I’m just rediscovering John Stott’s gem of a little book, Basic Christianity, picked up secondhand for a few pence not so long ago. I’m reading the May 1964 reprint, (selling price 3shillings and 6 pence in very old money – or seventeen and a half new pence and I guess not many US Cents!!) but it might just as well have been written for today’s world. And this post is not just for Christians!
One particular passage has caught my eye.
The great scandal of Christianity (now, I submit, as well as then), is so-called “nominal Christianity, as “large numbers of people have covered themselves,” he writes, “ with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved; enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience.”
Google “nominal Christianity” and you get over 11 million hits. So it’s clearly an issue today! One hit caught my eye, from the Christian Post, about the “Radical Groups” being formed by Rick Warren and Steve Gladen at Saddleback Church, California. They want to shake up their congregation, trying to reach every believer to show them how to balance five biblical principles, which include fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry and evangelism. These five aspects should be present not only in church but in one’s personal life and lifestyle as well (my emphasis, although I'm not totally sure about the evangelism thread - that's a topic up for discussion another day in the context of religious tolerance I think). And the way to do this is in small group settings, what they call their Radical Groups.
And these will surely be tackling that great big soft cushion. Christianity was never going to be easy and soft. Take up your cross, Jesus said, before you can follow me. That means, as explained by John Stott, giving Him our thoughtful and total commitment. And that means in every thing we do, even when the going gets tough and there is no soft cushion to act as a buffer.
The great John Stott died in July this year aged 90, in a lovely English village called Lingfield. He was once ranked as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Times Magazine. I recommend his little book to anyone Christian or non-Christian alike, who wants to understand a little more about what it means to be a Christian.
Because understanding each others' faiths is key to being able to respect each others' faiths.
And more than that - we can all, religious or not, critically look at ourselves and see if we are perhaps protecting ourselves too much from the harsh realities of the world beyond our own safe sanctuaries, not taking our own responsibilities for what lies beyond our own front door, our own big soft cushion. Are we too comfortable?
I make no apology for posting this on my two blogs- something I won't do too often, I promise, but it seems very relevant to both!!
My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.
"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden