Kelsi Johns


A Missional Twisst

May 27th, 2009

New Wine, New Wineskins’ Spring conference on Faith and the Arts, Created to Create, provided space for the Christian community to broaden its scope as to how the arts are so powerful and necessary for Christ’s kingdom purposes. One of the ways in which this theme was powerfully explored was by Richard Twiss, a member of the Sicangu Band of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux tribe and co-founder of Wiconi International. This ministry is devoted “to live and walk among the people ‘in a good way’ by following the ways of Jesus– affirming, respecting and embracing the God-given cultural realities of Native/Indigenous people, not rejecting or demonizing them.” Twiss gave a powerful perspective on how the arts intersect with his faith, and how the arts are expressed through his Native American Christian heritage. 

 

Twiss shared with us some of his tribe’s artistic and beautiful ways of praying and worshipping. The tribe’s approach is fluid and rhythmic, vastly different from the Western Evangelical traditional (stoic) approach.  Along the way, Twiss explored the ways in which the dominant Western Christian culture tends to address Native Christian peoples: many dominant culture Christians wash Native Christians’ feet at prayer rallies and build houses on reservations before returning home to their lives of affluence.  These dominant culture Christians never truly enter into solidarity or mutuality with the indigenous community, while also ignoring its rich heritage of Native artistic expression and culture. The failure on the part of the dominant Western culture is twofold: we often fail to sense the beauty in the Native people’s ways of life and how they can enrich our own, and we fail to see that our attempts at connection–washing feet at prayer rallies or building homes on reservations–do not address core structural problems. 

 

The structural disconnect between the dominant Western Christian culture and indigenous peoples ties in with the ways in which the mainstream Evangelical community generally tends to bypass structural evil. In chapter two of Consuming Jesus, mention is made of Dr. John M. Perkins’ baseball game analogy, which is used to illustrate the dominant culture’s blindness to structural problems. Two teams are playing a game of baseball–a white team and a black team.  After seven innings, it is discovered that the white team has been cheating the whole game. The score is 20 to 0, and the cheating team apologizes. The white team then wants to move forward and finish the game. However, there is still a major problem: the score hasn’t changed; it is still 20-0. This story illustrates Twiss’ own frustration with dominant culture Christians’ washing Native people’s feet at reconciliation events and then retreating back to their “big houses” in affluent communities. I remember clearly his frustration as he lamented this state of affairs: “meanwhile, we are stuck here on our reservation with clean feet.” Just as in Perkins’ analogy, the cheating team apologizes and then mistakenly functions as if everyone is now functioning on a level playing field. These overarching, complex, societal and structural ills are often being addressed with a quick-fix, charity mentality, but nothing more. 

 

I am convinced that until we learn to need one another–existing in true community and solidarity as Christ’s body across racial and class divides, we are simply a nuisance to one another. We are only getting in one another’s way, if we don’t understand our mutuality as children of God. I believe that our Western individualism, affluence and lifestyles of privilege fuel partial ministry attempts to “reach out,” making Native people’s feet clean for a night, while never addressing the heart of the matter: seeking after our own hearts and hands’ cleansing for a lifetime. This is where a challenge to the dominant culture church arises: we must change this state of affairs by truly bearing witness to the trans-cultural gospel we profess by holistically and urgently addressing these complex social ills. But it takes time–a long time, and it takes not only acknowledging the long history of disadvantage and racialization, but will also require a slow journey ahead of entering into indigenous people’s lives and cultures, whereby there is mutual learning, respecting, and valuing of one another’s lives and cultures. Only then can we truly move forward–together.

 

I came away from Twiss’s talk at New Wine’s conference with a more missional twist on missions: the dominant Western Christian culture of which I am part has so much to learn about ministry among Native peoples–repenting of the past that impoverishes Native peoples in the present, as well as being enriched by the worship experience of our Native brothers and sisters. Lord, wash my dominant Christian culture’s feet, our hearts, and our hands so that we can be beautiful instruments of peace for your Gospel.

