Hercules, Antaeus and falling upon God

imagesWhen Hercules wrestled with Antaeus he found that every time he threw him down upon the ground the enemy arose stronger than before. But when he discovered Gaea – the Earth – was the mother of the giant, and that every time her son fell back upon her bosom he rose with renewed strength, then Hercules changed his tactics. Lifting Antaeus high in the air, away from the source of his strength, he held him there till he brought him into subjection.

We, who are not children of Earth but children of God, could learn much from the lesson of Antaeus. We too, whenever troubles cast us back upon the bosom of our Father, rise with renewed strength. Just as Antaeus let Hercules, who was smaller in stature than he, lift him away from his source of power, so circumstances, infinitely small and trivial, may drag us away from God. Troubles, misfortunes, disappointments and handicaps, if they but throw us back upon God, if they merely give us the opportunity of bringing into play our God-directed imagination and our heaven-blessed sense of humor, may become converted into marvelous good fortune. For trouble, if it merely turns us to God and hence renews our strength, ceases to be evil and becomes good; it becomes the best thing that could possible come to us, next to God himself. For our growth in power and happiness depends upon the number of seconds out of each twenty-four hours that we are resting in God.

-The Soul’s Sincere Desire by Glenn Clark

Great Rivalries: Evangelism vs. Discipleship

I use to believe evangelism and discipleship were at odds. In my experience people were focused either on winning souls or encouraging believers to follow Jesus more deeply. I thought it was rare to find someone who balanced the two. We either spent the majority of our energy getting people to accept God’s gift of salvation or helping those who have already accepted his gift to grow deeper. This paragraph is ridiculous when you think about it, and I am a little embarrassing to admit I thought this way, but you probably recognize what I am talking about. There is a friendly rivalry between evangelism and discipleship.

Why is there a rivalry? Is it because of the way we describe becoming a Christian? Is it possible the divide comes from a definition of salvation that focuses on a moment and not a lifestyle? I wonder, would we see this divide if we defined salvation as becoming a disciple and not a decision to acknowledge our sin and believe in the salvific work of Jesus on the cross? What if we changed the way we defined salvation? What if we stopped seeing salvation as a moment, and started seeing it as a relationship.

Salvation is a decision. But I don’t think it is a decision to believe. It is a decision to walk with Jesus. This decision means acknowledging we are sinful and we cannot change on our own. It means acknowledging the death resurrection and ascension of Jesus as the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth and in our lives. But it also means we are choosing to follow Jesus, to live in constant relationship with him and to actually be his disciples.

To be fair, most evangelists I have known do talk about salvation as a decision to follow Jesus, but unfortunately much of what we do does not support this. It is very difficult to lead this kind of conversion from a stage. Choosing to follow Jesus, becoming a disciple, requires community, and it is far too easy to raise a hand in a service, pray a prayer and walk away without community. We frequently communicate that someone should know the date of his salvation, but becoming a disciple is often more like a blooming flower than a lighting bolt decision. We argue who is in and who is out. If salvation is agreeing to a set of beliefs, you can define who is in and who is out, but it is much more difficult to determine who is following Jesus and who is not.

Salvation does not come because we believe we are sinners and Jesus died for our sins. Salvation is entering a master-disciple relationship with Jesus because he demonstrated his great love for us by sacrificing himself for our sins. If we started teaching and acting as if this was true, there would be no rivalry because there would be no difference between evangelism and discipleship.

Is reason enough?

In the late 18th century, Thomas Paine published The Age of Reason, a series of pamphlets that spoke against the church and faith. He suggested reason should replace special revelation, specifically scripture and the authority of the church. Though not an atheist himself, his position is quite similar to that of the modern atheist.

Reason and science, most atheists would proclaim, has the final say on truth. They have named the battleground for the debate, and Christians have met them there. In doing so I wonder if we have legitimatized reason as the foundation for all we believe. Have we endorsed the notion that Christianity must be based on rational arguments

This is not an anti-reason or anti-science piece. Reason is a necessary part of life and yes, even faith. Science is of great value. The more I learn from science, the greater my sense of wonder in the creator grows. But are our faith, beliefs and decisions to follow Jesus based solely on rational or scientific arguments? What percentage of faith and theology do you think is based on rational thought today? Fifty percent? Eighty? One hundred percent?

I firmly believe reason and the ability to think clearly and critically is invaluable. I just don’t think reason is a good basis for following Jesus. This is why I don’t like the modern day version of Pascal’s wager, daring non-believers to try following Jesus and see if it changes their lives. Becoming a disciple is not an experiment. You cannot dip your toe in the waters of following Jesus. You bear the cost and follow him completely or you do it not at all. Jesus was quite clear on this point

Reason alone is insufficient as an explanation for faith. Reason cannot explain love. Sure it can explain the bio-chemical reactions associated with love, the increased levels of serotonin and dopamine and increase activity in certain areas of the brain, but it can’t describe the anticipation of a first kiss, the feel of your beloved’s hand in yours or laying eyes on you child for the first time. Understanding love can only come from engaging and experiencing it in relationship.

This is true in theology as well. Again, rational thought is necessary in forming a systematic theology, but on its own it is insufficient. Reason alone forms a cold, methodical, and sanitized theology. Rational theology (even when it incorporates the special revelation of Scripture) robs us of the dynamic, transforming and relational presence of Jesus. We need to use reason in service of the kingdom, but God wants more than our rational agreement with his existence and principles. He wants us to follow him into an intimate, wild and sometimes messy relationship. Reason alone is not enough.


My thoughts on this topic were born in a couple podcasts involving Peter Boghossian. Boghossian recently published A Manual for Creating Atheists. He believes Christians use faith as an epistemology and defines it as “pretending to know things that you don’t know” or “belief without evidence.” Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and What’s in the Bible, had Boghossian on his podcast to discuss this definition. What I appreciate about Vischer’s interaction is his insistence that faith is based on relational evidence.

This is taken further on Unbelievable?, the podcast of a radio show in the UK. Here Boghossian debated Tim McGrew who points out trust is an appropriate synonym for faith. He uses the analogy of skydiving.  There is no guarantee you will reach the ground safely, but you jump because you place trust in the individual who packed you parachute.

You can check out Vischer’s podcast here and Unbelieveable? here. I highly recommend both of these podcasts as a whole, not just these individual episodes.

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