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Why can't Christians keep their faith private?

The secular age we're living in seems to think that religion is best kept to the margins. Some are simply annoyed that Christians want to express their faith in the workplace or be located in Students Unions. At least from this side of the fence, it reads like a frustration that Christians wont retreat into Chaplaincy buildings, private piety and keep out of the headlines.

It feels like the best we're permitted is that we can have Jesus, so long as we keep him in our pockets and only let him out at Christmas (and sometimes not even then! - Winterval anyone?).... Or we can have our Christian beliefs but we'd better not let them affect the way we live (which sounds very much like being asked to be a hypocrite...). The world that is telling us this seems to be exterting a very public worldview, claiming all of life for itself... but putting that aside for a while, can this pocket deity Christianity work? And if not that, then what will it look like for a Christians to go public?

1. Jesus.
Jesus is portrayed in Colossians chapter 1 as being the one who made all things, who made them for himself and who holds all things together. That is to say, if Jesus stopped interfering with people's lives they would cease to exist. Creation would crumble and disappear. Furthermore, Jesus is the one who lived and died to reconcile all things to himself. He has an interest in relationship with all things that makes everyone else look half-hearted - he's not just in it for Christmas. He's not content to be kept out of sight.

2. Christians
The third chapter of Colossians turns to how a Christian should live. It tells us that we're to wear humility and kindness, love and patience. That these are the marks of Christian living, in relationship with other people. A Christian who keeps their faith private had better not be seen doing any of these things.

Then we're told that whatever a Christian does is to be done for Jesus. All things. Examples are cited: marriage, family life and the workplace. Christian faith is engaged in "all of life under the Lordship of Christ" (a favourite phrase of Richard Cunningham- UCCF Director). Christians who want to keep their faith private had better not love their spouse, or bring up their children well, nor work wholeheartedly - for to do such things is to live out their faith in all of life.

Living all of life under the Lordship of Christ
That means a Christian is not just an evangelism machine. When I worked for a bank I wasn't there to evangelise - though Jesus was the subject of conversation on many occasions. On day one I was asked what I was passionate about, and we continued to talk about our passions together throughout the year when we could. I was there to work wholeheartedly, and not just giving my manager eye-service but wholehearted service even when I wasn't being watched. I was there to work for Jesus, to be the best bank clerk I could be. That takes some thinking through!

All of this means I must think hard about how to work Christianly, how to eat Christianly, how to love Christianly, how to vote Christianly, how to rest Christianly, how to speak Christainly. Christian life is not mere private piety. Christians can't be anti-intellectual, anti-emotional, anti-physical. Rather we're all for wholehearted, wholeheaded, wholebodied life.

Christians can't be those who abstain from life, merely dive bombing into evangelise. Speaking for Jesus is vital and something perfectly normal. Who doesn't talk about what they love? And who could not speak of Jesus who is holding everything together! Jesus who comes into God's world to rescue people. Jesus who is the ultimate evangelist - good news personified. We're to be speaking for Jesus... and to be living for him. And of course, in varying degrees that's what Christians all do. Every decision is either submitted to Christ's word or isn't... most of the time we get on with living a quiet life in Christ, winning respect and gaining a hearing for the one thing we love more than anything else.

It's time to get involved. We're not to leave this world yet, but live in it. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul tells Christians to pray for all leaders so that they may live a quiet life. Politics is a Christian concern as much as anything else in life. A Christian student should engage heartily in their studies and in student politics, student sports, student societies and student welfare (as indeed may already do!).

Anyone left in a Christin ghetto needs to be rescued from it and set up camp in the heart of student life. The lecture theatre and the library, the sportfield, the bar and the coffee house are where people are. People made in God's image. Marred by sin. People who, like us, need relationship. People who like us need Jesus. And they are where Christians ought also to be found. That's normal Christian living.

Jesus is the one who made all things. Everything is his handiwork. Everything is God's good creation. Chapter 4 of that letter to Timothy says that what God makes is to be enjoyed. No hint of abstaining from good things like food and marriage - but rather a thankful enjoyment of them. Christian are, after all, those who "live life to the full", who live life the way it was always meant to be. And that has got to be interesting, and engaging, and enjoyable.

