November 19, 2017

What is unique about the “Christian Life”?

Lighthouse 1

Yesterday, in our discussion about James, Rocky asked some good questions about distinctions that are sometimes made between Christians and non-Christians and how that doesn’t always make sense to him. Christians are called to do “good works,” but many non-Christians do those same works, and it is hard sometimes to know what is supposed to be distinctive about Christianity. Here is part of what he said:

…Charles also hits on something closely related, namely: what is unique about the “Christian Life”? I’ve already hinted that I’m not convinced it is ethics, and I’m not convinced that it is salvation or what happens in the afterlife. Those are the two major answers given most often. But if not those, what? Simply a shared belief in the idea that a certain historical event (namely, the Resurrection of Jesus) actually happened? Maybe….and shared beliefs about history can be powerful in their own right….but I’d like to think something more is happening here.

What is unique about the “Christian Life”?

I’ll be the first to say I don’t have the definitive “answer” to that question, but I do have some ideas to share and discuss today.

(1) My first response may be surprising, but it’s something I have tried to emphasize ever since I started writing here at Internet Monk. It has to do with one of the most important reasons I left the world of evangelicalism and entered the “post-evangelical wilderness.”

Here it is: there is nothing unique about the “Christian” life.

This came up in a conversation I had with Damaris once, and I remember we came to agreement that the “Christian” life is just life, lived Christianly. Life. Ordinary, human life. In all its dailiness. Through all its various seasons and circumstances. For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Getting up each day and putting our pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else.

The separatist nature of some religious traditions tries to deny this. When listening to Christians talk, I sometimes get the idea that we hover a foot or two above other human beings.

  • We promote gnostic tendencies toward insider-ism and elitism that imagine Christians are in a special category, a “members only” club, dialed-in to special knowledge and privileges to which our neighbors don’t have access.
  • We maintain docetic tendencies among us. We elevate “souls” and “spirituality” over day-to-day living by embodied persons who live in communities in relationship with others. “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through” is our song, and we devalue the mundane and the ordinary in favor of the esoteric and “spiritual.”
  • We harbor many modernist prejudices, rationalizing, categorizing and generally thinking that what is most important is the world of ideas and theological systems. We imagine that success for Christianity means winning arguments and making sure all of our doctrinal “i’s” are dotted and “t’s” crossed.
  • We imagine a moral superiority that sets us above “sinners,” and we set up our lives and institutions to avoid meaningful and equal relationships with them.

Folks, we’re all in this together. Fellow human beings. If we don’t get this and learn the true humility that comes from realizing we are no different than anyone else, we will never truly see our neighbors as “neighbors,” akin to us and beside us in this thing we call life. We will always look down on others instead, in one way or another. We will take up the role of judges rather than friends and companions. We will imagine that we have privileges and advantages others don’t have and will build walls rather than bridges in our relationships with them.

(2) However, there is one thing that makes being a Christian special, and that’s Jesus.

And the outline of what is particularly significant about Jesus is that he became incarnate, announced the dawning of God’s rule, died, was buried, rose again, and ascended into heaven to be crowned Lord of all.

Yesterday, Scot McKnight ran a post about what it means to do evangelism if you believe that the gospel is the “King Jesus gospel” rather than the “soterian gospel” of modern evangelicalism.

In the “soterian” model, evangelism is all about defending the truth, and persuading and convincing others to embrace it so that they can be saved from God’s judgment and gain the hope of heaven. Its focus is on them, on drawing the contrast between us and them, on convincing them that they need to change.

By contrast, in the “King Jesus gospel” approach we simply witness to Jesus. We tell his story. We announce that, by his life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has been crowned Messiah, Lord, Savior, and King of all. “We want to stir an interest in Jesus. We are not trying first to stir interest in our church, or in someone’s sins or in some kind of theological debate,” McKnight writes.

We are witnesses. First and foremost we are witness to and about Jesus. Our calling is to draw attention to Jesus and to call folks’ attention to Jesus. The Story of Jesus awakens faith and in that context the summons to repent, to be believe and to be baptized can be given.

The focus is not on what people get if they accept Jesus; the focus is Jesus. He’ll give them what he wants.

