There are two kinds of people in the world: those who say there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t say there are two kinds of people in the world. The second kind are a rarity, as far as I can tell because it seems that most of us have this deep seated drive to reduce the complexities of the world’s population to a simple, easy to grasp dichotomy–everyone is either this or that. It is a staple tactic of many preachers (including me, at times): we preachers categorize people as Christian/non-Christian; good Christian/bad Christian; tither/non-tither; sermon note taker/sermon sleeper; pastoral supporter/pastoral opponent–well, you get the idea.
Unfortunately for preachers and all of us with this deep seated need for simplistic understandings of reality, it is pretty much impossible to actually reduce people to two kinds because of the incredibly complexity and diversity of humanity. Take one of the examples I have been known to use: there are two kinds of people in the world–those who have accepted Christ and those who haven’t yet accepted Christ.
As a division of humanity, it sounds good and I used it for years. But a while ago, in the process of preparing for a course on evangelism that I was teaching, I thought myself into a mess. I was looking for a way to help Kenyan students understand some point in the course outline and drew a line on the paper. I labelled one end “No connection with God at all” and labeled the other end “Total connection with God”. The graphic looked good, I could easily create it on the computer for the course handbook and it would help illustrate the point.
Except that the more I looked at the continuum this simple line made, the more complicated it got. To start with, I realized that here and now, there is no human being at either end–no one has absolutely no connection with God and no one has a total connection with God–people in those conditions will only exist after the return of Christ and the end of this era. So, the reality is that all of us exist somewhere between the two ends of the line.
Certainly, some of us have made a clear commitment to Christ somewhere along the line–but our position on the line doesn’t have any connection with the commitment. The thief on the cross makes his commitment when he is near the no connection end (maybe–I am making a big assumption here) while Paul was likely further along the line when he made a commitment (another assumption but he was certainly working at his relationship with God as he understood it). But in the end, all of us are somewhere along the line and somewhere in the process of making a commitment to accepting Christ.
Then it got a bit more complicated because I realized that another reality is that although I come from a Christian tradition that puts a great deal of emphasis on knowing the exact time, place and circumstance of the commitment to Christ, there are people whose commitment to Christ is genuine but who really don’t know when they made it–they sort of drift into it, a reality which infuriates some people because it seems so fuzzy but which is a reality for many, including me.
So, after these and a few other complications, I developed the graphic for the students and decided to live with a less than simple understanding of salvation. The process is more complex and confusing that a simple two-category division of Christian/non-Christian. We could propose several categories: non-Christian; non-Christian leaning to commitment; Christian but not aware of having made a commitment; Christian aware of having made a commitment; non-Christian who thinks they have made a commitment; Christian who doesn’t realize they have made a commitment. The whole thing gets more and more confusing and complicated and makes one wish for a simple, clear, two kinds description.
Or, maybe we could do what we are supposed to do anyway, which is concentrate on being God’s agents in the world and let him worry about who is and isn’t a believer. If we stop trying to simplify the complicated (which isn’t really our job) and work at being agents of God’s love and grace (which is our job), we can trust that God will take care of the rest.
May the peace of God be with you.