Good News of an Unhappy Ending

So everyone’s leaving evangelicalism? Now, that’s good news! What we talk about when we talk about evangelicalism (This is the book Rob Bell should have wrote) is nothing less than politics. And I think we can all agree that as of late politics have been all-consuming and well a bit much.

In America, it’s no longer faith & politics, it’s faith/politics.

The decades – long experiment of testing the evangel, good news of Jesus, against it’s both Republican and Democrat control variables has pronounced a verifiable conclusion, to the tune of 81%! That’s scientific validity folks! Evangelicalism is politics.

Evangelical faith in America is representative of a whole host of political perspectives that, no surprise – naturally should follow from one’s expressed religious belief, only here, faith has been sublimated into those very perspectives. The Hegelian synthesis has occurred. Faith to the common evangelical is one in the same, or at least an 81% match, with shrinking the government, standing for the anthem, anti-abortion, deporting illegal immigrants and while we’re at it – creating jobs!

It’s never good practice to shoot from the hip at targets so complex and nuanced as western evangelicalism but humor me a minute. David Bebbington’s pinpoint definition for evangelicalism offers four qualities: biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism and activism. Your average evangelical may or may not identify with these qualities: a particular regard for the bible, the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the radical response in personal conversion and lastly the demonstrable expression of the gospel in life. But whether they identified with these qualities or not, evangelicals, up to this point, could have always put a check mark in this box as It positioned them in some implicit, respectable manner as a follower of Jesus; a bible-believing, Christ-centered, transformed disciple of Jesus.

This is now no longer the case.

Core Christian beliefs have been eroding in the US and Canada steadily for the past few decades, however the cultural Christian could always assent to the convenient identity of ‘evangelical’ without ever understanding the content of the label. It was at best benign, though respectable. But now, the politicization of the word evangelical has riddled it with contempt. To many it is on the verge of being derisive.

So it would seem, the right response to evangelicals leaving home is to applaud them. Not a sarcastic slow-clap but an authentic cheer for someone who has soured on one thing in order to taste again the sweetness of the sure thing. Evangelicals are leaving home to come home to Jesus.

So, to my good natured, well-intentioned evangelical friends:

You can stop saying that Jesus was neither a democrat nor republican, yet the problem persists: you are either a democrat or republican. These are the first labels you reach for, and notably not the label of “follower of Christ”. You’ve heralded your sacred conscious to such heights for the sake of liberty that you cannot not taste the freedom of submission to your Lord, Jesus Christ.

Don’t Look Both Ways

A couple weeks ago I preached on Jesus’ call to his first disciples (Jn 1:29-42). In reality they were not-yet his but rather John the Baptist’ disciples. Perhaps I’m being a tad too provincial and anachronistic, but I think it’s altogether possible Jesus persuaded them to leave the flock of his crazy Baptist cousin, and join his implicitly-held though undeniable, Reformed world and life view.

If there was a sarcasm font, the previous sentences would be written in it. Here we have it! Jesus is a proponent of indeterminate transfer growth!

Nah, but seriously, what struck me in preaching this text is how Jesus calls these men to follow him.

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” (Jn 1:35-39)

Come and See. Now that’s a methodology. Lately, I’ve been trying to discern what it means that Christ perceivably calls us here, to cross the road before looking both ways. Man, that’s dangerous! And it’s not what I was taught. I was taught to look left and right and then make my way. And preferably find a crosswalk if you can, mmkay?

But what if I so trusted the person I was following, that I wouldn’t even think to look both ways? What if I just felt so compelled to step off the curb and onto the road with the faith of a child? Hand in mom or dad’s. Now this doesn’t work in that old Atari game, Frogger and I don’t suggest you make a habit of “on-coming and seeing” how it works crossing your local hwy but somehow it works for us in following Jesus.

Note: it’s not, “Okay, you’ve seen, now come!” It’s remarkable that here in what is the dawn of Christian discipleship, Jesus says “Come, and you will see.” He, quite matter-of-factly, puts it to us. When Jesus invites us to follow him, he leaves all this room for exploratory faith, for seeking, for wonder and curiosity.

The pedestrian ‘walk’ sign has been flashing for a solid 20 seconds and we haven’t moved an inch. But he waits. He’s not going anywhere. Not without us.

Why would Jesus do this? Why ask someone to take steps before they know where they’re going? It’s certainly not to find something that their intelligence, wit or tenacity alone could lead them to ‘cause then what would be the point of following Jesus or anyone else? Following Jesus is not akin to a treasure hunt where vague clues combine with specific knowledge of the landscape and result in pointing you in the right direction. To extend the analogy, you’re not in search of treasure or God himself, for that matter. You are, for some inexplicable reason, the treasure and God has found you.

With that, Jesus can confidently say to the curb-sitters; all of us who are risk-adverse, come and you will see. And the best part: his invitation doesn’t leave us with cold clammy hands, breaking out in a nervous sweat. Because we know we’re already found in him and now in following we can set-out in search of the ever pregnant and growing promise of the not-yet. Jesus, where are we going? Where will you lead? Will I find purpose, healing, rest there?

Faith precedes understanding. It takes a few steps into faith before we can ask what’d I get myself into? And God intended it this way. Faith requires having skin in the game. In Christian faith, there exists a preamble of trust with which the disciple ventures out to follow Jesus. Before all else, discipleship is a proper exercise in trust; that what we believe about God will determine if we can cross the street without looking both ways. After all it’s not so much about where we’re going, as it is about who we’re with.