Vital Signs Podcast

Why Does Christianity Matter? Part 2

Mar 19, 2019

From Richard Dawkins to Bill Maher, the widespread hostility toward Christianity in popular culture often causes us to overlook a much prevalent and insidious challenge to the church—namely, the growing sense of apathy about Christ and his kingdom. In the U.S. in particular, many people feel that we’ve simply outgrown Christianity. In this two-part series, we’ll explore the vital task of recovering the significance of Christianity for contemporary people.

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Transcription



Please Note: Thinking Out Loud is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Cameron McAllister:

Hello, and welcome to the Vital Signs podcast. I'm your host Cameron McAllister. Thank you very much for tuning in today. This is part two in a series exploring the significance of Christianity. In part one, I took a close look at Luke chapter 14, the section that's often described as the cost of discipleship section. But just by way of reminder and if you can, I would encourage you to go back and listen to that if you haven't already, it'll give you the needed context for the remarks today.

What Jesus is saying here is if anybody wants to follow me, he has to take up his cross. It's going to cost him or her everything. Anybody who does not hate father, mother, brother and sister and yes, even his own life, is not worthy to be my disciple. Again, keep in mind, the Middle Eastern audience and keep in mind the time period in which Jesus is saying this, where family is everything, where the legacy of a family is everything. To say this, is just going to cut everybody to the quick.

I began with these words because I wanted to take a close look at Scripture because Scripture, you can write it off as egregiously offensive or culturally retrograde, there's all sorts of labels you can place on it, but one of those labels that does not work, or three, rather, we're going to look at these three today are that it's boring, stupid, or irrelevant. Yet, these three are the major dismissals of Christianity these days I think and I'm drawing them from my old professor Holly Ordway's book, "Apologetics and the Christian Imagination". She makes the case at the beginning of that book that the three reasons that most people simply casually write Christianity off or that they think it's either boring, stupid, or irrelevant or some combination of the three or maybe all three at once. Maybe that describes you and if it does, I'm glad you're listening because I would like to show you that this is a very superficial response to Christianity and one of which Christianity is not worthy.

I'd like to challenge you and say, "Hey, Christianity, if you think it's false and untrue, that's all well and good, fine. Naturally, I hope you don't, but I would suggest to you today, rather forcefully, actually, that to say it's boring, stupid, or irrelevant is simply missing the point entirely. That's based on a very superficial reading of Christianity." That superficial reading has been enabled largely because people are not reading scripture anymore. I think it's largely due to Biblical illiteracy.

Let's go ahead and dive in because that's the note I want to begin in. The three dismissals, just by way of reminder, that Christianity is boring, stupid, and irrelevant. Let's start with boring. Many people think Christianity is simply boring. I think that this is actually of all three probably the most insidious and probably the most difficult to deal with. I will tell you in many, and I'm not unique here, many people in my line of work, frontline apologists or evangelists or pastors, in frontline ministry, many of us will tell you that we would rather deal with antagonism than apathy.

It's easier because, think about it, if somebody, let's say you're talking to somebody who's an ardent atheist, big fan of somebody like Professor Richard Dawkins and so on, well, what you have there at least is investment, you've got passion, the person really cares about the subject matter. Even if they think you're a total idiot, at least now you've got buy-in. What do you do when you're talking to somebody and they simply say, "Well, yeah it's fine. I mean, obviously, you find it very compelling, but, for me, it's just really not something that I'm interested in and I'd rather just go ride my mountain bike or something."

Well, on that one hand, that sounds a little bit condescending, but it's also honest. It's also incredibly difficult. How do we get there? There's not an immediate one size fits all response to that by the way. There is no safe methodology for apathy by the way. What there is, I think, is some needed perspective and I'm going to try to provide some of that. How did we get here?

A healthy response to Christianity from a non-Christian is outrage, offense. It really is. Because now you're understanding it, it doesn't allow for neutral response but neutral responses show ignorance. They show that many people haven't really grappled deeply with Christianity or they're largely unaware of what has happened.

