One in What Spirit?

by Ralph Blair

One in What Spirit? is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote at the connECtions2005 at Kirbridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.

A new resident introduces herself to two new patients on the psych ward.
“Good morning. I’m Dr. Brown.”
“I’m Julius Caesar.”
“How do you know that?”
“God told me.”
The other patient pipes up: “I did not!”

Some people are crazy. They think they’re God. They think they’re the final authority on what’s what—what’s true, what’s false, what’s right, what’s wrong. No one can tell them otherwise. Know anyone that crazy?

Well we all slip into such self-centered self-deception. We’re all just crazy enough to make up meaning to suit ourselves as we footnote our three favorite authorities—me, myself and I.

This delusion that we’re the final authority has been one with the spirit of the times since the time of Adam and Eve. But it’s never been more conceited and cocksure. Ravi Zacharias notes: Today, “there is no transcendent context within which to discuss anything. … Meaning dissolves into the subjective, rendering it beyond debate.”

Our parents in Eden hesitated a bit before yielding to the demon of self-deception. But, these days, people rush right over undetected assumptions of autonomy to unexamined assertions of authority. Insisting that “truth” is merely a power play, a construct of self-interest, they say there is no Truth with a capital-T. But they assume that’s Truth with a capital-T. Moored in a makeshift autonomy, they fail to realize they’re marooned from reality. They think we construct reality itself—without a Creator with a capital-C. They assume Carl Sagan’s cliche: The cosmos is “all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be.” That’s not poetry, as Sagan’s producer pretended. That’s the arrogant assumption of the apologetics of atheism. It’s an affectation that’s getting more strident and even hysterical. Psychologically, it may be a matter of reaction formation, for as C. S. Lewis recalled: “When I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”

Look, if in being your own lawyer, you have a fool for a client, and if being your own brain surgeon you’ll have a corpse for a patient, being your own best friend means you’ll have a recluse for relationship and being your own god means you’ll have the carcass of a creep bent your way forever.

In trying to know anything, a starting point is necessary. But we can fail to note our starting point since we all start with what we take for granted. We start with predispositions we hardly notice and presuppositions we can’t prove. The empirical method can’t prove itself. See, we all live by faith. Any “proof” against God isn’t proof. Any god we could prove isn’t God. Accepting only what science can know of existence but cannot know of the Cause of existence, while rejecting the possibility that the Cause of existence speaks through science and scripture, we get trapped in a delusional self-centeredness.

Yet, we’ve no excuse. Paul knew that there’s more than enough evidence that we’re totally derived and utterly dependent, (cf. Rom 1) We didn’t come here on our own and we’re not here on our own. In the depths of our creation in God’s image and in all creation around us, we can sense there’s some “Someone” we’re not.

Popular atheist Richard Dawkins reluctantly admits that the entire universe conspires to inspire us to see a god behind it all. But, he insists defensively: We must all resist this “temptation.” Anthropologists—the most atheistic of academics—find this religious sense in all peoples. We’re not only Homo sapiens, the wise ones, we’re Homo religiosus—the religious ones. The history of every culture has its gods. Even godless Buddhism was a reaction against the gods of Hinduism. And atheism is but a parasite on theism.

Here’s the observation of philosopher Charles Taylor, a recent Templeton laureate: “The sense that there is something more presses in. [and] our age is very far from settling into a comfortable unbelief. … the unrest continues to surface.” He asks, rhetorically: “Could it ever be otherwise?”

God’s Self-disclosure forewarns and forearms us against all self-centered self-deception. Yet we foolishly substitute our own god-self for God, Himself. Thus, our supposed self-sufficiency is our self-deception.

Whether people are atheists-in-effect or atheists with elaborately dogmatic opinions, they’re “know-it-alls” who deny what only One who really does know it all knows. Hebrew sages saw through the stupidity of such assumed self-sufficiency. They saw that only fools say, “No, God.” But today’s fools say “No!” to God and style themselves “brights.” Suppressing their God-given sense of God, they assume they’re all the “gods” they need and all the “gods” they’ll ever need. Or, not even bothering to say a “No!” to God, their indifference acts out their “No!” But every “No!, God” is a no-go. So there’s still a groveling under “gods” they can’t help but fashion from and for themselves. But no attempt to negate God negates God. And every attempt to do so negates the one who tries.

