“The movement called Christianity cannot be understood apart from the Jewish concept of shalom. The Christian gospel does not call people to give their mental assent to a certain list of correct propositions, nor does it provide its adherents with a password that will gain them disembodied bliss when they die and the pleasure of confidently awaiting their escape until then. Shalom is a way of being in the world. The Christian gospel invites us to partake in shalom, to embody shalom, and to anticipate its full realization in the coming kingdom of God.” -David Dark
We sat down for coffee, and the conversation was nothing short of beautiful. Hour after hour pressed on until finally, my conversation partner and I were able to come to that place of sheer agreement that can only come about through complete focus — accompanied by a childlike assumption that he loves Jesus as much as I do.
We had come together to discuss topics of re-orientation. Topics like “Gospel,” and “Kingdom,” and “Apocalypse.”
But one topic that seemed to evade us in our conversation was the one topic which most people seem to ask on the back-end, after they have gotten excited: sin. Mired in the mud of street preachers and televangelists, “sin” is not exactly the best topic to stir the hearts and minds of those around you. It just isn’t. And honestly, most people that I talk to, treat the topic as if sin is the black sheep of the family — who has just crashed the family reunion. Now we have to tone it down a bit, because uncle sin has spoiled the party.
Truly, telling people that they are “sinful” without explaining what it means, assumes the agreement of definition. But if we know anything about Jesus, this kind of thing comes to those who have ears to hear, not ears that have been bludgeoned.
Have you ever had this happen to you? I’m sitting at a table, gospel-ing with someone who hasn’t bought into the Story yet, and a Christian comes up and says, “Excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear that you guys were talking about God. Might I join you?” I just sit there, trying to be childlike and accepting, but the inevitable occurs: this idiot just sabotaged the whole process by assuming my conversation partner hadn’t heard enough about “sin.” “No,” I imagine my response being to the question posed,“you may not join us. I prayed before this meeting and asked God to keep demons and christians away!”
Now, some of this is in jest. I know people mean well, but surely you have had this experience as I have where we have to pretend to be on the same page with the uninvited and clearly, uninitiated. But I digress…
It’s not that I don’t take sin seriously. Learning to die daily, and pick up my cross is a full time job on its own. But whenever I first began to share my faith with others, it would be a beautiful story, until I felt the urge to make sure they knew how utterly detestable they were in God’s sight. But can I be honest with you? After a few years of doing it that way –and I was good at doing it that way — I realized I had gone down the “sin” route because I hadn’t the confidence in the Gospel message I was preaching, nor did I really preach the right “Gospel.” All in all, what it comes down to is that if we preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (which is the good news of Israel’s God, renewing all things in Jesus the Messiah) then people will implicitly understand the lack of peace in their life.
And this is the problem with a lot of evangelical Christianity: we give people a vision for their sin, and not for the Kingdom. No wonder so many believers never stick with it, or kick porn, or kick drugs, or kick lying or thieving — because they don’t have a bigger vision for their life. And that vision is of the Kingdom of God.
But what about S.I.N.? Typically, they aren’t the three problems we have in the church, but I believe they are the root issues that, if ripped from the soil of our hearts, will be the end of the end. Seriously, something is emerging if we want it. But anyways, let us begin! Here is the acrostic*.
S is for secularism.
Secularism is this nifty idea that basically says you can describe some things in life, to the fullest, without ever bringing up “God.” This is the fruit of western civilization after the death of God in modern science. But the West wants to maintain all of its ideas of human flourishing without the need for a reference to “God.” Now you may think, “Jon, what does this have to do with me?” Well, dear friend, if we are honest…they are many areas of our lives that don’t need God for anything. We have our moments, but there are segments which never participate or become aware of the presence of the divine in every experience. This is a problem. But the way to combat this is to truly embrace the Christian story. As believers, we think that this radically new idea called the Kingdom of God — as revealed in the life of Jesus — actually has within itself the necessary parts for a real reflection of actual reality. In other words, the Kingdom is reality; secularism is a cheap parody.
I is for Individualism.
It can never ben understated that when we tell people that the most important thing about us is our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, they hear this: “Don’t worry about my religion, because it is completely irrelevant.” This radical “me” focus is not the concern of the writers of the New Testament, nor the Old Testament. It could be argued that the heart of God, as revealed in the entire Bible, is summed up in one sentence: God is looking for a people to join Him in healing the nations. How much of our worship is surrounded around one person on Sundays, or how much of our time spent thinking about God is never discussed in community? Heresy begins with the “I,” but never the “we.” Allowing our theology to be tested in the fires of loving community makes the church look really appealing. Unfortunately, many of us have had experiences where if you don’t conform to the group-think of the culture, you are out. But I am here to tell you, as one who has experienced this kind of thing on multiple occasions, that the God of Jesus loves questions and binds us together in order to absorb the bad to retain the good. Now, cue Beatles song, “Come Together.”
N is for nationalism.
This sin is a difficult one, because America is culturally unique. As an experiment, just type this status into your news feed: “Jesus is Lord, and America is not.” I can’t wait to hear back the results. You can say anything short of blasphemous and people will give you grace, but if you criticize the use of violence, weaponry, and the generous use of “our” in the “our troops” church placards, then be prepared to be questioned to the point of exhaustion. The political-punditry-culture-wars are the sole reality of those who have given up on the idea of a new world bursting forth right in the middle of this one. It is the dying cry of a hopeless generation who think that if so and so is not elected, everything is going to burn up and be destroyed. This is a satanic impulse. Yes, all things will reckon with King Jesus in the end, but even if you go to heaven when you die it’s not the end of the world. The hope of resurrection is not in a celestial paradise, it is in a renewed earth (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Christian culture in America has gotten into bed with political parties and equated the unity of the two as a test for genuine orthodoxy. This is a unique kind of heresy, and it must be checked on a daily basis. For none of life is neutral, and everything around us is calling us to worship — from the Coke advertisement to the political ad. What will we choose to ultimately salute?
In the end, I believe in a better hope in Jesus. And honestly, it has taken me a while to recognize the three sins mentioned above in my own life. But I want to follow Jesus. I want to be part of a community that is okay with different perspectives because that is how we see the Kingdom: full of difference and agreement at the same time. To embrace one another without qualification is the harder and more righteous thing, but it is worth it. And we need to question everything. Our faith itself was born out of questions: (all quotes from the lips of Jesus)
“Who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15
“If you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?” Matthew 5:47
“To what shall I compare this generation?” Matthew 11:6
“Why are you thinking such things in your heart?” Mark 2:8
“What is your name?” Luke 8:30
I am under the assumption that if we tell others stories about Jesus, speaking of His Kingdom, then the S.I.N. I have just mentioned will be dealt with. The details can be dealt with as well, but in time. After all, all the lame beggar outside of the gates of Jericho needed to know in order to follow Jesus was that He was a healer. I’m sure discipleship covered the rest, but that’s just it, I’ve run out of space on this post and can’t go into that massive topic! Well, until then.
*I got the acrostic idea after listening to a great sermon by Derek Vreeland.