Are you a Christian?
Do you long for your friends and family to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?
Do you want to see a worldwide revival of faith in Jesus Christ?
If so, you’re not too different from me. And i’ve got just the book for you. It’s The Mark of Jesus, by Timothy George and John Woodbridge.
It was one of the first books i was assigned during my undergraduate work. However, since i was new to the university level, i decided the class it was for was the one i cared about the least, so i let it collect dust on my shelf. I knew i wanted to read it, since the subtitle clearly supports this blog’s theme: “loving in a way the world can see,” so last November, i decided it had sat on my shelf for too long.
As i read it, i was increasingly convicted of the utmost importance of this blog’s message. The Gospel of Jesus Christ enables us to love both God and our fellow man as He first loved us (cf. Romans 5:5, 1 John 4:19). This book convicted me of my many failures in this area. The authors’ thesis is as follows:
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.Timothy George and John Woodbridge, The Mark of Jesus (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2005), 21.
This thesis is broken into six chapters. They start with a chapter proving their thesis and then spend the remaining five chapters applying it in various contexts.
Their thesis is absolutely correct. It is, after all, based on Jesus’ words in John 13:35. However, in this chapter, describing the absolute necessity of unity amongst Christians, one of their primary contentions is as follows: “the way to true Christian unity cannot be purchased at the expense of (1) moral purity, (2) theological integrity, (3) or genuine diversity” (36).
This means that we will not experience true unity if we loosen our moral standards to help others more easily accept us. This is sin, and it is–therefore–not love. We will not experience true unity if we become theologically lazy or apathetic. The doctrines of Scripture–especially first-tier issues such as the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity–must not be negotiables. The authors explain genuine diversity as follows: “Unity is not uniformity. To try to impose an artificial oneness on the genuine diversity we find in the body of Christ is to be blind to the many-faceted, many-colored wisdom of God” (38).
If we must not capitulate in these areas to achieve real unity, then what must we do? What must we pursue in our quest for unity? Around what must we be united? Helpfully, the authors give us three categories: The Gospel, love, and grace.
We must unite around the Gospel. This is the message that should break down all animosity among those who call themselves Christians. Apart from the Gospel message (the Gospel TRUTH), we are all doomed to hell for our sins. We were saved, not because of any good deeds in ourselves (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9; Isaiah 64:6), but solely because of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. This is good news that should cause us to seek unity.
If we have faith in Jesus Christ (as displayed in the Gospel message), then our faith should evidence itself in love to others. Love is not just a topic to blog about, or sing about, or preach about (or even make movies about). Love is an action that we must put into practice in our lives every day. The authors explain: “Luther, Calvin, and those who followed them insisted that the fruit of justification is faith active in love. A living faith expresses itself in works of love, in service to the neighbor” (41, emphasis in original).
The Biblical text makes this clear as well. Love is a command (John 13:34). You can’t command an idea. You can only command actions. Additionally, 1 John explains:
Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.1 John 3:18
We love because He first loved us.1 John 4:19
Finally, if we have faith in Jesus Christ and demonstrate that faith through love to others, then we will also be pursuing the third way to true unity. Grace. You can’t show grace apart from love. And you can’t show grace if your heart hasn’t been transformed by grace. The authors note:
The word grace is found some 150 times in the New Testament alone, and the theme of God’s free, unmerited favor is woven into the fabric of Holy Scripture from Genesis to Revelation . . . yet the doctrine of grace itself has provoked some of the fiercest debates in the history of the church.Ibid., 42. Emphasis in original.
Grace is a primary topic of the Bible. As such, shouldn’t we who call ourselves Christians be quick to show grace? We cannot leave grace by the wayside in our quest for unity.