This is essentially the focus of N.T. Wright’s newer perspective on Jesus, Paul, and the new community which has been created in Christ. In a review of one of Wright’s books, Bruce Epperly summarizes it well:

N. T. Wright sees the heart of Paul’s theology as involving his experience and expression of God’s new creation, brought about by God’s action in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Although Christ as Messiah is profoundly Jewish – you cannot find any foundation for anti-Judaism in the authentic Pauline literature – he sees Jesus Christ as embodying and inviting us to live in God’s new age of Shalom. Accordingly, Pauline theology is profoundly concrete. He is a preacher-theologian: his thinking is ultimately practical. Paul believes that the theological is transformational. The message of the Gospel and God’s new creation, the heart of Paul’s message, is transformational and invites us to become transformed persons, living in transformed communities, and working toward a transformed world order.

…The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ brings about new creation in the here and now and the spirit of Jewish monotheism, this new creation is cosmological, ethical, and soteriological – we are new people, experiencing a transformed universe, touched by the healing Christ, and living by the values of God’s realm “on earth as it is in heaven.” Our vision of God’s faithfulness throughout history and in all creation nurtures the confidence that transforms behavior and beliefs.

…Paul’s letters to emerging congregations are invitations to live in God’s realm of Shalom right now.

…Dynamic in nature, the lively, inspired body of Christ can become God’s embodied vision of Shalom – of new creation – in this very moment of time.

…God is truly in Christ reconciling the world, and we are intended to be companions in God’s ministry of reconciliation. We are intended to be a microcosm, a foretaste, of the world to come, participating in God’s new creation and becoming God’s temple making sacred the world.

There’s a lot of highfalutin’ language in there, but what it all boils down to is this:

  • In Jesus, God began to implement his end-times rule in the world (“the kingdom of heaven has drawn near”).
  • The ultimate goal of this rule is God bringing about a new creation of justice and peace (“on earth as it is in heaven”).
  • The process of implementing God’s rule involves him creating a community of people who are called to witness to Jesus the King and the new creation to come (“you are the salt of the earth; the light of the world).
  • This involves us living among our neighbors, pointing them to Jesus by our attitudes, words, and actions (which includes acknowledging our imperfections and failures). Christians and Christian communities are called to be signs and examples of the new creation to come as we live our ordinary human lives through all the seasons and circumstances of life. In other words, Christians are simply to live in this world and this life with genuine humanity.

This means we don’t worry so much about “setting ourselves apart” from those around us or emphasizing our “distinctiveness.” We eagerly embrace our common humanity with others. We live in community with them. There are moral and ethical boundaries we maintain, but this fact is part of our common humanity, for all human groups do this and part of living in community with those who differ is to negotiate how we are going to live together while maintaining different values and perspectives. We are also free to participate with our neighbors in good works of love to mend the world’s broken places and plant seeds of goodness that will come to fruition in the new creation. As we live in the world, we constantly give credit to Jesus our King, who is making all things new.

As Epperly says, “God is truly in Christ reconciling the world, and we are intended to be companions in God’s ministry of reconciliation.”

Comments

  1. It’s worth noting that our non-Christian neighbors, even though they don’t believe, have nonetheless been raised in a society and culture that has been deeply shaped by Christianity. Even secular humanism borrows much from Christianity, such as its ideals of equality and human rights, despite its attempts to base such ideas off non-theological foundations. It’s easy to assume, living as we do in a well-off post-Christian society, that our moral norms and behavior is the default position of all humans everywhere, and has nothing to do with the complex moral genealogy of our western civ. People like David Bentley Hart and Charles Taylor have argued along these lines.

    • I’m bracing for the backlash on this one. Especially that comment on secular humanism…It’s all the Enlightenment, not Christianity, surely!

      • TRs, fundamentalists and the like have a LOT more in common with the Enlightenment – especially epistemologically – than either side cares to admit. In fact, when they leave one extreme, they often jump right to the other – Bart Ehrman being Exhibit A in that regard…

      • It actually is, in fact, the Enlightenment. You don’t want it to be, you don’t want to be reminded of the centuries of Christian approval of slavery, misogyny, inequality, throne-and-altar-ism. But it happened all the same and it took the secularism of the Enlightenment to overturn that.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > you don’t want to be reminded of the centuries of Christian approval of slavery, misogyny, inequality,

          If one *honestly* accepts the depravity and/or fallibility of man I do not understand why we are so troubled by this history – on my books it is in the “of course we did that” column. The relevant question is: what are the sins of today? [I expect human history to be a great steaming pile of sin and failure]. Take a gander at the “heros” of the Old Testament – what a bunch of crooked vengeful cowardly lusty scheming men (and a couple women).

          “””Folks, we’re all in this together. Fellow human beings. If we don’t get this and learn the true humility that comes from realizing we are no different than anyone else,”””

          The correct take away from Christian History is Humility.

