1 Corinthians 9:22
“To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)
Once there was a fisherman out on the pier and he had his line in the water. I asked him what he was fishing with, and he said “Blackberries”.
“Blackberries?” I asked, “that won’t work.
“But I love blackberries!” he replied.
And so it is with sharing our faith. We use what we like and miss using what the other likes or can even comprehend. Perhaps we are still in an age where “what is true for you, may not be true for me.” Certainly, truth continues to be relative to many. Absolutes are hard to find with morals rapidly disappearing. How can we fish in this contemporary era without using blackberries? What will connect with generations coming of age in the world today? Let me propose three directions for you to consider; elements of thinking to adopt, adapt and elements of thinking to oppose.
(1) elements to adopt
* The spiritual trumps the material. Well, hallelujah! Of course, we have to help define spiritual, but isn’t it great we can champion the prevailing view that the unseen is the important part of our lives? From there it may not be so difficult to move on to the idea that the unseen is the real, the eternal.
* Reality must be experienced. True, my experience doesn’t alter reality and there is objective reality that can be known, but when we offer vibrant, living experiential salvation and sanctification we’re on solid biblical ground.
* How I feel is more important than what I think. More important? Well, actually you can’t really have one without the other, can you? And which comes first? But we do a grave disservice to this generation if we don’t speak to the heart, stimulate feelings, godly feelings. Today’s thinking has recaptured the heart, opened us to our emotions, and for that we must be grateful, for it leads toward greater biblical reality than we knew as rational modernists.
* Relationships are paramount. What more could you ask? Not only human relationships which some preachers slight, but we must ever lead on to the ultimate relationship -created, as we were, God-compatible for the very purpose of loving companionship with him. Intimacy, you might call it, a favorite word to the younger generations. In fact it isn’t too much to say that a person’s chief end is to love God and be loved of him forever.
* Hope is in short supply. But desperately wanted. So we offer hope. But we mustn’t offer mega-hope too soon. Better to offer modest hope, at least to begin with. The young person may not be able to change the course of history, but, we may assure them, You can make a difference!
(2) Elements to adapt.
* Anti-intellectual. It is the renewing of our minds God is after and transformational preaching certainly can’t bypass the mind. But we can use the contemporary anti-intellectual mood to dethrone scientific naturalism and a materialistic mind-set. We may harness the mood to demolish a deadly enemy of spiritual reality.
* Propositional truth is a fiction, the only reality is a fusion of what may be “out there” and my personal perception of it, post moderns contend.
Yet the Bible is full of propositional truth, of course, and we can capture one element of this mood, since narrative, not propositional truth, is the preferred mode.
* Tell me a story, they say.
Story? That does have a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it? Sounds like the Bible! The stories of ancient Israel, the stories of Jesus – in fact, it is written, he didn’t speak at all except in stories! (Matthew 13:34)
If the only reality admitted is composed of what’s out there with my perception of it, everyone’s “reality” differs. And that’s cool.
When I was researching on what made the X and Y generations tick I asked a powerful youth evangelist to give me some time and educate me. He said, “No need to spend time. I can tell you in one word.” Then he shaped his two thumbs and forefingers in the shape of a W- “Whatever,” he said with a shrug. Now I tell young people that “whatever” is an ok feeling but point out the difference between an ungodly whatever that doesn’t care and a godly whatever that lets God have his way.
* Personal fulfillment is the goal of life.
No, no. God’s fulfillment is the goal! But when we chart the way to God-centered living we do no wrong in pointing out that as the only path to personal self-fulfillment. Try to fill up on stuff, sex, and significance – on self, that is and you’ll get ever more empty, taught Jesus. On the other hand, work at emptying out life into God’s purposes and you’ll discover yourself is filling up, fulfilled.
* Personal freedom is the sina qua non of finding fulfillment.
Why aren’t we the chief champions of freedom? Of course, we point toward freedom as power to do what I ought rather than license to do what I please.
*Celebrate diversity. The only sin is intolerance.
I can attack this error head-on. And lose my audience. Or I can celebrate unity in diversity among God’s people, in God’s creation, while flashing the caution light of biblical limitations to the concept. If I champion unity in diversity, it won’t be quite so easy to dismiss me as a hard-nosed right-wing obscurantist.
(3) elements to oppose
*Absolute relativism. Not only must we point out the absurdity of this ultimate oxymoron, we must show graphically how it is not a liberating concept as supposed, but how it leads inexorably to dreadful bondage.
* Self-sacrifice is bad. It’s dishonest, a betrayal of self, destructive. The God-story, the story of Jesus is our ultimate weapon to destroy this perversion of the enemy. We must hammer away at the theme of love and the joyful fruit of love. We must demonstrate powerfully how self-orientation is in the end destructive; how self-denial is the affirmation of our true self, the ultimate healing power.
* Commitment is stupid. We should find it easy to demonstrate from marriage stories the end results of non-commitment vs. commitment. And we can demonstrate from all of life how commitment is the glue that holds together that ultimate desire of the younger generations: relationship, and bonding. With one’s fellows, yes, but above all with God. You might even persuade them to hope for an ultimate love relationship.
Fishing with blackberries? Catching fish needs an attractive bait to the fish, not the fisherman!