In Romans 1, Paul tells of the tragedy of those who exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for imitations of corruptible creatures. They trade the Trinity for trinkets of self-deceived self-interest. What fools!

Church folk, too, can be such fools, trading away the real truth of Romans 1 for a piddling proof text against same-sex love. But we’re all guilty—which is Paul’s point. We read our pet peeves into Scripture, projecting our images: a “Jesus” who’s gay or KKK. Says Methodist bishop Will Willimon: Even “most ‘evangelistic’ preaching is an effort to drag people even deeper into their subjectivity rather than an attempt to rescue them from it.” He says we need “an external word.” We have it in God’s Word.

Scripture says that false teachers flatter all who want to hear flattery. (2 Tim 4:3-4) Jesus warned: “Watch out, lest any deceive you. For many will come in my name and will deceive you.” (Matt 24:4, 11) Well, they’re here—name-dropping Jesus’ name in gay-centricity—“ex-gay” and “pro-gay.”

Paul warned we deceive ourselves when we ignore what’s pleasing to God and count on nothing but what pleases ourselves. (Gal 6:7-8) If we count on nothing but what pleases ourselves, we’ll count on nothing but ourselves.

One of the Lord’s brothers warned that we can deceive ourselves if we hear God’s Word but fail to do it. James compared self-deception to a person’s turning to mirrors of self-reflection. Mirrors of self-reflection distort reality. All in the mirror is backwards. We see in a mirror only what we bring to the mirror. The images are projections of our own versions of us and all else. So after glimpsing our “selves” in a mirror, we shuffle along, having seen nothing from Another’s point of view. We saw only our own worn-out assumptions, stale thoughts, overly familiar feelings and too-shortsighted dreams. We stumble away in a daze of the same-old-same-old, reinforced in shackles of self-centeredness and straightjackets of self-deception, still unenlightened and powerless to change. (James 1:22-24)

James urges us to get out of our way and stretch toward God’s Way. That’s no overreaching—that’s our being reached by the Word of God.

So why sit staring into the misleading mirrors of our own minds—seeing only the distortions of self-image, self-identity? Why not turn around, and look up, and take in the view from that wider and wiser perspective of the One whom we’ve been so foolishly trying to find in but ourselves?

Why not? Well, in our self-centeredness, it’s difficult to identify our self-deceptions, much less escape them. Again, self-deception is “one in the spirit” of self-centeredness.

Bickering among the spirits in the self-deceived community isn’t between the “religious” and the “non-religious.” They’re all religious. And they’re all in the same religion. Beneath all the seeming rivalry, behind all their self-deceived “diversity”, they’re all dedicated—heart, soul, mind, and strength—to themselves. In their delusional dedication, they’re all trying to get away with the same thing. They’re all trying to get away from the same One. They’re all trying to get away from God.

Now some say they “search” for God, but C. S. Lewis quipped: They may as well talk of a mouse’s search for a cat. Said German theologian Helmut Thielicke: “The wish to be free of God is the deepest yearning of humanity.”

But, thank God, as we’re running away from God, God is running after us. Francis Thompson pictures this in his magnificent poem, “The Hound of Heaven.”

God’s purpose in creating the cosmos and in creating us in His image was to catch us up in His arms of love. Said Augustine: We’re made for resting in God and we rove restlessly until we rest in Him.

So God created a “cosmic welcome mat,” as Tim Keller says, just right for our coming. Cosmologist Paul Davies calls this “the Goldilocks enigma.”

We read in the Acts: “God made of one blood all the people of the earth.” (17:26) Indeed, we trace the human family back to prehistoric Africa. DNA data show that it’s not only Princess Di and Dubya who share a bloodline. Obama and Cheney are eighth cousins. Laura Bush and McCain are sixth cousins. And Hillary’s related to Madonna. Who knew?

According to scripture and science, we’re connected in other ways, too. In Genesis we read that God breathed into our dust and we became much more than the dust. Citing one of their own poets, Paul reminded the philosophers that, in God, we all “live and move and have our being.” Says physicist Sir Rudolf Peierls: “The premise that you can describe in terms of physics the whole function of a human being, … including its knowledge and its consciousness, is untenable. There is still something missing.”

What’s missing from a merely physical explanation is what the Bible calls our creation in God’s image. God made humanity in such a way that the one human community might be made one in His Spirit of Triune Community. Our human family is meant to be God’s own extended family.

