Writings by Cole Huffman

One Apple, Two Deficits

You’ve heard it said: “There are three problems with this”—whatever this is—or, “Two issues with that”—whatever that is. We make such lists all the time because there are plenty of problems and issues with most anything in a fallen world. None of us are usually exhaustive in chronicling the problems or issues we see in this or that. But exhaustiveness is not really the burden of proof in assessment. Accuracy is.

I suggest two primary deficits in the church’s witness today, or how Christians engage the most pressing contemporary issues of our time: a repentance deficit and a conviction deficit. Our repentance deficit makes us seem superior. Our conviction deficit makes us accommodate. Both deficits hamper the progress of the gospel of Jesus.

Take first the repentance deficit in our witness. Consider it in connection with the contemporary issue of gay rights, including advocacy for same-sex marriage. Repentance in Scripture conveys a change of mind. Those advocating for the normalization of homosexuality would love nothing more than to find Christians changing our minds on the merits of gay lifestyles. But the change of mind repentance achieves is toward God not away from Him. As one turns toward God repentantly she wants His will and way more than her own. And yet as she practices repentance she comes to realize just how much of her own will and way she naturally wants. This is self-righteousness and it has to be supplanted by deeper gratitude for God’s grace to us and humble yearning for His holiness. These are fruits of repentance toward God.

When it’s not apparent to others—as with many in the gay community—how the gospel of Jesus Christ pulls our self-righteousness out of us it is evidence of the damage our repentance deficit has caused. Our self-righteousness should be odious to them and others because its good fruit spoiled. And so we should engage this and other contemporary issues of our time by establishing the levelness of the ground at the cross; to say first, “Before we talk about your sin, let’s talk about mine and the overwhelming love and power of God available in Jesus’ grace.”

We have a conviction deficit too, an impulse that shies away from talking about “your sin” as sin. The Snow White story is instructive here. Remember when the evil queen bent on Snow’s destruction disguised herself as an old farmer’s wife? She presented a poisoned apple to Snow. The girl was hesitant to take it until the queen cut it in half, eating the good half herself. Snow’s fateful bite into the poisoned half put her in a kind of death-sleep from which her prince would have to rescue her.

That’s the church’s conviction deficit in effect. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, in his book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, describes the doctrinal and moral slumber of what he calls accommodationist Christianity:

“In [its] quest to be inclusive and tolerant and up-to-date, the accommodationists imitated [Jesus’] scandalously comprehensive love, while ignoring his scandalously comprehensive judgments. They used his friendship with prostitutes as an excuse to ignore his explicit condemnation of fornication and divorce. They turned his disdain for the religious authorities of his day and his fondness for tax collectors and Roman soldiers into a thin excuse for privileging the secular realm over the sacred. While recognizing his willingness to dine with outcasts and converse with nonbelievers, they deemphasized the crucial fact that he had done so in order to heal them and convert them—ridding the leper of his sickness, telling the Samaritans they would worship in spirit and in truth, urging the woman taken in adultery to go and from now on sin no more” (108).

The accommodationists bite into a poisoned apple. When we give in to cultural forces’ enticing us to change our minds about what God says our sin and sickness is, it is evidence of the damage our conviction deficit has caused. It is repentance away from God; I think of Jesus’ words to the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira in particular in this context (Rev. 2:12-29).

In my witness to and engagement with the world around me, I’m trying to lead with repentance while holding conviction. People may not agree with what I tell them but I find they’re usually more inclined to listen if I’m faithful to grace and truth both. That remains the signature of Jesus—grace and truth—the lasting effect He has on this world (John 1:14-18).
Posted by Cole Huffman at 10:56 AM
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