Good Faith

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, and Gabe Lyons, the founder of Q, a learning community that represents the perspective of a new generation of Christians, have collaborated on a new book, GOOD FAITH: BEING A CHRISTIAN WHEN SOCIETY THINKS YOU’RE IRRELEVANT AND EXTREME. They explore the changing values of American society and the pressures it places upon Christians to conform.

New research highlights the extent to which Americans pledge allegiance to a new moral code, the morality of self-fulfillment, summed up in six guiding principles.

  1. To find yourself, look within yourself.
  2. People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.
  3. To be fulfilled in life, pursue the things you desire most.
  4. Enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life.
  5. People can believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.
  6. Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is fine.

But two relationships, according to traditional Christianity, require epic levels of self-sacrifice and others-focus to do them right: marriage and parenting. Personal fulfillment has taken center stage. Culturally, marriage has become about little more than how I feel when I’m with my spouse, how he or she “completes me.” And parenting is similarly me-oriented, as marketing copy from a life coaching website shows: “Parenting struggles are a perfect opportunity for personal growth. Use parenting as your path towards personal fulfillment and creating your best life!” Wouldn’t you love to be their kids? Large percentages of practicing Christians embrace the principles of the new moral code. Dallas Willard diagnosed this moral sickness in his 2009 book Knowing Christ Today, where he writes:

“The worldview answers people now live by are provided by feelings. Desire, not reality, and not what is good, rules our world. That is even true for the most part within religion. Most of what Americans do in their religion now is done at the behest of feelings…. The quest for pleasure takes over the house of God. What is good or what is true is no longer the guide.”

In contrast to the dominant culture’s embrace of self-fulfillment as the highest good, good faith Christians believe living under God’s moral order leads to human and societal flourishing. In contrast to the secular world there are six principles of life with Jesus at the center.

  1. To find yourself, discover the truth outside yourself, in Jesus.
  2. Loving others does not always mean staying silent.
  3. Joy is found not in pursuing our own desires but in giving of ourselves to bless others.
  4. The highest goal of life is giving glory to God.
  5. God gives people the freedom to believe whatever they want, but those beliefs always affect society.
  6. God designed boundaries for sex and sexuality in order for humans to flourish.

One hundred years before Christ the Roman philosopher Lucretius wrote an epic poem called “On the Nature of Things.” He made an argument for pleasure as the ultimate purpose of human life. We exist to enjoy life. Nothing more, nothing less. Avoid pain at all costs and pursue pleasure in any way you can. Lucretius is the father of YOLO, “you only live once.”

Nothing is bad about enjoying God’s good world, but when it becomes the ultimate focus, we’ve become our own god. Ancient as it is, this is the crux of the new morality. This is the reason Christians are on the outs with the dominant culture. To an increasing number of people, our insistence that pleasure and self-fulfillment are destructive isn’t just irrelevant or extreme. Kinnaman and Lyons maintain that it is evil.

“If your friends have bought into the idea that self-fulfillment is the ultimate purpose of life, then you or anyone else who stands is their way is evil. So sit down, shut up, and keep your faith to yourself. But this isn’t the way of Jesus…..Jesus taught that renewal – redemption, restoration, re-creation – is God’s purpose for every human life. Pain, brokenness, and suffering are not to be avoided; they are to be endured because God redeems those experiences in order to renew us and bless others…. Two visions of life are playing out before our eyes. One is a good belief and leads to life. The other is a bad idea and leads to death.”