Don’t Blame the Lost

I recently finished Ben Patterson’s He Has Made Me  Glad. Overall an enjoyable read and one I highly recommend, especially for clergy.  Patterson’s thesis is that God’s people are invited, even commanded, to live lives of joy.  Since one need not look too far to see that we aren’t living lives of “inexpressible and glorious joy,” Patterson wants to help us get there.

I buy most of what Patterson is selling. Perhaps all of it.  But I think the direction he goes in chapter 4 opens a door he does not seem to realize he opens.  He writes:

An evangelist was asked if it was hard to get people saved. He answered, “No, it’s not hard to get them saved. The hard part is getting them lost.”  Part of the misery of being lost is not knowing you are lost. This lack of awareness of guilt and misery may be a uniquely modern difficulty. (p.56)

This is followed with a C.S. Lewis quote that says about the same thing.

It seems as though both Patterson and Lewis  imagine that all pre-modern people were constantly conscious of overwhelming guilt and need for God.

To blame the non-Christian or unchurched for not being sufficiently aware of his or her own sin and concomitant misery is to blame the victim, as it were.

Modern non-Christians may well exhibit no clear and deep knowledge of sin and misery, but have self-professed Christians offered them a different life to observe?

If the characterization “lost” fits non-Christians, what is it they are lost from?  What is it they have not found?  Comapring their own lives to the Christians who live next door or down the street, who work in the next cubicle or sit in traffic in the car behind them, what real difference are they to notice?  That we call them “lost”?

Alasdair McIntyre’s words, written some 40 years ago, that atheists are getting less interesting because Christians are giving them “less of a God in which to disbelieve” has only gotten wiser as the years have passed.

Instead of critiquing the lost for not knowing they are lost, how about of the “found” start to live like they have been found?

6 thoughts on “Don’t Blame the Lost

  1. I haven’t read Patterson, so I don’t know the context, but he sounds a lot like Hauerwas here. I don’t sense a critique of the lost – rather a simple factual statement.

  2. This is a good paragraph….

    If the characterization “lost” fits non-Christians, what is it they are lost from? What is it they have not found? Comparing their own lives to the Christians who live next door or down the street, who work in the next cubicle or sit in traffic in the car behind them, what real difference are they to notice? That we call them “lost”?

    • This is my point, Audie! Patterson reads to me as though before modern times, everyone who wasn’t a Christian was to some extent in misery – and that they had some at least vague recognition that their misery was because they weren’t Christian!

      I suspect that if Christians acted more “found,” the use of the term “lost” for others would perhaps make some sense.

  3. It sounds like Hauerwas to me, too. The line he and Willimon use is that we have to be taught that we are sinners.

    I agree, however, that it is wrong to suppose most pre-modern people were in crisis about their salvation. Some did. They showed up to listen when an evangelical preacher came to speak. But it is pretty clear that a huge number of folks did not spend much if any time anxious about such things.

  4. I think we call them lost because they do not fit our idea (or def) of what it means to be xian. So many today (some say especially young adults) are “spiritual but not religious.” Are they lost simply because they do not adhere or join our institutional definitions of what it true and right? Rahner is helpful with his use of “anonymous xian” (though I don’t buy all the implications thereof). Even John Wesley came down similar to Rahner because of his emphasis of God’s universal grace. I think xians in their attempts to save the lost become lost…whatever lost might mean. In the end, I’m a pluralist so I don’t even use the term lost. They’re just people.

  5. I get that it sounds a little like Hauerwas, but I don’t think it is quite the same. Hauerwas is frustrated with the way the church succumbed to modernity. Patterson seems to me frustrated with the way those outside the church adopted modernity.

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