The church will always face external threats. The gospel will always incite opposition. What if our biggest problem, then, isn’t hostility from the world but compromise inside the church?
Gerald Sittser marshals that argument in his new book, Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian ‘Third Way’ Changed the World, published by Brazos. He writes: “The problem we currently face is not primarily political or ideological. The problem is the compromised identity of the church itself and the compromised message of the gospel.”
Vague messages of spiritual uplift that demand little in discipleship don’t hold up in a world gripped by a deadly pandemic of COVID-19. But the early church shows us a different, better way. In fact, as Sittser points out in this interview, these courageous Christians out-lived their unbelieving neighbors precisely because they cared for the sick and dying. After a major plague in the Roman Empire in 250, even the church’s most bitter critics like Julian the Apostate admitted that the Christians had won much sympathy for their gospel.
Sittser joined me on Gospelbound to explain how this “third way” in the early church attracted attention not for being loud and obnoxious, but by being different. We also discussed why millennials drift away from the church, how to change a church culture of entertainment, the high price of fighting for power and privilege, and more.
This episode of Gospelbound is brought to you by Southeastern Seminary. In a disenchanted world looking to themselves for answers, Southeastern’s three-year Doctor of Ministry in Faith and Culture plants graduates at the intersection of theology, culture, and church to bring the world a better story—the gospel. Learn more at sebts.edu.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: The church will always face external threats. The gospel will always incite opposition. What if our biggest problem then isn’t hostility from the world, but instead compromise inside the church Gerald Sittser marshals that argument in his new book, Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World, published by Brazos. Sittser is professor of Theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. He writes this: “The problem we currently face is not primarily political or ideological. The problem is the compromised identity of the church itself and the compromised message of the gospel.” Sittser joins me on Gospelbound to explain how this “third way” in the early church attracted attention, not for being loud and obnoxious, but by being different. We’ll also discuss why millennials drift away from the church. How to change a church culture of entertainment, the high price of fighting for power and privilege and more. So. Thank you Gerald for joining me on Gospelbound.
Gerald Sittser: My privilege.
Collin Hansen: So Gerald, this is not the book you originally set out to write. Why did you shift directions?
Gerald Sittser: Well, initially my interest was in the early Christian catechumenate. I did quite a bit of research on that. Wrote a couple of articles for journals and I was fascinated at this training program that the early Christian period seemed to use universally, at least around the Mediterranean world, that move people from their traditional Roman background into the Christian fold. And considering the enormity of that task, it took them quite a while to do that. They didn’t have lapsed Catholics or Methodist or Presbyterians back then. They had people who knew nothing. But after studying and reading the sources thoroughly in that early Christian period, I realized that the book really had to be about the gospel, not about the catechumenate. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the apostles discovered it after the resurrection and Ascension and Pentecost set in motion such a radical movement based on the identity of Jesus and what he came to do and his incarnation.
Gerald Sittser: And I really needed to write a book on that. So the last chapter became a chapter devoted to the catechumenate. I called “crossing to safety” after the famous novel, but before that it’s about authority and it’s about community and it’s about the early Christian theological map and so on. All focusing really on the identity of Jesus Christ. I think we forget because we’re so saturated with Christianity in the West, however, sort of compromised it is, to realize how unusual Christianity is as a religion. There is simply nothing even remotely like it, and the Romans knew that by the way, early Roman critics long before they really had a reason to be critical of Christianity, realized that they were up against something brand new and they were, they were threatened by it. Not so much by the power of Christianity, but by the uniqueness of the message and the lifestyle that came from it.
Collin Hansen: You describe a church that is not too isolated, not too accommodating, faithful and winsome. Explain more about this early church as a “third way” and how they managed some of that balance within a very difficult situation in that Roman empire.
Gerald Sittser: Yeah, difficult indeed. Well, first of all, I make very clear that the third way is not a middle way. It’s not the way of compromise. It’s a completely different way and obviously the third way begs us to ask the question, what’s the first and second? Well, the first way was the Roman way. Roman religion was pluralistic, syncretistic transactional, ubiquitous. I mean it was everywhere in the empire, temples, monuments, shrines, statues of gods and goddesses were… I mean you could not avoid seeing them day in and day out in Roman cities across the empire, and of course all of that was organized under the rule of the emperor who by the second century began to be known as a God.