What's happened to us? What's brought us to this place? In his book, "After Virtue", Alasdair MacIntyre who's a philosopher at Notre Dame University, he opens with a kind of a dystopian scenario and this book was written I believe in the 80s, but this section actually plays really well and you're hearing it cited more often now because I think we're really fond of dystopian narratives these days. It just seems to be all over our entertainment from Black Mirror, to movies, you name it.

Well, he begins on a kind of dystopian note, it's a sort of thought experiment. He says, "Imagine that there's a sort of reverse French revolution, and anti-rationalist French revolution and everybody takes up arms against scientists in the scientific community. Scientists, the physicists, the chemists, and the biologists, and the astronomers, all of them are marched out and they are all summarily executed. The scientific enterprise is destroyed. All the research journals are burned, all of the laboratories are torched, all of it, this whole institution, this whole tradition of science, of the hard sciences, is expunged."

"Now," says MacIntyre, "Imagine if you will, some years later, a group of people begin to scratch their heads and they begin to say, 'Wait a minute, how are we going to understand our world? How are we going to understand the natural world? All the wonders and promises of science, what are we going to do? We need to fix this.'" So a recovery process begins. But the problem is, all that's left are the charred remains of this tradition and so little fragments of research journals, maybe some sort of abstruse equation has survived on some white board and maybe a few instruments have made it through amidst all the ashes, so they start to recover it and what they get back is this very piece meal sort of version of the hard sciences that bears very little resemblance to the actual hard sciences. So much so that if an actual scientists were to make an appearance on the scene, somehow, he or she would be totally perplexed and say, "No, you've only got fragments. You've only got the charred remains."

Well, in his book, and it's a book length treatment of this subject, MacIntyre makes the astonishing and dramatic and I think, probably, accurate claim that this is what's happened to our conception of morality. We've got the charred remains of all of these traditions and we have little fragments here and there. Some ancient stuff here, some Biblical notions here, and we can't come to any kind of consensus because we can't piece together the story anymore. Even our means of piecing together the story, our ways of writing about it, all of it, it's all already in the wrong paradigm, the wrong register. Every thing is symptomatic of this misunderstanding, including our commentaries on it and our books on it. It's a pretty astonishingly big crisis, right?

Well, I would like to argue with MacIntyre partially, and I don't think I'm doing violence to his argument here to say that this is what's happened to Christianity in the west. Largely speaking, what you've got culturally as far as understanding goes, is people have only the most rudimentary piece meal understanding. We've got charred remains. Maybe the fragment of a verse here, a lot of people remember the Philippians verse, well, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," and a lot of people like to get that tattooed. It's really good inspiration for running a marathon, but the full context is totally lost.

Maybe you have God being mocked on a show like South Park or Family Guy and you see what I mean by these, all of our commentaries are themselves symptomatic of that ignorance? You see what I mean? These mockeries, these cheap shots, all based on, all attacking subjects and gods that bear very little resemblance to what you actually encounter in Scripture, right? Charred remains.

In this kind of an atmosphere, it is very easy to dismiss Christianity as boring. Here's what makes it more complex, everybody here in the States thinks that they know Christianity. We all think we know it perfectly well. We've been there, done that and bought the t-shirt, and we even know what the t-shirt says. The t-shirt says, "Jesus Saves". Does that phrase carry any power for anybody nowadays? Do you feel goosebumps when I say that? Jesus saves. No. Most of us, it rings hollow. It's cold. It's a t-shirt. It's a product. What has happened? Over-familiarity breeds contempt goes the old saying, but the problem is, we're actually not familiar. We're clinging onto charred remains and we think that that is Christianity.

