers, count me in. Blessings.

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          • Thank you, Angie. I’ll keep you in mind as I learn more about the review process. It is now in the hands of the woman she uses as an editor. She calls her, “Nolan the Knife.” Swell. Smile. What a maddening journey it has been so far.

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  4. Jesus was explicit, and he cloaked the truth. He did both, depending on the circumstances. But I still heartily agree with this post.

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