Gerald Sittser: The second way, surprisingly, was the Jewish way. We forget how many Jews were in the Roman or the Mediterranean world. Scholars say up to 10 percent of the population of the Roman empire was Jewish and they were admired because their faith was ancient, highly ethical. They were strictly monotheistic. They were actually given benefits from the Roman government. There were certain things they didn’t have to do that all other citizens had to do, but they were also isolated because of their religious scruples, circumcision, food laws, marriage laws, and other things like that. So they were identifiable, easily identifiable, sort of like a opposing team wearing a Jersey. You just know who they are. So I call that the way of isolation. Rome was the way of accommodation. They were absorptive of new religions. Jews were the way of isolation. And then this movement shows up and it just doesn’t fit any of the categories at all.
Gerald Sittser: Its message. I mean, what a strange son of God Jesus was compared to say Caesar Augustus who was also called son of God. Here’s this obscure figure who was born out of scandal. The circumstances in a small town in the far reaches of the empire. He dies a brutal death on a cross outside the city gates of Jerusalem. He never writes a book, never raises an army. He doesn’t do anything that we would normally ascribe to someone who achieves greatness. And yet through the work of his disciples and his early followers, he literally, I mean, even the book of Acts says this, turned the world upside down. It’s just so unusual and Roman intellectuals sniffed it out and knew it.
Gerald Sittser: And eventually, so did the emperors, which is why they persecuted it. It took a while to ramp up. Early persecution was a little more localized, often based on mental illness and craziness and so on. But by the end of the second century, we’re starting to see big time persecution.
Collin Hansen: Yeah and ramped up even not long before then of course, Constantine and the major transformation within there as well. I mean, that’s…
Gerald Sittser: That’s before that was actually just in the worst or Diocletian. Right.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. It’s hard to… We often want to imagine that history has these sort of clear lines and clear trends. But when you’re looking at persecution the first three centuries, it is a jagged line there.
Gerald Sittser: It is a jagged line. Yeah.
Collin Hansen: So I think there’s so many different things that are fascinating in this book and we’re going to hopefully cover a lot of that here, but it might be easier in some ways if our biggest problem today was hostility as we imagine it in some of the early church. But one of the things you observe about millennials is that they tend to drift away from the church in indifference and not because of some kind of carefully reasoned arguments. So what do you suggest is the antidote to be able to address that, especially for millennials?
Gerald Sittser: Well, I think in the main, it is true. A lot of research is being done in this by sociologists. And I just read a recent book last week on this and on the religion of 20-somethings and so 18 to 29 I think the age group is, and now about 30 percent identify themselves as nones. And that number seems to be growing. I mean, pretty much all socio-scientific research indicates this. But they’re not reading Marx and Freud anymore. They’re not assaulting Christianity intellectually. They’re drifting away, especially when they live in more secular cities like San Francisco or New York or Boston or Seattle, for example. Even rates of church attendance in a city like Spokane is surprisingly low, much lower than in the Midwest and the South.
Gerald Sittser: And drifting is the right word. There’s a kind of subtle erosion. There’s a drip, drip, drip of indifference that takes over them and they eventually just look at Christianity as entirely irrelevant to their lives. Why should I be Christian? I’ve had former students say that to me. Why should I be Christian? I don’t know a reason anymore. So the old way of doing, say evangelism and apologetics is probably going to have to give way to a new way. I think highly relational, based on example. I believe in evangelism entirely, so I’m not at all hedging on that. People need to know Jesus and they need to submit to his Lordship, but maybe that’s it. Is the evangelism needs to be more relational, but also more robust. They’re quite suspicious and hostile toward the church. They see political compromise. They see theological compromise. They see cultural compromise and I think many of this younger generation just want to see something truly authentic.
Collin Hansen: Well, that leads right into my next two questions. One is about that authenticity. What would it look like if Christians just acted like Christians? We talk sometimes about the need for some kind of new agenda, but there’s not really a need of a new agenda. It’s the same spirit. It’s the same gospel. It’s the same risen Christ there and yet somehow we fall short in a number of different ways as sinners, but then also in ways of just compromise. But before I get to that question, let me ask first, what would it look like for Christians today to relate to our own government with the kind of ambivalence that you identify in early Christians toward Rome? Just teaching a group of mostly millennials within my church about that, about government and politics and things like that. It’s one of the things that’s most striking is the kind of ambivalence toward government. Especially, take for example, 1 Peter in a context where Peter’s writing about a Roman emperor who, he doesn’t yet know, will put him to death.
