I was sick to my stomach the other day.
I wasn’t sick because I caught a virus, I was sickened by a memory – a memory of a guy I used to be. I was perusing a Christian bookstore that I used to frequent (I won’t use any names) and I was looking around and suddenly I was flooded with memories of myself as a young believer, when I would flock to my definition of safety: only Christian books on my shelves, only Christian music on my iTunes, only Christian t-shirts, no cuss words, have only Christian friends, don’t watch a movie if a lot of Christians told me not to. In fact, “do what you’re told” was probably a really good way of summing up how I used to try to live.
I was safe.
As I was sickened by these memories, I was looking for a certain author’s book, only to find nothing under his name. Now, this particular author has been through some controversy of late, so it didn’t surprise me when Google showed me a story which confirmed my suspicions: this unnamed bookstore had pulled this unnamed author’s books from their shelves in the aftermath of the controversy.
Good PR move. Way to cater to the masses.
I get so frustrated with this idea of safety. I get so frustrated with people disassociating themselves from someone who screwed up. I get tired of hearing people talk about how you need to avoid this movie or this band or this politician or this company because somewhere along the line, they have a view or an opinion that doesn’t lineup with a purely Christian worldview, or because they made a mistake ten years ago, or – hell – because they made a mistake two days ago! I get tired of hearing that you shouldn’t listen to band X because their lead singer was heard using a curse word, or seen smoking a cigarette.
I got really tired around the time when the film ‘Noah’ came out of hearing people telling me I shouldn’t see it, because it didn’t line up with the Bible. I don’t like that mentality. It discourages me from thinking for myself. It’s one thing if you tell me, “man, they really skewed the story, so keep that in mind when you see it.” It’s another to tell me not to see it because it “isn’t biblical.” Are we that weak-minded? Why would we avoid it, then? Why would we avoid what might be one of the biggest creative projects of the year because it doesn’t line up 100% with the Biblical account? Are we afraid that somehow they’re going to ruin the story, or to detract from the fact that the story of Noah is ultimately about Jesus?
Do we believe in a God so weak that we have to run from everything that is not under the banner of “Christianity?”
But I’m increasingly encouraged, and here’s why:
I read a book like unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, which seeks to understand the perspectives of outsiders of Christianity.
I listen to a podcast like Bad Christian (Toby Morell, Joey Svendsen, and Matt Carter) in which they talk with Christians and non-Christians alike with respect, talking about hard issues and appreciating each other’s worldviews. They too try to gather as much information as they can about the way other people see Christianity all the while upholding the Bible as true and Jesus as sovereign.
I hear about a group of young people who meet in my community from various churches and life paths and careers whose ultimate goal is to encourage one another in the Lord and ultimately serve our city together. And, I’m encouraged that they’re willing to meet at a local brewery and have a couple of beers during the meeting.
I’m encouraged because there’s a guy I know who plays guitar at a church and every time we hang out, he’s smoking a cigarette.
Here’s why that encourages me: I think we’re finally starting to understand – at a generational level – that Christianity is offensive in that it goes. Offensive means two things, you see – in one sense, it means that it offends people and puts them off politically and morally. For example, people are offended that Christianity calls homosexuality a sin (and despite where the cultural tide, I will always believe that, because Christianity calls all types of sexual immorality sin [not just homosexuality.] But that’s a whole other issue for a whole other blog.)
But the other sense in which Christianity is offensive is that it isn’t a defensive religion. John 1:5 (which is talking about Jesus) says that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can’t comprehend it. It doesn’t say that the light hides from the darkness, because the darkness might put out the light – no! The light is stronger than darkness. He who lives in believers (Jesus) is greater than he who is in the world (satan, and that’s 1 John 4:4.)
So, yeah – I don’t really care if Christians use cuss words, or have a beer or two, or they smoke a cigarette. I’m honestly so unconcerned with cleaning myself up now – it’s Jesus who cleans me up. I spent my whole childhood thinking that I had to clean myself up: stop cussing, don’t drink, don’t have sex or look at porn (that I still am on board with!) listen to uplifting music exclusively, etc.
But my biggest problem with moralistic, legalistic teaching is that we emphasize cleaning up our little bubble to show ourselves off, and in the process we first fail to dwell on the majesty of Jesus as our savior instead of ourselves, and we fail to understand Jesus’ ultimate mission for us: to go!
I look back on my childhood – my youth in Christ – and I realize that I never had a mind for justice. I wasn’t raised to be thinking about how the Gospel can go forth to other people and transform them, but just how I can clean up my own act. And that’s such a limited scope.
Think about it like this: which of the following scenarios do you think reaches the heart of God?
-A young man works in another country. He helps build orphanages and works at local farms to produce food so that the local orphans can have shelter and food. However, in the midst of his work, he cusses when he accidentally hits his finger with a hammer, and he has a lit cigarette in his mouth. At the end of the day, he has a couple of beers while he unwinds.
-A young man works at an office. He, unlike his co-workers, never says a cuss word, and never steps outside to smoke. He keeps to himself and rejects the invitation of his co-workers to have a couple of drinks at the bar at the end of the work day. He goes home, cooks dinner, says his prayers, and goes to bed.
I’m convinced it’s the former scenario. I’m just so convinced that Jesus is a lot more concerned with justice being done in the world (and it may not look like moving to another country, and it’s not exclusively work with orphans, etc. don’t take me too literally.) I’m convinced He’d rather have His church do life together – ensuring that everyone is growing and learning in community with one another than for us to avoid each other on the grounds of a differing political view.
And, I think, my generation and I are starting to understand that. The reason I rejoice when a Christian drinks a beer is not because beer is good (oh, it is…) but because that means that that’s one less worry – one less joule of energy we put into maintaining an image, as if we were the reason we’re a Christian. The reason I rejoice when a Christian listens to the music of an atheist is because one, they are supporting the work and the art of an artist, and two, they’re not so damn insecure that they can’t appreciate a work of art.
I think that as a generation, we’re getting our eyes off of ourselves and more onto a savior who is greater than we are, and as we stop worrying about behavior management, we’re more and more free to do what Jesus really asks us to do – preach the gospel and do justice.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”