But how can we miss noticing that something’s gone terribly wrong with this extended family. Along with our connection to God there’s our disconnecting from God. Whether we call it racism or religion, rape or righteousness, can’t we agree: “We’ve all fallen short of God’s intentions for us”? (Rom 3:23)

Playwright David Mamet now rejects his long-held liberal notion that people are basically good. He notes we can’t have it both ways: people are basically good and everything’s wrong with the world. He sees “we are prone to sin, and will sin, even in the service of the divine.” Yet to most secularists and progressives, speaking of sin can be the only “sin.”

Trying to deal by denial, though, we suffer. Just after the devastation of World War II, the English writer, Dorothy L. Sayers, noted the shock and disillusionment among secularists. She wrote: “The people who are most discouraged are those who cling to an optimistic belief in the civilizing influence of progress and enlightenment.” The stark fact of humanity’s cruelty is “the utter negation of everything in which they have believed. It is as though the bottom had dropped out of their universe.”

For most of the rest of this hour, let’s look into some of the ways we’re tempted to be one with the spirit of the times—self-centered and self-deceived—trying in wrong ways to right what’s wrong. Then we’ll close with a look at the only realistic way that all wrongs have been put right already and we’re one in the Spirit of Holiness.

As Christians, we’re called to test the spirits to discern whether or not they’re from God. The Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” come from terms for blow and wind. So, paraphrasing John’s admonition that we not believe every spirit, we might put it this way: “Don’t fall for every old blow hard and every new bag of wind. Put them to the test!” (I John 4:1)

But without proper criteria for discernment, how can we discern properly? Biblical criteria have to do with whether what’s said and done corresponds with reality or is it a hoax. Does it turn us away from God? Is it true to the One who is Truth with a capital-T? Does it live the love of God? (Cf., Deut 13:1-5; 18:22; I Cor 12:3; I John 4:16)

So, are the spirits of the times ready for their pop quiz?

One of the self-centered delusional spirits of the times is materialism. Now material is God’s good gift; materialism isn’t. Bodies will be resurrected and the whole wide world redeemed. But mere bling will be no more. Thousand dollar sweatshirts and $3,000 “bubble bags” may be made of good material, but what good are they? The rich plow fortunes into facelifts while flipping past The Smile Train appeal with not a second thought. The poor covet Creflo dollars and “Word of Faith” wealth and get suckered into “The Secret.” And all for naught.

Jesus saw materialism as a demonic “master” that seeks to be served as only God should be served. He said: “No one can serve both God and riches.” (Luke 16:13) Paul, too, saw materialism as the idolatry it is. (Col 3:5; Eph 5:5) Today, billionaires are idols of millionaires and the masses alike. The Brits recently voted on whom their children should revere. Billionaire Richard Branson outpolled Jesus.

Yet we rationalize greed as “just trying to get ahead.” But greed is the pointless worship of what’s not God. James’ dire warning should cause all such rationalization to shut up. He writes (as I paraphrase it): “Listen up, all you rich people! Cry your eyes out. Your Prada is rotted and your Rolex is rusted. Do you hear that? Those wages you kept from your employees are cursing you. Listen! The cries of the workers have reached the ears of God Almighty. You’ve lived it up in luxury. And what’s it all been for? You’ve made yourself fat for your funeral.” (5:1-6)

We also try to be “one in the spirit” of celebrity. But do Angelina, Britney and Christina really constitute the ABC’s of significance? Justin Timberlake says: “The world is full of Madonna wannabes, but there’s truly only one Madonna.” Has he never heard of Jesus’ mother?

If we can’t hang with real celebrities, we try to be celebrities ourselves. We stare into MySpace, musing we’re stars out in cyberspace.

Yet, celebrities hide behind dark glasses and curse at paparazzi. What’s that about? Shouldn’t that tell us that the experience of fame isn’t what we crack it up to be? The famous complain that fame “always brings loneliness.” (Vicki Baum) But they’re not left alone in peace and quiet. Billie Jean King says that when you achieve celebrity you “find yourself surrounded by the lowest hangers-on in the world.” She says, “pretty soon if you don’t watch out, you can start to turn into a creep yourself.”