Gerald Sittser: Yeah, that’s right. And while there’s so much in the New Testament there, Paul tells us to be obedient to our earthly rulers, but he’s talking about the emperor Nero. We know that by the end of the century, Domitian is going to turn on Christianity, but we never see this kind of open hostility. I think the best rule here is from 1 Timothy 2 when Paul says, “just pray for peace” and what he really means by that is that pray that we are allowed to go about our business being Christian. And if we go about our business being Christian, we don’t want interference from the government. We don’t need help from them at all. We can do this just fine on our own trusting in the gospel and living in the power of the Holy Spirit and doing the work of Jesus in the world.
Gerald Sittser: And I think that’s what Christianity in the early Christian period has to teach us is they went about that business with a great deal of authenticity and success. Now, it wasn’t perfect. We know there’s… You know enough history to know that they made mistakes, they did stupid things. That’s always been the case in the history of Christianity. There’s not been a golden age [inaudible 00:15:00] or under Bernard of Clairvaux or Francis of Assisi or the reformation of the Wesleys. There’s never been a golden age. Having said that, they did do some things well enough that we can learn from. A deep commitment to the authority of Jesus, a deep commitment to imitate him in life and other things like that, that I think are worthy of study and emulation. The other thing I want to say is that they weren’t carrying the ball and chain of Christendom, which we are. And we’re living a sort of on the tail end of the reign of Christendom in the West.
Gerald Sittser: It’s more evident in Europe than it is in the United States. And though there are benefits that come from Christendom. Higher education, for example, was a Christendom invention. A lot of medical care came out of Christendom. I mean there are things that we can be grateful for there. I don’t want to demonize it. Anabaptist would demonize it. I’m not an Anabaptist. Having said that, there have been some defects and one of them is that a nominal Christianity has just reigned supreme in Western civilization and I think we’re going to see the gradual erosion and eraser of that over the next few decades because there’s simply no reason or not as much of a reason to be Christian as there was when we were living under the reign of Christendom. And I’m older than you are. I’ve got kids that are all… Five kids and they’re all married and they’re all in their thirties and I remember in the ’50s and ’60s what it was like to go to church.
Gerald Sittser: Everybody wearing nice suit coats. I was wearing a tie and a coat by the time I was in the sixth grade and then everybody would go to a club to have lunch afterwards and then play golf. There was a kind of… It was a kind of cultural Christianity that reigned Supreme and I think we’re going to see that gradually fade and it’s going to allow us as committed Christians to step forward and demonstrate what real discipleship is. Now we still face some threats. Prosperity gospel is certainly one of them. I think a kind of white Christian nationalism is another. I think trying to seek the favor of the state whether to the right or to the left. And I think over time that will be exposed as folly. I hope so, anyway.
Collin Hansen: I don’t know if you’re familiar with the book, Pagans and Christians in the City by Steven Smith. There’s a lot of overlap between what he’s writing about kind of a year before your book and one of them that gave me a lot of food for thought in this last year, but it kind of makes me wonder…
Collin Hansen: Well I guess I’ll get into this from your book based on what you write about Tertullian, because I’m trying to figure out are Christians the best citizens? I.e. the more Christian we are, the more the government should want us or at the same time are we more subversive than that? Are we somehow a threat? Because that’s one thing that Smith points out is that the threat of living for a different ethic and for eternity was ultimately what was so dangerous to the Romans. And I think that’s pretty similar now. Nobody minds us when we just say, “Hey, Jesus changed my heart and now I feel better about myself.” Nobody minds that.
Gerald Sittser: Or if we become radical Republicans or Democrats. Everybody loves that too.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. Right. So there’s not a problem with that. But then all of a sudden when you say, “No, no, no, no, no. I live for a different kingdom. I live for a law that’s written on the heart and you must be born again.” All of a sudden, that’s where we get into a lot of trouble. But if I resonated with what you described as Tertullian and the differences between the Greco-Roman way of life and the Christian way of life, as Christians, we don’t just indulge our appetites as if this is all there is to life. We live for an eternal kingdom that will redeem and reclaim the world. So I’m wondering, is how do we bring more of that reality, that reality, it’s coming into our present in order to resist our appetites for sin? Because that’s going to have to be where a lot of this starts with the kind of compromise that we’ve projected onto the world that has actually turned off many people to the church.