 

By Kelsi Johns with Paul Louis Metzger 

 

 

A Diverse Celebration

April 22nd, 2009

 

 

In the March newsletter for New Wine, New Wineskins (http://new-wineskins.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/090401-new-wine-newsletter.pdf), I explored the profundity of two different cultural art forms (Bach and African music) being brought together to produce something entirely different: ballet. I would like to explore this theme further, specifically in terms of how it speaks to our dire need for cultural diversity and multi-ethnic representation in the church. 

 

That ballet performance involved the creation of something beautiful out of two or more different and separate cultural expressions. This inspired in me a longing and sense of need: I long for the church to be a community where we truly sense our need for one another in the diversity of our cultural expressions, involving rather than negating cultural and ethnic tension. “Tension” in the sense that I do not believe that diversity in the church “just happens,” or is necessarily comfortable (especially considering the unequal footing from which we are currently working in America in regards to race relations and divisions).

 

We must intentionally work to understand, engage and respect one another–accounting for our different backgrounds and ethnicities. These differences must not be undermined, but rather engaged and celebrated. When this happens, something beautiful and new emerges.

 

It frustrates me that the phrase “celebrate diversity” is often labeled as taboo in Christian circles. I believe that the call to “celebrate diversity” is one of the most profound and significant aspects of our spiritual lives as Christians! The way I see it, the lack of appreciation for diversity fosters passive racism and homogeneous units in our social, educational and churchly spheres as believers. True, we are not to herald religious and spiritual “relativism” as such, but this is not what I am addressing.

 

It perplexes me that diversity is often dubbed as synonymous with spiritual and religious relativism. But diversity–different colors, voices, perspectives, thinkers, feelers, cultures in the body of Christ? This is something to be celebrated. Rather than stopping at celebrating diversity, my desire is that we celebrate the one Christ in diverse ways in the church.

 

I am convicted that to move forward, we must be brutally honest with ourselves about our faith. We, as believers, have been part of a movement that throughout its history has at times celebrated cultural diversity and yet at other times has shamefully oppressed diversity, including minority and non-Western cultural expressions of the faith.  If we as the church are to move forward as the embodied presence of the liberating and compassionate Christ whose glory is revealed in manifold and diverse ways, then we must come to celebrate diverse cultural expressions as central to our worship gatherings and daily Christian existence.

 

It is my desire that we make beautiful music out of the prism of differences in the world, music that inspires and liberates the church to be a diverse people centered in Christ. Just as Albert Schweitzer combined his Bach performances with the lively and colorful sounds of Africa surrounding him (which eventually inspired a beautiful ballet performance by the Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland), I believe we too are designed to combine, to harmonize, so to speak, with different communities and peoples.

 

What would that eventually produce? Who thought Africa and Bach would inspire a ballet? I believe we, too, could produce something unexpected, unique and utterly beautiful. Something that resonates with and echoes the symphonic melodies of the kingdom of God. I desire to see something of a ballet emerge from the body of Christ: a collision of diverse expressions creating something entirely new and profound, accompanying the divine drama of the reconciling Christ. 

 

 

 

 

Jesus– Changing the World One Heart, One Structure at a Time

April 5th, 2009

In Chapter 2 of Consuming Jesus, Metzger explores the reality that evangelicals are often blind to social structures that reinforce racialization (race’s impact on everything–from healthcare to education to occupation, etc). Evangelicals emphasize personal conversion and individual responsibility, and many believe that identifying social structures only serves as an obstacle to preaching the gospel and getting individuals saved. While Metzger highlights the vital need for personal conversion, he also claims that such emphasis on personal conversion must be coupled with thoughtful consideration of the societal structures that shape us. Personal conversion is necessary, but is not in and of itself sufficient to solve the world’s ills. They reach far beyond the individual.  Jesus changes the world one person at a time, but in cooperation with this, he also changes the world one structure at a time. It is my desire that Christ’s concern for both the individual conversion and the structural conversion be integrated more thoughtfully into the American evangelical ethos.

