Some religions can be largely inherited. They are religions you adhere to because of your family background or nationality. “Of course I’m Lutheran. Im Norwegian.” “I’m Italian, so I’m Catholic.” “I’m Hindu because I’m Indian.” In modernity, however, the emphasis is on individual choice and decision. Young people do not want to follow a path that they have not chosen for themselves. This is why traditional inherited religion-Catholic and mainline Protestantism – is in sharp decline. But evangelical faith is far better suited to such a cultural situation because it insists on a personal decision of faith and a conversion experience for everyone.
In Destroyer of the Gods, Larry Hurtado seeks to explain why an increasing number of people converted to Christianity in the Roman world, even though it was the most persecuted of all religions and carried significant social cost. But Hurtado speaks of the unique Christian social project -a unique kind of human community that defied categories then and will still do so today.” lt has at least five elements that could be broken down and expounded at greater length, but which also need to be seen together, as they constitute a whole. The early church social project was:
Multi-racial and multi-ethnic
Highly committed to caring for the poor and marginalized
Non retaliatory, marked by a commitment to forgiveness
Strongly and practically against abortion and infanticide
Revolutionary regarding the ethics of sex
The early Christian community was both offensive and attractive. But believers did not construct their social project in some strategic way to reach Roman culture. Each of the five elements was there because Christians sought to submit to biblical authority.
“All the mini-exoduses and mini-homecomings of the Bible failed in the end to deliver the final and full homecoming the prophets promised and everyone longed for.” A kind of spiritual homesickness resides in every heart. Though we experience redemption and forgiveness in this life through Christ, we still long and wait for our full redemption (Rom. 8:23-24).
When Paul spoke to Greeks, he confronted their culture’s idol of speculation and philosophy with the “foolishness” of the cross, and then presented Christ’s salvation as true wisdom. When he spoke to Jews, he confronted their culture’s idol of power and accomplishment with the “weakness” of the cross, and then presented the gospel as true power (1 Cor. 1:22-25).
The gospel has been described as a pool in which a toddler can wade and yet an elephant can swim. It is both simple enough to tell to a child and profound enough for the greatest minds to explore. Indeed, even angels never tire of looking into it (1 Peter 1:12). Humans are by no means angels, however, so rather than contemplating it, we argue about it.
I take a page from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death and define sin as building your identity "your self-worth and happiness" on anything other than God. That is, I use the biblical definition of sin as idolatry. That puts the emphasis not as much on "doing bad things" but on "making good things into ultimate things.