Prince Harry says his “mucking with [his] mates” in Afghanistan was the happiest time of his life? The “happiest time of his life” was in a war zone? “It’s very nice to be a normal person for once,” he said. “Haven’t really had a shower for four days.” Just like all the normal peasants back in England!

But, since fame is fleeting, some of you have been left behind, wondering: Billie Jean Who? Even while fame lasts, there’s anxiety about becoming a “has-been.” And, of course, every celebrity will be a “has-been.” Only 42 Americans have been Presidents of the United States. All became household names! How many can you name?

Fame is never experienced as we expect for “fame” is fantasized as a complete thrill but experienced fame is a complex thing. Illusions of fame elude us. That’s the famine of fame. After he won the world championship, Muhammad Ali said: “I’m the world champion. I don’t feel any different.”

Another manifestation of the ever-present self-deluding spirit of the age is political pandering. When Harding ran for President, he promised a war-weary nation he’d bring us “Back to Normalcy” and he brought us political corruption. (Well, maybe that is the dysfunctional status quo.) Hoover promised “A Chicken in Every Pot” and what we got was The Great Depression. Nixon ran on the slogan: “Experience Counts.” He won history’s biggest landslide and ran out of office just ahead of impeachment. What about Carter? He promised us: “Not Just Peanuts!”

But we shouldn’t be too hard on the “winners.” After all, the “losers”—had they won—would not have measured up to our fantasies. But having lost, they can star in the fantasies that now cannot be tested.

There’s only one Savior, and he never runs for office. Political Utopians promise to bring heaven to earth. Only the real Savior brings Heaven to Earth. Asked if he was politically optimistic or pessimistic, Bishop Lesslie Newbigin replied: “I’m neither. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!” Get it?

In contrast to the Spirit of Truth, spirits of the times flit from fad to fad. They’re passé almost as soon as they pass our way. The spirit of the early 20th century is as strange to us as the spirit of the late 21st will be. These days, generations morph from Builders to Boomers to Busters to Millennials within one lifetime. Identity labels come and go with the ever-changing fashions in political correctness. Homosexual? No. Homophile. No. Gay and lesbian. No. GLB. No. GLBT. No. LGBT. No. LGBTQ. No. Queer. Get it right or there’s hell to pay. Oh, and we used to “have coffee.” Now, we have “a coffee.” And that’s as simple as “a coffee” can be these days.

Another self-centered spirit of the times is a litigious victim mentality that blames others for what’s wrong in our lives. I see that a New York lawyer is suing Delta Airlines for $1 million. It seems that while traveling on frequent flyer miles, he had to contend with a delayed flight, a surly agent, and a missed connection. He calls this “the most outrageous experience I’ve ever had in my life!” If that’s true, he’s one lucky fellow. Sir, identify your awfulizing for the irrationality it is, change your mind and have a pleasant trip!

At first, a victim mentality seems to get us off the hook. But it hooks us into frustration, anger, and despair. If our mess can’t be cleaned up until others stop messing us up, we’re stuck in the mess and at their mercy. And if they’re as bad as we say, they’ll never stop messing us up. We stay stuck.

Similar to a victim mentality is the spirit of self-righteousness. Conflicted in cognitive dissonance between contrary senses of self, people seek resolve in the hypocrisy of self-righteousness rather than in the humility of Christ’s righteousness. Such defensiveness can then attribute the worst to others while claiming virtue for self. Self-righteousness demeans, discredits and destroys people. Bullies Left and Right—the A1 Sharptons and the Lou Sheldons—persecute to propagandize and prop up their postured purity. But only by honestly admitting our own sin and thankfully acknowledging God’s grace to all sinners, can we be saved from self-righteousness and learn to be humble in dealing with all others. Believers, as much as unbelievers, need to seek refuge in singing; “Out of unrest and arrogant pride / Into thy blessed will to abide. … Out of myself to dwell in thy love / Jesus, I come to thee.”

Curiously, one of the spirits of self-righteousness usually isn’t taken to be self-righteousness these days. That’s because of another spirit of the times: the spirit of anti-Christian bigotry. A recent example of this spirit of self-righteousness is “Jerry Springer: The Opera.” After a long run in London, it came to Carnegie Hall.

