The Old Testament Template Book: Chapter 1

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

“Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear.”
Mark 8:18

“Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
Mark 8:25

I was mindlessly channel surfing through scores of TV programs to pass the time. I landed on a British journalist who was saying that Christians believe that many of them living in a community will affect that community for good. The greater the Christian presence, the greater the benefit to the society at large. I agreed with the commentator; that is what we teach.

He went on to propose that we look at the most Christianized city in America to see how this influence works out practically. He defined “Christianized” as the community with the largest percentage of believers actually attending church regularly. This is a good conservative working definition of Christianized.

By that definition, then, Dallas, Texas was the most Christianized city in America at that time. More people per capita were in church on any given Sunday than any other community in the country. Churches abound in Dallas and a large number boast full pews. Our journalist proposed that we look at the social demographics of Dallas to see how this “Christian blessing” worked out practically within that community.

We looked at various statistics and studies, including crime, safety on the streets, police enforcement, and the justice and penal system. We looked at health care, hospitals, emergency care, contagious diseases, infant mortality rate, and the distribution of care-givers. We reviewed education, equality of schools, safety, test scores and graduation statistics. Jobs, housing, and general economics were evaluated. Can you get a job? Can you get housing? Does potential income match available housing? We looked at homelessness and programs for those unable to care for themselves. Is there equality regardless of color, creed or income? And so on. Each of these categories was evaluated using racial and economic factors.

The TV host looked at the statistics and information you would be concerned about if you were going to raise your children in a community. Will my children be safe on the streets? Can they get a respectable, safe education? Will I be able to house, clothe and feed my family? Will my children have blatant exposure to drugs and other destructive influences? Can my family be relatively safe from disease? Is adequate medical attention available if they get sick? Can I get legal help and a fair hand from the judicial system? Are the police equally interested in our protection, and is all of this true regardless of my color, nationality or creed?

The program was, perhaps, an hour long and I watched it alone. By the time my English host was done with the Dallas study I was devastated. No one would want to live in a city in that condition. The crime, the decrepit social systems, the disease, the economic discrepancies, the racial injustice all disqualified this community from having an adequate quality of life. And this was the “most Christianized” city in America. I wanted to weep.

The program was not finished. The host took this devastating picture of a broken community to the Christian leaders and asked for their observations. He chose leaders of status and integrity. He chose the kind of Christian leaders other Christians would respect. One by one, each pastor viewed the same facts that I had just seen about the condition of his city. With simplicity, the narrator asked each minister, “As a Christian leader, what is your response to the condition of your community?” Without exception, in various ways, they all said the same thing, “This is not my concern…I’m a spiritual leader.”

The program finished, the room was silent, and my world began to crumble. Many years of  my work as a missionary have been spent addressing Christianity’s critics, specifically those in the media. (This is not generally very difficult as their accusations are often ill-informed or poorly-formulated.) If this journalist had turned the microphone to me for comment at the closing of his program I would have been speechless. I was shocked to silence…by the facts.

I had no argument against the case this journalist had built. As Christians, we do say our faith, lived out, will influence a society toward good. We go beyond this. I have heard it said, and have taught, that it only takes twenty percent of a society believing anything to influence, even lead, the other eighty percent in a given direction. We teach that the gospel is good for a society, that its values will bless those beyond the members of faith. But the facts about Dallas do not support this notion. We must look at the facts! Dallas has considerably more than twenty percent professing Christians. Can we say that this city is the legacy of Christian influence?

I was reeling with implications and questions. Why had I not been honest enough to see the discrepancy between my teaching and the visible results? Why had it taken a non-Christian to point these things out to me? How could we, as Christian leaders, say “quality of life” issues are not our concern? If the Gospel does influence all of society, how could America, with more Christians per capita, possibly, than any other time in its history, be slipping from biblical values in virtually every arena? Slipping in crime, immorality, poverty, corruption, justice, disease, drugs, homelessness, literacy and more? How was it that I, and the myriad committed Christians I know, had never put this all together? Why had we not judged ourselves…and found ourselves wanting?