 

Emerson and Smith (referenced in Consuming Jesus) address this tendency of emphasizing the individual transformation over/against the structural transformation. They refer to it in part as the “miracle motif”: Get people converted and social-structural problems (i.e., racialization) will then disappear. These same authors claim that, “This antistructural orientation reveals a lack of proper awareness–the absence of a key tool or tools for remedying racialization in America, especially within the Christian church” (Emerson-Smith, Divided By Faith, pp. 76, 78; quoted in Consuming Jesus, p. 58). This is why I appreciated David Swanson’s concrete suggestions (presented as a follow-up comment to his latest entry on this blog titled “Reflections on the Inauguration”) on how to work with intentionality toward building diverse ethnic and class unity in the context of our churches.  Intentional engagement of church structures is essential; the church is Christ’s witness to the world. It is our opportunity and responsibility to transform the church to be the powerful voice of a liberating and transforming Christ. 

 

I’ve been reading Chris Rice’s “Grace Matters”, and it has been rocking my world. It is his story about working and living in a multi-ethnic community in Jackson, Mississippi, and his audacity, strength, and suffering in being put through the fires of racial reconciliation. It has been striking me to the core to realize that speaking about these things in theory is one thing, but to intentionally do something about them, to throw oneself in there and be willing to die to self, suffer and be humiliated in order to learn deep truths and gain deep, healing relationships is what makes being a Christian so meaningful. It is how we experience the profundity of Christ’s love. As I read Chris’s story, I see how it contextualizes Metzger’s challenge to us as believers to consider the bigger picture. Rice’s story gives a perfect example of how gospel work does not stop, and is not limited to individual conversion. Structural engagement is a necessary component of healing longstanding racial wounds and changing existing structures. 

 

Jesus challenged and overturned the structures of his time, as in the event of overturning the tables in the temple (where people groups were being divided). If people are dying in their spirits and hearts because of racial oppression, injustice and division, who are we to say that addressing these ills is getting in the way of the gospel? That is the gospel incarnated. When I hear: “We don’t want that to stand in the way of the gospel”, I hear the voice of a passive (or aggressive) oppressor. Jesus is about freedom, liberation and empowerment (in Him). Passively perpetuating a church body that segregates and a faith that oppresses is not perpetuating the heart and call of Jesus Christ. I am convinced that the more we live in diverse, sacrificial community and serve the marginalized and oppressed as Chris Rice and others have done, we are then able to identify and value our own inter-connectedness and integral responsibility of social structures. As the saying goes, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. 

 

I’d love to hear your responses to these questions:

 

Do you see as problematic the belief that race problems automatically disappear once people get converted?

 

How important is conversion to the healing of race problems?

 

How important to race reconciliation is the addressing of structural problems?

 

Have you witnessed people in communities who are balancing rightful concern for personal conversion with conversion of social structures in addressing race problems?

 

Do you see things in your own life that are at odds with promoting reconciliation and sacrificial love of “the other”? 

 

In the power of Christ’s transforming love, what steps can you take both inside and outside the church, to overturn structures that reinforce race and class divisions? 

Shane Claiborne’s Peculiar Message

February 24th, 2009

“Maybe God’s plan is different than Wall Street’s.” Shane Claiborne gently entered into his message at Mosaic Church in Portland, Oregon on February 6th with this statement. It hung in the air a bit before he proceeded. I have read both of his books, An Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President, but this was the first time I have heard him speak. He had his trademark look: The long dreads, bandana neatly tied around his head, black rimmed glasses, white plain T-shirt and baggy cotton pants. Upon walking on stage he gave a loud, giddy hillbilly laugh and his tall frame and lengthy arm span lent to his quirky, fun-loving demeanor. 

 

What followed his opening statement was the message that we are called to be a peculiar people. If we are falling right in suite with the power players of our day, where is our peculiarity? This struck me. Rather than living to transform the patterns and systems of our world, the church more often (and more loudly) appears as if our desire is the other way around. Yet if we look at Jesus, he was always peculiar. So peculiar, that John the Baptist had to second guess him. This led to another point: the love of Christ “spreads through fascination, not force”. This is pivotal in understanding our role as believers. In light of consumerism and the church, it was refreshing to remember that Christ’s gospel is irresistible and fascinating. It needn’t be a bait and switch gospel, where we must lure in the masses with great music, yummy coffee and popular preaching in order to gain the most converts. Yet this is what I often see: a hope and confidence in nailing down consumer preference and achieving consumer-based success over against living a gospel whose confidence and vitality lies in abandonment and the creativity of Christ. I can’t help but wonder then, what good news are people coming to understand? I often feel like we have lost hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are instead putting our trust in the gospel of consumerism driven by a worldy desire for more: more members, more converts, ultimately, more power. 