Listeners, every time I go on the road and I speak in non-Christian settings, I am reintroducing Jesus over and over again to people who think they know him already, but when they actually encounter him, they realize, "I've never known him. I thought I knew what Christianity was all about. I thought I knew who Christ was. I didn't." But you see, in our environment, where we think, "Oh, Christianity is just boring. Who cares anymore?" That apathetic response, that indifferent response, that is predicated on ignorance.

Some of us in our heart of hearts know actually, instinctively, almost, that if we were to press a little bit deeper, Christianity would start to mess with us. Jesus would start to mess with us. We just hang onto this sort of casual attitude. We reduce Christianity to just another option, a lifestyle choice, something that maybe just augments my personality. If you want to know about that whole way of living and that whole way of thinking, I would recommend a book by my friend Allen Noble called "Disruptive Witness". Very helpful expose of that mindset. Just think about it.

May I say to you, here's a real easy thesis. This one's easy to remember. If you've understood Christianity as nothing more than an option, or a lifestyle choice, or a t-shirt, or a product, you have not understood it. Not at all. If that offends you, I'm sorry, it's true. If you think it's an option, you think it's a lifestyle, you just think it's something that is good for somebody else but maybe not for everybody, you're not getting it at all.

Lesslie Newbigin, the great missiologist and theologian used to say, "The gospel is public truth." Yes, that's offensive. That means it's true for everybody. It means it's true for us in the United States, it's true for those In Iraq, it's true for those in Siberia, it's true for everyone, everywhere, at every time on this vast globe. It's true for everyone and it's public truth. It's not just something private that you hide and tuck away into the recesses of your heart and that only comes out in a church service, or a conference, or some inspirational moment in your devotions, it is public truth. It has a bearing on every aspect of your life.

If Christ is Lord, he's Lord of all. If Christ is Lord, by the way, and you're not following him, you're not just exercising some consumer choice, you're a rebel and you need to turn and repent if Christianity is true. Those are strong words and the reason I think I can say them to you is not because I think I, in and of myself, am worthy at all, far from it. As a Christian, I will tell you the first, I'll be the first to admit that I am saved by the grace of God alone. That my sin and my wretchedness is so severe that it required nothing less than the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to go to the cross and die for me. That's how serious it is but Jesus also said, "All authority on heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and continue my mission. Preach the gospel. Baptize everyone in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Make disciples of all men." That's what Jesus says to his disciples: all authority.

When I say these things, I'm not speaking on my authority. I'm speaking with Christ's authority. This is why you can't be neutral. Oh, you can be of course if you want, you can continue to sleepwalk away from it and hide from it, but, may I suggest to you, you need to think very carefully about Christianity and about Christ and his claims. Christ doesn't claim to be a good man. He didn't claim to be a good moral teacher or a guru, or somebody who gives us inspirational sayings, or a great philosopher, a great thinker, he claimed to be God. He claimed to be my Lord and your Lord. Consider his words and consider surrendering to him.

After all, if Christianity is true, it's not just a matter of life and death, it's a matter of life after death. This is why one of the greatest modern apologists, 1700s, I'll call him modern, is Blaise Pascal. Blaise Pascal contemporary of Rene De Cartes, he's at great pains to attack our apathy and what he calls diversions. Our ability to keep playing games and amusing ourselves and hiding from our actual condition, and our wretchedness, and our dependency on Christ. Consider it.

Christianity is many things. It's offensive, it disrupts our lives, it messes with us, it is not boring. Nothing about scripture is boring, read it. Read the Old Testament and tell me it's boring. Sure, okay, we can get to some sections that are lots of genealogies and, yeah, those will try your patience but read Genesis, read the book of Joshua, and if you're starting to have a lot of moral question about violence, about all sorts of issues, good, you're reading it, it's actually getting through. You're hearing it. There's not a neutral response here. Read the book of Revelation. It's many things, boring is not one of them.

Christianity is not boring, and the only way to sustain that objection or that understanding, that tasset sort of understanding is through ignorance. You move away from the ignorance and, pretty soon, it's gone.

