Monday, February 07, 2005

Watch Your Language

I'm reading Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy. In the "missional" Christian chapter, he makes this helpful observation on an illustration of three circles (107). The first is large, and they get smaller.

(me) ---> (church) ---> (world)

In this diagram, my largest concern is me, my soul, my personal destiny in heaven, my maturity, and my rewards. Occasionally, after "winning" people based on personal self-interest, churches can entice people to care a little about the church -- but is it any surprise that people "won to Christ" by self-interest come to the church asking, "What's in it for me?"

Is it any surprise that with this understanding of salvation, churches tend to become gatherings of self-interested people who gather for mutual self-interest -- constanly shopping and "trading up" for churches that can "meet my needs better? Is it any surprise that it's stinking hard to conveince churches that they have a mission to the world when most Christians equate "personal salvation" of individual "souls" with the ultimate aim of Jesus? Is it any wonder that people feel like victims of a bait and switch when they're lured with personal salvation and then hooked with church commitment and world mission?

McLaren goes on to discuss Newbigin's insights on the call of Abraham: blessed by God to be a blessing to the world, the gospel is "universally good news for Christians and non-Christians alike" (110).

I am realizing more and more that evangelism in North America has become all about personal salvation, raptures, heaven, and making middle-class lives just a little bit better. But you knew that, so I won't dwell on it. My question is this: can those of us who were taught for so long to think about our "own personal whatever" (relationship with Jesus, salvation, eternal destiny, etc.) start telling a Christian story that is truly Christ centered?

While I've said that testimony -- speaking of what the resurrection of Christ has worked in your own life -- is certainly important, the story by no means begins and ends with you or me. Can you tell a story about Yahweh and his Creation? Can you talk about Yahweh calling Abraham, blessing him to be a blessing, and about the formation of Israel, who was meant to be a light to the Gentiles? Can you talk about Jesus and the people he won for himself, and how we can live together.

Jesus doesn't want just to be with you; he wants to be with us. He's all about reconciling to God all of us who were far off, to be a people who will "exist for the praise of his glory." As Tod Bolsinger said in Tim Stafford's recent CT article,

I can remember saying to kids, 'There's no church to join, there's nothing to commit to, this is only about a relationship with Jesus.' Paul wouldn't preach that message. And the early church didn't.

So let's stop talking about Jesus and me, and start talking about Jesus and us.

I'd love to hear some feedback on what you think that might mean for how we choose to be together as the church, calling people to Christian commitment, etc.

Oh, and it looks like Mr. Sherwood and I are sharing the same reading list...


Bryan said...

That was such a weird feeling as I began to read your post. :-)

Rick said...

Outstanding post. I could say so much, but will just keep it simple. I think you nailed it.