The way we think of ourselves and conceive our most basic purposes in this world make a massive difference in the way we behave.
I really do believe it is due to our largely unreflective approaches to church, mission, and evangelism that we have found ourselves beached on the shores of the twenty-first century. For good or for ill, ideas have consequences. I always remind myself of Einstein’s famous dictum when he said the problems of the world cannot be resolved by the same kind of thinking that created them in the first place. The truth is we do need to do some wrestling and reframing, and to do that we need to think differently about our tasks. For sure, we are going to have to repent of our ways—but that’s a good thing.
I believe so deeply in the power of God’s good news people that I have committed my life to awakening this now sleeping giant somehow. If we, the people of God, can “find ourselves” again, right here, right now, in this time and place, then the most profound of revolutions is on!
I will go further and say that the battle for the future of Christianity in the West will be worked out in America—and I say this as a non-American, an Aussie with South African roots and a deep Jewish heritage. If we fail right here, right now, in America, then I really fear the eventual passing of a vibrant biblical Christianity in Western contexts.
I have left kith and kin and come to America to help awaken the sleeping giant of God’s people. I am at my core an activist and not a theoretician! I am a stakeholder who has played all his cards on this time and this place, on the belief that it is a strategic time, a time when our choices are really going to matter.
To awaken the people of God to their dormant potentials, we have to shake off certain ways of imagining ourselves that hinder and therefore bind us from being the people we were designed to be. The truth is, we have all drunk so deeply from institutional wells of thinking about Christianity that it is hard to think of ourselves differently.
To co-opt Marx’s words, we have taken a big dose of what he called “the opiate of the people”—religion (in the really bad sense of the word). Marx saw religion as the cultural force that kept people docile and submissive to the prevailing order of reality, and to be honest, in this at least I think he was right. Religion does that to us . . . it dulls us and puts us to sleep. We become ineffective.
The good news is that the Way of Jesus was never the way of “religion.” In fact, Jesus reserves his harshest possible condemnations for the very “religious” people of his day and condemned religion for what it does to people—just read Matthew 23 for a taster. Jesus was a sobering splash of bracing, icy water! He awoke people to God, kingdom, and their own potentials, and He started a movement that swept out from backwater Judea to transform utterly the world of its day. Everyone who was touched and transformed by Jesus was able to, in turn, participate in the transformation of others around them. The Jesus movement that emerged from the dusty boondocks of the Roman Empire has swelled through history to transform billions of lives, and it still does, as millions are added every year.
This is the power of people movement, and this is the church that Jesus designed to change the world—a thoroughgoing people movement that had little of what we normally conceive of as what constitutes a “church”: buildings, clergy, bookstores, seeker-sensitive services, priest-run liturgies, complex theological formulas, or whatever.
There is no doubt that throughout time, our idea of the church has shrunk to unbiblical proportions. We need some stretching, as ridiculous as that sounds. Our best thinkers have long-recognized the gospel has been effectively marginalized and Christianity relegated to the realm of private, individualized, religious opinion with little impact on the broader world of politics, science, economics, art, and culture. (Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks)
If ever there was a time to reimagine the church and its mission, it is now.
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