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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Are You An Innie Or An Outie Christian

Not because there are two kinds of Christians, but because there are two ways a Christian can respond to life that we have the title that we have for this post. A Christian can respond to life's different challenges by first thinking of how their behavior and beliefs will affect themselves or by first thinking of what impact their actions and beliefs will have on others. For example, suppose you, as a Christian, are tempted to do sin A. Do you first think about whether you will still be saved if you commit this sin or do you first think about how others will be affected by the sin?

Now, let's work with a concrete example instead. Suppose you are in a video store and you are tempted to buy some pornographic videos? Do you first worry whether you will still be saved or how embarrassed you would be if you were caught or, do you do you first think of how you would be supporting the humiliation and degradation of the women involved or you worry about the pain others would feel if they knew you were buying the videos?

Here, we are using the word 'innie' for introverted and the word 'outie' for extroverted. And we are somewhat using the MBTI use of the words introverted and extroverted. Thus, we have been asking what is our source for motivation in Christian decision making. The Christian introvert finds their motivation and energy internally by first asking what will happen to them while the Christian extrovert is more concerned about the impact their behavior has on others including God. 

The difference between the two, the innie and outie Christians,  remains even more stark when comparing how they respond to the needs of the world around them. The introverted Christian, the one who is more concerned about what happens to them and their own salvation, will be most likely try to hide from the world and live in a bubble. Sometimes, that bubble will consist of one or two extra helpings of doctrine and/or the most recent Christian theories on life that helped build the bubble. The extroverted Christian, the one who is more concerned about what happens to others, will try to respond to the world and help those who are suffering. 

The key difference between how the innie and outie Christians relates to the world can be illustrated with this analogy. Suppose there is an airplane that is suffering from midair mechanical problems. The innie Christian will be content with merely handing out parachutes while the outie Christian will radio for help on how to fix the problems. The outie Christian might also hand out parachutes. 

This difference between the two can be seen in real life. On the one hand, the innie Christian will respond to the suffering and oppression of others by telling those in distress what to believe to be saved. However, the innie Christian will probably not lift a finger to either provide relief from suffering or protect those being who are being oppressed. The rationale employed by the innie Christian here is what good is it to save the afflicted from earthly hazards if they will end up in hell anyway. We should note that in restricting their activity to just preaching the Gospel, innie Christians can sometimes avoid their own personal traumas by limiting their involvement with others to just witnessing.

But to say that innie Christians would never help others in distress is an unfair overstatement. There are times when the innie Christian does help others. But the innie Christian does so under one of two conditions. The first condition is that the person they are helping is one of them.The second condition for the innie Christian to help others is that the innie Christian must have a complicated, though sometimes a convoluted, Biblical teaching that justifies or even requires them to reach outside of themselves. 

Take David VanDrunen's work on describing the earthly and spiritual kingdoms of God as an example a complicated Biblical teaching. VanDrunen goes through such a Biblical argument to help the Christian realize why they are obligated to be involved and working with those outside the Church. And we should note that when a Christian acts out of Biblical obligation, the Christian is first asking what will happen to them if they do or fail to do what is being required.

Now the above is not a slight on VanDrunen's work, which has considerable merit. It is a slight on those of us who will not lift a finger to provide immediate relief to others unless we are taught to, that is unless there is something in it for us. We won't help others unless we are obtaining or increasing our own reward or we are avoiding a punishment.

In addition, the innie Christian will resort to the same use of complicated and even convoluted Biblical theories to rationalize their noninvolvement in trying to help or improve the world. I remember an online discussion with a seminary professor who claimed that my involvement in the social justice movement was due to me confusing the distinction between law and grace and erroneous eschatological views. 

I would be confusing law and grace if I am involved in social justice issues in order to be saved. And my eschatological views would come into play if I was working for an earthly utopia. But the stated motivations of people who share my political views are much simpler than trying to be saved or working for a utopia because of eschatological beliefs. For example, the reason why Noam Chomsky supports safety nets and public education is that we should "care" about others. He also states that he is involved in different movements so that he can help improve what we have now and because it is what those who are privileged by life's circumstances ought to do for others. We should point out that such reasons were never considered or even listened to by those claiming that I was confusing law and grace or that my eschatological views went awry. This shows a defensiveness by some who are reluctant to be involve in social justice issues and that defensiveness is at least an admission of partial guilt.

Finally, we can see a serious self-absorbtion problem innie Christians have that sabotages their efforts be saved. For in so focusing on the question of whether one is saved by this belief or that action, the innie Christian not only shows that their self-centeredness is being sanctified by its spiritual quest to acquire an assurance of salvation, the innie Christian, by relying on doing the minimum, implies that they are relying on the law to be saved.

But what about the outie Christian? Does the outie Christian have the right to thank God that he or she is not an innie Christian? The outie Christian can be so involved with the needs of those in the world that they begin to sacrifice Biblical truths (Luke 8:13-14). Also, outie Christians become so involved in battling human intolerance that they begin to confuse the unjust intolerant or even xenophobic persecution of others from God's right to judge all of us who do not conform to His will (see the post on Bishop Tutu's statements). As a result, God is misrepresented by those who have some good intentions but do not go to the Bible to understand how to help others. Whereas the innie Christian overworks the Bible to justify what they are or are not doing, the outie Christian is tempted to minimize orthodoxy because of how it has been misused or misrepresented by innie Christians. 

In their passion to respond to suffering, outie Christians underemphasize the coming Kingdom of God and how it will correct today's injustices. And in underemphasizing God's coming Kingdom, the Gospel of repentance is being preached without the Gospel and thus salvation is reduced to one's final plight in this world.

Though much more has been said here criticizing innie Christians than outie Christians, please do not think that that implies that innie Christians have nothing to offer and that outie Christians have nothing to change or learn. We should note here that the question "what must I do to be saved" is a Biblical concern and a question that is favorably asked in the Bible (see Acts 16:30).

At the same time, reaching out and helping those in need is evidence of having been saved and the failure to do so invites God's judgment (see Jeremiah 22:16 and Ezekiel 16:49). And if asking what must I do to be saved is our only concern, we show a selfish heart that might be incapable of believing the Gospel. Christians must be able to reach out to those in need, especially those outside of the Church to move a little closer to fulfilling the two great commandments given by Jesus. For those two commandments require that we be other-focused rather than self-focused. And unless we become less self-focused, we show that we have embraced a Gospel of repentance sans the repentance.

In short, we must find the right balance of the best of both worlds. We must balance the legitimate concern for one's salvation along with a sane approach to applying doctrine in learning how to help others, especially for the vulnerable and oppressed. In other words, all of us need to be Christians who are both part innie and outie. Without the innie part, we will either ignore real truths or we will attempt to make up truths that, at the time, will be subject to our own limited sense of compassion. Without the outie part, we will never start to repent of breaking the two great commandments that Jesus taught. Those commands are to love God with one's whole being and to love one's neighbor, with the Good Samaritan definition of neighbor, as one's self.

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