My longtime friend and I were laughing about our time in seminary together when he reminded me of his wife’s reluctance about leaving her home and moving to Texas. “Ever noticed those two deep ruts along I-35 between Minneapolis and Wichita?” he asked. “They are from my wife’s heals as I drug her south!”
“So she wasn’t real hip on her husband entering the ministry?”
“That would be an understatement,” he said. “She was absolutely one hundred and ten percent against it.”
“How did you finally convince her it was the right thing?”
“I told her it was the Holy Spirit’s idea.”
“How did that work?”
“It helped,” he mused. “She got mad at the Holy Spirit instead of me.”
“Did she finally get over it?”
“Oh yea,” he said, “twenty years later she was fine.”
Lately, I’ve come up with a new label for many Christian believers. I call them “Reluctant Disciples.”
I understand it’s a term foreign to the Biblical ideal, but in reality it describes many folks whose name tags identify them as Christians.
I’ve noted that many of our fellow Christians have fallen into Christianity by means other than their own free will. Some were born into the faith. Others married into it. Others stumbled into it when they sent ten dollars to their local Republican candidate. Obviously a large number panicked when George Gallup knocked on their door and inquired as to their allegiance. Christianity was their best guess.
Some of our fellow citizens are Christians because it was part of the “Good Life” software package thrown in at time of purchase.
Christianity is foundational to American culture. Unfortunately, culture seems to have a more powerful influence over Christianity than the preferred vice-versa. We are taught to believe that happiness arrives with the pig in the poke. We generally understand American superiority to be a fine blending of democracy, capitalism, and Christianity. Together they provide freedom, values, and prosperity.
My observations are that most folks take their democracy and their capitalism more seriously than their Christianity. Many indicators point to a conclusion that our lifestyles are Christian in name only. While we embrace the benefits of a free republic and a free market, we are reluctant to embrace the “truth that will make us free.”
Looks to me like a great deal of energy is being expended to create an exit strategy for leaving the faith. The only reason our culture is reluctant to cut all ties with Biblical faith is the fear it might upset the apple cart we know as the “American Dream.” For a pragmatic society, we are prone to stick with what works. To find a workable compromise, powerful cultural influences labor to redefine and restructure Christianity into something less persuasive, pervasive, and perfect. We want the Good Life to keep purring along without having to live under the strict moral absolutes of scripture.
Our secular culture is between a rock and hard spot; we want the benefits of the Christian standard but few of the obligations and responsibilities. Thus, we have evolved into Reluctant Christians.
From my perspective, it’s hard to feel good about current trends promoting pagan ideas. Much of what is unfolding on today’s scene appears antithetical to authentic Christianity. From religious shenanigans to crass entertainment to government corruption, we are inundated with behaviors and teachings contrary to the Ancient Paths. It’s bad news, not Good News!
The frightening part of the equation is the role Christians play in the cultural mayhem. We act like the pagans, gobbling up every entrée that pacifies our insatiable appetite for sensual gratification. We want the same pleasures our materialistic neighbors enjoy.
Oftentimes the only thing our Christianity provides is guilt. We wish we didn’t know better. Amazingly, I bump into numbers of schizophrenic Christians who are angry with God in one way or another because He bugs their conscience. They would rather He go away and leave them to their evil desires. They wish their parents had not dragged them to Bible Classes as a kid and filled their head with all that judgmental junk. Knowing right from wrong impedes wholesale departure into the darkness.
But now as free will adults, fascinated and enticed by sin, they regret their Christian upbringing. Far from embracing the joy of discipleship, their faith is dry and stale, a burden to self-actualization. Few are those who embrace the radical call “to taking up the cross daily and following Jesus.” Most tag along reluctantly because they haven’t yet developed a successful exit strategy.
The Bible is packed full of stories of reluctant believers. Think Abraham wanted to leave the comforts of Ur to wander around the wilderness trying to find a place to bury his bones? Think Sarah wanted to leave the stability of her suburb (Have you ever noticed those two ruts alongside the freeway outside Baghdad?)?
Think Jacob wanted to inherit the blessing God’s way? Think it was his idea to spend a night on the road wrestling with an angel?
Think Moses wanted to march into Pharaoh’s Court and proclaim the slaves free? Think Aaron wanted to tag along? Think Joshua wanted the mantel of leadership transferred onto his shoulders?
Think David wanted to spend forty years in the wilderness running for his life, waiting to receive the throne rightfully his? Think he ever wanted to leave the pastures for the boardroom?
Think Amos or Isaiah or Jeremiah or any of the prophets adored the assignment of confronting Israel’s crooked establishment, realizing full well they were insuring their inevitable death sentences?
Think Paul initially embraced the idea of changing teams? Think he enjoyed traveling the world and getting mugged at every stop?
Well, think again!
The heroes of our faith were all at one time Reluctant Disciples. It was their faith movement that made them special. It was the day they cast their lot with God that they changed their lives here and now for forever.
You can do the same thing. Of course God is demanding and intimidating and relentless. Would you really want a God who was not? They’re a dime a dozen.
The divine paradox is that the only way you can receive full benefit from grace is to abandon your reluctance and embrace the invitation of Jesus. What have you got to lose?
It’s okay to get to heaven and look back and laugh about the ruts.