Error comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are more deadly than others; some aren't deadly at all. Mistaking the time to meet a friend for lunch is embarrassing, or should be, but it's hardly the end of the world-unless you're so late so regularly that nobody believes you take anyone seriously, which naturally ratchets things up a bit.
Some errors are even hard to see as errors, because in a broken world they seem to make sense. Some even feel natural, as if they aren't really something that should be questioned. We may have been taught the error by people we trust and like—so what's to question? Or we may have picked it up, like a virus from wherever; since we didn't about it then, it isn't surprising we don't think about it at all. And however we acquired them, identifying them for what they are—actual errors, wrong ideas, non-truths—and replacing them with the truth can be rather difficult. Especially if so much opinion around us seems to reinforce the error.
I was reminded of this at the last Rochester L'Abri conference from some of the conversations that unfolded from Dick Keyes' lecture, "The Breadth of God's Lordship." Dick had presented an overview of the Christian world and life view, showing how Christ's Kingship is over all of life and culture, not just over a truncated "spiritual" slice of life. He had also pointed out the common error, held by many Christians, that the "spiritual" parts of life were somehow superior to the merely "physical"—that there is a divide between secular and sacred, and that the second category always trumps the first. And he quite correctly insisted that this was not an insignificant error, but deadly, because at stake is not just how we live and think, but the very content of the gospel we profess.
Good questions followed Dick's lecture. Good questions from thoughtful people trying to make sense of life and the teaching of the Scriptures. It was interesting, however, to notice that the questions often took the shape of "Yes, but…." There was agreement that this sacred/secular division comes not from Scripture but from pagan philosophy. Agreement that reading Scripture with this division of reality as part of our hermeneutic, our method of interpreting the text, causes us to twist the meaning of God's word. Agreement that though this dichotomy can be made to sound spiritual, it is in reality a pernicious error that amounts to a practical denial of the biblical gospel. Yes, to all that, but... What about a person who is skilled in both medicine and in evangelism—wouldn't it be better to pursue the second rather than the first? At least a little better—especially if the surgery only prolongs life a short time and is so demanding the surgeon ends up with little time and energy to use their gifts in evangelism?
And so it went. Good questions, needing good answers, because the answers matter. And because the error at the root of them needs to be seen for what it is: as something deadly, and wrong.
As we all do, the hypothetical surgeon in the question should consider, within a community of trusted and godly friends, the shape of their life and vocation, given God's providential leading in their pilgrimage and calling. But going into that process, this much must be clear: neither evangelism nor surgery has an ontological advantage. Neither is more valuable than the other, nor more eternally significant, nor more intrinsically more pleasing to God, nor less secular and more spiritual.
The biblical gospel is that Christ died not simply to save souls, but to bring the hope of redemption to all that the fall has ruined, as the Christmas carol puts it, "far as the curse is found." Christ's Lordship is over all, and it is that great truth which must be the foundation for our understanding of—and pursuit of—faithfulness.
But the error persists, rather like a plague, infecting so many of God's people. So, it's wise to reflect on what the gospel means, and how the error is antithetical to the gospel.
Questions for reflection and discussion
- Why does a division between sacred and secular seem so attractive? In what ways does it seem to make life easier or simpler or charged with more significance?
- How is a sacred/secular dichotomy reinforced (inadvertently or not) in the evangelical Christian community? In what ways does our postmodern society reinforce the same view of things?
- What questions or issues have been raised in your mind as a result of this study? What plans should you make?