The second major dismissal that Christianity is stupid. This one I think we're getting a little bit more traction and it's a little bit more easy to deal with these folks who ascribe to this and if this is you, I'm glad you're listening because, now again, we've got real passion, we've got real investment, even if it's dismissive, at least now you've worked up some emotion about the subject of Christianity. This is very much the cultural air that we breathe. Many of our leading secular elites and authorities espouse this kind of attitude, this very, very, and they speak about Christianity in very derisive tones, so think about any of the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism as they used to be called, the late Christopher Hitchens, Professor Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, all four of these men speak in very, very condescending terms of Christianity and, sometimes, I would say, as a Christian, blasphemous terms.

Again, you're seeing a little bit more investment. A lot of these objections are actually again, here's a returning theme, they're extremely superficial but they're extremely persuasive to us. Why? Well, there are two seminal thinkers behind the curtain on this big objection of Christianity is just stupid and they're both German. One is Sigmund Freud, you know, Freud from my own neck of the woods, from Austria, and the other one is Ludwig Feuerbach. Sigmund Freud gave a very sophisticated treatment of the notion of Christianity as wishful thinking. We've talked about him on the Vital Signs podcast before, as did Ludwig Feuerbach. Ludwig Feuerbach was a massively influential thinker at the time. If you're familiar for instance, with the British novelist George Elliot, George Elliot actually translated his great work, "The Essence of Christianity". She was deeply, deeply influenced by it.

Actually, it comes through in "Middle March", in some of her novels, you'll see this. But what Feuerbach was saying and Feuerbach is a lot more eloquent, a lot more poetic, and, by the way, actually knows his scripture, unlike many of today's atheists, but he points out that, when men and women look into the sky and they see the hand of the creator or they see divinity, what they're actually seeing up in the sky is human nature writ large: human nature in cosmic terms.

They are anthropomorphizing, they are reading themselves, they are projecting themselves so argues Feuerbach, "Christianity is really just a projection. It's a projection of human aspirations, human ideals, and human wishes, and really what we need to do is we need to take the essence of Christianity because it's good but we don't need all this supernatural stuff. We don't need these miracles, and we certainly don't need Christ, the cross, and the resurrection. Sure a symbolic resurrection, the phoenix rising out of the ashes, but the actual, real resurrection, a person dead coming back to life? Oh, no, no, no. Save that for Night of the Living Dead, we don't need that. We're rational, we're scientific. No, no, no, we'll just take the ideals of Christianity."

Again, here's just to go back to episode one, let me just bring this in real quickly, just quick side note. I think that this is a pretty robust challenge to Feuerbach and as much as I respect him, read Jesus. Read his word, read about his words, read the gospels, read about his responses. Read about Luke 14, where he tells this crowd who are following him, hanging on his every word, probably willing to do whatever he wants. He's basically, they're almost hypnotized by his miracles and his power, he tells them, "If you want to follow me, you have to give up everything." It's almost that though he tried to talk them out. He will not exploit and abuse his power.

Folks, people don't behave like that. Jesus's words are not the words of a normal adjusted human being who's chasing their own self interest. They're not the words of the perfect human being. In other words, Jesus is not somebody you can make up. He is not a character who could be created by another person. Jesus is an impossible character. End of side note there.

Think about somebody, a contemporary thinker, like Daniel Dennett. I'm just going to use this specific example and this is one of many. There's a whole constellation of responses like this, but it shows you how strong the plausibility structure of our culture is. How we live in a world, in North America, where it just makes a lot of sense to say that Christianity is stupid. It just sounds plausible to say that.

Daniel Dennett refers to himself an atheist or skeptic, himself and his fellow skeptics as brights. Maybe you've heard this before, brights. As in we're smart. We're the enlightened one and you benighted Christians over there hiding in your churches from reality. Well, it's sad that you have to console yourself with these fairy tales to get through each day but we, we're not afraid, and we, we're smart enough to stare at the empty universe and say, "Ha, we can still triumph and we can still work hard, even if we die at the end, it was still worth it because there's still good food, there's people, and there's a lot to do."