Satan comes on stage and wants Jerry to host a conflict resolution show to get Jesus to apologize for Satan’s having been thrown out of Heaven. Jesus is introduced as “the hypocrite son of the fascist tyrant on high” and comes on stage as the fat, effeminate man in a diaper who’d begged to have sex with his girlfriend while pretending to be her little “baby.” Jesus sings: “I am Jesus, son of man, son of Mary, son of God. So do not, do not, do not f— with me.” At that, the chorus sings: “Jesus is gay, Jesus is gay.” Eve comes on wanting an apology from Jesus for her having been thrown out of Eden. She sticks her hand inside Jesus’ diaper and fondles his genitals. They get into a fistfight. Jerry tells Jesus to apologize for hitting Eve but Jesus refuses. Then Satan tells Jesus to “get over” the crucifixion and “give us all a f—ing break.” After Jerry quotes Martin Luther King, Jr., he yells: “Jesus, grow up for Christ’s sake. … Haven’t you people heard of yin and yang? … Energy is pure delight. Nothing is wrong and nothing is right.” He asserts: “I’ve learned that there are no absolutes of good and evil.” He ends by saying: “And in conclusion, f— you. F— you all.” The show ends with hermaphroditic angels singing: “Energy is pure delight. Nothing is wrong and nothing is right. … Jerry eleison, Jerry eleison, Jerry eleison.”

New York Times theater critic, openly gay Ben Brantley, begins his breathless review: “Oh hear America singing … as you never have heard it before.” He calls the show “the great American musical of the early 21st century” and glories in its “celestial” gestalt and enthuses over what he calls “this remarkable work [and] spectacularly inventive score … sumptuous … lustrous … something grand … a guaranteed off-the-charts camp quotient [of] sheer audacity.” He promises that it “surely has more obscenities per minute than any work that ever played Carnegie Hall” and gushes over the “glib, giggly impiety—of an adolescent urge to see just how much it can get away with.” Looking forward to the show’s move to Broadway, he grants it might not make it, for, as he complains, “Broadway theatergoers are a famously conservative lot these days. But hey,” he recovers, “this is New York, guys, the city of electric diversity.”

But hey, guy, your devotion to “diversity” disdains Christians. Would you revel in “sumptuous” anti-Semitism, “lustrous” racism or “celestial” Islamaphobia? Would you “giggle” over homophobia?

Another Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, admits that, though “[we] liberals believe deeply in tolerance, … we have a blind spot about Christian evangelicals.” He owns up to the fact that evangelicals “constitute one of the few minorities that, on the American coasts or university campuses, it remains fashionable to mock.” He illustrates: “At a New York or Los Angeles cocktail party, few would dare make a pejorative comment about Barack Obama’s race or Hillary Clinton’s sex. Yet it would be easy to get away with deriding Mike Huckabee’s religious faith.”

While the spirit of the times is hostile to the Spirit of Christ, it’s hospitable to substitute “spirits.” One niche spirit of consumer spirituality is “Q-spirit” or “queer spirituality.”

Leaders of a “Q-spirit” retreat promise: “Much of this exploration will be clothes off and interactive. … No prior experience is required. However, each participant will be asked … to go deep … and to play in the energies of creativity, arousal and embodiment.” But being one in a queer spirit of superficial sex is to mess with dismembered body parts. An LGBT preacher urges her congregation to go to San Francisco’s sex fairs for “cruising, fondling [and] voyeurism.” She says that there, there’s “religious undertones and imagery everywhere.” (G. Penny Nixon) Yeah—all the imagery of idolatrous sex that further screws up the already screwed over.

We’re told that queer spirituality means “coming out” and “coming out means letting go—letting go of fear, letting go of limitation.” In the jargon of pop-psych self-centeredness: “No one but ourselves can tell us who we are.” But isn’t Q-spirit telling us who we are?

Q-spirit tells us: “Coming out first entails coming in—plunging into the depths of ourselves … healing ourselves … emerging transformed.” We should “become one with the current … ‘The Force’ by putting ourselves in its hands. We trust that it knows where we are going.”

Instead of dealing realistically with fear and finitude, we’re to go into denial? Instead of turning to the Creator and Redeemer, we’re told to turn within, to teach ourselves who we are and who we might become, for, as it’s put again, “no one but ourselves can tell us.” But apparently not, for it’s the “current” of queer spirit that tells us. So let’s seduce ourselves into relying on rationalizations, trusting in our resumes and buying into all the puff of our press releases?

