iMonk: The Scandal of Christmas

I miss the iMonk, Michael Spencer, whose cancer diagnosis came around Christmas in 2009.  He now celebrates Christmas with the saints above and One who came down to earth to save us that first scandalous Christmas two thousand years ago.  Here’s an excerpt from a classic Advent sermon by the iMonk called “The Unlikely Outreach of the Gospel of Light.” Read full post here.

“There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of the truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend an eternity in hell…. An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse–and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists.” (Sam Harris, Letters To A Christian Nation)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. …And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:9-18)

Harris . . . has a better grasp of the Gospel than most Christians. Evangelicals have almost totally lost the outrage that lies at the heart of the Gospel. We believe that everyone ought to believe what we believe because it’s obvious that its the truth. We have big churches, media stars and books explaining everything so persuasively that it shows just how stubborn and hostile unbelievers really are. If they would just listen to our pastor answer all the questions, it would make sense.

I find it particularly ironic that some of this arrogant condescension toward non-Christians comes from those most loudly committed to the Calvinistic doctrine of “total depravity,” and its affirmation that we are all spiritually dead apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. In some corners, there’s an endless optimism that the right debate format could convince the most hostile apostate that the Gospel is true.

Harris has faith and arrogance of his own and his assessment of the Christian willingness to dispose others to hell for disagreement is a caricature (with plenty of historical support unfortunately), but he has more of a sense of the utter shock that is the Gospel announcement than most evangelical Christians. The message that God has taken an interest in this tiny world, and in any one of us, is beyond outrageous. It’s mind-boggingly incredible. It ought to stop usin our tracks in astonishment that we are claiming, continually, the absolutely unlikely and stupendously impossible.

Evangelicals have convinced themselves that the light shines in a room where it’s been patently obvious for a long time that we needed some light around here, and Christianity has the best bulb for the job. Scripture tells us that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend it.

We have convinced ourselves that every reasonable person is looking for a Savior, and that Jesus’ contemporaries should have been waiting for him with a welcoming committee. The Bible says the Word became flesh, came to his own, and no one wanted anything to do with him. In fact, the thought of God visiting this world is every bit as outrageous within the Christian story as it is outside of it.

Sam Harris is right to point out the unlikelihood that such a story is anything other than a delusional mythology. Our own Gospel tells us the same story: sin had created a chasm between God and his creatures that renders the likelihood of God having anything to do with us ridiculously comic. We ought to be laughing at it ourselves, because it simply shouldn’t be. It is amazing grace indeed.

If we appreciate the outrage of the Gospel, then we ought to understand that shouting it in the face of an unbelieving world is a particularly inappropriate response. . . . .

Keep reading….

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