Search For Truth
I came to Christianity reluctantly. As a college student I was a committed atheist and gave speeches on why not to believe in the Bible. I longed for truth, practical truth, that could be lived on a daily basis. I hoped for a truth that could lead to justice and genuine love for others. I became a Christian because I became convinced that it was the only belief system that explains the reality of the universe we live in, good and bad. My en-counter with that truth, and the person of Jesus Christ, catapulted me into the Kingdom of God. I have spent the years since trying to learn more of the truths of the Kingdom and how to live them out practically and daily in my own life and work. Nevertheless, I have always said that if it could be proven to me that the teachings of the Bible and the life of Christ were not true, I would have to reevaluate everything I believe. Nothing had ever more shaken my confidence in Christianity than this television program. Now my feet were to the fire. As I battled with the questions this program’s revelations demanded, I could see at least three possible answers:

  1. God does not exist.
  2. God and/or God’s Word are not true. The Bible does teach that its values applied will influence society at large, but practically, it does not work.
  3. We are not seeing biblical values applied by Christians today, and, therefore, do not see the influence those truths would have and have had in history.

In my heart, I knew that the third option had to be the case. I have never been a Christian for primarily historic, emotional or personal reasons. I am a follower of Christ because I believe the Bible is true and that whenever its teaching and principles are measured and applied they will prove true. My faith was on the line and I believed that the God I knew was up to the challenge. But I needed answers!

Early in my journey with Christ I discovered that some questions are too big for our pitifully limited minds. I learned that these questions are not too great for God. He delights to reveal Himself and lead us to understanding, but He must do the revealing. For overwhelming questions, I have a special shelf in the back of my mind. We are not to throw out the great and crushing questions that challenge our faith and the very nature and character of the One in whom we believe. If we do not face the difficult questions of life and our faith, we lose the opportunity for God to reveal Himself in a greater way. Neither can we wrestle within ourselves with life’s most serious dilemmas. We do not have the understanding. We must hold these painful issues before the throne of God until He reveals greater understanding to us. In so doing, we grow in the knowledge of God.

These pressing observations, prompted by the honest analysis of a British journalist, question the validity of what you and I say should be the normal influence that comes with Christianity to a community. What we teach does not seem to match the impact of Christianity today. I put these agonizing questions on the shelf with a prayer. “Father, I believe Your Word and I believe You when You say You want to bless all peoples and use the church to do it. I believe You can bless and that Your principles are true. But, Lord, we do not have the influence we should have in our day. Why Lord? Help me understand, Lord! Help me see!” And He did!

Trip To Africa
I began my overseas life in North Africa, four wonderful years in the land of the pharaohs. I loved Egypt and would gladly have spent my entire life there. More than twenty years later, within months of watching the Dallas documentary, I was on my way to a more expansive exploratory trip of the African continent. For two months I traversed from West to East to Southern Africa: Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa. Africa is enormous and I spent hours in airplanes looking down on its vastness.

The “Dallas questions” still sat on my mental back shelf. How could a Christian community be in such abominable shape? How could the gospel result in such chaos? As I visited primarily Christianized nations, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, my anguish increased. Missions statistics that I had quoted with joy burned in my mind. “Africa, eighty percent Christian south of the Sahara by the end of the 20th Century.” “Africa, the most evangelized continent in the world.” “Africa, the most churched continent by the end of this century.”

In each nation, the story was the same: poverty, disease, violence, corruption, injustice and chaos met me at every turn. I found myself asking: “Is this Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” Is this what the blessing of the gospel brought into a community looks like? Is this what a nation looks like when it is “reached”? In this southern part of Africa we have nearly reached every “creature.” Churches are planted and full. African evangelists abound and continue the work. Is this what it looks like when our work as Christians is finished in a nation? God forbid! My anguish increased.

You may say, “This is unfair. These were poor countries before the gospel came!” You are right, but some are poorer and more diseased now, after the gospel has come.1 I spent many hours asking God how this could be. How could we, as Christians and especially missionaries, be patting our backs for a job well done in Southern and Central Africa? How could we speak so glowingly of the gospel’s great reformation of Europe and North America and not see that none of that nation-changing reality is being experienced in Africa? How could anyone conceive of this utterly devastated Africa as finished? How could anyone believe that Africa or deteriorating Dallas, for that matter, are examples of the impact of Christianity? How could we hold up the condition of the so-called Christianized nations today as trophies of the truth, as proof that where the gospel of Jesus Christ is spread, blessing accompanies it?

My heart was heavy as I traveled Africa, as I thought about my own nation. My prayer became, “Lord, what has gone wrong?” Nearly two hundred years of concentrated missions effort on this continent – how could it result in this? With a dawning revelation that would change my understanding of missions and my life calling, God spoke simply, fundamentally, and permanently. “The devastation you see is the fruit of preaching salvation alone, without the rest of the biblical message.

1. Kinoti, George “hope for Africa and What The Christian Can Do”. Nairobi: AISRED, 1994 ”