          > But it happened all the same and it took the secularism of the Enlightenment to overturn that.

          I am not certain I accept that claim. Disentangling abolition, at least in the United States, from religion would require a really fine set of tweezers. Often the Enlightenment wasn’t neatly Secular, these streams each influenced the flow of the other. Enlightenment, Religion – and Economy. Economic changes, particularly more wide-spread prosperity, also liberates people in a very substantive way to examine institutions which were previously insulated from scrutiny by resource constrains [lack of spare social capital, etc..]

          The Enlightenment, IMO, gets both a bad wrap and is overestimated. It did not occur in a vacuum.

          • If abolition is ‘Christian’ then why did it come about in 1800 instead of like 33 AD?

          • Truth is there were Christians on both sides of the issue and have always been. Claiming either position as the Christian position is a fallacy.

          • Dana Ames says:

            J,

            because it took that long for the Christian sensibility to percolate through the huge economic underpinnings of slavery. Mammon was in the way for a long time, to our shame.

            However, almost the only voices raised against slavery from 33 to 1800 AD were Christian ones.

            Dana

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Dana +1

          • Dana +1 more.

          • –> “If abolition is ‘Christian’ then why did it come about in 1800 instead of like 33 AD?”

            Perhaps because slavery was such an accepted way of life that pretty much every nation in the world has practiced it at some point in time.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Perhaps because slavery was such an accepted way of life that pretty much every nation in the world has practiced it at some point in time.

            A fish doesn’t know it’s wet.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Precisely.

      “”””and has nothing to do with the complex moral genealogy of our western civ””” – but many people are allergic to “complexity”.

    • Only Christianity could genocide two continents.

      • Quite a statement there. Care to back it up with proof? I’m open to the idea that Christianity and Christian nations have done awful stuff, but please cite your sources.

        • Gestures towards the history of the North and South America.

          • Meh. Just idiots in power doing idiotic things. And there are plenty of other genocides to point to that were un-Christian in nature, so don’t state it as “Only Christianity…”

            How about, “Only people corrupted by power…”

  2. ” We harbor many modernist prejudices, rationalizing, categorizing and generally thinking that what is most important is the world of ideas and theological systems.”

    If I had a dollar for every time I heard (and sadly, said) “Even pagans can do ‘good works’, what sets us apart is our *theology*!” back in the day…

    • That’s the thought that came to me when reading yesterday’s post and comments: Maybe an attraction of ‘by faith alone’ is it allows us to put back up the barrier between ‘us and them’ which got kicked down by the realisation that there are non-Christians who are much better at good works than lots of Christians.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Maybe an attraction of ‘by faith alone’ is it allows us to put back up the barrier between ‘us and them’

        Ditto

  3. David Cornwell says:

    Wow, this is good stuff her!. But I’m going to go to sleep, and when I wake up, hopefully I can make a sensible comment or two.

  4. I like this approach – Christian life is just life lived Christianly – and wish I’d known about this when I was younger. I mean, there were a lot of things about being an evangelical youth of which I have happy memories – but there was always this enormous pressure to be distinctive, to be different, to (even when you weren’t actually telling people the gospel) show people the power of Christ through the supernatural qualities of your life, to be constantly amazing. And then, of course, there was the accompanying guilt, because you knew darn well that you weren’t doing that!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I mean, there were a lot of things about being an evangelical youth of which I have happy memories – but there was always this enormous pressure to be distinctive, to be different, to (even when you weren’t actually telling people the gospel) show people the power of Christ through the supernatural qualities of your life, to be constantly amazing.

      It’s just the Evangelical equivalent of having to become a Priest or cloistered Monk or Nun in the middle ages or Renassance Spain. You have to take Holy Orders or Strict Vows or Christ will Spew Thee Out of His Mouth on J-Day, LUKEWARM!

  5. Wow, lots of good stuff in there, Chaplain Mike, but this line:

    “part of living in community with those who differ is to negotiate how we are going to live together while maintaining different values and perspectives”

    made me wonder just how this goal is to be accomplished with the — dare I say it? — “radical Islamic terrorists” who are much more interested in killing us all than in living together in community with us. Of course, “love your enemies” is our obvious (though platitudinous) first step, but it’s all rather one-sided with no prospect of reciprocity because their holy book tells them otherwise. Thoughts?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > …much more interested in killing us all than in living together in community with us…

      No one has attempted to kill me in the last ~25 years [unless you count automobile drivers].

