Two of my favourite authors and people collided in cyberspace today. The result is a fabulous interview of Brian McLaren by Rachel Held Evans. It’s a must read. It’s on Rachel’s blog here.
Brian McLaren’s last book was about interfaith dialogue and how we can learn to be both fervently Christian and also gracious to those of other faiths. In a recent event hosted by The Guibord Center, Brian spoke about his book (Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World). You can watch the whole video here.
During the Q&A session, Brian gave some fantastic advice on how we should deal with people from within our own faith traditions who attack us and fight against us. I was both impressed and challenged by his advice, and extracted it in a short video. His simple message, and one I am trying to learn, is to have the courage to differ graciously.
Two years ago when the first riots swept across Egypt, I posted a wonderful picture of Christians who surrounded and protected Muslims who were praying. Now, in the past few days, as Christians have been on receiving end of persecution it is wonderful to see Muslim’s returning the gesture. There are now quite a few photos circulating on the web of Muslims surrounding Christian churches, protecting them from protestors and arsonists.
Here are two of these images:
One of the books I have enjoyed reading most this past year is Brian McLaren’s, “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World”. It is an insightful and well reasoned book that helps us reconsider how we can be truly Christian while still connecting with other religions. The intention of the book is to seek a “third way”. As Brian says, “We know how to have a strong Christian identity that is intolerant of or belligerent towards other faiths, and we know how to have a weak Christian identity that is tolerant and benevolent. But is there a third alternative? How do we discover, live, teach, and practise a Christian identity that is both strong and benevolent towards other faiths?” (Buy Brian’s book at Kalahari.com in South Africa, on Amazon.com or on [email protected]).
It’s great to see some examples of this in Egypt.
My good friend, David Lock, alerted me to this short video on what a missional church is. Nice, simple introduction:
One of the current themes of conservative evangelical Christianity is a persecution complex. They look for opportunities to be offended by popular culture (take the phony ‘war on Christmas’ in America, for example). And when something happens that could in any way be taken as an attack on Christians, they fall over themselves to proclaim how persecuted they are. This happened again this past week, as Louie Giglio, well known pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, was withdrawn from praying the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration. The reason was pressure from LGBT groups because of a sermon Giglio had preached in the 1990s about homosexuality.
The Gospel Coalition immediately jumped on this as a sign of an anti-Christian bias in society, of President Obama’s campaign of religious intolerance and (of course) of the fact that the conservative evangelicals must be right because Jesus said that people would hate them. Read their statement here.
It’s amazing how John 15:19 is taken so out of context it is made to say exactly the opposite of what Jesus intended. Go and read John 15 for yourself quickly. The immediate context is about love. It’s about proving our commitment to God, our devotion to each other and our service to the world by how much we love. And not the “tough love” advocated by James Dobson (so called “love” that would reject a child because of their sexual orientation, or cut off ties with a friend because of their divorce) but the sacrificial love of Jesus, who “while we were yet sinners”, gave up his life for us. Keep reading into John 16. The people that Jesus was warning his disciples about – those that would “hate them” – were the religious leaders. Jesus was hated by Pharisees and Saducees, not by the people. This is the tragic irony of the persecution complex: it’s actually conservative evangelical church leaders that Jesus was warning us about. They are actually the persecutors, not the persecuted.
Anyway, back to Louie Giglio, who I actually believe has done something different. He has provided a wonderful example of the grace and love we are supposed to be showing to the world.
It seems as if he withdrew his acceptance to pray at the inauguration (rather than being “disinvited” as the Gospel Coalition said). Read his statement here, and the Inaugural Committee’s statement here. In the light of a growing backlash to the invitation, Giglio – maybe under pressure from the White House – chose grace and peace and love. Rachel Held Evans has stated beautifully the value of this move by Giglio:
“I applaud Giglio’s decision to do as much as he could to ensure that something as sacred as a prayer did not become overly politicized or divisive. He made grace and peace higher priorities than his own celebrity. To me, that’s the essence of what Paul meant when he said, ‘As much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.’ We would do well to follow Giglio’s lead in this regard and discuss this situation with civility, not making more of it than necessary.”
I’d suggest, by the way, we should discuss the whole issue of homosexuality in the same way, too.
By the way, Rachel’s blog post on the issue is masterful. She explains that there is no denial of freedom of speech in Giglio’s removal from the Inauguration, nor are evangelical Christians being persecuted in America. Read her thoughts here.
It’s becoming too predictable, and a bad witness, that every little issue is seen as a storm, a denial of rights and a persecution by evangelical Christians – especially in America.
Thank you, Louie Giglio for your grace and wisdom.
Thank you, Rachel Held Evans for your insights and analysis.
Thank you, LGBT community for your continued concern and advocacy for people broken and wounded by a society and a church that does not know how to engage with you in love.
Thank you, God, for your patience with your creation and for helping us to inch forward – however slowly – towards the type of world that is truly “your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.
Hashim Amla is a South African cricketer – and fast becoming a legendary one too. He is sublime to watch, and is having the most phenomenal season. He is also universally acclaimed, by teammate and opponent alike, as the nicest, humblest, gentlest guy you’ll ever meet. A real sportsman’s sportsman.
And he is devoutly Muslim. He has the most fantastic beard, and by all accounts, in all ways, he takes his Muslim practices very seriously.
I only mention his religious faith and one of its outward expressions, because he has caused me to think about something that Christians do quite a lot. If, as Christians, we discover that some famous star – be they a sportsperson, singer, actor or celebrity of some kind – is also a Christian, we tend to venerate them a bit. And then we often devise evangelistic campaigns featuring that person.
