The Narrow Brick Road

by Deana Chadwell4/14/18
We hear often in the media disparaging remarks about Christians. It is the one group society is allowed to attack, the one religion that political correctness refuses to cover with its blanket of protection. But why? Isn’t one of Christianity’s most basic mandates to “love one another?” How is that obnoxious or objectionable? Doesn’t Jesus represent to all of us God’s perfect love? Two answers occur to me:

  1. The media (i.e. the left) knows so little about Christianity that it has made up its own straw man version to knock about. …and, more importantly,
  2. The negativity is the fault of the Church writ large – the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, the mainstream Protestants, the Baptists, the Evangelicals – all of us.

So, in what way has the Church failed Christ?

  1. The Gospel is good news, but the Church rarely presents it that way. Christianity isn’t about sin, about who’s committing what sin where. Our sins were paid for on the cross – that’s not a catch phrase but an ontological truth. All humans know that perfection is beyond us. And most people – when we think of God at all – understand that He is perfection and demands perfection, can tolerate nothing less. That’s a nasty pickle to be in, but God solved the problem for us. The Gospel tells us that our imperfections have been permanently paid for and forgiven. This is called grace.  It is very good news, but…
  2. Grace is what most Christians get wrong. Oh, we can all repeat the phrase “unmerited favor,” but few think much beyond that and I know that because even our theologians, our Christian writers, our church leaders say the phrase and then start listing all the things Christians have to do earn God’s approval, all the things we have to avoid doing to keep His favor. It’s no wonder non-Christians are confused. Is Christianity about recognizing what Christ did for us, or is it just a club for the self-righteous and the do-gooders? And nobody much likes those folks.
  3. The Church has failed to make it clear that God is rational, clear, and wanting us to be so as well. It is not rational to say to someone, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” and then turn around and present a list of must-do’s to keep that gift. We can’t say that God is good, that He’s just, that He’s loving and then insist that some of us have been predestined to go to heaven and some to hell. That does not make sense.  A God who would arbitrarily choose some to bless some to curse is a nasty being indeed.

Christianity isn’t about following the Ten Commandments, though when a society, generally speaking, does limit behavior along those lines, the society benefits. Christians recognize the worth of those rules, but obeying them does not determine where we spend eternity.  It will make life here on earth easier, more pleasant, more fulfilling.  But no one can fulfill those mandates perfectly; Christ made that clear in the Sermon on the Mount; if we even think sin, we are guilty of it. If we break even one aspect of the law, we are guilty of all of it. Yet, no matter how obnoxious a sin is, it is not the mandate of the Christian to wipe it out.

Christianity isn’t about earning “Boy Scout” badges, about doing good, about being generous and kind – though both make us feel good and can result in benefits for others.  Being generous and kind should be an effect, not a cause, not a requirement, not a way of keeping score. Christians far too often give that impression. It’s about grace, about UNmerited favor.

Christianity isn’t even about praying. Not about memorized prayers, not about public prayer, not about ritualistic prayer. Christianity is about getting to know God and prayer results from that.  We communicate with those we know and the better we know them the more contact we want, but prayer without knowing is no better than Facebook. God has introduced Himself to us in nature, but the advanced course in knowing God is in the Bible, and yet many Christian churches downplay the Bible as if it were just an embellishment, another book with which to decorate a shelf.

Christianity isn’t about trying to “change the world,” or “make a difference” by expending our own energies and concentration, our own relationships and worldly goods. That just plumps our own egos.  It is man’s basic flaws that screwed up society in the first place – how can a broken part fix a broken car? Besides which, God’s clear communication to us lets us know that He has the solution for this broken world well in hand; we can’t fix it, but He can and He will.

Oddly enough, Christianity done well does change the world. When Christians learn what God would have us do, and do it through the guidance and power of God, amazing things happen. It is Christians who brought into the world orphanages and hospitals, schools and charities of all kinds. It is Christians who insisted in stopping the practice of slavery. Christian countries are usually much more prosperous than their unbelieving counterparts. But the same activities outside of contact with God through Christ don’t fair as well. Look at what happened when a non-Christian foundation set out to help the people of Haiti after the hurricane. Tens of millions of dollars vanished and only six houses were built. Christianity, i.e. a personal connection with the God of the universe, creates almost automatically, an improvement in the world, but one cannot become a Christian by “changing the world.”