 

Shane continued to explain that when John the Baptist asked if Jesus Christ was really the One, Jesus responded by asking what he has done and what they have seen. Blind people can see, the dead are brought back to life, sick people are healed. As Shane points out, really, who else would they want?

 

This begs the question: What would the response be if I asked others to “look at what I’ve done and tell me what you see”. Not only individually does that scare me, but what about the church as a whole? As Shane challenged us, we tend to “preach God with our mouth, but resist him with our lives”. He shared that the top three things Christians are known for are being (in this order): anti-gay, judgmental and hypocritical. That is not a movement I would want to join, and those are certainly not the top three characteristics of the life of Christ. On the contrary, as Shane discussed, Christ’s harshest words were to the religious elite.

 

 “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to bring dead people to life.” This is a point he made that I believe we as a church need to meditate on and be transformed by. The religious elite were about control, power, and appearance. Life in Christ does not mean that we are now “good”; it means we are now alive–no matter how messy and reckless that may be. I fear that this compelling message is being choked out by those who wish to gain more followers by introducing them to a non-intrusive, non-threatening message of salvation (a sort of ‘you can have your cake and eat it, too’ salvation). As Shane said, we are not making the gospel too hard, but rather too easy. He challenged that we need a recklessness in the church. Reckless because we trust in the enormity, profundity and unconstrained love of our Creator, rather than the financial, medical, educational or political systems of this world.  What would that look like if we truly lived this way? We are not called to be calculators and purveyors of progress but rather patient, gracious lovers of truth and justice. If we live a timid life harnessed and controlled by the systems our world lives and falls by, what does that say of the One in whom we profess? 

 

What do you think about Shane’s statement “Maybe God’s plan is different than Wall Street’s”?  How do you envision that we, as the church, can begin as Shane said to “dream big and live small”, and how do you see this affecting consumerism in the church?

Entitled to Rags

January 28th, 2009

I remember the moment Christ revealed to me that my life isn’t about me. I was praying on my floor and unexpectedly had this deep conviction that my life is about Christ, and that my entire existence and all my striving is to serve him and allow him to live in and through me. It was deeply exhilarating, but also deeply humbling. He showed me his centrality in all things, and that everything I do is to further his kingdom, not mine. If I succeed, then by the grace of God he has purposed it to further reveal the love and power of Christ. Yet my motivations are not always Christ-honoring, but are blasphemous and futile, leading to a self-collapsing empire of pride. All too often, my heart gravitates in this direction. I want recognition. I want my name to be dropped at social functions and a life that is admired by followers. I want success that points to me, not Christ.

 

At our recent New Wine, New Wineskins retreat, Dr. Metzger discussed the theme of entitlement in light of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. In King’s 1968 “Drum Major Instinct” speech, he speaks of our inherent desire to be “drum major(s)”. All of us desire to “lead the parade”, he says, to feel superior. The profound thing about his life though, is that he subverted this desire to lead the parade in the name of love, truth and justice. He submitted it to the Father’s- not his- will. As he says, our innate desire to lead and for recognition is not in and of itself evil. What is evil is when we fail to understand why and how we are to lead, in whose name we are to lead, and for whose kingdom. 

 

King references Mark 10:35, where James and John requested to sit on Jesus’ right and left side, once he is King of Israel. They wanted recognition. They felt entitled to share in his wealth. His response? To be great, give your life as a servant. And this is Jesus, a man who, as discussed further in MLK’s speech, never added up to anything in the world’s eyes.  No possessions, never traveled anywhere impressive, had no college education, no published work, no awards, no family. I can only imagine what a dinner conversation would be like with him sitting amongst a host of doctors, professors and lawyers. He was killed out of mockery and deep unpopularity. Upon his last breath, onlookers only gambled for his clothes, and he was buried in a borrowed tomb.

