What is Lifeboat Theory?

For a long while now, an interesting phenomenon has been occurring: the polarization of idealistic camps throughout the U.S. Perhaps the most evident example is in politics, where political parties are starting to bend toward the more extreme wings of their ranks. Both Republicans and Democrats are leaning further right and further left, respectively. In other words, our nation is becoming more divided and contentious. This same phenomenon has gripped Christianity, especially the church. More and more we see Christians divided over social issues and orthopraxy (how to live out the gospel). As a result, many believers have stopped focusing on what we  are as Christians, and have begun to define themselves by what they are not. This is an unfortunate practice which has led primarily to division, the very thing Jesus prayed would never happen within the church (John 17).

So what does this have to do with lifeboats? 

One of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, wrote a book a while back called Searching for God Knows What. It’s probably my favorite book outside the Bible, but more importantly it was instrumental in exposing my cold, dead, short-sighted view of who Jesus was/is and what the Bible teaches about him. Prior to reading Miller’s book, I saw Christianity as a kind of moral code- an equation to obtain heaven. About halfway through the book Miller includes a chapter titled Lifeboat Theory: How to Kill Your Neighbor. It sounds terrible and useful all at once.  However, that chapter holds one of most truly inspired insights about humanity that I have ever heard. He hypothesizes that at some point humanity stopped identifying themselves by what God made them, and started to find identity by comparing themselves to other people, especially those people who are more “undesirable.” The idea boils down to this simple metaphor: all mankind is in an overloaded lifeboat called Earth and we’re fighting to be the most valuable person, the one that doesn’t have to get thrown overboard to save the rest. In the process, we’ve lost sight of our true safety, and the only person who could ever truly know our value: God, the one who crafted us, personalities and all.

After re-reading Miller’s book recently, I started seeing this comparative practice all over again, especially in the American church. And it didn’t stop there. Beyond just identity issues,  I began to notice all kinds of inconsistencies between how the Bible teaches Christians to live, act, and interact, and the way most of us actually do. So I’ve decided to start sharing what I’m seeing- both around me and within me. I don’t pretend to speak for God. I am just one child playing on the playground who wants to step back and observe- if only to learn. Let’s call my observations “Lifeboat Theory.”

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