      > reciprocity because their holy book tells them otherwise

      I have Muslim neighbors. This just isn’t so. This is the argument of the boogeymen. That there are monstrous people somewhere is not the guide for the conduct of people everywhere. Special cases are special cases, and should be dealt with as such – they do not have much relevance on the great majority of people living their lives.

      • The amount of enmity and fear toward all Muslims, as a result of the actions of a few, that I see expressed on the internet is frightening and saddening to me. When you stop to reflect on the fact that hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been killed by the Western (Christian?) aerial bombing of their cities, and the degree of warrant that might give Muslims to feel enmity and fear toward all Westerners (Christians), the picture looks very bleak.

        • Except most terrorists of late have never been bombed. They’ve never lived in a place at war. They were born and grew up in Paris, Brussels, California, Saudi Arabia, etc. Many of them have solid educations, decent jobs, lived in safe communities. No one can really be said to have ever hurt them or discriminated against them. Then they just snapped. And in many cases the people they killed came from places that never participated in the GWoT.

          We absolutely did not ‘bring this on ourselves’. This is not, in any way ‘our fault.’ This is the fault of radical Islam.

          • Are you saying that ISIS/ISIL was not born in the power vacuum that resulted from the devastation of Iraq in two wars conducted against that nation by the West?

            As to those disaffected youth in the West that ISIS/ISIL is exploiting and recruiting for terrorist acts: Isn’t it also true that the condition of Muslims in Europe are not so rosy as you suggest? That there is in fact high unemployment among them, compared with their white European neighbors; that the communities they live in are on “the other side of the tracks”, and often crime-ridden; that they experience much prejudice at the hands of their white neighbors, and brutality from the police?

            Radical Islam took root in European Moslem communities for a confluence of complex reason: mental illness, social marginalization, religious fanaticism, etc.

            I’m not playing the blame/innocence game; what I was initially saying is that the deep well of hatred toward all Muslims in the West is completely unwarranted, and evil, as evil as terrorism. And it will lead to more terrorism, included the state-waged terrorism of aerial bombardment, on both sides.

          • We absolutely did not ‘bring this on ourselves’. This is not, in any way ‘our fault.’ This is the fault of radical Islam.

            This particular perspective can only be held in a state of either ignorance or utter denial of the geopolitical history of the past 100+ years (at minimum). “Radical Islam” was not born in a vacuum, and it was not born last night. Or even recently, historically speaking. We [Westerners] [“Christians”] must recognize our own contributions to and how we derive direct benefit from how the Ottoman empire was gratuitously carved up in the post-war(s) era(s). The GWoT will fail to end T. I’m not so sure it’s intended to, as the empires need T to justify their existence.

            The Empires want us westerners to hate muslims, and it wants muslims to terrorize us westerners. It keeps the war machinery running and their pockets full.

            Unless we really are okay with what we get out of it, let us refuse to be a part of the meat grinder.

          • @DM – “how we derive direct benefit from how the Ottoman empire was gratuitously carved up in the post-war(s) era(s)”

            This would be an empire that literally stole children for use as soldiers and sex slaves and also attempted the eradication of entire peoples (Armenians, Kurds). Yes, so sad that it is gone now.

            ““Radical Islam… was not born last night”

            You’re quite right about that.

          • @Robert:

            “That there is in fact high unemployment among them, compared with their white European neighbors”

            Remind me of how many percentage points of employment are equal to one dead cartoonist.

            “I’m not playing the blame/innocence game”

            No, but you are, in fact, sort of playing the blame/innocence game. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have a problem with me saying ‘terrorists have no right to kill people.’

            “the deep well of hatred toward all Muslims in the West is completely unwarranted”

            Is it, in fact, completely unwarranted?

            “as evil as terrorism”

            No, in fact, not actually as evil as terrorism.

            As I said, how about this: How about Moslems, just unbidden, without being offered any special favors or anything, just stop killing us? Just, y’know, because it would be the right thing to do?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Except most terrorists of late have never been bombed. They’ve never lived in a place at war. They were born and grew up in Paris, Brussels, California, Saudi Arabia, etc. Many of them have solid educations, decent jobs, lived in safe communities.

            I saw a similar pattern with Young Radicals during the late Cold War, spouting Marxism-Leninism-Castroism-Maoism from Mommy & Daddy’s exclusive gated communities. A pattern that dates back to the “English Jacobins”, young upper-class twits who cheered on the French Revolution from the safety of across the Channel.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          It is sad. We [the west] went through our last revolutionary phase and the major economic transition of the Industrial Age *before* the advent of modern weaponry. Now we turn up our nose at the devastated places making many of the same transitions we endured – but today you can purchase an AK-47 for the price of a couple of packs of smokes.