We hear people talk about “staying on the straight and narrow path,” and we assume they mean avoiding sin, but the narrow brick road is not the path of uptight, anti-fun, judgmental self-righteousness, though that’s certainly what non-Christians believe we mean and it is often what Christians themselves think it means. The narrow brick road is the path of grace, of acceptance of the fact that we need God to save us, to save our world, to fix all that is wrong. It means living our lives as a thanksgiving for what God has done for us. Our pathologies fight us on this. We want the gold star. We want to earn it ourselves. We want to lord over others. We want others to look to up to us. And we want to ignore the fact that, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We actually think we can impress God.

The atheist has every right to look on that silliness and want nothing to do with it. Of course, the atheist has his own silliness to contend with. It’s just as ridiculous to think that humans – whom the atheist often paints as the chief evil of the world – are capable of creating a utopian society that will be good for everyone. They, too, totally forget the garbage-in-garbage-out rule.

As this age winds to an end, and it is doing so quickly, we must remember that history will play out just as God has planned it – whether we believe in Him or not, whether we obey Him or not, whether or not we follow and worship His Son. It’s truly pointless to travel down any other road than the narrow and humbling road of perfect, actual grace. It is only that road that leads to permanent joy.


Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com. She is also an adjunct professor at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. She teaches writing and public speaking.
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Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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15 Responses to The Narrow Brick Road

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    As I understand it, the notion is that those who truly put their faith and love in Jesus Christ (as John makes clear is necessary to gain eternal life: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”) will tend to behave better (as Jesus would wish) as a result. That’s how John Calvin escaped the trap of antinomianism, at least to some degree.

    • Yes — to a small degree. Calvin and the neo-Calvinists have badly tangled biblical theology, though. They make Almighty God sound like a capricious, petty tyrant. And you are right — once under the protective wing of God people do tend to relax and stop thrashing about in hopeless and illicit attempts to make themselves happy.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I’m no Calvinist, though I will point out that his view that communion is symbolic, not literal flesh and blood that somehow can’t be detected in any way, makes a lot of sense to me.

        • Agreed. No problem there. I just really object to TULIP, but neither am I Arminian. I suspect that all theologies go off the rails somewhere — given the fallen nature of man. Anything that can be screwed up, will be.

          • Rosalys says:

            Election is a biblical truth. I, as well as all “whosoever will,” are chosen. I hope that doesn’t make me sound snooty, because, honestly, I don’t know why God chose me. I don’t know why I believe while so many others don’t, but I do.

            But you put your finger on it, Deana, when you say they make God sound capricious. God is not capricious. Just because one does not understand God reasoning or ways, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with His plan. If we could understand everything about God, He wouldn’t be God.

            As for Calvinism, I sometimes refer to myself as a two and a half to three and a half pointer – depending how I feel on any given day.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I suspect one of the main reasons many in Western society hate Christianity is because it is simply what they are familiar with. Christianity has been ascendant for so long in the West that it is an easy target for those who are by nature resentful, disaffected and contrary.

    These same people know little or nothing about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or any of the many other beliefs which exist. None of these beliefs have been the major influence on Western Culture, so they don’t attract the spleen that Christianity does from the ever-present malcontent, libertine and egotist who are always with us.

    Should every Christian miraculously become truly Christlike, I seriously doubt that it would change the minds of today’s anti-Christians. At least not many of them.

  3. Steve Lancaster says:

    As a Jew, you would think that I have little skin in this fight; yet paradoxically Christians and Jew are forever bound in a struggle of brotherhood. I think, deep down in the theological morass what has been forgotten is the unspoken narrative of each. In my view, Christianity offers the individual the opportunity for a direct one-to-one relationship with G-d, but sacrifices community unity.