Living for Jesus, speaking for Jesus. Yes please.

Meanwhile, remembering The Man Who Brought People to Jesus.
Passion Podcast with Chris Tomlin


  1. Dave,

    Thank you for your post. It's a good reminder for me here at work, for majority of my co-workers are not saved.

    Paul in College Station, Texas

  2. Great post, Dave.

    I think that one of the fundamental issues at the root of this problem is a misunderstanding of the nature of faith and knowledge.

    Our society largely assumes that faith is believing against, or in the absence of, evidence. Hence it is a matter purely of personal preference. If faith is like that, then why can't Christians keep their faith private?

    But faith isn't like that, and it's that misunderstanding we urgently need to address.

    "Total Truth" by Nancy Pearcey is a very good analysis of the sacred/secular divide in our thinking. But for the most part it just assumes and asserts that this is wrong rather than arguing and demonstrating that the divide is wrong. Perhaps this is enough given that it's written for a Christian audience, but we need to be able to explain to others why you can't split life off into disconnected public/private, sacred/secular and so on.

    At the root of both modernist false hope and postmodernist despair is the disconnection of reason and faith. We need to be explaining, arguing and demonstrating that in all knowledge the two work together, and to explain to people the grounds on which we are asking them to believe the Christian faith. We're not asking them to believe on the basis of absolute, God-like certainty in the face of incontrovertable evidence (reason without faith); neither are we asking them to believe blindly (faith without reason). Rather, we call people to use their reason and faith together to humbly receive God's revelation of himself.

    We've just been discussing this in the Christians in Humanities (CHUMS) group my CU runs. I'll try and get the accompanying notes up on my blog sometime soon.

  3. "...frustrated that Christians won't retreat into chaplaincies and keep out of the headlines."

    not quite sure what you mean by this, Dave... I hope you aren't suggesting that university (or other) chaplaincies function as Christian ghettos? Au contraire.

    Sadly as I prepared this Thursday to take a group of students to journey to the gates of Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment to pray for the government not to renew Trident, those who wanted to accompany me included a Jew and a Marxist - but sadly no conservative evangelicals... ;-)

    More seriously, I'm slightly concerned that some Christians are being sold / buying into a myth that they are a discriminated against minority, when in fact it seems to me that there is greater tolerance than there has ever been (viz the current government policy to actively welcome more Christian schools/academies: hardly faith being 'kept to the margins')...

    BTW, did you see the barely reported detail that the British Airways Christian Fellowship, and the Salvation Army officers based at Heathrow, both took BAs side in the dispute, describing the press reporting as "unfair and imbalanced", commending BAs fairness to all religious groups?

    Tongue wedged firmly in cheek: I wonder how happy Christians upset by the original BA decision would feel about pagans having an equal right to wear their pentangles at check-in? ;-)

  4. Hi Mark,

    "Chaplaincies" implied in the sense of the way can often be viewed, like church buildings, as a place to retreat from campus life instead of being involved.... I happily grant that Chaplaincies themselves aren't inherently removed from the rest of the student world indeed they're much more integrated than they appear - albeit they seem to have a rather undefined role (to use your words...)

    Christians have to engage in the political processes. Doesn't necessarily mean an evangelical will want to go on every protest :) Not sure I would only use "conservative evangelical" to describe the CU guys... we're probably a little broader than that but it rather depends how you use terminology!!


    I think we're seeing a mix of "tolerance" and opposition, which is nothing new... albeit with a bit more media coverage than before.

    I'd rather confrontations be avoided and I think relationship can normally cover over a multitude of differences... that said, I think Christians, like everyone else, have the right to put their case.

    Personally, people can wear whatever they want as a religious symbol... most of our culture just the sacred iPod...

  5. Thank you, Dave, for clarification


  6. Glad to, careless use of words - as demonstrated by me - can cause all kinds of unnecessary confusion.

    Must catch up with you "in person" again sometime.


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