When it’s hard to love
This leads to the first application of their thesis. In chapter 2, the authors tackle the topic of “loving your neighbor when it seems impossible.” They quote Francis Schaeffer, who said:
We are to love all true Christian brothers in a way that the world may observe . . . This means showing love to our brothers in the midst of our differences–great or small–loving our brothers when it costs us something, loving them even under times of tremendous emotional tension, loving them in a way the world can see. . . . Love–and the unity it attests to–is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and Jesus was sent by the Father.Francis Schaeffer, quoted in Ibid., 48. Emphasis in original.
The chapter turns to the topic of reconciliation. The authors start by listing reasons why we hesitate to reconcile with others, leading to a discussion of how to truly forgive. They turn from this to a discussion about the dangers of refusing to reconcile. One key idea is as follows:
Many unbelievers will have a very difficult time recognizing Christians as Christ’s disciples if they see believers at each others’ throats or coldly spurning each other’s company.Ibid., 53.
If we are to be recognized as Christ’s, Christians must evidence love for one another that is willing to work through issues. We must seek reconciliation. We must consider one another as better than ourselves (cf. Philippians 2:3). And this leads naturally into the topic of reconciliation with people of other ethnicities. Your race isn’t superior. Humble yourselves, and love people who are different from you. Jesus did. We are to be like Him in this world (cf. 1 John 4:16-17).
When denominations appear disunified
This leads to the second application of their thesis. In chapter 3, the authors discuss unity between various strands of evangelicalism. This is a complex topic, but to summarize it quickly, the authors reference J. I. Packer and Thomas C. Oden, saying:
There is a coherent, underlying unity and solidarity among evangelicals; in other words, a theological coherence to be grasped in the various confessional-type documents evangelicals have produced across the years. This consensus, they contend, cuts across the Calvinist, Lutheran, Baptist, Arminian, Wesleyan, Holiness, charismatic, and Pentecostal streams of the evangelical church. Among these diverse evangelical denominations and theological movements . . . there is a widely shared agreement about the central issues of Christian teaching.
This consensus includes foundational doctrines such as the authority of Holy Scriptures, belief in the one triune God, the creation and the fall, the personal work of Jesus Christ, justification by grace through faith, the sending of the Holy Spirit, the church as the sent-forth people of God, and the second coming of Christ.Ibid., 80-81.
The authors give three cautions in our quest for inter-denominational unity. First, we must not compromise our convictions. Second, we must not seek unity for convenience alone. Third, we must not consider doctrine unimportant. With that said, they lay out three ways in which we can work together and display true love and genuine unity to a watching world:
First, make a careful distinction between primary doctrines of the faith, which may not be compromised without betraying the Gospel, and secondary issues, which may be important but are not essential for fellowship.
Second, when we have theological disagreements with our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is always appropriate for us to pray for additional guidance and illumination from the Holy Spirit.
Third, humility, not arrogance, is the proper attitude in all controversies among Christians.Ibid., 87-88.
The way to achieve unity is to recognize that we don’t know everything. Our three-pound brains cannot contain all the information in the world. Additionally, my three-pound brain has different life experiences than yours, leading us to different conclusions on various matters. At the end of the day, we must love each other enough to unite around the essentials (Person and work of Christ [Gospel], Trinity, Authority of Scripture). We must not make our secondary and tertiary issues things that drive a wedge between us. I conclude this chapter with a quote from the authors:
It is easy to pay lip service to love. Who is against love? The problem is that we trivialize love by not practicing it, or by pretending that we can practice love without it costing us anything.Ibid., 91.
“It is easy to pay lip service to love. Who is against love? The problem is that we trivialize love by not practicing it, or by pretending that we can practice love without it costing us anything.“Tweet
When we are called “hypocrites”
This leads to the third application of their thesis. In chapter 4, the authors attack the charge of hypocrisy. How should we respond to this charge?
The authors state, “As Christians, we need to take the charge of hypocrisy very seriously” (105). They trace the idea of hypocrisy through the early church (A.D. 33-500). They explain:
Certainly, hypocrites and heretics existed in the early church. But the early Christians, recognizing how serious heresy and hypocrisy were, tried to deal with both problems directly. They drafted creeds and “rules of faith” in which they defined what orthodox belief was. Moreover, they practiced sturdy church discipline.Ibid., 108.
