(View from the top of the famous Yellow Mountains – Huangshan, China)
We can easily succumb to tunnel vision in our Christian outlook. We are so immersed in our own time and place that it is easy to develop blind spots in our faith. In any given circle of believers certain aspects of Christianity are emphasized while others are neglected, leaving us unbalanced in our Christian faith and practice.
Here are two tried and true ways of broadening our horizons as believers:
1) Broaden them geographically. There are probably Christians from different cultures in your church, dorm, or neighborhood. Ask them what stands out to them about the Christianity they have observed in your culture. For instance, a friend from England once shared with me that he was struck by how openly material wealth seemed to be embraced among Christians in churches he visited in America. You can also travel to another culture and watch how Christians in that culture live, pray, and worship. Ask them about how they became Christians or the obstacles they face as Christians in their culture. I have found that Christians from other cultures can teach me a lot about topics such as suffering, prayer, simplicity, and reverence.
2) Broaden them chronologically. Read church history! There are few things more beneficial to understanding the Bible and the Christian life than becoming conversant with influential figures in church history. Note how Christians from earlier eras talked about God and their faith. The contrast between their faith and ours is often striking. Were they misguided at times? Absolutely. Are we misguided at times? Why would we think otherwise? Reading church history and looking for points of disconnect can expose both their blind spots (which are easier to identify) and ours (which require humility and open-mindedness to detect). Here are some recommended places to start with church history:
– the Apostolic Fathers who lived shortly after the age of the apostles (especially 1 Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, the Didache, and the Epistle to Diognetus)
– 2nd and 3rd century church leaders Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian
– Augustine (start with Confessions, from the late 4th century)
– Luther, Calvin, and Wesley from the Reformation and beyond
– Missionaries from previous generations (Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and Jim Elliot) or those who followed Christ during extraordinary times (Corrie ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer). These believers often possess a refreshing clarity about God that I lack.
Travel the world (including your own neighborhood), or travel through history. Both practices can challenge and enrich our vision for the Christian life.