Gerald Sittser: For example, how generous we are. The stats of Christians, even evangelical Christians who tend to be a little bit more active in the practice of their faith are stats when it comes to generosity is just abysmally low. So we have a lot of work to do. Well you actually asked two questions. The first has to do with are we the best citizens or are we the greatest threats? And the answer is yes and yes. I mean that’s the irony of being Christian. We don’t just follow a different King. We follow a different kind of King. We don’t just live for a different kingdom. We live for a different kind of kingdom and that is inherently going to be threatening to the social order. I don’t care how you cut it, it’s going to be threatening.
Gerald Sittser: So that means we need to be active citizens. We need to vote. We can get involved in nonprofits. We can run for political office. That’s what makes me reformed rather than Anabaptist. Having said that, I’m Anabaptist on another level and that is I’m going to simply live differently in this world. I’ll be a very different kind of politician. I’ll be a very different kind of citizen or doctor or lawyer or teacher or anything else. So in any particular sphere of influence, people are going to see me as seeking the welfare of the city, planning my vineyard, building my home, being in it for the long haul, being an active citizen. On the other hand, there’s going to be something about me that’s going to make people feel really uneasy because the King I follow is not just different but a different kind. As I said before, the kingdom for which I live is not just different.
Gerald Sittser: It’s a different kind of kingdom and that was the genius of early Christianity. In some ways, I think it’s harder for us because the temptation of worldliness and the temptation of seeking cultural and political power is greater because we can actually access it. But look at what happened to mainline Christianity in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s and I think it’s a cautionary tale for evangelicals today. I feel as nervous.
Collin Hansen: I would attest to that as a child of the United Methodist Church who has shifted in a Reformed and evangelical direction. I can absolutely attest to that. I see a number of the same concerns, but oddly enough in multiple directions. Sometimes it’s sort of a conservative accommodation to the culture as my Methodist church, and sometimes of course, this is sort of infatuation with liberalism of like, don’t you? This doesn’t work.
Collin Hansen: This definitely does not work. It’s not biblical and it doesn’t work. Here’s just one fun anecdote from the book, which is full of them, but I love the example of how Christians survived the plague at higher rates than the Romans did. Just tell us how that worked.
Gerald Sittser: Well, there were two massive plagues in the Greco-Roman world. Plagues have come and gone through the history of civilization. We may be close to another one right now in China as it spreads, but one occurred in 165 and one occurred in 250, we have attestation not only from Greco-Roman sources, but obviously from Christian sources, largely through the writings of bishops, and we even have some of their sermons devoted to this. And especially the plague in 250, Christians began to stand out for the way that they provided medical care at a kind of basic level for people who suffered from affliction.
Gerald Sittser: They buried the dead and they cleaned bodies first. They just didn’t throw them into pits. They lent dignity to death, so to speak. They cared for the sick and the dying. And any form of gentle medical care is always going to give somebody a slight advantage when it comes to survival rates and that’s exactly what happened. They survived at a slightly higher rate. Two interesting insights there. Sometimes the person who was providing the medical care would get the disease and would die and the person who had the disease would survive, and one particular Bishop demonstrating bad science, but great theology said that the person who was caring for them actually took the disease on himself or herself. So to spare the other person who was the person originally sick. Well, that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. Now, we know that that didn’t happen, but it’s great theology, and it’s great witness of the gospel.
Gerald Sittser: Well, one person survived the illness. Guess what? They were immune so they could be a workforce to provide medical care for other people. This became a profound form of witness in the Greco-Roman world and even Greco-Roman sources acknowledged that. It’s interesting. In my chapter on life in the world, I cite the stories of two people, both who were contemporaries. They knew of each other. They might have corresponded. One was Basil of Caesarea, the great Bishop of the fourth century, great writer. He wrote a book on the Holy Spirit. We have a lot of his sermons. He wrote a book on the nature of Christ. I mean, this is a star, big, big personality and founded the first Christian hospital in the West. Most sources would acknowledge a hospital for immigrants and refugees, a hospital that cared for lepers, that provided job training.
Gerald Sittser: It became such a massive enterprise. It took on the name of a city. I mean, very unusual. At the same time, Julian the Apostate, who had been raised a Christian, turned against Christianity, actually wrote a book against Christianity and wanted to gradually marginalize the Christian movement. He didn’t ever persecute it, but he wanted to marginalize it and he writes a letter to one of his pagan priests that says, there’s a lot I can do to devote the sources of the empire to marginalize Christianity. For example, I won’t let them teach in our schools. Christians can’t do that. But he said, there’s one thing, I can’t compete with them, not even close, and it’s their care for the least of these. He said, I could send money to my pagan priests. I could empty the coffers of the Roman empire, and they have no motivation because of their worldview to be able to care for the least of these.
