My friend, Brian McLaren was asked this question recently, and I thought his reply was superb. Brian’s book, “Everything Must Change” (Thomas Nelson, 2007, buy on Kindle) helped to form my sense that our generation needs to face the reality of systemic problems, corporate sin and broken systems.
And we can do something about this now.
For the first time in human history, we now have access to cheap, fast and effective global communication tools and also the potential to co-ordinate our activities and efforts more than ever before. From vitally important things like eradicating polio (nearly done, just as smallpox has been already) to silly, but effective memes like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge doing the rounds right now, we’re proving to ourselves that we can deal with big, complex, systemic issues.
For many Christians, though, the starting point is accepting that we should put as much emphasis on corporate and societal sins as we do on individual sin and salvation. That’s why I think Brian’s answer to a question about the “unforgivable sin” against the Holy Spirit mentioned in Matthew and Mark is so important:
First, we need to remember that Jesus wasn’t a “Christian.” In other words, he wasn’t working within the Calvinist or Thomist or Pentecostal or Eastern Orthodox or Fundamentalist theological assumptions that frame Christian faith today. Jesus was a Jew.
For a Jew in Jesus’ day, sin was not understood primarily as something that, in its mortal variety, could send your soul to hell because of total depravity or original sin. It was something that would result in people missing God’s blessing – which for an oppressed people, meant missing liberation from their occupying oppressors.
So I think in those passages, Jesus was warning his peers that if they didn’t hear the voice of the Spirit and respond to it, they faced a set of natural consequences that would be tragic. Specifically, he foresaw that his countrymen could easily stage a violent revolution against Rome which would be crushed brutally. The Spirit was calling people, Jesus knew, to a different path to liberation – a nonviolent path, a creative path, a path of courage without hostility. If they rejected the Spirit’s leading, they wouldn’t get an exemption from consequences.
I think we face a similar reality today. The Spirit is calling us to turn from racism, ecological destruction, greed, carelessness toward our poor and vulnerable neighbors, dependence on weapons for peace, and abdication of personal responsibility. If we don’t, we can’t expect to avoid the natural consequences of our actions – explosions of conflict, rising seas and destabilized climate, fear, bombs, economic tumult, insecurity.
Another way to say the same thing: there is no way to peace apart from the Spirit of peace. There is no way to a regenerative economy apart from the Spirit of regeneration. There is no way to prosperity apart from the Spirit of generosity and concern for the common good. Reject, mock, belittle, turn from that Spirit … and predictable natural consequences will follow.
Source: Brian McLaren