    Judaism, on the other hand, offers no promise of an idyllic afterlife, or even a relationship with G-d, but answers the question of how can humans, live together in community with a minimum of strife. In the long run, they are two sides of the same coin.

    Thus, a duality of purpose and the curious, but consequential Messianic Christianity of Christians who ardently believe Jewish ritual has more value than traditional Christian worship and Jews who hold fast to traditional Jewish ritual, yet accept Jesus as Messiah.
    We see expressions of this daily in the close working relationship of evangelical Christians and Orthodox and Haredi Jews.

    Some of the most ardent Zionists are Christian. I think KFZ would confirm large numbers of them are Texans–go figure.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Some of the most ardent Zionists are Christian. I think KFZ would confirm large numbers of them are Texans–go figure.

      You’d better believe it.

      While living or traveling abroad, I have been asked about the USA’s relationship with Israel. Very often, foreigners believe the “Jews” somehow keep the USA bound to Israel.

      I explain to them that millions of evangelical Christians support Israel and will vote against anyone who is not willing to standby Israel. This being the case, the question of American/Israeli relations is no longer one of foreign policy, rather it has become a question of domestic American politics.

      Regarding Texans specifically, I can imagine that Texans will have a respect and feeling of kinship for Israelis due to the way Texas came about.

      I have also noted, and Jews from elsewhere in the USA, especially up north have confirmed to me, that Jews were treated pretty well in Texas. There seem to have been Jews in Texas from early days, but they settled into the country like everyone else. Not many people particularly cared whether you were Jewish or Baptist or whatever.

      Of course, most of the Jews I grew up with would have been Reform, slightly conservative or secular. The first Hasidic Jews I saw were during my study in Vienna. And they stood out from the Jews I had grown up around.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Judaism, on the other hand, offers no promise of an idyllic afterlife, or even a relationship with G-d, but answers the question of how can humans, live together in community with a minimum of strife.

      Steve, that clearly explains, like I’ve never read before, why Jews would be so drawn to the liberal cause of Big Government. With no larger context than the here-and-now, there is a natural affinity with Communists and atheists who wish to ever-improve life on this earth because there is no other to be had.

      And it’s not that I’m unsympathetic to that viewpoint (not the Communist one, the one that is skeptical of metaphysical claims made regarding anything apart from what we can experience ourselves). And as a practical matter, we have gained great benefits from the general progress of civilization in regards to material comforts, although in places (because of wars and such) it’s been one step forward, two steps back.

      For whatever it’s worth, I’ve been told before that I have the outlook of a Jew on many things. This is certainly not intentional. And for whatever it’s worth, I think Christianity is morphing toward the liberal/Leftist flavor of Judaism as “poverty,” not sin (nor even the saving grace of God), is the prime goal, along with achieving “diversity” and being “inclusive.”

      I think Deana has written a very good article from a Christian perspective. There’s not much for me to take issue with. A particularly good point was:

      Christianity isn’t about earning “Boy Scout” badges, about doing good, about being generous and kind – though both make us feel good and can result in benefits for others.  Being generous and kind should be an effect, not a cause, not a requirement, not a way of keeping score.

      With the necessary caveat about the benefit of acting yourself to a better way of thinking (engrain good habits, even if they seem artificial at first), she is so right about the distinction between cause and effect. This is also the difference between being superficially “nice” — the kind of “niceness” that is easily exposed as superficial as soon as the stakes are raised to anything above a convenient mask. (Not that politeness for politeness’ sake isn’t a good thing, but I’m talking about the pervasive “niceness” that will put you in prison for harming a spotted owl but has no problem killing the unborn by the millions.) Goodness rooted in something deeper will tend to stay when the going gets rough.

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        Brad,
        I think you have it wrong. The philosophical focus on life is a celebration of that gift from G-d. Every Friday at sundown believing and secular Jews acknowledge the creation and G-ds handiwork. In the Talmudic tradition, the end of times is forestalled by the life of 12 righteous people who G-d will not destroy. When one dies another is born, thus life continues.