Gerald Sittser: It was a patronage system in the Greco-Roman world and Christians operated by a different ethic called mercy. It’s a great illustration of two people living at the same time who had such a different view of reality and a different way of living in the world.
Collin Hansen: I love that. If we think about how we might be able to make a difference, do you think it’s actually possible to win our culture? I mean that’s kind of a loaded phrase there, but to make that difference from the bottom-up rather than the top-down? The reason I’m asking is you seemed to indicate that in the book, but we’ve been hearing for a long time from sociologists like James Davison Hunter, that really populism doesn’t work and that it’s less effective than seeking to influence the influencers top-down.
Gerald Sittser: Well, I’m sure it’s both and who am I to say otherwise?
Gerald Sittser: I mean by the fourth century, Christianity became a cultural force. There were great intellectuals that began to emerge even earlier than that. Origen was a great early Christian intellectual that started his own Academy for training people intellectually and we know quite a bit about it because one of his students paid tribute to him and we still have that in print. His name is Gregory Thelma Turgas and it’s a gorgeous treatment of how a Christian teacher ought to function in producing a generation of intellectuals. Having said that, I’m sure James Davison Hunter is talking about kind of the global level or the 30,000-foot view, but in the end all of us are living in communities. We’re teaching at one school, not all schools. We’re attending one church, we’re going to one YMCA and eventually all of our influence has to be grassroots.
Gerald Sittser: I don’t care if we’re the wealthiest person in the world or we’re poor, whether we’ve got PhD from Harvard or we barely made it through high school. In the end, our influence has to be local and interpersonal and small-scale institutional, and then I think with a workforce that continues to grow, that influence can become… Can begin to bubble up. So I’m a little more grassroots in my orientation.
Collin Hansen: Couple more questions. With Gerald Sittser on Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World, in your conclusion, I wondered what you meant by this line you write, “If anything, the harder Christians fight for power and privilege, the more precipitous the decline will be, for cultural power and privilege will come at an increasingly high price.” What is that high price?
Gerald Sittser: Well, first of all, as we move into a post-Christendom phase of our nation’s history, by the way, I don’t use the word post-Christian.
Gerald Sittser: We’re not post-Christian yet, but we’re post-Christendom. We’re going to have to make increasingly big compromises in order to maintain our position of cultural privilege as the culture itself kind of drifts. So to be say an influential politician is going to require more compromise than it did before unless we’re willing to stand fast and pay the price for. That’s on the right or the left, it doesn’t matter to me which one. I think there’s ample evidence both ways. So I mean I think we’re going to need, be prepared to pay a price and lose that privilege and amass our resources and rally the body of Christ to function differently. And I mean as simple and silly as this sounds, I think we just have to make disciples, real disciples, real followers of Jesus. And that’s why I concluded the book with a chapter on the catechumenate.
Gerald Sittser: Here’s this, I mean shocking as this sounds, three year training program to prepare people for the rights of initiation. Now I baptized my kids as infants, so this isn’t so much on your view of baptism. What it is about is our commitment to move people to a place of genuine, what I call functional Christianity or functional discipleship. To put it this way, put a detective on the tail of a Christian for a week. They would be recognizably Christian all the time, not just when they’re at church or attending a Bible study, but when they’re at work, when they’re in their neighborhood, when they’re at the club, when they’re walking down the street, whatever they’re doing, they are recognizably Christian all the time and I think for the most part we’ve done a pretty poor job at doing that and that’s why this catechumenate is such a curiosity to me.
Gerald Sittser: In fact, we at Whitworth are actually developing a two-year new catechumenate for churches to use. Two years, not eight weeks, not a weekend retreat to prepare people for church membership. I don’t think we can assume much anymore. People that are saturated by the biblical story and other things like that. I think we have to kind of start over again.
Collin Hansen: Well you’re talking to the right folks here, talking about catechesis, I mean one reason why I worked with Tim Keller on the New City Catechism was just the realization. It’s not an option about whether we’re going to catechize just a matter of whether you want to do it or you just want to let the world do it for you.
Gerald Sittser: By the way, around here, we call it the three greats, the great tradition of historic orthodoxy, the great commission to make disciples, and the great commandment to love as Jesus loved.
Collin Hansen: That’s great. I like that.
