Always one to cash in on the Easter/Christmas magazine bump if they put a Christian theme/controversy on the front page, the left leaning Newsweek didn’t miss a beat. Interestingly enough Newsweek didn’t ask a scholar or even a leading voice in one of the theological debates now roiling….instead they put the opinion piece of a progressive social commenter and political activist: Andrew Sullivan.
You should read the piece, found here, when you have a chance. It’s a good article. An interesting take on the Jesus behind the Christian movement, as evidenced by Thomas Jefferson’s ill fated “Jesus only” bible at the time this country was founded or Francis of Assisi’s breakaway from the conventional Catholic faith to begin his Franciscan aesthetic way. I’m not arguing with Sullivan for a # of reasons.
#1 If I proceed to punch holes in his argument, which basically indicts Christians of fighting all the wrong wars and thus missing out on the real Jesus, I’m fueling his actual argument…it’s a classic double bind.
#2 There is much that Sullivan says that I actually agree with
#3 I believe as Christians we should be known more for what we stand FOR than what we rail against. So a guy gets Jesus on the cover of Newsweek? This is a net win for Christ, right? Why argue with him?
Sullivan’s perspective is fresh and I too think we’ve missed out on the authentic life of Jesus as we protect the conventions around the Christian faith. However, a deep flaw in Sullivan’s article is one worth noting and actually reminded me of my last post about “Why Go To Church.” If I grab my scissors and start cutting, who is really my God? Is it Jesus I seek to know.. or my own beliefs, biases, prejudices and shortcomings? If I go to Jesus and seek the parts that make sense to me, I’m reinforcing my own pride and sense of GOD in myself instead of being remade and reformed and renewed by Him.
Have we lost sight of Jesus? Yes in many ways the Christian church gives Jesus about the same “mic time” as other political and theological points and counterpoints. This isn’t right. Brian McLaren wrote about this a bit in his theologically challenged A New Kind of Christianity. The graph to the right is hard to read but you get the idea…McLaren argued (rightly) that the church doesn’t always look directly at Jesus, who the writer of Hebrews tells us should be the “author and perfecter” of our faith. Instead McLaren argues, the church has been a series of filters or distillations of Jesus…from Jesus to Paul to Augustine to Aquinas, etc. Each century we build theology and doctrine based on the chronological progression of the church, instead of stripping off the dogma and pomp and circumstance and returning to Jesus. McLaren is right about that, but McLaren seeks to rock the boat so much that eventually he loses much Christian substance. As one of my theology professors once said, “Trying to nail down McLaren to what truth actually is would be like trying to nail a jelly fish onto a wall. It is impossible.”
So get back to Jesus, skip the church and the dogma, and we’re all set, right? Wrong. Like Jefferson with his pair of scissors, if we reduce Christ’s message to a “me and Jesus” theme we actually miss Christ’s teaching on the value of community and togetherness. “Where two or more are gathered,” Jesus says, “There I am with you.” Why? Because alone we don’t have the strength of others, we don’t have the accountability, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have vulnerability and confession. No- Jesus wants us to do life together. He wants us to do faith together. And though the church is flawed (see my last post), we are called to gather and learn from one another and seek Jesus….together.
Doesn’t matter which church, as long as it is a spirit filled Christian church. Though the church is deeply flawed, I don’t know a single Christian living a vibrant and overflowing Christian life that isn’t involved in some kind of faith community. Maybe you do but I would guess it is a rarity. We need one another. The call to Christ is a call to community. So step out, step in somewhere, be prepared for a bunch of inadequate and fallen people. But in each other’s fallenness in your local church, in time you will see Jesus in one another. Keep showing up…its worth it.