 

I am deeply humbled when I think about our Lord’s life. And I have the audacity to compare myself to others. To want more. But this is not the way our Lord lived. He humbled himself to the lowest ranks possible, and never did he say, “I may look shabby now, but you just wait. One day, I will conquer the world and you will be sorry.” Jesus’ response was and is a message of patience, of love, of grace, a message that always points to his Father. To the world, he was as significant as the man we pass on the street corner. Forgettable. Laughable. And this was and is our Lord who breaks down barriers of hate with love, and who in Him alone we are purified and reconciled to the Father for eternity. 

 

What about MLK Jr.’s motivation? Power? Recognition? A killer eulogy? An impressive epitaph? His passion and imagination did not stop with him. He didn’t want recognition to sleep better at night. Ironically, his recognition served to do the opposite: put his life and family in danger. He wanted freedom for all people and to ultimately do God’s will–regardless of whether or not he reaped any of the benefits. This is what Jesus was explaining to his disciples. Do not do it for what you gain; do it because love is more powerful than status. It’s sobering to realize that in so many ways I long for center stage and my own victory, and I allow this desire to shape my voice as a believer. I am humbled to realize that it is only Christ in me who can reconcile, who can love, and who can transform hearts and structures. I pray that the church can learn from King’s life, and re-new her vow to serve the world in Christ’s humility and further his kingdom, not her own. 

 

 

Drum Majors Re-cap

November 28th, 2008

The  2-day “Drum Majors for Love, Truth and Justice” conference on November 20-21st led by civil rights leader Dr. John M. Perkins and Dr. Metzger addressed various issues to inform, encourage and challenge church leaders towards a theology of engagement, holistic participation in the gospel and redemptive reconciliation. Perkins, Metzger and the community leaders who joined them for panel discussions offered meaningful reflections that helped those gathered to keep marching forward to the beat of a different drum in community development work. We are witnessing today the need to break through social comfort zones and develop true community that takes us beyond simple acts of charity and affinity groups.

 

 In the first session entitled “The Need of the Hour,” Metzger and Perkins discussed the need for raising up leaders and churches whose concern for the poor far outweigh their own self-concern. In the second session, Dr. Metzger challenged us with the statement that, “none of us are free if one of us is chained” (referencing a Lynyrd Skynyrd song). We have a hard time sensing that we are bound up together in solidarity with one another for good or for ill. In the third session, Perkins addressed the three r’s of his community development model: relocation, reconciliation and redistribution. The second day of talks focused on spiritual formation and building a network of ministry and service partnerships where the church of the greater Portland-Metro area learns how to work with others toward helping people in community own the pond together.

 

This all requires a genuine paradigm shift. Right now, we live in a culture that tells us to congregate with those we like. We are often encouraged to sacrifice little and gain much. We are sometimes told to take back America and take out our enemies. But the gospel paints a different picture. And it is one that we, facing 21st century challenges, are called to respond to and participate in.  Christ has called us to join him in his grand narrative of identifying with “the least of these.” But how do we get beyond the brokenness, the individualism, the segregation, the gentrification to respond holistically and redemptively, struggling for solidarity with others through our union with Christ Jesus?

A fundamental change

November 17th, 2008

“Fundamentalism is wondering just how is it that a world-changing message narrowed its scope to the changing of isolated individuals.” –Carl F. H. Henry (“The Fundamentalist Fallout Revisited: From a World-Changing to a World Resistant and Worldly Gospel” Section from Chapter 1 of Consuming Jesus)
That’s what I want to know. I have spent much time thinking and dialoguing with others in order to understand what role politics should play in and throughout the Christian community. It becomes further complicated when I am a citizen with an allegiance that is ultimately to Christ, not my nation. In light of this, I’m trying to understand why it is that evangelicals have achieved the reputation of being those that, as Metzger quotes James Montgomery Boice in Chapter One, “fix their gaze on gaining the kingdom of the world and ‘have made politics and money our weapons of choice for grasping it'” (p. 28).