Instead of being healed by the Great Physician to come out transformed by God’s grace, we’re told to heal ourselves and come out as self-transformed. Instead of putting ourselves into the hands of the loving Father, we’re told to put ourselves into the hands of an impersonal “Force.” We’re told to put ourselves into “its hands,” for it “knows where we’re going.” How can any “it” know where we’re going? How can any “it” know even where it’s going? And how can any it care?

Q-spirit guru Christian de la Huerta says it doesn’t matter if a god is real or a dogma is true. Of course, he means for his dogma to be taken as true. He says “quality of life” is what matters. But can a lie give “quality of life”?

A queered spirit website proclaims: “Baptist to Buddhist to worshiper of the Goddess divine, I have now become a pan-theist with atheistic leanings; believing little, yet still honoring the Gods of our Ancestors. … All religions should be … represented. … Praise be to Kwan-yin, to Pele, to Allah and to Jehovah, as well as all other Gods. … Let’s be spiritually queer together!”

But Kwan-yin’s not a god. And Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of temper tantrums, does not share her god-shelf gladly. The Buddha pitied all god-worshippers and the Dalai Lama is as anti-queer as the Pope. Islam puts queers to death and insists it’s unforgivable to list Allah alongside other gods. So those who celebrate queer spirit while relegating Allah alongside other gods have already lost their minds and are about to lose their heads.

In claiming to honor and respect all gods, Q-spirit dishonors and disrespects all gods. That’s the faux pas of syncretism. It’s an ignorance—or arrogance—that redefines all the dogmas of other religions to fit its own.

And this very intolerance, posing as tolerance, props up propaganda that the gospel is intolerant. People say it’s intolerant that they “can’t get to heaven” without Jesus. They’re thinking of “Hallmark Heaven”; not of any destination actually envisioned in a world religion—nirvana, oblivion, their descendants’ memories, a payday paradise, or New Heavens and New Earth.

The so-called “tolerant” complain it’s intolerant for Jesus to say he’s the only way to the Father. (John 14:6) So, they exclude his gospel from their list of approved spiritualities. But as their own claim shows, truth claims must exclude opposing truth claims.

Still, how is Jesus supposed to be a way to the Father for Hindus? Hindus don’t want a way to the Father. They want to work their way through reincarnations to nirvana until they use up their merits. And how is Jesus supposed to be a way to the Father for Buddhists? Buddhists don’t want a way to the Father. Buddhists want to meditate their way beyond wanting anything. And how is Jesus supposed to be a way the Father for Jews? Jews don’t want a way to “the Father” of the one who said that he and the Father are one! Jews find this irreverent or irrelevant. And how is Jesus supposed to be a way to the Father for Muslims? Muslims don’t want a way to the Father. Muslims are horrified at the intimacy implied in God as Father (Surah 5:18) And how is Jesus supposed to be a way to the Father for atheists? Atheists don’t want a way to the Father. They say there is no Father. So, whom do critics have in mind in disdaining the so-called “intolerance” of Jesus’ saying that no one comes to the Father but by him?

But for all who do want to come to the Father—for all who really are starving and thirsting for real righteousness—what else did Jesus say?

On the subject of the last judgment, Jesus said he’ll say to his sheep there on his right: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father!” He’ll be recalling their having taken care of his needs. Confused, they’ll ask: “When did we do that?” He’ll explain: “When you looked after the needs of the least among you, you looked after my needs.” (Matt 25:34-40)

So is that how no one comes to the Father but by Jesus? Well, when he who is one with the Father is there with the least, is not the Father there, too? And who but those who truly know the liberating love of God in Christ are free enough to be spent in acts of love for the least among them?

Then Jesus will say to the goats on his left: “Get away from me. I don’t know you.” They, too, will be confused, even pissed: “But, Lord, didn’t we do all sorts of ministries in your name?” Tragically for all concerned, they missed the meaning of ministering in his name. They never got close enough to the least among them to get close to Jesus. So, never having gotten close to the one who’s closest to the Father’s heart, they never came to the Father who’s been there with the Son who’s been there with the least all along. (Matt: 25:41-43)

The spiritually sick—churched and not—swallow spurious spiritualities without a second thought. They do so because they give no second thought to stereotypes they’ve mistaken for news of God’s grace in Christ. So they remain sick, hurting and angry. But they don’t have to remain so. If they’d get out of their own way and away from false gospels and take a good look at the real Good News—if they’d truly seek—they’d find they’re found.