          • Absolutely.

            The circular firing squad of World War I jumps to mind almost immediately as the spiritual equivalent of Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley or Tocache in the Peruvian Amazon or any other place in the world where both guns and lives are cheap.

          • When people say the Islamic world needs to modernize like the west I always reply: “you mean they need to genocide the Western Hemisphere l, conquer the entire world and then fight two massive world wars that kill 100 million people, cause that’s how we did it.”

  6. Thanks for speaking your mind on this subject, Chaplain Mike. Your “quiet life/work with your hands” perspective provides welcome balance, but I don’t track with the downplaying of the Christian’s distinctive lifestyle.

    Maybe your issue is more with the general displays of arrogance and self-righteousness you’ve experienced in modern evangelicalism? Is it so wrong to have high ideals for what the Christian community could be? The early church was noted for being unreasonably loving and compassionate; why shouldn’t we be turning a few heads in our own context?

    Mind I’m also a millenial and so pretty much bred for ‘specialness’.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Can you have the *emphasis* on “distinctive lifestyle” without “general displays of arrogance and self-righteousness”? I doubt humans work that way.

      > Is it so wrong to have high ideals for what the Christian community could be?

      I don’t think so – but what Ideals? And I would rather have high ideals for what Christians IN a community SHOULD be. Speaking of “Christian community” is always awkward in the modern, mostly suburban model, west. Talking about “Christian community” is what I believe the Benedict Option people are trying to do, and they are not having a lot of luck moving the discussion beyond platitudes.

      > The early church was noted for being unreasonably loving and compassionate; why
      > shouldn’t we be turning a few heads in our own context?

      From the text of the epistles and Revelation the early church was a very troubled place.

      • Being a good Christian in the community you happen to find yourself in is totally a big part of it; I do my best to be a rep for Christ to my neighbours who are mostly struggling immigrant Muslims, but Christian community is one of Jesus and the apostles’ stickiest concepts. It may not look like Bonhoeffer or Benedict, but everytime you exercise practical love towards your brother or sister, you’re making community happen.

        The early church was indeed messed up. Practicing Christ’s love despite our disfunction is, I think, the point.

        • Being a good Christian in the community you happen to find yourself

          With white flight and the suburbs and de-segregated schools and private businesses, being a good Christian in the community has come to mean following lockstep in place with the rest of the community’s middle class preferences and voting opinions.

          I remember in the 90s doing AWANA and trying to earn my “bring a non-saved friend to church” badge. I couldn’t do it. We were so insulated there was no one I knew who wasn’t a Christian. I settled for bringing someone from another church.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            I do not disagree with anything StuartB says – that is all true.

            But I meant something more basic – the notion of “living in community”. We don’t, simply put. Both technological ‘advances’ and the built environment we have chosen [via public policy] to construct is anti-community. It is very difficult to create community in most of modern America due to both Physical and Economic structures.

            In most places something even more fundamental that ‘creating Christian community’ needs to happen. [generic] Community needs to be [re]created.

            The ugly realities of racism and classism only double down on the difficulty in creating community; Christian or otherwise.

            You cannot have both strong autonomy and operational isolation AND community. Choose one.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I remember in the 90s doing AWANA and trying to earn my “bring a non-saved friend to church” badge. I couldn’t do it. We were so insulated there was no one I knew who wasn’t a Christian.

            Back in the Seventies, when I was half-involved with Campus Crusade at Cal Poly Pomona, a similar thing happened. A Billy Graham Crusade was coming to Anaheim Stadium at the other end of Brea Canyon and the word went out in CCC to “bring an unsaved friend to the Crusade”

            The announcement sparked a mass panic attack: “Oh, no! I have only two weeks to make an unsaved friend and get him to the Crusade to get him Saved! What do I do? What do I do?”

    • IMO, I don’t think anything I said would preclude “being unreasonably loving and compassionate.”

      But I know a lot of non-Christian groups who could fit that description too. Going the extra mile is not an exclusively Christian characteristic, but a regular feature of the ordinary life I’m talking about, exemplified in many places and contexts.

      • Sorry for misunderstanding the nuance. I want to reread this again.

        • Osti, I think that when Christians try to make themselves distinctive, they tend (too often, at least) to do it not by unreasonable love and compassion, but rather by adhering to certain lifestyle tenets that have nothing to do with love and compassion. From no fishing on Sundays, to no alcohol, and others. And they tend to do it in such a way that makes those things essential.

