Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Soli Deo Gloria

A few folks have posted comments to ThinkChristian.net's link to my article concerning Zach Johnson's victory last Sunday at Augusta. I think they merit a response, and I want to use this space today to do that.

To begin, evangelism is perhaps the greatest area of guilt and failure that I observe in my relationship with Christ. This makes it a difficult subject on which to write. A failure to "practice what I preach" or a charge of hypocrisy may not be too far from the truth. Perhaps, ironically, this stands as the staunchest reason I SHOULD write on it. What's more, if all we ever spoke on were topics about which we had perfected, then, like Romeo to Mercutio, we would simply repeat to each other, "Peace, peace. Thou talk'st of nothing."

The Lord has called us to share the Gospel with the nations. His final command to his followers was to go and make disciples (Matt 28:19). Paul later explicitly uses the word "evangelist" (2 Tim 4:5). His life, and the lives of many of his contemporaries, purposed to spread this news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to others.

The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing. As my friend Alex Kirk says, Christianity is a movement not a monument. If life indeed consists of humanity futilely pushing a Sisyphussian ball up a rocky incline as people from the ancient Greeks to Camus have articulated, then the kingdom of Jesus Christ is a snowball rolling downhill with unstoppable force, collecting all those in its path and depositing them in a salvation of repentance and rest (Isa 30:15).

We cannot avoid these truths nor should we try. Participating in the advancement of the kingdom and watching the Lord of the universe move, is a privelege.

Paul writes in 1 Cor 9:22 that he has "become all things to all men so that by all possible means [he] might save some." In stiving to share the Gospel, we must attempt to meet people where they are at, to enter into their world and earn the credibility to be heard. I think some of the commenters imply this in their words of acting in love to the world. I love the heart they evidence for this, continuing in the work John Milton articulated when he said he strove to "justify the ways of God to men."

At some point though, we must speak of Christ. We must move from the silent Peter of Good Friday to the vocal Peter in early Acts who boldly confronts a crowd of people with the Gospel.

In my post last week, I wrote, "[L]iving this life of relationship with Christ meant that Zach could not help but share the Gospel with the watching world. . . . he evangelized." One commentor disagreed with this assertion, saying, "I don’t believe that was Zach Johnson’s purpose because it did seem to be a natural response and not contrived to be a 'witness.'"

I think this viewpoint misunderstands the concept of evagelism and witnessing. It is not something to be "contrived." Contrived is fake, insincere, and frankly, unbiblical. When we live a life grafted into the vine of Jesus Christ, a life in truth, our witness takes care of itself.

And a vital part of this is giving credit where credit is due.

When we do good but fail to give credit to Jesus Christ, we feed the culture of humanism that stands at odds with the Christian worldview. Without speaking the name of Jesus, the glory for our good works lands on us. This, loved ones, cannot be. Herein lies the beauty of Johnson's words. Perhaps more than any other sphere of American life, the sports world exalts the humanistic individual accomplishment. The chest thump, the contract hold-out, the "Show me the money," all emerge from sports's womb. And in his moment to say, "Look what I did!", Johnson instead chose to say, "Look what Jesus did."

He DID NOT say Jesus won this tournament for him and did not win it for everyone else. He DID NOT say that Jesus was not with every other golfer every step of the way (in fact, just the opposite is true). He simply gave the credit where the credit was due - naturally, tactfully, and humbly. And yes, evangelism can take those adverbs.

In doing so, he revealed God's goodness to a watching world that wanted to bestow the glory upon him. It was not contrived or fake or manipulative. It was real, honest, humble, and true.

Some people may find this intolerant or oppressive, despite Johnson's tact. This should not surprise us, however. Nothing yet has been done that Jesus did not forsee, and this is no exception: "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).

The cited Campolo study in the comments does have great lessons for Christians in humility, love, and Christ-likeness. We should take heed. However, we should make assumptions from the study with great care. Perhaps the reason many people respond positively to Jesus is because they know the "Buddy Jesus" so widely talked about but not the fiercely loving, speaker of hard words which the Bible also portrays. Furthermore, the above words of Jesus in John 15 call into question the desirability of a totally positive response from the world towards us.

If the world loves us, we ought to question whose we are.

I do not find myself in a place to criticize someone for proclaiming the work Christ has done in his or her life. Cowardice too often creeps into this realm of my life and silences me when I should cry out. I need the lesson and example people like Zach Johnson set for me. Perhaps others do not carry this burden and find themselves able, in good conscience, to hold another opinion. I cannot. That is why I thank God for Zach Johnson.


Anonymous said...


that was incredibly well thought out and well written... thanks for the words.

However, I can see where christians have become overly sensitive to praising Jesus for accomplishments because of the widespread phenomenon called "the prosperity gospel." We don't want to only praise Jesus in the midst of our triumphs and riches. Those are not the "blessings" God has promised us. He has promised himself... and blesses us by giving us a clearer understanding and deeper relationship with Him - which a lot of times is through hardship. Hardship like the failures that Zach Johnson walked through in his life before and during the Masters. I don't believe Zach Johnson meant Jesus was only there on the green with him that day, he was there through all those times as well.

I hope I can also learn to be less critical and take a cue from Zach and others to praise God for the small successes and the big in my life.

Also, someone commented on that site about your post that they were frustrated with praising God for such a petty thing as winning a golf tournament. But God tells us to pray for even our daily bread. How much bread do you think Zach could buy with his win from the tournament? God cares about all things and deserves recognition in all things, no matter how small.

And now I shall step off my tub for the night...

Linda Sue Buhl said...

Thank you for your well thought out explanation of previous post on the Master's Tournament winner -In all things we are to give God the praise - winning the Master's is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work (those who aren't "into" sports don't identify with the challenges of honing those skills). Zach Johnson isn't the issue - neither is the worthiness of the subject matter of one's prayer life (aren't we supposed to seek Him in all things - what part of ALL isn't easily understood?) Thank you for affirming that proclaiming one's faith in a public arena is a good thing.

Megan said...

Ben,I've started reading your blog consitently because almost everytime I read it I read something that just doesn't sit well with me... something I disagree with... and it's coming from someone whose faith I respect and someone who I know thinks deeply about what he believes.

That being said... I'm sure it won't come as a shock that I take issue with all the talk of evangelism. primarily because I take issue with the message that we are spreading.

I believe Jesus was about justice in THIS WORLD and he wants us to fight for that in the name of God, not tell people that they have to believe in Jesus to get to heaven.

Alex said...


why split/choose between the two? I don't think that Jesus did...he talked more about heaven and hell than anyone else in the Bible. He also served more and cared more for the poor than just about anyone in the Bible. The dichotomy between justice in this world v. heaven/hell just isn't warranted based on what Jesus actually said and what he actually did!

I agree that C'ns can overly-emphasize "afterlife alternatives" (to use a P.C. term!) but the corrective for that is not to ignore the reality that A. Everyone will die and B. Everyone will experience one of two "eternity alternatives."

I think true, faithful Christianity is a fully-orbed Christianity that fights for justice and speaks boldly about the need for reconciliation with God. Either one without the other is no gospel at all.

Anonymous said...

hey megan,

I think there is a difference between what Christians want to spread to the world and what actually is associated with being a Christian in America...

We should be trying to spread a gospel, like Alex said, that is both loving AND saving.

Good comment Alex

Jenn Pappa

Jessica Kantrowitz said...

Hey, Ben, your blogs are really well written and thoughtful! I'm glad I stopped by. I'll definitely be back.

And it was great to meet you this weekend! Many blessings on FUNdraising!!


Anonymous said...

One of your best.