        The most Jewish of all toasts is, Le Chiam–to life.

        “Christianity/Judaism isn’t about earning “Boy Scout” badges, about doing good, about being generous and kind – though both make us feel good and can result in benefits for others. Being generous and kind should be an effect, not a cause, not a requirement, not a way of keeping score”

        Deana could just have easily been commenting on any number of Jewish sages. However, the Rebbes of Eastern Europe come best to mind. Baal Shem Tov in the 18th century is the best known. Although, Maimonides holds a strong influence on European Jewry in the middle ages.

        There is no natural affinity for communist or socialist causes, but there is striving for the most freedom for the most people within the scope of the law. It is what Passover is all about. Once a year we do not just think of our ancestors, we relive their dreams of freedom and liberty and desire, with all our hearts to pass the mitzvah of freedom to the world.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I’m in praise of authentic Judaism, Steve. What I’m saying is that I can see why so many Jews have substituted Leftist beliefs for the traditional ones.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Just an aside that tracks somewhat with what Deana is talking about.

    I watched about half of the first episode of an ongoing series called Broken. It stars Sean Bean as a Catholic priest who presides over a northern urban area of England. Granted, this is a TV series, not the Second Vatican Council, but I think it reflects modern views.

    Basically Catholicism now means “I smile at your sins.” The first episode starts off with a woman with three kids and no husband who steals 60 quid from the cash register at the place where she works. She’s fired. She then gets physical with the manager and gets a bloody nose for it. (The manager was not so touchy-feely and non-judgmental.)

    This woman is of a sour disposition, loud, angry, and thinks “but I have 3 kids to feed” is a ticket to do whatever she wants and be as abusive as she wants. Even Father O’Malley would have bitch-slapped this girl into maturity. But all that Sean Bean’s character can muster is making jokes about her stealing money from the till. (I kid you not.)

    I read quite a few reviews of this series (which isn’t awful, per se, but not my cup of tea from what I’ve seen). The unanimous opinion is “You don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy this.” Allow Brother Brad to interpret that for you: “This version of Catholicism is therapeutic, defanged, non-judgmental, indulgent (there’s an irony for you), and ‘nice’. You never even get the sense that there is right and wrong and a God who judges.”

    I’m sure the series gets better. But not my cup of tea. From what I’ve read (including the following), I think this is another bit of TV whose aim is to make people feel comfortable in their faults:

    Do the British public really enjoy watching a drama where the lead character is a priest and all he does is ramble in church and listen to people’s self-centered problems?

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It is the one group society is allowed to attack, the one religion that political correctness refuses to cover with its blanket of protection. But why?

    Your point #1 is certainly true to a very large extent.

    Point #2 is harder to pin down.

    Partisanship alone would be enough for those on the Left to embrace dog poop as cologne, so long as the other side was against it. And as Mr. Kung noted, because Christianity has been around and is familiar, the dog poop of atheism (and worse) smells sweet to the agitators, ne’er-do-wells, and those who arguably have made an idol out of their rebellious child selves that they have never grown out of and never wish to.

    There’s also the obvious problem of having God as an impediment to the authority of the Do-Gooders to do their good. Nothing shall be above Progressive Government. She is indeed a jealous god. Notice that to the extent that liberals have embraced (or transformed) Christianity, it is to make it little more than an NGO with stained glass whose main purpose is to: A) Oppose capitalism; B) Spread socialism; C) Use “the poor” as cudgel and rationale for “fundamentally changing” everything; D) Be “nice.”

    Deana’s appeal or approach is not mechanistic, utilitarian, or materialistic. She rejects God as a vehicle for quid pro quo. You do this, you get that. Etc. The Supreme Being is not an algorithm that can be manipulated via our formulas and devices. He is, for her, a Living God (even if highly mysterious).

