“Live to your own convictions.”
That’s a line from one of Miley Cyrus’s recent hits, “Do What You Want:” a song about the importance of speaking your own truth, living a life that makes you happy, and, quite simply, forgetting the rest. In it we are reminded to ignore the haters, reject bad vibes, and love ourselves. It’s a catchy tune that speaks to a deep and universal philosophical truth: you’re special, and no one can tell you otherwise.
Oh, wait. No, I got that wrong. My mistake. That wasn’t from a Miley Cyrus song. Those were the words of a Christian pastor, teacher of Scripture and evangelist on The View last week. Talking about abortion.
Actually, no. I still got that wrong.
That was a horrendous lie stuttered by a “Christian” “pastor,” “teacher” of “Scripture” and “evangelist”” on The Semi-Circle of Ignorant Virtue Signaling last week. Talking about ABORTION.
Carl Lentz joined the The View two weeks ago to discuss his ministry at Hillsong Church in NYC. Lentz has made waves in the secular world for being “not-your-normal-preacher” who has a knack for attracting millennials to church in a time when young people are rejecting religion in droves.
Now, before I go further, let me address two things. One: I envy no one who goes on The View. It is a lion’s den for conservative/Christian values, and we’ve seen at least two people in the last year go on the show to defend said values only to turn in their pro-life cards. And, two: I am thankful for the millennial lives that have been changed by Hillsong’s ministry.
Lentz and the hosts covered myriad topics, and then the apparently million-dollar question dropped: “So, abortion isn’t a sin in your church?”
Lentz was awkward. He stumbled a bit, then ultimately answered, “God’s the judge. Live to your own convictions.”
“Live to your own convictions?” What does that even mean? This, from a pastor whose ministry is allegedly centered on the gospel of Christ? The same gospel which explicitly – and quite terrifyingly – calls its adherents to deny themselves, pick up their crosses, and follow Him? A message that demands nothing less than complete and total self-crucifixion? One that promises hardship and persecution? This can’t be the same gospel I know – the one that teaches us that anything less than total surrender to Christ isn’t Christianity at all. The gospel I know has an apt name for living to your own convictions: sin.
Yikes. Do we really have to talk about that word? It’s taboo—an idea the secular world mocks and much of the Christian world only whispers about in private. It’s easier to believe that right and wrong are subjective, based on your own predilections. That way, we can avoid the awkwardness of telling someone that what they’re doing is bad. If those are your convictions, who am I to say you’re wrong?
Perhaps for most people that’s a fine way to live. Perhaps coexistence is the best atheists and agnostics can hope for. The problem is, for Christians, the Bible doesn’t give such latitude. The standard to which we are held can only be described by another dirty word most people, Christians included, would rather not touch – holiness.
Lentz seemed to, at least temporarily, forget that. “Holy” means “set apart” and his answer to the question of the sinfulness of abortion sounded precisely like the rest of the world. Replace him with Kim Kardashian, and the answer probably would have been the same. I’m sure Lentz has read, and maybe truly believes, what Psalm 139 says about the immediate and inherent value of life at conception. Hopefully, he now realizes that he majorly dropped the ball on this one.
But Lentz’s seeming antipathy toward the evil of abortion reflects a much bigger problem than his apparent ignorance toward the sacredness of human life—a problem infecting the Church at an alarming rate: Social Justice Warrior Christianity.
SJW Christianity, on the surface, sounds like genuine Christianity. It cares about the poor, the oppressed, the lonely and the marginalized. It waves the banners of compassion, generosity and empathy. It claims inclusiveness and unconditional love.
And, indeed, the greatest commandments to which Christians are called are first, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and then, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” We are told repeatedly throughout the Bible that love is the defining mark of a true Christ follower.
So, the problem isn’t that SJW, progressive Christians are too loving—it’s that they’ve forgotten what true love, as demonstrated by Christ, really is. They’ve replaced God’s rich, expansive definition of love with their own cheap, small version.
Instead of emphasizing Jesus’s radical, relentless love that manifests itself in salvation, they promote superficial love that manifests itself almost exclusively in social justice. An SJW Christian refuses to take a moral stance on issues like abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, welfare and sanctuary cities, because, in their minds, tolerance in these areas is what it means to love like Jesus.
The problem is, it isn’t.
Jesus was quite scandalous in his outreach to those on the outskirts of society. He was ridiculed for dining with tax collectors. He was criticized for interacting with prostitutes. He touched the untouchable – the demon-possessed, the contagious, the unclean. He locked eyes with people who had known nothing but shame and rejection. He confronted the powerful, chastised the greedy and uplifted the humble. Undoubtedly, Jesus embodied love. In fact, the Bible tells us that He Himself is love: everything that true love is is wrapped up in Him.