Then there's basically a kind of hedonism at your disposal or maybe not, but, you know, we're just going to face reality." Look at you, weak, simpering, afraid." Again, a cultural moment where this kind of response, even to many Christians, this sounds plausible, let me just take a step back, it's not plausible. It's a ridiculous response. Daniel Dennett is a very smart man but this is stupid. Calling himself and other atheists brights is stupid. Mark my words, it is.

Here's why, we live in a moment where it makes a lot of sense to say that and many Christians also would sort of nod their heads, "Yeah, I love Jesus and I love the church but I have to admit, Christianity does seem pretty silly these days." Okay, take a step back, that's the cultural air you're breathing, and think about the rich, intellectual tradition of Christianity. Is Thomas Aquinas stupid? Man is respected across the board in philosophy departments everywhere. Is Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest minds, ever stupid?

Let's go to more modern times. How about in America? What about Jonathan Edwards, considered by many who aren't Christians to be one of the greatest American thinkers of all time and one of the great, the seminal American philosophers. Not William James, Jonathan Edwards. We could go to our own day and age. Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, the list could keep going on and on and on. Dorothy Sayers, are these people stupid? Christianity is a rich and illustrious intellectual tradition.

You can think it's totally wrong-headed, that's fine. There are many institutions that I regard in this manner. So, Buddhism, I have tremendous respect for it and there's so much brilliance and so much profundity behind it, I think it's profoundly misguided, but one thing I don't think is that it's stupid. Same with Hinduism, do I think it's just stupid? No, I disagree with it but if I read the Bhagavad Gita or the Vedas, I mean these are immensely profound documents. I would never call them stupid.

By the way, you want to talk about all of these men and women who take this Christianity-as-stupid-attack, often they pride themselves on being liberal and embracing liberal values and being very multi-cultural. Well, how culturally insensitive is that to dismiss Christianity and to say it's just stupid? And to laugh in the face of this illustrious intellectual tradition?

Look at the church fathers alone. Look at the scripture, now. I'm just naming other people. Look at scripture. Many writers throughout the centuries, all of our greatest minds have agreed that scripture, whether they believe what it says or not is one of the most profound documents in all of human history. The book of Ecclesiastes has commanded more allegiance among more great minds than probably anything else, or the Psalms.

To say it's stupid, again, you can say it's stupid when you're totally ignorant of it, when you're totally ignorant of it's traditions, when you're totally ignorant of what scripture actually says and, again, let me suggest to you, I think a motivating factor here is anxiety and I'm tempted to get even stronger and more bold and say it's actually fear: people recognizing that if they actually dig into scripture, it's going to mess with them.

Spoiler alert, it will. It absolutely 100% will mess with you, but you need to take it seriously. It's many things, it's not boring, it's not stupid. Finally, it's not irrelevant. A lot of the superficial responses to Christianity I mentioned earlier are predicated on this ignorance. Let me give you two superficial responses and show you why they simply don't work, and why they're actually just evading the issue.

One of them goes a little bit like this, "Well, it's not that I don't believe in Jesus Christ and his resurrection, I also don't believe in Zeus, Artemis, Athena. I don't believe in any gods. When it comes to Jesus, I believe in one God less." This is a little sound byte, you've maybe heard this before and it's espoused by some very respected thinkers. Thinkers, who, by the way, should know better because this is an incredibly superficial response. It's actually just a category mistake.