At one point in this discussion, they quote the early church historian, Eusebius:
He [the Evil One] then waged a war by other methods, in which he employed the agency of wicked impostors as certain abandoned instruments and minions of destruction. Intent upon every course, he instigated these insidious imposters and deceivers, by assuming the same name with us (Christians) to lead those believers whom they happened to seduce to the depths of destruction and by their presumption, also turned those that were ignorant of the faith, from the path that led to the saving truth of God.Ibid., 113.
They give us three options for responding to the charge of hypocrisy. First, we can do nothing; second, we can get defensive; third, we can “recognize, when appropriate, the validity of particular charges and to call for sincere confession and restitution” (103).
They further explain:
Paradoxically enough, if we decide to respond to critics at all, we can become “hypocritical” even in the way we argue that we are not “hypocritical.” We can state our cases brilliantly while showing little concern for the welfare of our opponent. We can be more desirous that our audience admires our debating skills than be genuinely concerned that they come to a better understanding of the Christian faith.
Dealing with the hypocrisy charge in a way that pleases the Lord demands Christian humility, wisdom, and love. If we are not empowered by the Holy Spirit, we will find it very difficult to bear the mark of Jesus while attempting to answer this charge.Ibid., 104.
They offer us three applications of this idea. First, we must “recognize any hypocrisy;” second, we must “answer the misrepresentations;” and third, we must “participate in the public debate” (117-120).
Two thoughts are worth quoting in whole on this idea of responding to the charge. First,
We need careful studies directed to the general public that will help make it clear that not all atrocities attributed to people who call themselves “Christians” in western history were performed by true disciples of Christ.Ibid., 120.
This is an important call. It reminds me of a paper i wrote early on in my college career, by which i still stand–though it desperately needs citations and a gentler tone–even though at the time of writing, i convicted myself. I read this paper out loud to my secular college English class, and i’ll never forget my teacher’s response to it. It was gracious and humbling (to me), even though she was not converted by it (as far as i know).
The media are not totally to blame for their inability to understand the thought of “those persons who are not ‘liberal’ or ‘pro-gay.’ ” Often we, as evangelical Christians, have shied away from participating in the media and the arts. With few Christian dialogue partners to propose other ways of looking at the world, it is not surprising that “liberal elites” of the media often assume their views on abortion, radical feminism, pornography, and the law are simply the ways “good,” informed people should think about them.Ibid., 97.
If you’re a writer, write stories. Write tales that present Christians in a biblically faithful way. Write the stories and submit them to publishers. Let’s refuse to allow the only people writing Christian characters be ignorant nonbelievers who can really only write Christian caricatures. (This blog might be slower this year because i have 4+ novels in progress.) Join me in writing fiction that contains Christians!
When we are called “fundamentalists”
This leads to the fourth application of their thesis. In chapter 5, the authors discuss fundamentalism. They start by pointing out the modern connotation of the word “fundamentalist.” The authors write,
Since the early 1980s a remarkable transformation of the definitions and connotations of the word fundamentalism has taken place in the United States and around the world. Now many people do fear religious people if they are depicted as fundamentalists, whether American or otherwise. The word fundamentalist can evoke images of crazed religious fanatics who are intolerant of the religious beliefs of others and intent upon forcing their own views upon other peoples.
. . .
. . . In evangelical debates the term is also sometimes used as a pejorative epithet to designate those conservative Protestants who uphold biblical inerrancy, even if these people call themselves evangelicals.Ibid., 124-126. Emphasis in original.
As such, the authors intend to caution us against using this term, whether to define ourselves or to labeling other Christians of a “stricter” variety. They trace the history of the term from 1919 through 2000.
