Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Are Our Blind Spots?

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 7:3-5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 23 July 2015

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:3-5)
Impact Magazine (Aug-Sep 2015, p40)
One of my book reviews appeared in the latest edition of Impact Magazine (vol 39, no. 4, Aug-Sep 2015). I managed to shorten it for publication purposes. It was a review of Collin Hansen's thought-provoking book entitled, "Blind Spots." For a longer version, you can read it here. I find the book very illuminating as it points out ways in which Christians often gravitate toward a one-dimensional emphasis in a three-dimensional world.

In general, churches tend to emphasize at least one of three perspectives. The first group is called "courage" which refers to people striving to stand up for truth, to speak out the truth aloud, and to protest, profess, and protect the dignity of the faith. They are the vocal ones who would refuse to lay down their convictions but would be ready to take to the streets to make sure their voices are heard. They assert the need to be reverent to the truth, the pure truth, and nothing but the truth. Of course, they might invoke God's Name in the process. By doing so, this group believe that the gospel is about speaking the Word of God into the world, that the world may hear and heed.
"And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15)

Everything is seen on the basis of black and white. Good works alone do not save people. It is the Word of God spoken out that is crucial. Faith comes by hearing and the gospel is the spoken Word of God. Who can argue against that?

The second group are those in the "compassion" camp. Here, they stress good works, social involvement, acts of compassion, and all manner of care and love for the down, the marginalized, the underprivileged, the discouraged, and the lowly in society. A favourite quote among them would be the famous phrase uttered by an unknown person: "Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words." Erroneously attributed to St Francis of Assisi, this quote essentially tells us that actions speak louder than words. They aim to bring back dignity to the poor. By serving them just like Christ, they would be sharing the gospel via good works. People applaud such good works and acts of love. Unfortunately, they appear very similar to many other social help groups, both secular and other religious groups, which neutralizes their very identity as Christians. Their motive is about being relevant to the world of needs. If there is a need, there they will be. When it comes to speaking out, they may even shun away from direct debate and let their actions instead do all the talking. Everything they see are more gray than binary, which makes them more reserved about direct verbal engagement.

Then there is the third group called, "commissioned" which are concerned mainly with building up the Church, preaching the gospel, and reaching the lost. They believe in the renewal and revival of the Church, plus the need to take the gospel to outermost parts of the earth. They believe in Matthew 28:18-20 like many Christians, but take the step of obedience a few notches higher. They send out missionaries to faraway lands. They embark on missions and evangelistic outreaches. They do not wait for people to come to them. Instead, they go to where the people are, especially non-Christians. Their heart is for the salvation of all people. Whatever they see is not a matter of black and white, or gray and colour, as long as the gospel is preached.

The central idea of the book is that Christians have largely practiced just one of the three thrusts. The moment they play up one part, the other two parts become less noticeable. Those who trumpet truth loudly are sometimes accused of irrelevant to the needs of society. Those who show compassion only are criticized for not demonstrating the truth of the gospel. Those who are in the commissioned camp are so salvation-focused that their world is simply, salvation, salvation, salvation. All of these groups exhibit blindspots that only when working together can they discover and address their deficiencies. Hansen quotes the concern expressed by Pastor R. Kent Hughes on those who have compassion as the #1 priority:
"We devoted nearly half our budget to missions in our community and around the world. We welcomed our neighbors struggling with disabilities to worship among us and sought to meet their physical and spiritual needs. Church members opened their doors to refugees and immigrants learning English and other skills needed to survive and eventually thrive in the United States. My friends visited prisoners and opened their homes to ex-convicts looking to start over as new believers in Jesus Christ. Apart from this generosity of energy, time, and other resources, Hughes warned us, we could gain the world and lose our souls." (Colin Hansen, Blind Spots, Chicago, IL: Crossway, 2015, p28)

Those with "courage" as priority fight for the truth, but their words may come across as insensitive and rude. So what if they have the truth? Even if they win the argument, they may pretty much lose the persons they are trying to reach. Their blind spot is typically blaming the world.

Blindspots are essentially one-dimensional thinking in a three-dimensional world. Jesus does not simply speak the truth, He lifts people up in care and love. He does not just give the Samaritan woman the hope of eternal life, he speaks into the woman's life, of her many husbands. He does not simply tell us the Great Commission, he tells us a whole lot of other things like to be holy, to abide in Him, to keep God's commandments, to know the truth and to let the truth set us free.

What are the blind spots we have in our churches? What are our personal blindspots? I think one of the ways to address them is to recruit, and engage with people who are different from us. If a Church is strong on any one emphasis, seek to bring in ideas and people that reflect the other perspectives more. If the Church is lacking in one area, connect with churches that are strong and fervent in that. One of the reasons for the splintering of the Church is because people disagree or do not get along well. Through differences, they split, they form other churches, and they start their own movement. By separating, the Church lose the diversity so needed for a healthy Church. If a Church has only one type of people who insist on only traditional hymns, we miss out on the creativity and vitality of modern worship choruses. Like an orchestra, we do not want everyone to be violinists. We need other string pieces, the percussion instruments, the keyboard, the electronics, and others. For Church is like an ensemble brought together by a common purpose.

The Gospel in 3D
Is your Church one-dimensional in your practice? How do you know what is your Church's character or emphasis? Let me suggest one hint. Look at your Church annual budget. If a sizeable amount is allocated toward missions, your Church is more of a "commissioned" type. A Church that spends a larger percentage on social concerns and community care will likely be called "compassioned." A Church that does likewise on teaching, education, speaking out, etc, will be the "courage" type. How do we do all three? Maybe, aim towards a proportionate number for each of the three.

THOUGHT: The gospel is tall enough to shine the truth for all to see; deep enough to minister to the needs of people; and wide enough to be shared across all nations. The Church is called to be ready always to do her part in ALL of these.


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