But to simply say, “Jesus was loving, and that’s all that matters” would be to miss the point entirely. Yes, Jesus was loving, but it’s important that we define “love” by His terms, not ours.
To us, in 2017, “loving” people means being nice to them, which means never telling them when they’re wrong. Making people feel bad about themselves and their choices is mean, so we don’t do it. Next to being a racist, being judgmental is the worst thing you can be. So, we allow everyone to discover “their” truth, and as long as that truth doesn’t prevent us from living out ours, we can all get along just fine. This is just as much the mentality of SJW Christians as it is the secular world – the only difference is, SJW Christians do it in the name of Jesus.
Theirs is a very worldly—and convenient—definition of love. And it’s not one condoned by Scripture nor reflected in Christ.
In fact, Jesus wasn’t a nice guy.
That’s right. You heard me. He wasn’t nice. Which is refreshing for someone like me, who’s always thought that niceness is overrated. Jesus was abrasive. He was brutally honest. He told Pharisees, the holiest guys around, that they were vipers who put on a good show but were nothing more than greedy bastards on the inside. He flipped tables in the synagogue just to say that it’s messed up to trade in God’s house.
He may have hung out with the sinners and the outcasts, but he didn’t coddle them. You know what he had the audacity to do, even in the midst of their own self-loathing and misery?
Call out their sin.
To the adulteress woman? “Go and sin no more.”
The tax collectors, who were cheating people out of their money? “Don’t collect any more than you are authorized to do.”
The prostitute, who washed his feet with her tears? “Your sins are forgiven. . . Your faith has saved you.”
To the paralytic? “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus’s main priority wasn’t to make people feel good, or even to heal their physical calamities, but to save their souls from sin. His was a message of repentance, not niceness.
If all Jesus had done in his life was be nice to people, the Pharisees wouldn’t have wanted him killed. The problem with Jesus wasn’t that he was a good guy, but that he was claiming to have the power to forgive sins. Unless you’re God—and as far as the Pharisees were concerned, he wasn’t—that’s straight up blasphemy. Blasphemy, in Bible times, could get you crucified.
The beef the self-righteous Pharisees had with Jesus is the same beef most people have with Jesus today: He cared about sin.
Jesus’s ministry was an eternal one. While healing people and raising them from the dead physically was an important aspect of his mission, his top priority was healing people and resurrecting them spiritually. That meant calling people away from the sin that entangled them into a life of obedience, of relationship with the Father and, ultimately, eternal life spent with Him. This spiritual about-face that brings life and a new start, Jesus explained, brings death to our old selves and retirement to our sinful modes of operation.
In Jesus, we see that the call for repentance and love are inextricably intertwined.
Somewhere along the way, Christians rejected that. We bought into the lie that the cross of Christ isn’t enough to convince people of the gospel. We began believing that the forgiveness of sins isn’t really what people wanted to hear. Thus came the era of strobe light, skinny-jean clad worship services that look more like a Coldplay concert than church. Sermons began to sound more like motivational speeches than explanations of the gospel.
And, perhaps, at first, our intentions were good. As the concept of religion became increasingly regarded as outdated and irrelevant, the church felt the need to find a remedy. Christian pop was popularized in the 90s, and churches saw this as an opportunity to replace or supplement their outdated hymns with music the kids would listen to. In parallel, the self-help industry was booming, and that philosophy began to characterize our sermons.
The Church moved away from fire-and-brimstone and legalism into a more dynamic, gracious, full view of the Christian life. But, like most good things, that trend soured. We now have what seems like a significant portion of Christianity that looks so much like the world that they may as well call themselves agnostic: it preaches a superficial, prosperity gospel Christianity that has no root in the actual gospel. It is more motivated by social justice than salvation.
Here’s the truth: the gospel doesn’t need our help. The cross of Jesus doesn’t need for you to make it cool. The gospel is dynamic yet unchanging, moving yet immovable, relevant yet timeless. In God’s economy, repentance, obedience – and, yes, holiness – will never go out of style. The 2,000-year-old news of salvation is the same exact news people need to hear today. Plain and simple.
If Jesus were here now, in the flesh, do you know what he’d say to advocates of abortion? It wouldn’t be, “live to your own convictions.” It’d be, eyes full of compassion, “go and sin no more.”
That is love. And that’s what true Christians are called to—nothing less.