I recently testified before a state legislative committee in favor of two religious freedom bills. Twenty-five years ago, support for religious freedom was widespread. A nearly unanimous Congress passed the federal Religious Freedom Act, for example, and a Democratic president signed it into law. Today, any religious freedom bill, whether at the state or federal level, is sure to spark heated opposition because opponents argue that religious freedom is simply a mask for discrimination against the LGBT community. That shift of thinking is both tectonic and, to Christians like me, worrisome.
Something else concerns me too, though. After the first hearing, a woman from the LGBT community approached the huddle of lawyers I was talking to, politely interrupted us, and made the following statement: “I need to tell you gentlemen something,” she said. “If you had lived the life I have lived, you wouldn’t think the way you do.” Then she walked away. None of us knew how to respond, or whether she wanted us to respond, so we said nothing. Even deeper than my worry about tectonic shifts in legal norms is my worry that the Church is missing the opportunity to share Christ’s good news with people whose experience is so contrary—alien, even—to our own. I confess that I missed a chance that day.
Jesus Christ commissioned His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). While we might prefer to carry out the Great Commission in a society that provides robust protections to our religious freedom, the fact of the matter is that we are under the Lord’s orders whether or not the law protects us or our society approves of us. And let’s be honest, a large chunk of American society is moving in a direction that is not favorable to Christian faith and practice.
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ first co-authored book was unChristian, which examined how unbelieving Millennials viewed Christianity. The portrait they painted was not flattering. According to their research, unbelieving Millennials viewed Christians as hypocritical, anti-science, too focused on conversion, anti-gay, sheltered, too political, and judgmental. Their negative view of Christians is more than a PR problem, of course. It is a missional problem. How do we “make disciples of all nations” when the nations view us as irrelevant at best or extreme at worst?
Good Faith outlines Kinnaman and Lyons’ answer to that question. Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group, “a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services.” Lyons is founder of Q, “a learning community that educates and mobilizes Christians to think well and advance good in society.” Based on their research and biblical reflection, they identify three ingredients that must characterize the Church’s mission in contemporary America:
How well we love + What we believe + How we live = Good Faith
Stated as one-word imperatives, these elements are love, believe, and live. Each imperative must be fulfilled for good faith to be present. In other words, we can’t reduce Christianity to what some have called orthopathy (right affections, love) or orthodoxy (right doctrine, believe) or orthopraxy (right behavior, live). Good faith consists of the three imperatives acting in tandem at all times. Stated so simply, the need for these imperatives is obvious. And yet, how difficult we find it to put them all into practice.
Take my encounter with the woman after the legislative hearing, for example. I know what I believe regarding both religious freedom specifically and LGBT issues more generally. I’d like to think that I translate those beliefs into moral behavior on a day-to-day basis. But, if I’m honest, I find it easier to explain and defend my beliefs than to love the person on the other side of those issues. Kinnaman and Lyons write something that I need to take to heart: “There is a world of difference between confidently asserting what we believe and being aggressive in faith-driven ‘beast mode.” I hope I never go into beast mode on any issue—through I constantly feel the temptation on issues about which I have strong opinions. Still, I wonder: Am I like the Ephesian church which had “biblical orthodoxy” nailed down tight but had “forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:6)? Am I cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, which is love (Galatians 5:22)? Other Christians may struggle with understanding and defending biblical orthodoxy or with putting their faith into action. Regardless of which of the three imperatives you do best (and which worst), the point is to keep them all together.
Kinnaman and Lyons apply the love-believe-live formula to a host of issues. In the final chapter, they sum up the point of the entire book by writing: “The Christian community is called to be a counterculture for the common good. We are countercultural when we…”
- love others well
- remain committed to orthodox beliefs
- make space for those who disagree
- stand out from the crowd
- ask the right questions
- live under God’s moral order
- offer a vision of human intimacy beyond sex
- practice hospitality
- do the good, hard work of racial reconciliation
- value human life in every form, at every stage
- love our gay friends and trust God’s design for sex
- build households of faith
- are theologically grounded and culturally responsive
- make disciples
- practice the sacred art of seeing people
- make disciples and faith communities that are Christlike.
Good Faith is a good book. For someone like me who is worried about the culture but more concerned about the Church bearing witness to Jesus in the midst of it, the book provides diagnostic criteria and a checklist for self-examination. On any issue, do I love the person on the other side of the issue? Do I know what biblical orthodoxy actually requires of me? Do I live my Christianity in an authentic and attractive way? If I cannot answer “yes” to each of these questions, I have work to do. And so, it seems to me, does the American church.
P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.
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