An Eastern Orthodox scholar points out: “Christianity says that God is not what you think he is, that divine power is not what you expect it to be.” (John Garvey)

And to all who are seduced by syncretism, he says that Christianity teaches: “In Christ—all of what is human and true, wherever truth occurs, finds its fulfillment in a way that can be found nowhere else.” He grants we may be uncomfortable with this, but this “has been a scandalous claim from the beginning, [and, he says,] it is essential that we make it.”

But Christians have not always tried to hear and relate to victims of the ridiculously religious and self-righteously homophobic. When Christians get kicked out of churches or leave under mean-spirited circumstances because their sexual orientation is unapproved, they leave as jilted lovers, suffering the pangs of their unrequited love for God. And, as is usual in unrequited love, they’ll be vulnerable to the seduction of false spirits.

Evangelical Christianity is America’s largest religious group. Growing up among these millions are many who face ignorance and hostility over un-asked for sexuality. They then may do as 44 percent of Protestants do: switch churches or drop out altogether. Will they find a truer welcome with us than in their homes, home churches and groups where the Gospel is marginalized if not denied? If EC offers them only the spin of spirits of this age, we offer them worse than nothing. If we point them to Christ—we offer them the water of Life. And Jesus will weep tears of reunion as when he reached out to bring another dear friend back from the dead. (John 11:35)

Instead of going with the flow of the spirits of the times, we in EC get to answer Christ’s call to be his witnesses, in his Spirit, “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) When Jesus first sent out his disciples, “the ends of the earth” would one day be Seattle’s Capitol Hill, San Diego’s Hillcrest, Oak Lawn in Dallas, The Short North in Columbus, New York’s Chelsea and wherever else the fact that He is Lord hasn’t yet been heard. Who are more credibly able than we to reach out to non-Christian lesbian and gay friends, sharing with them the love of Christ they’ve not yet known?

But we dare not assume that the amazingly gracious God is not even now revealing Himself through ways that lie apart from our commissioning.

Paul said the God of Israel was revealing Himself to those the Jews called “filthy.” He saw pagans worshipping the true God – yet incompletely. And even in our day, we hear of the risen Christ’s coming to, for example, a secular Jew—a Harvard Business School professor, walking in the woods of Cape Cod—or to a peasant plowing a field far away from conventional Christian witness. They’re overcome by an awareness of infinite Love, drawn into a dream, a vision, a profound insight. When they finally do hear of Christ from a Christian, they recognize the one they’ve already met and they’re eager to hear more so as to know and serve him better.

An evangelical theologian says: “What we must retain is the Christian conviction that everyone needs salvation and that salvation comes only through the work of Jesus Christ. How the blessings of that work are applied by God to each person, however,” is another matter. (John G. Stackhouse, Jr.) He asks: “Does that mean that other religions are salvific? Certainly not. No religion is salvific: not Hinduism or Shinto or Islam, but also not Christianity. God is salvific. Practicing religion, however correct it is and however correctly one practices it, will not save you. That is basic Christian conviction. It is trusting God that will save you—that also is basic Christian conviction. … Encountering God’s Spirit and responding in faith to him in that encounter is what finally matters.” He adds: “How God meets people through whatever theology they might have, in whatever circumstances, is ultimately not visible to us.”

In the last book of his Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis gives literary voice to this good news. Aslan, the lion, is the Christ-figure. Tash is an evil spirit. Some said Tash and Aslan were one and the same. They called it “Tashlan.”

A character named Emeth says he “served Tash” all his life while “the name of Aslan was hateful” to him. While searching for Tash, Emeth finds himself “called” to a thatched-roofed hovel. Entering what looked, from the outside, to be darkness, he finds, inside, all bright sunlight and “wide lands” and a scent of “sweetness.” He thinks he’s finally “come into the country of Tash.” But then, “a great Lion” meets him. Emeth reports: “The glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, ‘Son, thou art welcome.’ But, I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’ He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service thou hast done to me.’” Emeth reports: “I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true … that thou and Tash are one?’ The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.’” Emeth interrupts: “‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’ ‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek’.”

