Thanks for reading this year, friends. I mainly write this blog for our local community and its leaders, but I admit I also love writing and have fun doing it. I just finished the course work for my seminary degree, so I will have more time to write this year too. Looking forward to it. To end of the year, I wanted to list the top-ten most read posts of the year. Happy New Year!
For better or worse, Trump dominates the list. Christians are speaking out against him, though, if this list is any indication. However, people were also interested in God loving them, the Bible and the Old Testament, identity, sex, masculine development (or lack thereof), as well as how to be a Christian in the postmodern age. I’m looking forward to what themes you pick up. I’m encouraged at the attention people gave to these posts, many of them were among my favorites too.
For people of color, I think there is a time to be loud and quiet and we have to be strategic (but no less passionate) about how we address the racism that’s around us. Some prophetic voices seem deafening, but keep listening to them; they are saying something important. If it makes us anxious to hear it, we should especially take note. But for those in power, generally white people, they need to be humble enough to hear the worst of it, and quiet enough to listen to the voices that aren’t so loud, but are also suffering. We are all in recovery, and if we don’t acknowledge that, we’ll have an even longer way to go. And further to fall, as well.
Our territory is colonized by powers greater than us. We need not fear it because Jesus is greater than our hearts and knows all things. We also need to acknowledge the limitedness of those categorical descriptions, but while also acknowledging how powerful they are. To put an example to it, we can say that race is a social construct, or that labels around sexuality and orientation are insufficient, without acknowledging that the world uses them to oppress. We don’t get rid of the oppression just by getting rid of the labels or ignoring that they are real. At the same time, we don’t have to name them as God-given either, even if the characteristics of those labels are from God. Naming my skin as brown and from God and beautiful is one thing, and though it’s not individually virtuous, it is redeemable because of who God is. God made those things beautiful, and God saves me because of how God’s grace surpasses. The name that I assign to them is a representation of that beauty, but is not fundamentally virtuous. The freedom we receive from God in Jesus gives us the freedom to extend and enact the Lord’s Kingdom of grace in radical ways without being worried that our success or virtue is what saves us. It frees us to rest in Jesus, knowing that even though the world hates us, Jesus loves it. It frees us to work for justice. The work Jesus has done in our lives and in the world is what saves us, not our fundamentalist purity.
I’m sick of my options and I want an alternative. I want something more. I do not think, though, I am deluding myself in saying something more exists and that God is bringing about something new in us. We just have to keep paying attention to it. We have to develop eyes and ears for it. We have to move with God and develop a body for it. We need to enact it and name it.
I was telling the pastors the other day that Christians are too often caught up in their heads about what they believe. Their ideas and their theology is what is central to their faith, and it is not a matter of identity. That’s one that is so powerful in Judaism. God created a people, a nation, held together by their common desire for a place to live. Their identity is what bonded them together, which is why Jewish people can have debates about theology and still be friends after. Unlike, Christians, who have debates about theology and then they split the church.
Jesus—in his life, death, and resurrection—inaugurates a new reality for us and a new identity for us. We are one in Christ as Paul says in Galatians. That’s what he means. Paul isn’t trying to whitewash everyone; he is trying to bond everyone despite their differences. The bond that we have is deeper than our ideology because it is rooted in our identity.
Men love their guns because they are fun. They hold onto their fun because their lives lack purpose. A life lacking purpose, coupled with a person who has a hard time receiving love (maybe because they were not loved well), can result in an angry person. An angry person without purpose and a human-killing toy is a bad combination. This is not about mental illness. It’s not about background checks. It’s about something in the American fabric that fails to mature men; they lack community, they lack mission, they lack leadership, they lack nurturing. It is a deadly combination.
We must not just convert people to become followers of Jesus, but convert the world itself, and even the creation in doing it. We are not just interested in a world where evangelists and missionaries are just reacting to trends, but setting them. Christians need to be cultural leaders, ones that progress the whole of society, instead of using their platform and powers to simply hold back society to what it was—to conserve what it was. And Christians need to do this because they need to set the tone for how progress is happening. They do not do this for power or for influence, but because they have discerned the Sanctifying Holy Spirit, who seeks to sanctify the whole world. They do it because they serve Jesus, who is reconciling all things unto himself. They do this as vessels of God and agents of God in this foreign world. A world that is becoming in touch with its out-of-placeness and moving toward its fullness and wholeness in God. God desires to be saved, and in God’s sovereignty, God will employ all people to bring about this mission. The need to evangelize is about a palpable improvement to life, an alleviation of suffering, and a better world for all. It is not about some distant land in a cloud that we will all get to when we perish. It is about bringing about eternity now! Christians, then, are not just reactionary missionaries, but proactive ones that change the world and make it better. The Gospel needs to offer real, tangible changes to the world and the people living in it. Christians who model that will have a universal Gospel, freely adapting to its context and freely expressing the incarnational love of Jesus Christ.
Christians are charged with doing this—all of us, not just those who name themselves as missionaries—because we are equipped to do so in a unique way. We do it in a way without getting caught in statecraft and imperialism because we use alternative methods to create alternative communities. It is elemental and critical that we form authentic communities that can adapt to their culture without becoming their culture. Peace-loving communities that willingly and humbly learn from the people around them, without imposing their will, but model the very nature of Jesus. Doing so in a way that a mere relationship with a member of such a community moves someone to want to follow Jesus. That is precisely the fruit of an incarnational, adaptive, universal mission to share the Gospel. People get to know Jesus because they got to know you.
And when you read the Old Testament through a lens of the oppressed, the retribution of God, one who consistently preserves the poor and the oppressed and protects them in the Bible, when it’s reserved for the disobedient, the idolatrous, or the powerful, when it’s for Israel’s leaders who have allied with foreign territories or collected power for themselves instead of trusting God, is actually a relief.
And that’s where the church comes into play. That’s why a faith community matters. Sex should be had in community and we should talk about sex openly and plainly among ourselves. We should talk about what healthy partnerships and healthy sex look like, and not let late capitalist advertising and entertainment inform it. Public Christian leadership, captured by partisanship, is failing to this end.
Furthermore, if I am committed to the title Evangelical, then I cannot distance myself from those so-called fake Evangelicals that are actually fundamentalists. Yes, you can say “not all Evangelicals” are like that, or in fact that they aren’t true Evangelicals, but you’re guilty by association when you use that title and I don’t want to relate or play with them anymore.
My final word to those Evangelicals tarnishing the Gospel as I leave the Evangelical room is from 1 John 2:19:
You went out from us, but you were not really part of us. If you had been part of us, you would have stayed with us. But by going out from us, you showed you all are not part of us.
I’m dusting my sandals off and leaving the town. I’ve said enough. They aren’t listening. Time to find people who are.
Christians can’t be supportive or complicit. There is no middle ground here. Jesus stands on one firmly, in my opinion. The entire Gospel is rooted in love casting out fear, grace expressing itself through love, and oneness in Christ extending beyond race, class, and gender, but also social status or record of wrong-doing. People who commit crimes are people too, loved by God, saved by Jesus. That is the Gospel. Jesus became human to save us. He didn’t reduce us to an inferior species; he elevated us, joined us, became one with us, and transformed us. The Gospel of Jesus Christ squarely opposes the President’s rhetoric and so should every Christian.