My onetime Sunday School pupil, adrift

July 15th, 2021

Josh and his family have been friends of ours for over 40 years. When he was a teenager, I taught his class at the Christian Science Sunday School. It’s always been heavy on my heart that when he and other impressionable kids were spiritually in my care, I fed them CS falsehood instead of Bible truth.

So I occasionally check in with Josh to inquire where he stands with God.  By email the other day, he said that the “higher power” he learned to rely on in Alcoholics Anonymous helps him cope with stressful business situations, and that with his new wife, an ex-Catholic, he sometimes reads spiritual writings or watches a sermon online—but for the most part they “stay away from organized religion.”

He elaborated: “My belief is that there are 7 or 8 major religions across the world, and 8 billion people, so who am I to pick a camp? I choose to believe the one common thread [among them all] is love, community, and service.”

I decided to sleep on this for a night or two and ask the Holy Spirit how best to reply. At the right time, I will urge Josh to honestly look within (take a searching moral inventory, as AA puts it) and recognize that he’s a sinner in need of a Savior, Jesus Christ. But first I must earn the right to be so bold. We’re old friends, but not close friends.

For right now, I opted to move the conversation along by talking about me, not him, and by taking issue with the “why pick any one religion” stance he argues for—a dodge, it seems to me, that hides intellectual arrogance behind a false cloak of intellectual humility.

I tried, in other words, to make the case for Christianity with Josh not head-on with the gospel as, say, Lee Strobel might do, but obliquely with the massive evidence of the history and heritage of two millennia in human civilization—somewhat the approach Paul took on Mars Hill (Acts 17).

Of course, some say Paul’s approach that day wasn’t frontal enough, and maybe mine wasn’t either. We shall see. Here’s what I wrote Josh:

When I look at the country we live in, the way of life we share we all share as Americans, the life I am able to live, its DNA is unmistakably clear. It all comes from a single source, Christianity. 

It doesn’t come from the exclusivity of Judaism, the oppression of Islam, the cruelty of Hinduism, the detachment of Buddhism, the dryness of Confucianism, the indifference of atheism, the passivity of agnosticism, the sentimentality of humanism, or the vindictiveness of Marxism.  

It comes from the unique balance of truth and love, justice and mercy, law and liberty, warning and hope, that is the historic Christian faith whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. (Which also best acquaints us with that Higher Power you met through AA.)

Who am I to stand back and decline to pick any one camp, as if we could trust that all roads lead to the top of the mountain. They don’t. Some lead to a swamp or a cliff. 

I get it that organized religion can be a rather shabby thing, often unheavenly to say the least. But the forces of evil in this world are certainly organized—tyranny, addiction, sexploitation—so the forces of good had better be organized too, or it’s game over for the human race.

When John Lennon sang “imagine no religion,” he called it a dream. I call it a nightmare.  

And since there has to be organization(s), I see it as my duty to pick one and be part of it.  As a wise friend once said, all of us sooner or later have to join the side we’re on. Not joining is, for me, simply not an option.

As far as love, community, and service, it’s true we find those in all cultures and all faith traditions, without exception—because that’s hard-wired into the human heart. Yet selfishness is hard-wired there too, and nothing has proved nearly as effective as Jesus in suppressing our darker impulses so our better ones can flourish.

All of which has resulted in my becoming a Jesus-follower, as explained in my recent book, Discovering a Larger God.

No reply as yet from the goodhearted Josh. I’ll keep waiting and praying. I so want to do my part in leading him onto the one and only road up the mountain, God helping us both.


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