Is Our Jesus Strong Enough?
The one belief Americans agree on more than others is that this is a divided and fractured nation. Even more, most of us are grieved about the rampant breakdown of civility in public discourse, the antagonism in local communities, and the active efforts of too many towards dividing us further. This is the context wherein we are church these days. In this context, sometimes we wonder where the hope has gone. Is the gospel of Jesus Christ we preach, teach, and live strong enough to transform a culture this broken?
Recently, one of our clergy cohorts engaged an activity that provides hope. First we invited these pastors from various Christian denominations to identify popular cultural beliefs in our society. After developing an extensive list, here’s the edited-down version for you.
Difference breaks relationship and community. When your perspective is different than mine, then we are opponents or perhaps even enemies. When your perspective is different than mine, then we cannot be friends, colleagues, or even church together.
Uniformity and conformity are necessary ingredients of unity.
Fear is a legitimate and primary driver for how we relate to our communities and larger world.
Being angry at most everyone is a legitimate way to be in relationship.
Then we moved on to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a culture like ours, wherein division and hate seem to be ruling the day, what’s the good news of the gospel sound like? Here’s the list generated by these pastors.
Our identity is centered on someone outside of ourselves, rather than ourselves
Doing something new doesn’t repudiate the former thing we were doing, it simply points to a God who’s innovating
Fear says what we are against, the gospel says what we are for
Our community transcends individual differences
People can be reconciled to one another through the reconciliation of Jesus Christ in each of us
Love is more important than the bottom line – financially, and otherwise
We don’t have to be afraid
Faith in Jesus is not an alternative fact
The story of God is past, present, and future…Truth lasts while cultural myths come and go
Church works when everyone finds a place rather than being on the same page – harmony is better than singing in unison
We suspend judgment on one another
God so loves the world, God will go to extreme lengths to demonstrate that love
Every person is made in the image of God and is valued
Since God forgives each of us, we also forgive one another
Differences don’t break us; we can be in relationship with each other regardless of differences
Unity is the result of oneness in Jesus Christ; everything else is lower level
God has not given us a spirit of fear, so we will not be afraid
We are God’s demonstration plot; an example of what it looks like when God creates a community
So here’s the primary question for churches living in the crazy, Postmodern context: Do we have a better alternative story to the prevailing myths of our day? Or put another way, how good, strong, or transformational is the gospel we are sharing? The gospel has always been counter-cultural (that’s partly why Jesus was crucified). Here in 2018, the gospel is more counter-cultural than ever in American society. Passivity, more than ever, is even more damaging than before. So just how strong is the Jesus we teach? Can our church’s version of Jesus transform this world toward the better, even though it’s more of a counter-cultural message than ever before in our lifetimes? (Or is our church’s story nearly identical to the prevailing cultural myths, with religious language sprinkled on top?)
Now, more than ever, this world needs living demonstrations of what it is to be in relationship with others who are different. When church breaks out among us, human differences recede in importance. Those longing for a new and better way dare to practice radical hospitality with each other, embodying the love of Jesus Christ in a culture which has no idea how to be in relationship with those who don’t agree on most everything. During the twentieth century in this USA the church was often a companion and even purveyor of popular culture. Now, the Church is becoming more counter-cultural than ever, living into its identity as a contrast community. Christ-followers on this side of the Postmodern transition are not afraid of appearing counter-cultural or even unconventional, embracing their identity as a contrast community of Christian disciples.
Yes, our Jesus is strong enough for a world like this.
President, Pinnacle Leadership Associates