This year marks the 30th anniversary of the printing of the book "Of Wolves and Men" by Barry Holstun Lopez, which I just finished reading.
The book took me back to my twenties when I was a member of the Timber Wolf Alliance and went on wolf-study junkets to the great white north. There, we wolf groupies searched for wolf-scat and measured wolf paw prints in the snow under the tutelage of a University of Wisconsin biologist. (I'll write more later about how I worshipped wolves before I worshipped God!)
We never did see a wolf, however, which I quickly learned is normal. Wolves see people and "get out of Dodge" long before we even know they are there. Which breaks the first myth of the wolf: that they are brazen monsters that love to confront and attack people. Just the opposite: they love nothing more than to mind their own business and keep as much distance as possible between themselves and humans. Many other misconceptions about the wolf ran rampant until organizations like the Timber Wolf Alliance and Lopez' monumental book began challenging them and educating the public with the truth about the wolf. The result is that we now have a correct understanding of the wolf, along with healthy wolf populations, at least in the Midwest, where they were sorely in decline.
As I read Lopez' book, I couldn't help but marvel at how much the wolf and Christianity have in common, and I'll be sharing some of these insights over the next few days.
Lopez jumps in right away on page three saying, "The truth is we know little about the wolf. What we know a good deal more about is what we imagine the wolf to be."
I re-wrote this statement as I see it applying to Christianity:
"The truth is we know little about Christianity/church/faith in Jesus/the Bible. What we know a good deal more about is what we imagine Christianity/the church/Bible/faith in Jesus to be."
An actress once said in a magazine interview that "Everybody has an opinion about the Bible, but very few have actually ever read it." What a great insight!
Lopez points out in his book that it wasn't just the urban and rural public who didn't know anything about the wolf; the biologists, trappers, and cattle ranchers didn't have an understanding either--what they all had was an imagining of what the wolf was like. Very few ever actually "read" the wolf. Very few took the time to investigate and get to know the wolf for themselves. The only ones who did have a correct understanding were, according to Lopez, "the people who lived in the Arctic among wolves, who had observed them for years in the wild."
Isn't that true with Christianity? It's the people who read their Bibles and who have lived among Bible-believing born-again Christians and observed them for years--not just looking at one sample of a church, Christian, pastor or denomination and making a final conclusion, or only learning about Christianity in seminary--who understand what it means to be a Christian.
People who don't take time to investigate for themselves (which was me for many years) or who have never set foot in a church have all kinds of things, usually nasty, to say about church/the Bible/Christians/God. Other people may have attended only one church or been exposed to only one denomination and, having had a bad experience, base their opinion of all churches and Christians on that one experience, often bad-mouthing churches they never set foot in and Christians they've never met. The Arctic Eskimos occasionally came upon rabid wolves, recognizing them by how they looked and acted. But they didn't conclude all wolves are rabid wolves. They knew there was a difference and how to tell the difference!
People who have never read the Bible, or who have never read it through the counseling of the Holy Spirit, have all kinds of very firm, but often false, convictions regarding the Bible. People who haven't gotten to know a true Bible-based believer in Jesus sometimes categorize all Christians as right-wing radicals because that's how their parents and grandparents classified Christians. They let their pre-conceived notions keep them from going into a Bible-based church to see if they can find something or someone that breaks the stereotype.
As Christians, we need to be the Barry Lopez’s and the Timber Wolf Alliances' of the world, getting the Truth of the Gospel out there in all its clarity and sufficiency. We need to bring Jesus--the real deal Jesus--to life for other Christians, non-Christians and ourselves through the personal study and living out of the Word, and through observing, learning from, listening to and spending time with mature Christians. In this way the Holy Spirit can break us, and others, of stereotypes and preconceived notions.
"All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations." Isaiah 65:2
"A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies." Proverbs 14:5
"True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips." Malachi 2:6
"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." John 17:17
"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood..." Ephesians 4:25