No Such Thing as Convenient Christianity?

Doug Ponder

No Such Thing as Convenient Christianity?

Peter Chin recently published a thought-provoking piece over at Christianity Today titled, “No Such Thing as Convenient Christianity.” His post is winsome and well-written, humorous and humble, confessional and convicting. It’s the kind of writing you’d expect from the author of Christianity Today’s most-widely read article of 2013.

Yet in spite of Chin’s obvious passion and timely prophetic warnings about dangers in our midst, it seems his diagnosis and prescription miss the mark. By conflating the love of convenience with convenience itself, his article runs the risk of making God’s people feel guilty about receiving his grace.

In the Beginning, Grace

When God created the universe, he did so as an act of grace. Like a river that floods its banks, wave after wave of honor and love and joy flowed from one member of the Trinity to another until this glorious, grace-filled life spilled over into the creation of a glorious, grace-filled world.

God’s grace took the form of rocks and birds, stars and moons, image-bearers and fruit-bearing trees (Gen. 1:11). So when Adam and Eve waltzed into a grove of orange trees they didn't plant, what they discovered was beautiful fruit conveniently divided into little wedges, all bursting at the seams with sticky sweet grace.

This is how God is pleased to bless his people. As Moses told Israel, “When the Lord your God brings you to the land that he promised to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he will give you large and beautiful cities that you didn’t build, houses filled with every good thing that you didn’t supply, wells that you didn’t dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you didn’t plant” (Deut. 6:10-11).

Those gifts are many things, but inconvenient is not one of them.

This is not a problem, for God is the giver of every good gift (James 1:17), including every convenience. Cars and computers, preshrunk T-shirts and HVAC, debit cards and printed money, pasteurized milk and little bears filled with honey—none of these things are essential to life, yet God has blessed us with them all. They make life easier and more accessible, the very definition of convenience. They save time, energy, or money. They are grace upon grace.

Spoiling the Milk and  Honey

So, convenience is a wonderful thing. It is a gift from God. But like all God’s blessings, convenience can be soured by sin. This is the way of life in a fallen world.

The strength of a man may be used to build up or tear down, to help or to harm, but the strength itself remains a gift. In the same way, God’s people may greatly benefit from convenience, employing saved time and money and energy for many fruitful ends. Or, they may be ensnared by a love convenience, a sense of entitlement, and a loathing for anything that seems like work. Either is possible, but convenience itself is not to blame.

What God has given us as a blessing, we have turned into a curse. That is true of convenience and of God’s many other gifts. There is nothing wrong with the gifts, nor with the Giver. Yet gift and Giver are the two that we always seem to blame. We have been doing so since the beginning: “It was the woman you gave me...” “The serpent deceived me.” (cf. Gen. 3:12-13)

We have continued this confused blame-shifting right through today, blaming God for our suffering, blaming fast food for our gluttony, blaming alcohol for our drunkenness, blaming guns for our murders, and blaming convenience for our impatience, selfishness, and entitlement.

But our problem is not the abundance of conveniences, shiny and new, everywhere around us. Our problem is nothing new at all: a dark heart that loves created things more than the Creator. Chin comes close to saying this when he talks of “my enslavement to my own convenience.” Unfortunately, after saying this he immediately moves on to bash conveniences themselves.

Thus it is unclear if Chin recognizes that the love of convenience is the true problem, not convenience itself. This is not splitting hairs; it is the difference between life and death. The Lord tells us that wealth is a great blessing (Prov. 10:22), but the love of wealth is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Convenience is a great blessing, but the love of convenience is a curse.

Christianity Is Convenient by Nature

By confusing the love of convenience with convenience itself, Chin misdiagnoses the problem. And whenever the problem is misdiagnosed, the prescription will naturally come up short.

Chin writes, “[B]y its nature, Christianity is inconvenient.” This is not just a passing comment; it is his main point, as the subtitle of the article reflects: “Convenience is engrained in the American life. But it has no place in the life of faith.” He even goes on to say, “Convenience is nothing less than a heresy that runs contrary to some of the most fundamental aspects of what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

If the problem is convenience, what is the solution? Make life as inconvenient as possible. “I am committed to following Christ which means I must also be committed to inconvenience.” Indeed we must be committed to inconvenience, for “[convenience] has no place in the life of faith.”

Now ask yourself, “Did Chin write his article by hand with a pencil that he carved and some paper that he made from a tree that he felled with an axe that he fashioned for himself?”

Nipping at the heels of all those prepositions is a cluster of conveniences, and also an important point: I’m unreservedly glad that Chin owns a computer. It is a blessing of great convenience, a gift to be used for the glory of God—without feeling guilty about it. Grace is not designed to make us feel guilty; it is designed to make us grateful (Col. 3:17).

But some will say, Didn’t Jesus tell us to ‘take up your cross and follow me?’ Yes, and he also said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:31). This is no prosperity theology; it is the unequivocally Christian truth that life is infinitely harder lived in slavery to sin than lived in slavery to Christ (Rom. 6:16-18).

This is why Chin’s example of the Good Samaritan doesn’t help much. Yes, Christians are called to do what is right, and this often involves doing what is inconvenient. But that is not the same as dispensing with conveniences altogether. After all, the Good Samaritan put the wounded man on a donkey named EZ Loader 2000 (Luke 10:34) and dropped him off at the Comfort Inn (Luke 10:35).

Even the incarnation of Jesus, who stepped out of the glories of heaven and into this sin-stained world, should not be seen as God’s cosmic ‘No’ stamped on every convenience. Rather, the incarnation is about the Lord’s willingness togive up comforts—not as an end in itself—but as a way to bring about a world filled with even more comforts than anyone has ever imagined (1 Cor. 2:9).

God’s Solution for Sinful People

The response of faith toward the gifts of God—including convenience—is never, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (Col. 2:21). The response of faith is “giv[e] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). This is why it won’t work to make God’s people feel guilty for gifts that come from God.

Paradoxically, God’s prescription is for us to focus more on his gifts, not less. For if we thought even more about convenience, we would recognize it for what it is: a gift from God, to be enjoyed to his glory and extended for the good of others—as every gift is designed to be used.

And we need not fear the boogeyman of a selfish grace-hoarder. That species is extinct in the wild. For when a man truly believes that whatever he has is a gift from God, he will know that it is not “his” to hoard or squander. It is a gift entrusted to him by God, given to be enjoyed and extended to others. Generosity always flows from grace (2 Cor. 8:1-7).

In this way, grace is the antidote to impatience and selfishness and every other sin mentioned in Chin’s article. Impatience in grocery checkout lines wanes as we recall that we deserve no better, and that all our time is grace—as is the grocery store itself, as well as the premade chicken stock.

In the end, it is unwise for Christians to say, as Chin does, “I am committed to following Christ which means I must also be committed to inconvenience.” Commitment to Christ rather means commitment to his grace, which is the greatest convenience of all: we do nothing and receive everything.  Thus the only way to turn sinners into grateful sharers, willing sacrifice-rs, and joyful servants in the name of Jesus is to help them see that everything we have is a sheer gift. It is all grace, from first to last. And that is wonderfully convenient.

Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.

Comments

  • Editors' Picks

    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
  • Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
    Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
  • So You Think Theology Is Impractical?
    So You Think Theology Is Impractical?