Christian fundamentalism began in the 1920s with five nonnegotiables: “(1) the inerrancy of Scripture in the original documents; (2) Christ’s virgin birth; (3) Christ’s vicarious atonement; (4) Christ’s bodily resurrection; and (5) the reality of biblical miracles” (129). At this time, some key “fundamentalists” were J. Gresham Machen, B. B. Warfield, and A. A. Hodge.
When they come to the modern era, their discussion becomes even more intriguing and, by necessity, even more worth heeding. They cite modern scholars who define fundamentalism as “militantly anti-modernist evangelicalism . . . loose, diverse and changing federation of co-belligerents united by their fierce opposition to modernist attempts to bring Christianity into line with modern thought.” The authors go on to say that the previously cited author “went further and claimed that some ‘striking’ similarities existed between American fundamentalism and Muslims’ militancy and views of an infallible Koran” (143). This led more and more scholars to continue drawing this comparison.
Notable scholars compared fundamentalist religious groups from around the world that were supposed to share five traits. The first four were identified as (1) steadfast religious belief; (2) strict adherence to a moral code; (3) the practice of traditional pieties; and (4) the selective retrieval of fundamentals from a sacred text.
The fifth trait, however, was in one sense the most important . . . Professors Marty and Appleby proposed that “when perceiving cherished traditions, values, and ways of life to be under attack, they [fundamentalists] engage in  counterattack.”Ibid., 144.
The authors give several counterarguments to this line of thinking. In the previous chapter, the authors had argued that we must stand up for faith against false charges. They give an example of doing just that in this chapter.
Modern charges of fundamentalism argue that biblical inerrancy was an invention of the fundamentalists of the early 1900s. However, that line of thinking is unsupported by careful historical study. They summarize Clinton Ohlers’ research, which explains:
[B]etween 1880-1900 the vast majority of theologians and pastors who defended the ‘”errancy” of Holy Scripture acknowledged they were abandoning the old Protestant doctrine of biblical infallibility to do so. They did not perceive the “Inspiration” article of B. B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge as departing from what Protestants had earlier affirmed.Ibid., 147.
A fundamentalist critic in 1926 even argued, “There is nothing new about Fundamentalism–it is merely orthodox Christianity” (148). This is necessary to grasp as we move into the second point i want to highlight here:
[A] number of moderate Muslim commentators dislike the application of the expression fundamentalist to religious extremists in their midst. This usage gives the impression that the beliefs of the extremists actually represent the fundamentals of the Muslim faith, when in fact they do not.Ibid., 148.
I point these two distinctions out because they are mandatory to understand. Christian “fundamentalists” indeed promote fundamentals; Muslim “fundamentalists” are focused on fringe teachings, not the central tenets of Islam. It is unfair to compare them both with the same word. And it is unfair to Muslims just as much as it is to Christians.
In this world, a mark of Jesus is that we speak for others’ rights, not merely our own. It’s the humility theme that keeps returning throughout this post. The authors conclude the chapter with ideas for how we can love others well even when outsiders drop the label “fundamentalist” on us:
[W]e should make every effort to let the larger public know today that we believe fully in the rights of others to hold their own beliefs.
. . .
We may guard and advocate our views without speaking ill of others.-Ibid., 149-150.
The authors summarize a substantial charge against the “fundamentalists,” put forward by Carl F. H. Henry in 1947: “Although fundamentalists had rightly upheld the fundamentals of the faith, they had not sufficiently emphasized the Bible’s teachings about social justice and corporate ethics” (137). It is possible to be so focused on being “right” that you forget how to be “good” (a forthcoming blog post will look at this topic). We must love well, regardless of the labels people tag on our backs because of our beliefs.
When it comes to other religions
This leads to the fifth application of their thesis. In chapter 6, the authors focus on the idea of loving those of other religions. This is especially important, especially given the topic of the previous chapter.
