Castrated Gospel-- Part 2

I started to respond to comments on my last post and then found my response to be very long... so here is part 2 of the post:

I don't think the previous post is too extreme of a picture. The lives of the majority of Christians in America are identical to that of non-Christians... survey after survey conducted shows this to be true. Sociologically, one must look at the relationship of beliefs and actions. Thus, I would conclude that the true gospel of Jesus must be missing in these individuals and communities-- and that "another gospel" is being preached-- one that continues to prop up the overall behavior and values that exist in the congregations. Jesus' gospel turned the Roman Empire upside down within 3 centuries-- it gave hope to those who previously had none and offended those who were currently benefiting from the Empire/Idolatrous System (religious leaders, rulers, rich land owners, etc.).

I have encountered so many Christians over my life who believe in cheap grace (it's not a big deal when I sin because, hey, God forgives), who believe that God wants them to be slightly better versions of themselves, and who hold the same values of popular culture (i.e. the values being advertised everyday in the media, by our politicians, and in our corporations).

God wants a thorough transformation. This transformation can take a long time-- I get that! Nevertheless, one only needs to peak through the window for a short time to see that the typical American Christian doesn't even have an imagination for such a transformation. Instead, they have an imagination for "improvements" rather than radical change.

Radical transformation should challenge our definitions of family (who is my mother, brother, sister, father, etc.); radical transformation should challenge our definitions of friend and neighbor (we tend to gravitate to people like ourselves, we separate ourselves from most people who are "different" or "other"); radical transformation should challenge our ideas of enemy, nation, vocation, and self. Thus it should affect our politic, our ethic, our economic, etc. It should affect our ideas of citizen, immigrant, violence, peace, power, and so much more. One of the most effective ways for such an imagination to get into the hearts of Christians is through the pulpits. It must be in the pastors' transformed imaginations. We need such apostles and prophets today.

Castrated Gospel

Throughout my life, I have often looked around at the congregations of Christians around me. Most often I stare for a while, sometimes in shock or awe, sometimes in compassion. I listen to the beliefs of Christians and try to square these up with the person of Jesus Christ. Often these beliefs can find some support somewhere in the scriptures, but overwhelmingly find little support in the character of Jesus while on Earth. So many Christians have embraced an individualist form of Christianity-- what I and others often refer to as consumerist Christianity. When you hear it and see it, it doesn't seem that harmful, although it seems to lack depth and long-term transformative power. It even sounds good and makes people feel much better for short bursts. Here is this "Christianity" in a nut-shell (Disclaimer: this requires some over-simplification):

I am a sinner in need of God-- I have moral failings such as not being truthful to by friends or spouse, being full of hate towards a fellow collegue, and not spending enough time with my kids. Thankfully, God sent his son Jesus to cleanse me from my guilt and save me from these moral failures. He has given me grace to be able to learn to be honest and love my boss at work and spend time with my kids. I feel so grateful that God cares about little-ol'-me and wants to help me succeed in being a good citizen and model soccer mom/dad. Jesus started the church and told us that we should join ourselves to a group of individual followers.

So, I take my family to a really nice church with fantastic programs. The worship program is such a great performance and they sing songs that take my burdens and stress from the previous week away. My kids are able to go to really fun programs that teach them that they are special in God's eyes and that they can grow up and do anything they put their minds to.

Two weekends each year, we go to the local homeless shelter and serve meals and give Christmas presents to the homeless-- may God save them! And the pastor does such a great job teaching us about real life... last week he taught us principles from the bible about getting out of debt and this week he is teaching us how we can feel more accepted by God in the midst of our stressful, frenzied lives. As well, last month I took a class at the church on dieting and this month I am doing a yoga class. However, I do wish the church offered better parking service.

Brian McLaren is right... everything must change! The robustness of the gospel is being lost, deflated, it is shrinking.... evangelicals have traded in the gospel of Jesus Christ for a gnostic gospel-- one about knowledge and self rather than God's dream of reconciling all creation to himself.


The Necessity of Conversion

"Christians" are in need of conversion. I say this because it seems that most Christians in our day do not actually know the Jesus of Scripture. When you look at a typical Christian in America, s/he talks about Jesus, but this Jesus seems very different than the one in the NT. What is needed in our day is a true conversion to the Jesus of the Bible.

Conversion requires us to repent-- to change course/direction. The question is what course or direction is Jesus asking us to turn from and to. This is where I think we in America have an inaccurate idea of Jesus and his gospel. The most immediate answer people will give is "to turn from sin and turn towards Jesus" or something like that... however, that is a very meaningless statement because we still have not figured out what turning to Jesus looks like and we will always still sin.

There is so much in the OT about turning from the idolatrous ways of the Egyptians, Canaanites, and Babylonians. The NT makes many, many references to Rome and Caesar. Even the phrase in Romans 10:9 about "the Lord Jesus" or "Jesus is Lord" is a spin on the common understanding in that day that Caesar is Lord. It would be simplistic just to say that this has to do with prostrating ourselves before Caesar, another idol, or even Jesus Christ. The reason is that the type of "lord" that your serving determines the kind of kingdom that you live in. The kind of kingdom determines the daily routines of life: who is in control, what laws govern life, how do we relate with our neighbors and our enemies, economics and politics, the poor and rich, etc.

Do we believe that Baal is in control or Jesus? If we believe Baal is then we will implement Baal values in our life-- values of violence and hyper-sexuality. If we believe that Pharoah is God, then we will implement Pharoah's values and actions-- domination of a particular people/race, domination of economic landscape, sort of a survival of the fittest. If we believe that Caesar is God, then we will believe in Pax Romana-- that the trade networks, jobs, and security that Rome brings through such a strong ruler is the way for the world. However, to serve Christ is to reject such idolatry and the values and ways that go along with such idolatry.

Jesus asked the people of his day to repent of their wicked ways-- this required a turn from sin in self and society. This requires a choice, do I believe in Pax Romana/Americana, do I believe in Pax "Alcohola" (peace from the bottle or some other drug), do I believe in Pax Utilitarianism (peace from pursuing what brings happiness to the greatest number of people), etc. Or do I believe in the Shalom of God-- a true peace from a way of life that models Jesus Christ?