“Over the hump” or “CORE 300 reading response”

This paper was written in the spring of 2001–my junior year at Spring Arbor University. It’s a reflection on three books we chose to read during the class and how they changed, or didn’t change our thinking. “Core 300: Christian thought and worldview” was the class title.

I’m over the hump. No, I’m not 40 years old and half way through my life on earth. I am simply over half way done with my undergraduate degree. My junior year of college is nearly complete. Starting this year, I had no idea how drastically my attitude toward life would shift.

Being a junior caused me to think about things I had not given much consideration before. I began worrying about a job after school. I began worrying about bills and where I would live. I began worrying about finding a wife. But at the same time, God provided me with counters to my worries. He set my mind at peace about my future occupation. He provided support for my lonely soul. He filled my mind with more important issues. Among those issues were, what do I truly believe? and what am I doing about what I believe? Both Introduction to Philosophy and Core 300 helped me wrestle with these issues brought to the fore of my life by the Lord.

Chuck Colson’s How Now Shall We Live? helped guide me in answering the first issue I faced – what I truly believe. I began reading Colson’s book with high expectations. Last year, Scott McFarlane gave all Ormston RA’s the book for Christmas and told us we had to read it within a year of our graduation from college. I was pleased to see it on Core 300’s reading list because I wanted to read it but felt I wouldn’t get around to it by the time I graduated.

I have always had an interest in apologetics. How Now Shall We Live? provided a great foundation for defending the Christian worldview. Colson’s set up solid reasoning for choosing Christianity over any other religion or philosophy. Reading the book encouraged my faith. It provided reasoning outside the Bible to believe in God and Christ. I feel better equipped to provide answers to those searching when the situation arises. I pray God will take advantage of this and give me situations to glorify Him through sharing what I have learned.

Lee Stroble’s The Case for Christ accomplished much of the same. Stroble wrote the book after converting from atheism; he researched Christianity in response to his wife’s conversion. Stroble’s book is quite impressive. It records interviews with many of the nation’s top scholars. All defend the authority of the gospels, claiming the information held within is historically accurate.

Again, the reading encouraged my faith significantly. What I believe is true, I thought. A lot of evidence supports my beliefs. Yet, at the end of the book, I couldn’t help but feel I had read a slightly biased account. Stroble did not interview any opponents of Christianity. Although he did attack all he interviewed with popular arguments against evidence for Christ, he never allowed non-Christians to make their case against Christianity.

Despite this shortcoming, The Case for Christ accomplished a great deal in my life. I became outfitted with hard evidence to defend my faith. This evidence is, according to Stroble’s trained eye, strong enough to stand up in a court of law.

The last book, which I have only read the first half of, is Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. Taking a completely different approach than How Now Shall We Live? and The Case for Christ, The Divine Conspiracy suggests Christians need to interpret scripture slightly different than today’s typical pastor. Willard points out Jesus’ focus on “the kingdom” and says our lives need to be focused on kingdom works rather than love and forgiveness. These both come with the kingdom, Willard says, but should not be our focus.
Willard’s argument may very well have had the greatest impact upon my life. It provided a fresh look on Christianity — one I needed to hear. Willard asks the reader to recall the last time they heard a pastor preach on the kingdom. Outside of Ron Kopico, I could not remember such a sermon.

At one point in the book, Willard tells of influential Christians who have skewed perspectives concerning a Christian’s calling. One felt the single factor determining salvation was belief. Absolutely no crossover exists between a person’s normal life and belief in Christ, this person said. Belief leading to salvation is an isolated detail carrying no influence into personal life. How sad, I thought. At that point, I asked the Lord to make me a person of influence. I want eyes to be on me so I can shed the true light of Christ upon people. I want people to analyze my actions and beliefs and realize they line up with scripture.

Willard’s book contained other content that challenged me as well. His interpretation of the sermon on the mount was one I had never heard before. He says the beatitudes were not meant to be seen as a new “how to get blessed” list. Rather, Jesus wanted to show how far the grace of God reaches. In the eyes of the world, the beatitudes describe the least of all people — a “holy roller” one could say. But that is exactly the person Jesus wants working for his kingdom. No longer do I wish I mourned more so I could be comforted (v. 4) or was persecuted more so I could obtain the kingdom of heaven (v. 10). Rather, I strive to be a worker in Christ’s kingdom. I desire to exhibit meekness when Jesus wants me to be meek. I want be a peacemaker when the situation arises. And if I am obedient in these situations, God will bless me.

The insight Willard offers in the proceeding chapter opened my eyes even more. Willard continues on the theme of the sermon on the mount, focusing on the “you have heard it was said…but I say unto you…” passages. His explanation of these teachings was very unique. Once again, Jesus is focusing on the kingdom with his words and not establishing a new law. He was telling how the mind of a kingdom-seeking Christian would operate. Not only should a Christian not have sex before marriage, but also a man should not look upon a woman with the intention of desiring sex with her.

Willard states it: “So far from being additional laws to crush us or show us we can’t make it on our own, the separate parts are distinct perspectives on the sweet life of love and power, of truth and grace, to those who count of Jesus can even now lead in his kingdom.”

What freedom one can have over sin! Jesus offers escape from natural desires. Sure, beautiful woman will catch a man’s eye. That isn’t sin. But with the kingdom at work a person’s life, one can appreciate the beauty of God’s creation and leave it at that.

Willard gave an appropriate example. A man desired to live purely and decided to isolate himself from all women. He did not want look lustfully upon a woman as the verse says. The man certainly accomplished his mission by not looking upon women; he never had the opportunity. But he wasn’t living in the freedom of the kingdom. He forgot his heart is the source of sin. Jesus doesn’t want to change our acts as much as change the source of our actions. With Christ living within a man, he can function within society normally and not have to worry about sinning through lust.

While reading the first half of The Divine Conspiracy, a picture formed in my head. It was a picture of a tightrope walker, holding a long pole in both hands for balance, high above a net. I asked myself, is Christ my pole, or my net. Is he controlling my destiny or securing my destiny? Am I living in his kingdom now, or am I just living to get in his kingdom. Christ’s life, death and resurrection made God’s kingdom available to us now. I must live in it now.

God knew and met my needs. He knew what I would face my junior year of college and placed information in my path to help me deal with the problems. What do I truly believe in? I believe in God who created the universe with the intention of showering his love upon it. One of those acts of love was to send his son into that creation to die, only to rise from the dead and conquer the sin created by man’s rebellion. Those who chose to accept and live for Christ can join in Jesus’ triumph over death and live for eternity with the creator of the universe.

And what am I doing about what I believe? Well, I wish I could say I’m doing more. The readings I encountered this semester challenged me to take my commitment to Christ to the next level. I want to live in the freedom God makes available to me as His follower. I want to live a more pure life, my mind and actions being kingdom-driven rather than self-motivated. I want my natural desires and reactions to reflect the heart of God rather than the sin of fallen man.

Joel Maust

Joel Maust is a blogger, marketer and photographer living in the beautiful Flathead Valley of northwest Montana.

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