Gerald Sittser: Because our catechesis needs to be behavioral, not just doctrinal and this is one of the weaknesses of the Reformation.
Gerald Sittser: It was really a family argument. If you would have interviewed anybody in the 16th century outside of some people who had just drifted out of Orthodox faith altogether, likes of…
Collin Hansen: Surveyors.
Gerald Sittser: That’s right. You would have had everybody say, yeah, I believe in the Apostle’s Creed. Well, they just parsed it differently. Now I come down on certain sides there. I’m not neutral about that. But it was more a doctrinal, a family argument about doctrine. And I think we are in a very, very different place in Christianity in the West right now. We’ve forgotten fundamentals and we need to build disciples.
Collin Hansen: What you said earlier that you’re talking with millennials and they say, former students, and they say, I don’t have any reason to believe, and you stop and you want to think, well yeah you do because Jesus has risen from the dead. It’s the resurrection. But that’s not really what they’re getting at there. They might even acknowledge that. There just doesn’t seem to be a desire to live it. So it seems like, I mean I’ll give my two cents about evangelism here. It seems like people now, and I’m in a church context where thankfully we’re seeing a decent number of conversions and it seems like people get assimilated into a community, the church, that they desire to be a part of with an ethic that is compelling to them, an ethic of love and an ethic of concern for one another and support for one another that stands out from the world.
Collin Hansen: And in that process they begin to change their mind on a number of issues. But I can guarantee you I’m not usually having an argument with them about doctrinal precision or about gay marriage. They get assimilated into the church culture through that desire. And then eventually I can trust through regular teaching and through ongoing community that they will be discipled in those things. They will change their theology. They will change their views on these different issues. But I don’t know how that sounds to you, but that, I mean it seems very normal within our context where we’re seeing a lot of millennials come to faith.
Gerald Sittser: This is anecdotal, but as I said, I’ve got five kids that are all married. They’re all Christian and they’re all more on the conservative side of things. So it’s not like these guys who are just drifting away, but there are things that were, that mattered in my generation and they don’t care anymore.
Gerald Sittser: Now they have a position on it and it tends to be more conservative, but it’s not a hill they’re going to die on. They’re kind of going back to things that are more basic and maybe they have something to teach us there. Again, they’re not fighting Christendom wars and my generation still was. And they have a good reason, we should have, but I’m not sure that’s relevant anymore or as relevant.
Collin Hansen: And it’s as much as we want to say that the same things in the same way are going to work. I mean, but that’s not… I mean like you’re saying, it’s not just getting back to those fundamentals, it’s like, wait, which fundamentals are we talking about here? Are we talking about Jesus is Lord, that we’re supposed to live in such a way that testifies in all aspects of our life? I mean those are the fundamentals.
Gerald Sittser: That is the great tradition. That’s what we define as the great tradition. Yeah.
Collin Hansen: Right. Well let’s add… I mean, I sometimes I like to close my interviews with a practical question along these lines, but you right, nothing short of a change of church culture will suffice from a culture of entertainment, politics, personality, and program to a culture of discipleship. So along the lines of much of what we’ve talked about here, but what’s one thing a church leader listening to this Gospelbound podcast could immediately do to begin to affect that shift as they awaken to this challenge?
Gerald Sittser: Well, I think most churches get into the habit of defining their existence according to certain protocols in formal ways of doing things. So a preacher says, my job is to preach a sermon or an elder, my job is to run committees, or a Sunday school teacher is to prepare a Sunday school lesson. And I think we need to step back from all that and ask the question, what are we doing to actually building disciples? And what would that actually look like? What does a functional Christian look like? Describe it.
Gerald Sittser: And I would suggest too many Christians wouldn’t be able to do that. I go to church. I give money, but notice it’s, “I give money.” It’s not stewardship. It’s, “I go to church.” It’s not what I’m doing when I’m not at church. What does that mean? How do we translate that in terms of our view of marriage and family, our view of work, our view of stewardship, our view of relationships. Who we’re investing in. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Are we equipping people to actually make disciples and creating a culture of multiplication instead of addition? So I would begin by asking a question, what does a mature Christian look like and what are we doing to help move people by the power of the Holy Spirit and in the authority of the gospel in that direction?
Collin Hansen: Amazing how we can so easily forget the whole point of it all, but you’ve done a great job of helping us to remember that. My guest on Gospelbound has been Gerald Sittser, author of Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World, published by Brazos. Thanks, Gerald.
Gerald Sittser: My privilege. Thanks. Great conversation.