Why? Well, if you read the opening chapters of Genesis, you will know that before creation, God is. You'll know that the Lord is the one who answers to Moses from the burning bush when his name is asked. When Moses says, "When I have to go to pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt and tell this man with the greatest might and power in the land, I have to go stand before him and tell him let the Israelites go, I mean, who's authority am I going under? Who should I say sent me?" The answer is, "I am that I am. Tell pharaoh, 'I am' sent you." Pure, unadulterated being. Total ontological necessity. Before everything came into being, God is. He is himself, self-sufficient. Perfect. Not in any way dependent on his creation. Unmade by definition.

Here's why this whole I believe in one God less just communicates actually and just belies a misunderstanding of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, which, by the way, is the name of the God Christians worship. Here's why it does that. "God is not numbered in creation's inventory at all," to borrow a phrase from David Bentley Hart. "God is not one great, great, great being among lesser beings. He's not Zeus. God is not in creation at all. God is himself, the unconditioned condition of all other conditions." That phrase belongs to C.S. Lewis. He's the well spring of all creation. He's not in any way tied to his creation. He's not dependent on it, but he's not one great God among lesser gods.

To say you believe in one God less, doesn't apply when you're talking about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The claim here is much bolder, it's much more expansive than that. This God is not in any way tied to his creation or dependent on it. He brings creation into being of his own free will and sustains it, but that means creation is a gift. It's not a necessity. There's no necessary link between him and his creation. He does it out of an abundance of kindness, and grace, and love, you see? He's not tied to his creation.

Then there's the other objection that a lot of people give and it's in the same vein, it's, "Well, if God created everything, you keep going on, and on, and on, blathering about this, then who created God?" And it's kind of the mic drop moment, we've talked about this on the Vital Signs podcast before. Christianity, I'm going to borrow this sentence from Professor John Lennnox: "Christianity has a name for made gods, we call them idols." But Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the God who answers from the burning bush 'I am' to Moses, is, by definition, unmade. In Christianity, we're not dealing with made gods. The claim is not that God is made in any way, that's an idol. The claim is not that God is one great being among lesser beings. The claim is that God is the unconditioned condition of all other conditions. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is this: God. Perfect, triune, personal, and in no way dependent on his creation.

The irrelevancy charge is often brought up in light of the hard sciences. Again, if you've bought into either of those two superficial objections that I believe in one God less or that, so well, God made everything, who made God? if you buy into those, then this sort of thinking flows pretty naturally and it just kind of goes like this. Well, it's not that I really hate Christianity or think it's especially damaging or pernicious, I think that the hard sciences have showed us the workings of the universe. They've showed us the way people may have believed at one point that gods threw bolts of lightning down and they came through the sky, but now we have science to explain all of that. We know where this comes from. We have the laws of nature. It's not that I hate God, it's just that I think he's an unnecessary hypothesis.

Again, notice what's happening here. That's actually a subtle evasion of Christianity's claims. Christianity's claims are never that God is some isolatable particle or principle or some really great being within his creation that we should be able to find him with a really amazing piece of equipment or technology. We should be able to isolate some particle and then a-ha, there it is. The claim is that God made the world and everything in it.

If you go chasing God and natural processes, and if you go chasing God all over the skies, you're not going to find him in the same way that if you try to find Shakespeare, if one of the characters in Hamlet tries to actually find Shakespeare in Hamlet, it's not going to work. Now Shakespeare's signature is all over Hamlet, it's all over that play, it's all over it and we're increasingly interested in this kind of picture of the author interacting with the creation. Think about the new episode of Black Mirror, Bandersnatch, that's interactive where you're actually controlling the character like a video game, almost, and you're controlling this character Stefan Butler throughout his interactions and he begins, the character begins to respond to the impulses you're sending him and it gets very, very meta, breaks the fourth wall quite a bit.

Yet at one point, you even have the option of telegraphing to this character that you're a Netflix viewer and of course, this episode is very interested in free will and how we make decisions, but, here's the fact, the only way anybody, the only way Hamlet is going to get a clue about Shakespeare is if Shakespeare somehow writes himself into the play. As Tim Keller has pointed out, in Christianity, that's precisely what you have in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. You have God writing himself into the human drama.