Metzger quotes Carl F. H. Henry saying, “Whereas once the redemptive gospel was a world-changing message, now it was narrowed to a world-resistant message” (p.26).  So rather than voting and living out of a sense of concern for justice that is truly social, evangelicals are driven by concern for the individual. And this influences our voting patterns.  It is Christian to vote pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and lower taxes. The Religious Right “gives scant attention to issues such as universal health care, concern for the environment, and the rights of minorities” (p. 27).

I am not undermining rightful concern for the human unborn or seeking to legalize same-sex marriage, but I am deeply concerned that evangelicals have an earned a reputation for being concerned about personal and nuclear familial issues at the expense of other social issues. As if they must choose one or the other, and larger social structural issues (such as those mentioned in the Boice quote above) are exempt from their sphere of concern.

Does this bother you?

Considering the fact that issues such as health care, minority rights, and the environment in which we live affects everyone–especially the poor and minorities–how do you think this value structure among evangelicals affects solidarity among all of us–rich, poor, black, white?

Personally, I think it suggests a message that we evangelicals would rather have “success, wonderful marriages and nice children,” (p. 28) as Boice laments. I have heard Christian pastors essentially say that those who are Christians cannot vote in favor of these social issues. Yet when I read the gospels, Jesus’ primary concern was loving his neighbor, helping the poor, and connecting with those that were worlds apart from him ethnically, religiously, and socially. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Jesus seemed to place more emphasis on larger social issues (love of neighbor, including one’s enemy) than on issues pertaining to one’s own nuclear family, affinity group, and class. Why such a disconnect?

I know there are many evangelicals out there who must be able to offer a differing view, considering that I am not the dominant voice. I want to hear your thoughts. Dr. Metzger and civil rights leader Dr. John M. Perkins will be engaging related issues in their upcoming “Drum Majors for Truth, Love and Justice” conference this coming Thursday and Friday, November 20th and 21st. Join them as they encourage and equip church leaders to live out a holistic and redemptive gospel. Visit http://consumingjesus.org/wp-content/drum-majors-event-details.pdf for more details.

Blog Links

October 17th, 2008

The link to the Wall Street Journal article, “The Mystery Worshipper”, which quotes Metzger, is proving to be helpful in exploring issues raised in Consuming Jesus.  As a result we decided to post links to other discussions related to the book.  There will be more links to come.
Dashhouse.com’s Review of Consuming Jesus
Inhabitatio Dei Review of Consuming Jesus
Internet Monk’s Review of Consuming Jesus 

I’d rather be shopping

October 14th, 2008

The Wall Street Journal published an article on October 10th about secret shoppers– for churches– entitled “The Mystery Worshipper.”  Metzger is quoted in the article, and it’s a sobering account of how churches are rated for quality and comfort through the lens of a church shopper.  Check it out here.  What is your reaction to this article? Some questions to consider:  

  • What message do you think the secret shopper model communicates about the ultimate goal and purpose of the church?  
  • Is this message biblical? 
  • Do you think church-goers should be approached as religious consumers in order to grow congregations? 
  • Can the two concerns of consumer comfort and preaching the gospel co-exist, or will one ultimately drive out the other? 
  • Do you think approaching the church as a provider of religious commodities proves to confuse the message of Christ rather than clarify it? 

Please share your thoughts.   Below are some links to other blogs that have also covered this article:
http://floatingaxhead.com/2008/10/14/professional-worshipers/
http://www.getreligion.org/?p=4014
http://thesidos.blogspot.com/2008/10/forget-faithful-exposition-of-gods-word.html 

A “members only” gospel?

September 25th, 2008

“…the rejection of the gospel’s implications for combating race and class divisions nurtures social niches and fosters a ‘social-club’ gospel.” Consuming Jesus, p. 26.