I lost count as a child how many events I went to that featured some or other Christian sports personality telling me how his or her faith really helped them to become a famous sports star. Since I have two left feet – and that’s just counting my hands – and have never been good at any sport, these talks were never quite as inspiring as they should have been. But I wasn’t the target demographic I suppose. I still don’t think that they were the best approach.
My question is this: does Hashim Amla’s success combined with his most remarkable character and aura of calm, humility, authority, respect, class and confidence (a heady mix of all the things I think are best in humanity) make me want to become a Muslim? If a local mosque had an evening featuring Hashim Amla as guest speaker, I would definitely consider going. I’d sit enthralled, I am sure, as he spoke. And then, I’d politely sit through whatever short Islamic message that followed. I respect Islam, have some Muslim friends, understand the religion, have visited a number of mosques and a holy Islamic shrine, and even own a Koran (which I have read). But I highly doubt whether anything that Hashim Amla did or said would convince me to become a Muslim.
Our current image of Father Christmas as a fat old man with red cheeks and long white beard was cemented into popular culture by Coca-Cola in the early 1930s, as part of a marketing campaign to get people to drink cold drinks during winter. The red-coated figure of Santa was created by a commercial illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, based on illustrations that had appeared in the New York Times in 1906, 1908 and 1925 (see below):
But Santa Claus has been around for a long, long time in various cultures and traditions around the world. It is generally accepted that the earliest incarnations are based on the real life figure of St. Nicholas, who lived in Asia Minor in the 3rd century AD. He seems to have been a wealthy man, who gave most of his wealth away to help others. Famously, he would go at night in mid winter and throw bags of money into poor people’s houses. He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. He attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Greatly loved for his faith, compassion and care, he is venerated in both East and West.
Phil Zuckerman is Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA, USA. He recently wrote a very insightful critique of American Evangelicals, and I think he hits the nail entirely on the head. His conclusion is powerful: Evangelicals love what Jesus can do for them, but don’t really love what Jesus asked them to do in response. In this sense, they don’t actually love Jesus. His article puts it even more strongly. Read the original Huffington Post article, or an extended extract below:
Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus
The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.
Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.
What’s the deal?
My friend, Brian McLaren is a wonderful teacher of the Bible, and his vision of how some well known books should be understand within the broader framework of what God is doing in history has been personally very helpful to me.
He recently put an outline of the book of Acts on his blog – read it here, or a copy of it below:
… From childhood, I was taught to read Acts as a manual for ecclesiology … to prove that our denomination was the only true and biblical one, of course (a common theme in Protestant Bible reading). But now I read Acts as a missional account of how Jesus continued his work – his Spirit alive in the bodies of growing numbers of his followers who constitute – quite literally – his body on earth.
And the message is the same – the message of the kingdom (or reign, or commonwealth, or sacred ecosystem, or new love economy, or regeneration network, or creative community, or …) of God. You could think of it like this …
I have known about Greg Boyd for some time, and am thrilled to have found his latest project. It’s a ministry and blog called ReKnew. Greg is a great thinker and advocate for a new kind of missional Christianity.
The welcome note on the blog is inspiring:
When most people think of “Christianity,” they think of the religion of “Christendom” that began in the fourth century when an Emperor named Constantine allegedly converted to the faith and then granted Christians a lot of political power. This religion has been the dominant face of Christianity for the last fifteen hundred years. The foundation of this religion is a picture of a Caesar-looking god who rules the world by brute power, and a corresponding concept of his kingdom as “the Church triumphant” – a conquering army that aspires to rule the world by acquiring political power.
This once mighty religion is in the process of dying. In fact, it’s been decomposing in Europe — where it once reigned supreme — for almost a hundred years. And while the “Christendom” mindset continues to have loud and passionate advocates in its last holdout, America, it has turned the corner in this land as well. All the clamoring of those who are today fighting to “take America back for God” (“back” to when?), and who continue to espouse a Caesar-looking, all-controlling God, represent that last roar of a dying lion.
While many grieve the demise of the Christendom religion, we at ReKnew celebrate it! For it’s our conviction that this religion has often had little to do with the true movement that Jesus came to unleash into the world—the movement he referred to as “the kingdom (or reign) of God.” In fact, we believe this civil religion has often been one of the greatest obstacles to the advance of the true kingdom. Because of how dominant Christendom has been throughout history, many have been unable to see through the dark cloud of this religion’s controlling God and conquering kingdom and behold the loving God and servant kingdom Jesus revealed.
The Good News is that this dark cloud is fading and we are beginning to see the light of a new day! And as the darkness fades, we are seeing people around the globe catching this vision of a God who looks like Jesus, and of a kingdom that looks like Jesus—humbly serving the poor and the lost, and sacrificing himself out of love for the forgiveness of his enemies.
Out of the rubble of this crumbling religion we are seeing a new kind of disciple rising up, fearlessly calling into question previous certainties; boldly rethinking what it means to believe in God and the Bible; bravely reimagining what it means to “do church” and advance the kingdom. More and more, we are seeing people abandon the security of their civil religion to become part of a beautiful revolution.
This has been my own personal journey, and I’m sure it has been for many of you as well. And this is why we’re here.
ReKnew is here to stand at the forefront of this exciting new thing that God is doing in the world. Will you join us? We want to do all we can do to help mobilize and spread this rising movement of kingdom people who are rethinking what it means to be a “Christian,” what it means to have “faith,” and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We want to join others in imaginatively exploring the shape that post-Christendom discipleship and the post-Christendom Church might take. And we want to join others in boldly rethinking everything Christians have always assumed they already knew.
To recover the self-sacrificial revelation of God in Christ, and to advance the servant kingdom he inaugurated, it is time for us all to take a fresh look at everything.
It’s time to ReKnew our hearts and minds before God.
19 July update: The ReKnew Manifesto has just been uploaded. It’s a great read.