    In short, for devotion and faith to be real, this can’t be just a disguised way of making an idol of our own ego with the rational parts of our mind hatching clever schemes for how it all works and keeping score. Without a healthy, protracted, and earnest will (of heart, mind, and spirit) yearning to reach beyond our selves (and far, far past Big Government), our devotions will have a hard time not being some sort of Calvinistic thing.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Your description of the leftist version of Christianity sounds very much like the Peron Pope, except that I think he hasn’t yet endorsed socialism, at least by name. (In reality, socialism can be anything from a strong welfare state, as we see in Scandinavia — though I believe there are moves against it there — to full-bore communism, though theoretically democratic, as in Menshevism.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I think, Timothy, it’s difficult to describe the difference between chocolate and vanilla. You have to experience the difference, or see samples of the difference depending upon the subject matter at hand.

        St. Francis washed the feet of lepers. But this other guy, bishop in the religion of Progressivism (a lawyer), set himself on fire, supposedly to protest the pollution ravaging our planet. Which one has made an idol of his own ego?

        Who is genuinely concerned with the downtrodden (whether rich or poor, black or white, etc.) and who makes a self-serving mascot out of them to serve his own ego or power?

        There are no hard-and-fast rules or formulas. There can’t be. Life is too complicated for that. It’s a matter of discernment and judgment. I’m not saying I can judge who is the real Christian or Jew and who is the fake one. (I’m not a real one, by the way.) But clearly the fake and the real exist.

        From Deana’s words, it seems clear she’s not a superficial believer. For her, Christianity is not simply a fancy form of yet another entitlement, this one cosmic. If one believes there is a God, and that man is not God, and that God’s intentions and instructions can be found in the bible (love this bit: “God has introduced Himself to us in nature, but the advanced course in knowing God is in the Bible”) then that changes everything. Everything.

        To be fair, as you say, probably 99.9 percent of people take Christianity as deep as they do their makeup or aftershave. That’s normal. Very few live out the implications because the implications are contrary to living a “normal” life in this modern world. It would be way too inconvenient to do what the bible actually says. But a little dollop of St. Paul here, a little splash of St. Mark there, and you can sort of pretend that you’re doing all that you need to do. Your cosmic entitlement is well secured. And maybe it is. Maybe doing a little is enough. Mustard seeds, and all that.

        But, good god, I’ve read four (five? I forget) biographies of St. Francis. He is interesting if only because he lived like he really believed the bible. And he did not insist that all must take a vow of poverty. That was not the only expression, and there need not be only one. His circumstances were somewhat unique to himself. He was the rich, pampered, devil-may-care, party-boy who was not mean but also who was in no way serious. To fundamentally change, he had to part with that life.

        As Deana notes, “the narrow brick road is not the path of uptight, anti-fun, judgmental self-righteousness” which I think is a very good way of looking at it. Francis was distinctly a fun guy who loved to laugh, recite poetry, and share his joy. However, too many today have taken the lazy road and have made a stereotype of all previous Christian believers as being anti-fun, judgmental, uptight, self-righteous, etc. The pendulum has swung and now Jesus is Buddy Jesus. The “joy” and “love” of God come only ever from increased permissiveness and acceptance — of damn near anything.

        Francis, on the other hand, would seriously kick ass if he found people not following his rule. And there were rules. There was (and still is) right and wrong. It has generally been considered by both Jews and Christians that it was man who needed to change and restrain himself in the direction of divine standards as an avenue to good living, not loosen those standards because it was an easy way to avoid dealing with right and wrong. It’s uncomfortable to correct people, to set a standard. But do we really do good, for instance, by allowing a 10-year-old to choose his gender and maybe even take hormones — all because of some fad he read about on Facebook?

        It’s easy for this false Pope to chide anti-abortionists for the sin of holding to that standard instead of putting open borders first. This is the kind of rhetoric you get from a flimflam artist. On the other hand, Pope John Paul II did not make a pleasing idol or illusion of Communism. He knew it firsthand and rightly opposed it. One knew the evils of Communism. The other spreads that gospel instead of the real one.

        It’s very easy to discern the difference between these two Bishops of Rome. What is harder to do is highlight the distinctions as more and more people adopt the basic tenets of the Left incrementally and slouch toward Gomorrah.

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