That's the sense behind the incarnation. For those of us who are not Christians, or who are on the fence, or are wrestling, the incarnation is one of those notions that can sound the most foreign and the most intellectually difficult. The idea that God would take on human flesh, come to the world, and show us how to live and then die on the cross and then rise again. The notion of God taking on flesh is so head-splitting and it should be. It is head-splitting. This is why it's referred to as a mystery. Don't you know that mystery doesn't mean inscrutable, unknowable? It means something that so exceeds your understanding, you can never fit your mind completely around it. That's what we've got with the incarnation. The picture here is that Jesus has written himself into the human story and he meets us.

Let me go back to Luke Chapter 14. If you're thinking that this sounds outrageous, head-splitting, paradoxical, strange, that's right. To think it sounds irrelevant again, you're missing the point. Look at Jesus and, by the way, on the irrelevant note once again, since Jesus has written himself into his creation, Christianity is the most historically vulnerable of all religious belief systems. You can go looking, you can go seeking, you can weigh the evidence because the proof that is repeatedly offered in scripture by the apostles and everyone else is the proof of the resurrection.

So you want to wrap your head around Jesus, you want to begin to wrap your head around Jesus? Begin to weigh his words and then look into the evidence for the resurrection. It's very compelling. It's very strong. Many a skeptic has turned around and walked the other way because of that evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Let's go back to the words of Jesus because I want to end once again with Luke 14 and I want to show you why these words are encouraging and not crushing. Jesus says to all those who are listening and who are avidly following him and to us, as well, he says, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he can't be by disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." Very, very tough words.

Then finally at the end there, "So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." Why is that encouraging rather than crushing? You know, more and more we're finding here in the West that individualism has given us quite a bounty actually. Because of individualism, there's been some real moral breakthroughs when it comes to human rights. We have really made some amazing changes and you can think about the Civil Rights Movement and there's a lot of work to be done. Some movement has been made there. There's growing awareness but we're also experiencing some of the real limitations of extreme radical individualism. Autonomy. The notion that we are just free-standing, sort of atomistic individuals who bear only voluntary relationships, relations with others.

To bring back in the growing mental health crisis. What's happening? People are crushingly lonely. Why? Well, for one thing and there are many factors here, we're always performing. Always performing. Why? Look at our world. Everything is measuring you all the time. Everything is measuring you from your credit score, to the likes on a page, everything's always weighing your life and finding it wanting. Everything's always pushing you to self comparison. Everything's pushing you to dance 24-7, 365. It's wearying, it's exhausting. Many people are tired and they just want out.

This is the sad fact of our day. Many people are deeply lonely. As connected as we are, we feel more disconnected spiritually then ever. We're lonely. We're frightened. We're scared, and the only prescription our culture is able to give us is just do you. Indulge a little bit more. Get a pedicure. Watch a movie. Drink this. Smoke that. Go here. Sleep with this person. Sleep with that. It's not enough. If you're a spiritual, relational creature, made for communion with an eternal God, that will never be enough.

This approach is killing us. Living for ourselves alone is killing us. It is. Now you can begin to see the wisdom. The good, practical sense of taking up your cross. It's just so true. If you really want to lead a fulfilling life, you've got to give yourself away to other people. You don't have to be a Christian to recognize the truth of that. If you're living only for yourself, what a boring, sad, twisted, wizened life that is. Sure you can distract yourself and hide from your condition, but, every now and then, it comes through and some people, who are more honest, can't. They perish because of it. You've got to give yourself away. You have to live for other people if you want to have any kind of life at all. We all know this.

If you want to be in a relationship that's more than just a superficial relationship, what do you have to do? Sacrifice, compromise, be there for somebody when it hurts. Be there for them in the worst times of their life. Those are the kinds of relationships we long for, where there's real fidelity and loyalty. You have to give yourself away if you want to know any kind of life at all.

