Written by Jessica Ribera
Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never seen “Chariots of Fire.”
I absorbed the storyline and highlights over years of sitting in church services and youth group meetings. Christian men, on the world stage, decide to lay their glory by. Such things seem unheard of now, but maybe I’m just feeling too trapped under a December cloud to listen or look. I’ll tell you in time why I bring this up.
2020, besides being scary and exhausting, has provided fresh perspectives and new context for relating to one another. Parenting, friendship, employment, art-making, teaching, marriage are, at least a bit, different than before. These things have been said. Being at home all day, every day and wearing so many hats for my children’s upkeep has given me a lot more time, experience, and cause for re-evaluating everyone’s behavior (mine especially). From the intensely personal to the global, the Issues are heavy and clang cymbals every time we turn around.
Global pandemic! How do I respond? Where do I donate? Do I cancel? Online or in-person?
Racism! How do I respond? How do I help right now? What is my position? What do I say?
Social media! How do I use but not abuse this? How do I practice honesty while also wanting to be allowed to mind my own business? Do I just finally drop it, once and for all?
Screen time! How do I parent stewardship of the mind, of time, in light of the apparent here-to-stay nature of the internet? What’s the right limit?
Politics! What are accurate sources? How do I weigh each policy, each “promise?” How do I talk to my friends, family, and neighbors?
Environment! Pornography! Human trafficking! How can I possibly tackle these things?
Education! What is this doing to the current generation of children? Is this or that new decision a big threat or an opportunity? How do I measure progress right now?
Spiritual walk with Jesus! How do I truly seek the heart of God in my daily, intimate life and on a global scale?
In light of all these things and more, we are asking ourselves, our friends, God: How are we supposed to live??
Christians must add GOD. “How does God want me to live right now? How can I know?”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism states a related question (and answer) like this:
Q: What authority from God directs us how to glorify and enjoy him?
A: The only authority for glorifying and enjoying him is the Bible which is the word of God and is made up of the Old and New Testaments.
For the rest of this post, let us consider it established that the Word of God is the ultimate authority for our lives. Any other teacher we love or have can’t be the end-all. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”(2 Timothy 3:16). And, thankfully, 2000 years into “Christendom,” we have lots of witness and help from the saints (who came before us and are with us now) in our co-labor of being salt and light, showing mercy, acting justly, and running the race set before us. What a wealth of art, music, books, film, and those new-fangled podcasts we as North Americans have available!
So, “Chariots of Fire…”
I have gradually become frustrated with myself and my children for being (direct quote from my Texan-born mouth), “lily-livered.” It means: too quick to give up, too quick to marginalize my convictions due to fear, too lazy. “There’s no shortage of help, of inspiration,” I told myself, and made a list of good family movie night choices. When I searched for “Chariots of Fire,” I learned that I would need to pay for it. But, what didst my eyes perceive? So many other free titles that could promote a godly, Biblical worldview!
I did a lot of scrolling and hasty adding-to-queue, but the title that most drew my attention was a video series from Francis Schaeffer called, same as his beloved book, “How Should We Then Live?”
I deeply appreciate Francis Schaeffer. His approach to evangelism, to apologetics, to engaging with culture, has been a breath of fresh air to many a Christian, including me. I’m no scholar, but I’ll tell you how I sum up his approach: God’s image is truly stamped on humanity, His truth is unchanging, and these two facts together enable Christians to freely, boldly, and humbly exert benign pressure on the world and give generous, hopeful love to the lost.
I will not give you false expectations. The videos are full of incredible, relevant teaching for our time, but they are quite dated. He wears knickers, for one thing, and my children kept asking, “Why is this video so blurry?” But, in spite of the lack of 1080p, we were sucked into Schaeffer’s easy-to-follow, winsome, wise review of the history and art of centuries. Brendan and I often regret that I didn’t get the art history degree I wanted instead of my “practical choice” alternative, so the world-travel and considerate study of cultural outputs really made me want to get out the popcorn.
The fire beneath me was lit anew. I was reminded that this age of frustration and cultural decline is, well, old as history. We now are privileged beyond belief (that’s part of what makes us so lily-livered), but in other ways we are impoverished. We do not really know how to argue, how to respectfully disagree, how to boldly assert our “religious views,” how to complete due diligence, even how to think. We feed ourselves a diet of Netflix, treats, and “likes.” It sounds bleak when I consider the demands of our time; we do not seem ready. Yet, the Holy Spirit is in us. He is greater than he who is in the world, and he has made us new creations! “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Schaeffer asks questions like, “Where did this idea come from?”
The views and values espoused by culture at large or the friend down the block have come from somewhere! Take time to listen. Schaeffer is famous for saying, “If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last five minutes I will share something of the truth.” I first heard this quote in a class with Jerram Barrs, a student of Schaeffer’s, at Covenant Theological Seminary. When we begin with “What can I see that clearly reflects God’s stamped image on this person or city?” then we are meeting a person or culture in a place where there may already be softness toward God and the Gospel. Perhaps a community or person is particularly good at loving the orphan and widow; this is the result of God’s image in them! But perhaps that same party clings doggedly to another idea with which we completely disagree. When we take time to ask, “Where did you get that idea?” we can learn where sin has potentially most harmed or taken root in a person or culture. The two ideas can exist together: a party can bear the image of God, thereby possessing a very dignified status, and be subject, as we all are, to the effects of sin.
A loving presentation of the truth is a godly approach, no matter the particulars of a person or culture.
It’s easy to believe that we are alone or some kind of cutting edge of challenged humanity. We are not. It is tempting to bury ourselves in our comforts. I do every day. Praise God, He has not left us to languish and rot! Listening to the tug on our hearts to seek truth and courage is as vital for us as it was for first century Christians and Christians in persecuted places now. We may not each have some huge role to play, some great stand to take. But, we do have the Spirit of God and His Word.
I’d like you to remember “Reading Rainbow” book reports, if you can. Imagine me in my favorite sweat suit, pigtailed hair, speaking directly into camera:
Are you feeling dragged down by 2020? Do you wonder what God wants from us right now? Are you saddened by your own lack of love for your neighbor? Then have I got a series for you! “How Should We Then Live?” is free on Amazon prime! For ten, twenty-five minute episodes, watch a bearded man in knee-high socks travel the world to show the story of God’s people since the time of Christ. You may even come away with fresh courage for these days that God has given us. It’s a great one to share with the whole family!
I’ll let you know if I ever do get around to watching “Chariots of Fire,” and I long for the day when we can sit snugly together again to discuss all these things.