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, spoke of his having “other sheep not of the fold” familiar to his hearers. He promised that one day, he’d be the “one [and only] Shepherd [of his] one [and only] fold.” (John 10:16) He denounced religionists for refusing to be true trustees of his Father’s revelation. He told them to notice that those tax collectors and prostitutes they despised were coming into God’s kingdom ahead of them. These whom they defined as “nobodies” were not “nobodies” to him.

Long before that, Hosea heralded the Lord’s promise to all who` were afar off: “I’ll say to Nobody, ‘You’re my dear Somebody,’ and he’ll say, ‘You’re my God.’” (Hosea 2:23, The Message) David declared the Lord’s word: “I will count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—and will say, ‘This one was bom in Zion’.” (Ps 87:4) Peter was shocked to realize that “whoever is in awe of God and does what’s right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34) Paul told former pagans: “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:20)

This isn’t New Age-y syncretism or a dumbing down of doctrine into a nice little meaningless mess. It’s not interfaith sentimentalism that, as a Harvard professor of Jewish Studies wisely critiques, pretends we’re dealing with nothing more significant than “the difference … between ‘tomayto’ and ‘tomahto’.” (Jon Levenson) It’s the Good News the early Christians put in these words: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” (2 Cor 5:19) Do you know any better news that this? If not, pass this news along.

Looking over a new papal encyclical and finding no novelties, no tit-bits of social controversy, a London Daily Telegraph reporter muttered to his colleague: “No news here. It’s all about God.” (Christopher Howse)

“No news here”? “It’s all about God”? It’s not all about us and our priorities? Listen: The best news the world’s ever gotten is all about God and not all about us. But because it is all about God, it’s all about Sovereign Love. And so it’s all good news for us. It’s news we could neither come up with nor accomplish on our own. It’s news of what God did in Christ who, on the cross, declared the victory over sin and death: “Accomplished!”

Today’s scoffers are as self-centered and self-deceived as were the scoffers at the cross. They don’t know what they’re doing. Prisoners of prejudice and predisposition, they’re into pious pretensions and political pandering. Poisoned by pride, they’ve prioritized prosperity and popularity.

Jesus prays for them as he prayed for the scoffers around his cross: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” And someone today begins to see: “a Man upon the cross / My sin upon His shoulders / Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice / Call out among the scoffers.” (Stuart Townend) And someone today begins to pray: “Forgive me—I’m beginning to see what I’ve done, what I do, and what you did for me.”

Writer Anne Lamott recalls the day she wandered into a black church. She was still drinking back then. “I didn’t mean to go to church. I went in because I didn’t have any more good ideas.” She says she thinks that that’s “where spirituality really begins.” She’s right.

When we’ve “had it” with our hypocrisy, delusions of grandeur and self-defeating defensiveness and when we’re fed up with spurious spirits of the times—we’ll be ready to rest as one in the Spirit of God in Christ.

Whether we’re committed to celibacy or to a same-sex partner, we’re truly one only in Christ for He alone shed His blood for us and we’re alive by His righteousness, not ours or anyone else’s. Paul notes that sincere Christians differ over many issues—even over the two hallmarks of covenant loyalty: Sabbath keeping and keeping kosher. But, he says. Let each one be convinced in his or her mind without passing judgment on those who differ. Paul says we must welcome each other without trying to settle disputed points and that the majority must not impose its view on the minority. He urges Christians to make every effort to be at peace with each other, keeping between themselves and God what may be divisive, and to remember that each one must give an account to God alone. (Cf. Rom 14)

Jesus prayed for us and for all who’d believe through our sharing the Good News with them: “That they all may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. … May they be brought together to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you’ve loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

All this love springs from the Love within the Heart of the Eternal Trinity. So, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment—a new invitation—no longer to love as we love ourselves, but to “love one another as I have loved you.” He said: “Do this, and all will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35)

It’s been observed that to marry the spirit of one’s time is to be too soon widowed. In our time’s terms: the spirit of the times is soon “so over.” That trite term, too, will be none too soon “so over”—illustrating the death-bound transience of every spirit of the times. But to be one in the Holy Spirit, the wholly Other Spirit of God, is to be one with the Spirit of Transcendent Love. And that’s the Eternal Life of the Bride of Christ, one in the Answered Prayers of the Savior of a world transformed into New Heavens and New Earth.

Copyright © 2005 by Ralph Blair

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