Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Faith as the End, Not the Means
November 26, 2010
Editor: This is the final installment of our series highlighting Gabe Lyons new book The Next Christians: Good News About the End of Christian America, in which Lyons responds to our readers’ reactions to his book.
In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, we encounter a fictional correspondence between Wormwood, a demon-in-training, and Screwtape, his more experienced uncle. Like any demon-uncle, Screwtape takes seriously the tutelage of young Wormwood. And toward the end of the book, he advises Wormwood on how to destroy a Christian:
“Let him begin by treating patriotism…as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the “cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…[O]nce he’s made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.”
Lewis warns us that one of the greatest dangers for those of us who love God is that we would be so concerned with the political “fruit” of our faith that following Jesus would simply become a means to a partisan end. But faith, Lewis contends, should be itself an end.
We would do well to heed Lewis’s warning as we embody the Gospel in 21st century America.
In his reaction to The Next Christians, Xavier Pickett worries that I am encouraging Christians to ignore the practical outcomes of their faith on the very real struggles our society faces. He highlights the following sentence: “Unconcerned with outcomes, Christ’s followers must get back to the heart of their faith—recovering, relearning, and rebuilding from the core first, and then out.” In context, however, I am not proposing that outcomes are unimportant. Rather, I’m proposing that Christians start first with a more robust understanding of the Gospel. Not strategies to win back the discourse. Not attempts to legislate morality. And not triumphalist visions of changing the world. When we prioritize our recovery of the full meaning of the Gospel, the outcomes can’t help but bear fruit to the renewing power of Christ to transform a world with both justice and righteousness—goals which Xavier Pickett and I share.
Understanding the full narrative of the story God is telling (Chapter 4 – Relearning Restoration) leads to a very specific way of life that affects every single sphere of culture and influence, including politics. When this gospel-centered understanding is central to how we view our role in the world, we move from being insular (separatists) to engaged (restorers), as Juanita Irizary illustrated. We see every channel of culture as a place for Christians to exist on mission and bring a restoration view of the world forward in a humble, faithful way (not an arrogant, power-grabbing way). And in fact, this kind of understanding will produce fruit that points people to the Kingdom of God in ways no specific outcome-based strategy could. As such, my reference to the gay movement's strength, a point of confusion for Nate Barksdale, was to illustrate how few people it takes, committed to the same ideology, to demonstrate "the power of showing up where they worked and letting their ideology and beliefs permeate everything they did" (p. 114). This movement illustrates not how a few influential people gain cultural power, but, rather what it looks like to demonstrate “faithful presence” in every channel of culture, to borrow James Hunter's phrase. Translated into Christian practice, this is how the faith itself remains an end rather than a means.
The New Testament teaches that the measuring stick of our fruit is indeed theological. The Scripture, not political pragmatism, is the standard for judging the fidelity of our fruit (John 7:24; John 12:48). That is why I am grateful for the next Christians who are returning to what Paul calls “the thing of first importance,” which is the Gospel. Make no mistake, they aren’t unconcerned with whether they bear good or bad fruit. But they realize that trees that bear good fruit are those which are rooted in the Gospel.
Gabe Lyons is founder of Q and author of The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (Doubleday,?2010). His first book, unChristian, was co-authored with Dave Kinnaman.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”