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In a culture that is increasingly turning away from Christianity, Matt Chandler has an exciting and optimistic outlook – it’s a great time to be a Christian. Faith in Christ has always thrived when it is at the margins of society. He gives a brief history by reminding the reader that the early church grew in the middle of the Roman Empire which ‘attempted to stamp out the faith’ (pg.21). In the first half of the 4th century, Constantine was about to become Roman Emperor and converted to Christianity and by the end of that same century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and eventually spread across what is now known as the ‘western world’ – Christendom had begun.
However, Chandler treats Christendom with caution, calling it a ‘mirage’ (pg. 33). Even though there was a time when people would go to church and call themselves Christians, Chandler writing as an American, cannot ignore the ‘attempted genocide of the Native American people, with slavery, with Jim Crow racial segregation laws’ (pg. 33). He also thinks that the marginalisation of Christians will help distinguish those who are truly Christians from those who are not, so he does not mourn the end of Christendom.
As society has shifted its views on Christianity, Chandler outlines three different responses from Christians which could be partly motivated by fear of the move away from Christendom. He argues that Christians consume culture, trying to stay relevant and adapt with the latest trends in the hope of attracting more people to the faith, often at the neglect of the gospel. Another response is to convert culture to reflect biblical principles within the nation. Chandler uses an example of the Christian Right in the United States who make alliances with corrupted politicians and political parties. Finally, he says Christians condemn culture by trying to remove themselves from the world around them completely, which actually makes sharing God’s love for people pretty difficult if the church are not willing to be a part of their local community and engage with society.
Chandler proposes a fourth option – courage. He emphasises that it is not a strategy to follow, but a ‘posture’ (pg. 19). Courage can be found when Christians take their eyes off of themselves and look to God. God’s wisdom and knowledge is far greater – He can see the bigger picture.
What I love about this book, is that it addresses the fear that grips so many believers in the West and practically helps readers to live out courage on a daily basis. So often Christians (myself included) shy away from telling our family, friends, neighbours and strangers the good news of Jesus because quite simply, we are often afraid – even if we don’t want to admit it.
Chandler says that the implications of our courage is holiness as we seek to follow Jesus above everything which means our lives will look different than the culture around us. Courage looks like devotion to those in the church and outside of it – encouraging Christians in their faith, telling people the gospel to those who need to hear it and playing a part in our society. Courage looks like evangelism – loving others by pointing them to the One who loves them completely, who is love. Courage looks like hospitality, especially to people who are not like us. God is hospitable to all people through Jesus welcoming sinners into eternity by the way of the cross.
The only part of the book that I found myself disagreeing with (I spent most of it agreeing enthusiastically throughout) was when Chandler writes about engaging with people. He says to ask them “what do you do?”. As someone who has come a long way in not defining myself by the job that I do and who has met several people who have struggled with unemployment, this question can make people feel uncomfortable and even low. I agree we should be engaging with everyone, but perhaps ask them what they enjoy doing or what they are passionate about as a way of getting to know someone.
The title of this book is great because it is the message that Christians need. Take heart by taking it to heart. We should really pay attention to what Chandler writes because it is timely, to the point, brutally honest and real. It’s easy and perhaps natural to react out of fear when we see Christianity pushed out of the mainstream, but like he says:
‘We tend to think courage is the lack of fear, but that’s just not true. If there’s no fear, there can’t be courage.’ (pg. 40).
So let’s take heart! This is the book that I have been wanting someone to write and as my #OneWord365 for 2018 is ‘courage’, what brilliant timing for this publication to coincide with it!
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6