Here's the liberating aspect of this passage. There's a crucial sequence that comes over and over again in scripture when it comes to love. We are called to love others selflessly in scripture, that's what it says. It says, "Love others as yourself," and yet, none of us seem to be able to do this. This seems to be the hardest thing of all. Why? Because we're so inherently selfish.

Jesus, when he's asked what is the greatest commandment? Gives the most wise, brilliant, and incisive answer that could be given here. He doesn't immediately say, "Love your neighbor as yourself. Practice the golden rule and you'll be happy and lead a fulfilled life." Oh yeah, so then he would be in more or less echoing the wisdom of the ages and the sages and the gurus, that's not what he says. He says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength." The second commandment is like it, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Why does he do that? Why does he have this add-on? Why is there this supplemental feature? Here's why, you can't love others as yourself unless you first give yourself completely to Christ. Am I saying that you can't be a good person unless you're a Christian? No. You could still lead a life where you give a lot away, where you help others, but can you get away from that selfish element that really intrudes and ultimately hampers you? No you can't. You can only do that if you give yourself totally and completely to the living God. Surrender to him and then you are liberated to love other selflessly.

We are told in 1 John that we love because he first loved us. It's his love that inaugurates our love. It's his primal love that animates our hearts. That's how we can love. He says, "Nobody can follow me, you have to take up your cross." Don't you see that he did that for you? Don't you see that we love because he first loved? What did Jesus do? What was the culmination of his earthly ministry? He took up his cross. He carried that cross to calvary and he was crucified, perished, died for our sins. He died because he loved us. Died because he loved you and he rose again. You see that? That's why we can take up our little crosses, because Jesus bore the cosmic weight of all of our sin. Jesus endured isolation from the father. Jesus endured. Jesus called out from the cross, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" You're never alone.

There's so experience of suffering, no matter how intense that Christ cannot identify with on a visceral level, doesn't understand. He took up his cross. You see that beautiful liberating power, we love because he first loved. Guess what? He gave everything for you. Everything.

If you've been listening to this series, I know that this has probably had its trying moments, especially if you're not a believer where I really risked getting on your nerves or even making you angry. I think that risk is worthwhile because I care and I think that this is really, really important. I want you to weigh Christianity honestly. I'm trying to deliver this in the same spirit that Jesus did, Luke 14. I don't want to talk you out of anything, but I want you to see Christianity for what it really is: to understand a measure of what it is that you're rejecting.

I've suggested to you repeatedly throughout this series that if you think Christianity is boring, stupid, or irrelevant, you have misunderstood it and you need to look into it more deeply. Christianity is tremendously powerful, brilliant, and exciting, and adventurous. When you actually read the Bible, when you actually look at the church fathers, when you actually look at church history, when you look at the great theologians, what you find is electrifying. Immensely powerful. It's not boring. It bears no resemblance to the charred remains of the cultural Christianity that surround us in North America. We need to go back to our source text. We need to read our Bibles once again.

I'm speaking to the Christians listening now, read your Bibles. I was once at a conference, I was asked, "Well, what can we do to address some of these challenges?" and, I said, read your Bible, and this person said, "Oh my goodness, you're telling me to read my Bible?" This person was really quite put out, rolled their eyes at me, thought this was really a pretty silly and Sunday school-like objection and I said, "Well, there's the problem right there." What did this person want? Well, they wanted some exciting new program. They wanted some new technique or methodology or idea but that's been the problem. We need to go back.

The problem is I would venture to guess this person had very little familiarity with the Bible in the first place. That's, increasingly, that's all of our problem, we need to read scripture once again so that it reshapes our imagination. It rejuvenates our hearts and helps us to help others and it helps us to show others the significance of Christianity once again.

Thank you for listening. This has been Vital Signs Podcast, exploring signs of life in today's culture. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister and I'm a speaker and a writer here at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

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