The Mark of Jesus: Loving in a Way the World Can See
Contrary to what you might think, we Christians should care about unbelievers' opinions of us, according to distinguished theologians Timothy George and John Woodbridge (and they should know). Specifically, we need to be aware that our relationships with one another speak volumes to the world.
"The early Christians were concerned, and rightly so, about the impressions unbelievers --- 'outsiders' --- might carry away from a visit to their worship service (1 Corinthians 14:23-24). And, among the pastoral qualifications set forth in the New Testament, is this one: 'He must have a good reputation with outsiders,' (1 Timothy 3:7). Jesus Himself said that we are to let our light shine before others so that they can see our good works (Matthew 5:16)."
The authors go on to point out that this reality doesn't mean that Christians should alter their convictions in order to curry favor with the world. Still, we should never forget that Jesus does give the world the right to decide whether we are true Christians based upon our observable love for one another. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another," (John 13:35).
This love is what the authors call "the mark of Jesus" and it's the title of their book. The project is firmly planted in the shadow of theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer's THE MARK OF THE CHRISTIAN, as it is a conscious update and expansion of the ideas promoted in that book. Schaeffer was concerned, as theologians and lay people alike grappled with the proper preaching and understanding of the gospel in the 20th century, that they not forget the importance of "observable love." And it's a reminder that we in the 21st century could use as well.
"In a way difficult for us to fathom, how we as Christians relate to one another has a direct bearing upon whether the world will know that Jesus comes from the Father. When this incredibly important point is grasped, we begin to realize that we ignore this neglected 'apologetic' to our great loss. Neither our evangelistic efforts, nor our social action, nor our apologetic efforts will receive God's full blessing if we do not evidence the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our relations with each other as believers. The mark of Jesus in us is crucial and it is compelling."
The book explores what the mark of Jesus might look like in today's world, with chapters dealing with charges of hypocrisy and radicalism in the church, learning to discern what beliefs are primary to the Christian faith and what compromises can be made in good conscience, and the opportunities presented by immigration and multiculturalism. THE MARK OF JESUS covers a lot of territory and could be used as a survey of practical theology in an intro college class.
Less academically oriented readers will appreciate the stories the authors use to illustrate their points, including the conversion of political attack dog Lee Atwater and a moving story of racial reconciliation between a Japanese and Korean student at a conference in Illinois.
"It is our contention that when Christians work together for a common Christ-honoring cause, sometimes setting aside their own wishes in favor of others' wishes and esteeming others better than themselves, great good can be accomplished. Egos are harnessed, personal ambitions throttled, wise consensus may be reached, and the body of Christ is strengthened. A watching world begins to see Christians loving each other and is impressed. The unity of the body of Christ is made more visible. Evangelism advances more rapidly in consequence."
THE MARK OF JESUS is an important read for anyone concerned with the advancement of the gospel and with cultivating a more loving approach to relationships. And hopefully, that's everyone.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on January 1, 2005