By now, I’m sure many of you have read the much-circulated response to a controversial column written by Steve Blow of the Dallas Morning News about the Church’s doctrine of salvation in Christ alone and its traditional teachings on hell. Blow wrote his column this past Sunday in reaction to NFL quarterback Tim Tebow’s pulling out of a scheduled speaking engagement at the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Tebow was allegedly catching some public heat for lending his name to and appearing at a place where the pastor regularly denounces “gays, Mormons, Oprah, Catholics, Obama, etc., etc.” So, because of the pressure, he bailed. And apparently, Robert Jeffress, the pastor at First Baptist, called Tebow a wimp from the pulpit the following Sunday. Blow wrote a column about it. And the reaction to Blow’s column has been swift and prolific and wildly celebrated. The one everybody’s talking about was written by Ron Scates, the Senior Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas.
Now, take a deep breath with me (breathe in….. hold it…. now let it go…. ahhhhhhh…. feel okay? Good.) and let’s look at this for a moment. Not many people have actually read Blow’s column, only third- and fourth-hand sensationalized characterizations of it by his detractors. In defense of those who haven’t read the actual column, it is hard to find. The Morning News makes readers pay for its best on-line material. And, secondly, it’s a lot easier to just read the rabid responses and pretend to hate the writer of this liberal, anti-Christian column. That second point is not a defense. Not at all. It’s just the way things are.
Let’s look at Scates tomorrow. Here’s a link to Blow’s original column from last Sunday. I hope this particular site is still offering the column for free by the time you click on it. It won’t take you long to read the column; it’s only about 600-words.
Blow never suggests in his column that Christians should change their views or relax their doctrines in order to appeal to the masses as has been claimed this week by some of his harsh critics. Yes, he is sarcastic in places — most of the best columnists are. And, yeah, he implies that his own religious beliefs have shifted so that he leaves room for other ways to salvation that don’t necessarily include Christ. But the main point of his column, and the thing that bothers me most, is his assessment that Christians in the United States don’t really believe in hell and they don’t really believe Jesus is the only way to God because if we did, we’d act like it.
I can’t shake that this week. It’s bugging me. Because I understand where he’s coming from.
Blow cites plenty of statistics in his short column. He tells us about a recent survey that found 70-percent of Americans agree with the statement: “Many religions can lead to eternal life.” Those numbers apparently include 57-percent evangelical Christians who also agree. And a religion survey conducted by Baylor University found that only 27-percent of Protestants say their Christian faith is the only path to salvation. Blow confesses that, as a Christian, he too believes “the world is just too wide to say that God cannot move and work in many ways.”
I don’t know if the numbers are correct or not. How would I know? They’re disturbing, for sure. But, I’m just not certain of the reliability of the statistics. What I am dead certain of is the truth behind Steve Blow’s most damning accusation against Christians: our actions speak much louder than our words when it comes to what we believe and don’t believe about the Christian faith and that undeniable testimony is that we don’t believe in hell or in Jesus as the only way to eternal life. Based on his own experiences as a professing Christian in our Christian churches, he’s concluded that
“most Christians really don’t believe this one-and-only path to salvation. If we do, what monsters we must be. There’s no way we could sit complacently in our favorite pew Sunday after Sunday, or devote such energy to building pretty new sanctuaries, when most of humanity faces eternal torment without our intervention. If we truly believed, we would quit our jobs and spend every waking moment trying to save people from the flames — just as we would save someone from a burning house.”
This is precisely why the Church is losing its kids and losing its credibility as a witness to something different and better and higher than what this world offers everybody every day. Because we’re not acting or living in ways that are different or better or higher than the ways this world acts and lives every day. What the culture sees, and what a lot of our own children and young people experience, is that we Christians preach and teach and sing about our concern for those without Christ, but do very little about it. What else should people think about us? When they see us bicker and argue about worship styles and leadership structures while doing nothing to share the Good News with our across-the-street neighbors, what other conclusion could they draw? While they watch us build new classroom wings and take ski trips, sit in more conferences and attend more meetings, and ignore everybody who doesn’t believe like we do, can we really blame them for thinking we don’t really believe what we say we believe? A whole bunch of us are spending more time and energy and money on fighting for our right to own guns than we are pleading with our best friends to submit to the Lordship of Jesus. We’re working 70-hour weeks and buying huge houses and driving four cars and piling the money up in our retirement accounts while paying no attention to the dozens of people we see every day who do not know Christ.
What else is the world to believe?
That’s where Steve Blow is right.
He says in his column that Jeffress’ traditional Christian faith is a “relic that is fading fast.” That’s a correct statement unless God’s Church begins to sacrifice and serve and genuinely live out our doctrines in ways that eternally impact the lost in our communities.