The authors start this chapter by looking at two mistakes we generally make regarding our interactions with people of other religions. First, we go into discussions with false caricatures of the other religion in mind, which makes us look like ignorant fools in our interaction with them. For instance, they illustrate with Islam:
[I]t is easy to think that all Muslims are terrorists, or at least terrorist sympathizers. A harsh verdict against Islam in general is further fueled by the fact that most of what we know about Islam–and this is true of other religions as well–is based on sketchy, incomplete information. For example, most Americans tend to think that most Muslims live in the Middle East. This is doubtless because the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the war in Iraq, and other conflicts in the volatile Middle East are featured night after night on the evening news. But, in fact, only 15 percent of the world’s Muslims live in the Middle East. The largest Muslim country today is Indonesia, a country far removed, politically and culturally as well as geographically, from the Arab world.Ibid., 153. Emphasis added.
Since this book was published in 2005, it would not surprise me if the statistics had shifted since publication. According to Wikipedia, as of 2018, Indonesia was still the most populous Muslim country.
We must take the time to understand other religions as much as possible so that we can be the best possible witnesses to them. We don’t like it when people misrepresent our religion; we shouldn’t do it to them.
A second reason why our denouncing persons of other religious traditions will not lead many of them to trust in Jesus is that such words invariably come across as marked by meanness and an air of superiority rather than by gratitude and humility. We must beware of engaging in a kind of “my-God’s-better-than-your-God” religious cheerleading contest.Ibid., 154.
Again, humility is a key to displaying the mark of Jesus to the world (cf. Philippians 2:1-5). If we want to represent Him well to people of other cultures and religious backgrounds, then we must approach it with an air of humility. There is no place for pride in a Christian. As D. T. Niles said, “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find a piece of bread” (155).
Falling prey to pluralism is not an option. At the end of the day, if we genuinely want to win the lost to Christ–regardless of their religion–we must tell them that their religion is faulty. Again, we must do this with humility, but it is not loving to just take the “all roads lead to heaven” lie.
Christians who would bear the mark of Jesus must ever seek to speak the truth in love. But speak the truth we must!Ibid., 157.
They turn to two examples of people living out the mark of Jesus humbly in evangelistic contexts: Paul the Apostle in Athens (cf. Acts 17) and William Carey in India. When it comes to Paul, they summarize: “The one thing he could not do was to place Jesus on an equal par with other deities” (162, emphasis added). They credit William Carey with the “mission awakening” in the church, and they cite from “The Amsterdam Declaration” of 2000 to emphasize the importance and focus of Christian mission work:
[B]ecause all persons are made in the image of God, we must advocate religious liberty and human rights for all. We pledge ourselves to treat those of other faiths with respect and faithfully and humbly to serve the nation in which God has placed us, while affirming that Christ is the one and only Savior of the world.Ibid., 168.
To conclude the chapter, they list seven strategies to effectively reach the lost and evidence the mark of Jesus in the process:
- “Seek to Understand the Person’s Beliefs and Practices” (168)
- “Develop Personal Relationships” (169-169)
- “Work Together” (169)
- “Refrain from Ecumenical Compromise” (169-170)
- “Avoid Speculation” (170)
- “Be a Positive Witness” (171)
- “Pray” (172)
If you want further information on those sections, i can’t recommend this book enough.
If you want to see the lost come to Christ, then your life needs to proclaim Christ. If “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), we are recognized as His by our love. Let’s love well!
Consider purchasing this book today! It will help you better understand how to live a life that identifies you as Christ’s to those outside–and even inside–the walls of your church.
In these “anxious times,” with news ranging from [a pandemic to blizzards], many people are looking for “shelter.” They are searching for people who will display a seeable, costly love and care for them without ulterior motives. It is absolutely stunning how many people, even if they enjoy outward “success” and access to large sums of money, are lonely. Even in a crowd, they can live lives of quiet desperation.
As evangelicals, we should bear the “mark of Jesus” and be shelter givers.Ibid., 178. I shamelessly edited the “news today” to more accurately match our current climate.
Grab this book today!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.