 

 

 

This leads me to think of a late night of channel surfing at a friend’s house. We came across a billowy yellow-haired TV evangelist in typical gaudy fashion, and his similarly adorned female cohort. My friend isn’t a Christian, and I could only wonder how much of an influence these (in my opinion, blasphemous) programs had on her perception of Christians as a whole. We were disturbed by their “us vs. the big bad world out there of which we are not a part” message, and so my friend changed the channel; but this only led us further down the rabbit hole of TV evangelism.

 

In Chapter 1, at the end of the section, “Rapture and Retreat: Tendencies of Premillennial Eschatology,” Metzger explains that “the reaction against the social gospel movement was most likely the chief cause for the virtual disappearance of concern for social justice among fundamentalists” (p. 23). While Metzger does not espouse the social gospel (here defined as a gospel that is concerned only for material and social well-being to the neglect of spiritual well-being), he has stated elsewhere that he sees the “gospel as social” (Jesus is vitally concerned for the body and soul–the embodied soul).  The only other option would be what he calls an “anti-social gospel,” which can easily lead to the “social club gospel” noted above (“members only”–my kind of people). And in some cases, that is what we find.  Metzger doesn’t talk much about TV evangelists in his book, but I see them as the extreme fringe of this general movement.  This is where we stand today–a place in which televangelists warn against the horrors of this world: financial despair, economic unrest and global tension, all the while adorned in gold and heavy make-up in the safety of their TV studios. No mention of entering into the struggle, no urge to be the hands and feet of Christ to love others. Only an invitation to buy their books. That’s real hard and spiritual, right?

 

While there is no logical connection between the rapture doctrine and social retreat, there is a historical-cultural connection between the two.  Many fundamentalists who held to the rapture doctrine also retreated to the cultural fringe, waiting for the great removal.  If God is going to remove the church from tribulation, why bother caring for the world?  It’s all going to burn anyway, right?  So the thinking in some circles goes.

 

This can lead to the mistaken view that salvation is a privilege for certain souls–members only. Or for those who are actually interested in those outside the camp, it can lead to a quick-fix mentality: just get people “saved,” and all will be well. But all is not well. It’s not easy or comfortable for us consumers to reach out and enmesh our lives with others, and to understand that how we live drastically affects the ways others live, both locally and across the world.  For us to understand, it would take great intentionality to enter into their situation and patience to stay the course, just like Jesus.  After all, he lived on earth–in the midst of the people’s pain and suffereing–for thirty plus years.  And he longs to live in the same world today through his hands and his feet–his body, the church.

 

Instead, we often see churches sprouting where the money is abundant at the expense of isolating and excluding minorities. We find affluence and power in direct association with the spreading of “white man’s Christianity” (which not only includes white people, but also minorities with “white man’s” syndrome–the “power at all cost” mentality). Meanwhile, those whom Christ is calling to himself outside these privileged gates–whites and minorities alike–are dying, because they are not easy to engage with; their lifestyles are not attractive and appealing. This lack of concern for the lost, the last, and the least is–to put it mildlynot biblical. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. He touched lepers. Like his father, he cared for orphans and widows in their distress.  I believe that our great challenge is to re-visit and inhabit the picture the gospel paints. Such revisiting and inhabiting must occur in small but intentional actions–actions leading to big-time change (and such momentous change may take decades to come to fruition). But what a picture our community will eventually be! It is worth it, because Christ’s kingdom is not built in a hurried moment before the ship sinks, with only the fastest swimmers on board and the ablest bodies manning the lifeboats. That’s not how Christ works, thank God. He calls us to live now in light of what will be, and to stop settling for so little when God calls us to so much more, as Metzger often says.  With this in mind, Metzger has also said to me that we need to raise the following question: “How then shall we live–as escapists and elitists, or as cultural engagers?”

 

Do you see Christianity as predominantly calling for separation from culture (rather than desiring to transform it from the inside-out)?  Do you see some relation between this division in the body of Christ and the espousal of a gospel “for the privileged few”? What small steps do you think we could take in our respective communities to bring reconciliation to the body of Christ, where we become the church that engages everyone meaningfully, and where we break down divisions based on race and class?  We all need one another to move forward together. Please share your thoughts with me.