“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”
C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock. (My emphasis)
I first heard this quote about five years ago as part a Sunday morning message by Bjorn Dixon at The WHY Church. At the time, I was wrestling with my dissertation topic as well as looking for ways to describe Jesus’ focal message of God’s Kingdom in ways that not only made sense, but that might lead to transformed thoughts and lives. Hearing this simple statement was an aha! moment for me. It was the missing link for which I was looking (though likely at the time I wasn’t even aware what I was looking for!). It was the cement that brought together much of what I have been processing in recent years (keep in mind that recent years for me has been the past 15-20 years).
Dallas Willard, in his book The Divine Conspiracy, spoke of a young military pilot who was flying her fighter jet through a series of maneuvers. In the process, she got disoriented. In her disorientation, she had been flying upside-down unbeknownst. She decided to take her jet into a climb and promptly drove it into the ground.* Willard suggests that American Christians have been flying upside down for so long, we don’t know what right-side up looks like. What’s worse, we are cruising along at 1500 MPH, thinking we are doing just fine – until we find the need to climb, only to crash and burn. We are all witnesses of Christians that have crashed and burned along the way.
Dallas Willard is onto something worthy of our attention. I suspect that our western-influenced version of Christianity has focused on ‘second things’ for so long that we might not know what would constitute ‘first things.’ I have witnessed this many times over the past couple years. In a number of group discussions with various youth ministry leaders, I suggested we create a white-board list of First Things and Second Things. Invariably, what people suggested as first things were, in fact, second things. We have been flying upside-down for a long time!
Rereading the previous post, one can began to see that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a direct outcome of a long-standing focus on second things – like how we are to act, what God can do for us, etc. And a long-standing focus on second things will require more than one blog post. Stay tuned as we continue this discussion…
* I remember this crash that took place in the 90s. It led to creating a gyro-related system to eliminate future such events. Its the same technology that is used in ‘steadycams’ used in film-making.