Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Universal Quest

John Stott has been at the heart of evangelical renewal in the United Kingdom for the last half century and now, at age 85, is increasingly recognized as a senior statesman of evangelical Christianity in the West. What Billy Graham has been to evangelical preaching, Stott has been to evangelical teaching.

This month’s Christianity Today (October 2006) features an interview with Stott that includes one exchange I want to share with you. The interviewer asks him “What do we need to do to reach our own (meaning the West’s) increasingly pagan society?” Following is Stott’s response, which I think speaks directly to our mission at West Houston.

“I think we need to say that our secular culture is not as secular as it looks. These so-called secular people are engaged in a quest for at least three things. The first is transcendence. It’s interesting in a so-called secular culture how many people are looking for something beyond. I find that a great challenge to the quality of our Christian worship. Does it offer people what they are instinctively looking for, which is transcendence, the reality of God?

"The second is significance. Almost everybody is looking for his or her own personal identity. Who am I, where do I come from, where am I going to, what is it all about? That is a challenge to the quality of our Christian teaching. We need to teach people who they are. They don’t know who they are. They are human beings made in the image of God, although that image has been defaced.

"The third is their quest for community. Everywhere people are looking for community, for relationships of love. This is a challenge to our fellowship. I’m very fond of I John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.” The same invisible God who once made himself visible in Jesus now makes himself visible in the Christian community, if we love one another.”

This is the kind of clear instruction Stott is famous for. Our worship should engage peoples’ hunger for transcendence, our teaching their desire for significance, and our fellowship their need for community. Much easier said than done, of course. But the main point is simply this: don’t be fooled by how secular (re: pagan) our culture seems. Underneath the superficial surface people struggle with the same universal desires as always, perhaps now even more pronounced because of the superficiality of our age. They long to connect with something beyond themselves, to know their lives mean something in the larger scheme of things, and to experience meaningful relationships beyond the addictive but un-nourishing fare of cell phone-wireless internet-blogosphere acquaintance-keeping.

Here’s the irony. We all long for these things. So, as Christ-followers our most effective “outreach” is simply to pursue these as the people of God and invite people to pursue them with us. It’s not a program or a strategy. It’s about being a people who are experiencing the transcendent God, knowing our significance in Christ, and living out authentic community in the Spirit.

Simple. Not easy. But hugely worthwhile.


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