I get it. It makes sense to live for personal fulfillment. It makes total sense to chase after individual wealth. It makes sense to seek pleasure and comfort, to avoid suffering and shame. It makes sense to pursue sexual desires without needless restraint.
It makes sense that my body belongs to me and the greatest form of self-expression is to be who I am. It makes sense that a chromosome or a courtroom shouldn’t determine my lifestyle. It makes sense that the tissue of a womb can be disposable. It makes sense that morality is a matter of personal choice.
It makes sense that all living matter is a matter of chance. It makes sense that God probably doesn’t exist and aliens probably do. It makes sense that if God did exist he wouldn’t allow evil to simultaneously exist. It also makes sense that if God existed his greatest desire would be my happiness.
It makes sense that a truth claim is arrogant and oppressive. It makes sense to make such a claim. It makes sense that human institutions and religions are inherently dubious, though the humans within them are basically good. It makes sense that I know what’s best for me.
This Is “Common” Sense
This, my fellow Americans, is what has become our common sense. Whether we like it or not, these are now the shared values and understandings of our society. Mind you, “common sense” doesn’t claim that these principles are necessarily true. It says something more. That they are obviously true—so much so that what is commonly understood need not and should not be challenged.
Since common sense is dependent on a community of ideas, it is subject to changes within that community. This makes common sense neither static nor objective, but transient. What made complete sense to the majority of my neighbors yesterday might well be inscrutable to them tomorrow.
As Christians in the West, we are a shrinking minority.
Consequently, our traditional beliefs are becoming increasingly nonsensical. We who were once seen by some as thoughtful and rational are now radical and closed-minded. Cultural respect for us may be a luxury of the past. Like expired currency, such favorable opinions are quickly falling out of circulation. Within my lifetime, I realize, we may completely lose the social category of a nice Christian.
So What Now?
So how do we adapt? First of all, I think we should embrace the radical nature of the Christian message. Apart from the work of the Spirit, the natural person will never accept what appears to be foolish. Personal evangelism, now more than ever, puts me on the fringe. But the fringe isn’t always a bad place to be. The voice of outsiders has power because it confronts monotony. A musical note struck off key is the one most easily recognized. Now is not the time for us to try to cohere the Christian message to a shared sensibility.
We should keep Christianity weird.
But, let’s be honest, no parent wants their kids to be weird. I certainly work hard so that my children are not socially inept. Yet all of us must prepare our children for life as outsiders. As much as we hate to say it, our children, should they choose to follow Christ, must be ready to suffer. The Christian home may be a safe place of sorts, a temporal sanctuary from the onslaught of the world’s common sense. We try to provide this shelter, but we are simultaneously training our children to push against the natural thought patterns of the world.
More than ever they will need strength of character and deep-rooted convictions in order to face the ideological gauntlet of the academy and workplace.
Such an outlook actually filters into all of discipleship. I’m convinced this means that fresh converts to Christianity will need a fresh form of catechizing, no matter their age. They will need to know what they believe and why, as well as practical apprenticeship in the life of a Jesus follower.
I’ve always viewed the metaphor of taking up one’s cross to represent personal sacrifice and commitment in discipleship. But more and more I also see the elements of shame and social exclusion that are integral in such imagery.
New believers will need to know that what is common for the Christian is altogether uncommon to the world. To take up your cross, to tear out your eye, to hate your family, to sell all you have, to rejoice in suffering—frankly, the words of Jesus to potential disciples have always bordered absurd.
Embracing this uncommonness brings us to the incredible power of the church gathered. As humans, we innately desire community—shared values, resources, and purpose. As those who are currently experiencing life as foreigners in exile, we are no different.
When I am overwhelmed by never feeling at home in this world, I find inexplicable comfort in the foretaste of heaven that is the church, in the coming together around the common faith, common baptism, and common bread that we share. And when we begin to suffer together on the fringes of society, I believe, we may come to experience again the significance and joy of having all things common.