Note: We are up on the fourth week of Pentecost and I’m still a week behind on the weekly lectionary reflections. I’m still working on the third week and should have the fourth week done midweek (if all goes well). Meanwhile, below is a video of Scot McKnight on the radical message of Jesus – which I think relates not only to a Christian subculture that subverts this message despite claims to the otherwise, but also ties in well with the current series of lectionary readings from Mark.
One of the things that frustrates and grieves me about the current Evangelical subculture is the incessant push to ‘do great, wonderful, extraordinary, spectacular, amazing, blow out, BIG things for God.’ I call this the ‘go big or go home’ mentality – and I believe with all my heart it is hurting people.
Working in Christian retail currently and having a chance to browse through the popular evangelical reading material two things strike me: one, much of it could just as easily be described as Dr. Phil or Oprah type self-help inspiration with a little Jesus thrown in. Second, such literature I have come to believe feeds on commonplace Evangelical insecurities of insignificance and (even if perhaps with good motives and unintentionally) actually reinforces these self same insecurities. This is the very same tactic used by those in the general market to sell us stuff. This is simply the Christian bubble’s version of the consumer cycle and the liturgy of consumption. All this is part of what might be most accurately called ‘the Evangelical Industrial Complex’ and is driven largely by elitism and the dominance of celebrity pastors.
One of my current jobs is to help people find the books and curriculums they feel they ‘need’ to study and do church. But from the conversations I have with person after person, good people who I believe want to serve God; the majority of the curriculums currently available will do them little good. They will complete the current study, the one that promised them they could really be ‘radical’ or ‘crazy’ for God, or move them from being a ‘fan’ to a true follower – if only they can go BIG enough (and endure lots of poor Scriptural exegesis)! The consistent thing that gets missed here is incarnating the gospel (the King Jesus gospel, not merely the ‘get my individual sins forgiven’ gospel) in the normal, ordinary, mundane, and perhaps even forgotten or marginalized spaces in life (listen all the way to end of the video below for the importance of this).
The sad truth is that almost all the current curriculums really end up deconstructing themselves. They usually begin with a dire analysis of the state of the church and Evangelicalism but in the end amount to doing ‘the same ole thing’, only now with a new vocabulary (this is commonplace within Evangelicalism). The ‘same ole thing’ is now called ‘radical’ and in the process actually subverts the truly radical nature the gospel. (Another example that comes to mind is the trend for ‘traditional’ churches to begin calling themselves ‘missional’; yet change nothing of their church structures, still do missions the same, and have the same ‘come to us’ mentality towards the community at large as always).
One question I think needs to be asked is: do these curriculums and literature actually end up reinforcing various harmful ideologies to the church (nationalism, militarism, politics, consumerism, etc). The reason for this is that if these competing visions of the ‘kingdom’ are not properly critiqued or deconstructed, the end result is that the ideology in question itself becomes associated with being, let’s say … (to choose from one of the current buzz words) ‘radical’. This makes it far too easy “to identify ourselves and our kings and our kingdoms with the reign of God, and the other guy over there with the reign Jesus opposes.” In the process, not only is the church divided but the gospel and true Kingdom are themselves subverted.
However, the gospel of King Jesus is truly more radical in nature than anything we can find in most of the ‘popular’ Christian literature, calling into question all of our ideologies, idolatries and false kingdoms, and calling us to orient all that we are around Jesus. In the video below Scot McKnight takes us on a tour of the radical message of Jesus. In it McKnight brings out our need to ask the right questions which enable us to orient ourselves with a gospel, kingdom imagination.
The first is the ‘how’ question – how can we get in on the kingdom and what Jesus is doing?
The second is the ‘what’ question – what does the Kingdom of God require? What is the substance of the kingdom life?
The third is the ‘who’ question – which also involves the ‘why’ question (why does Jesus say such ‘hard’ things). The ‘who’ question of course points straight to Jesus.
In the end, these questions are all interrelated. The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ point to the ‘who’ – while the ‘who’ (Jesus) gives us the proper lense through which to see the kingdom, that we need to be able to answer the ‘how’ and ‘what’ correctly.
Scot McKnight – The Radical Message of Jesus