          Note that it doesn’t have to be that way — for instance, the catholic priesthood requires certain sacrifices not expected of the catholic laity, though such laity may still be considered perfectly good catholics. But typically, it tends to be, “this is what makes me a Christian.”

          That, or they emphasize platitudes that may not have any real meaning in practice.

          I think the idea is that if we stick to the real essential – love and compassion – that alone can’t make us distinctive.

  7. What is unique about the Christian life is the Church.

    Its all well and good to talk about “Jesus” as if were not an abstraction or a character in a book. What makes Jesus visible, audible, and tangible (I John 1:1) right here and right now, is the Church. And I don’t mean individual members doing morally upright United-Nations-Declaration -of-Universal-Human-Rights-approved actions. The crazy thing that just dawned on me is that the Church needs her weakest and most sinful members as much as it needs her most saintly. The Church is the roundhouse in which we should be hammering out our destination, not the Market, or the State, or the Volk, and all of humanity belongs in the Church.

    “For the union of all men, and for peace for the world, let us ask of the Lord”
    “Lord have mercy”

    Someone once told me a story about a bishop (Roman) who asked his metropolitan what would increase vocations to the priesthood in his diocese. His metropolitan answered ‘your canonization’. (Are there metropolitans in the Roman Catholic Church?)

    That we live in an ecclesiastically splintered world is not our fault, but if we do not hold fast that which we have been given we shall answer for it.

  8. The most unique thing about Jesus, at least in my view, is His unconditional love, His great mercy, and His endless grace toward people . . . even those who hate Him. If Jesus is truly the One that we worship, surely these attributes will show up in our lives in some measure, however small that measure may be. Whenever I find these things in people, I am always surprised. Perhaps this should be our distinctive? “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

    • The point is, there is no unambiguous evidence in the lives of Christians that completely sets us apart from other human beings. There are plenty of stories about the most amazing self-sacrificial love being displayed by non-Christians.

      Our only uniqueness is that we testify to a risen Lord. Loving like Jesus, however, certainly helps people understand him better and adds credence to our witness.

  9. One of my neighbors rescues children and critters, or more accurately his wife does and he foots the bill. They have a teen-age foster daughter in a temporary legal arrangement. They have told her that they are completely open to adopting her legally, which would make her their daughter-for-real forever, tho not necessarily changing much, if anything, in their day to day relationship and life, except possibly the confidence that she can always come home. They don’t push this on her, just let her know it’s there for her if and whenever she decides to take it, and it is happily offered with no strings. So far she is content to think about it, and that might be a wise choice for now at this young age. It’s a commitment and a two-way street, in many ways much like marriage.

    This is one of the main distinctives Jesus offered and offers. Yes, you can ferret out isolated examples in the Hebrew Scriptures of God as Father, but mostly what you find is people called to relate as a special submissive and obedient people, and individually relating as servants, as slaves, as subjects, extremely rarely as friends, so that is possible. But not until Jesus can I stand up and say, “I am a Child of God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. He is my Father.” Yes, yes, we are all children of God in the sense that we all have the potential to realize the God part of our Self, but like the girl across the way, most of us don’t take advantage of the offer, including most so called Christians in my estimation. Most Christians seem to operate as servants, slaves, subjects, or at best foster-children with limited access.

    Most of us would be familiar with Prince William of England. He is not any better than anyone else here as to his human worth, tho likely richer. He can walk up the steps of Buckingham Palace and no one will stop him, he can go wherever he wants inside, he can ask to speak with the Queen of England and expect to be welcomed. Try that yourself. He is a child of Majesty, and in this sense you are not. Doesn’t mean you have to bow, doesn’t mean you have to let William into your house, or the Queen herself for that matter. But he walks with a different sense of self than you or I, and this is what Jesus brought to us in relation to God revealed as Father. This is highly radical. Angels don’t get to call themselves children of God unless they have paid the price of living life on Earth in a human body. Unlike with William, it’s not something that happens automatically when you’re born. Like getting married, it doesn’t happen until you say “I do.” It’s open to anyone, even Christians, courtesy of Jesus.

    • Christiane says:

      I expect that William would like his life to have been more ‘normal’, less in the public eye. He seems to accept his fate, but he also has tried to make a meaningful life for himself, and does contribute his air ambulance salary to charity.

      I think we are all born into circumstances of sorts, and that it is up to us to define ourselves as best we can within those circumstances, sometimes even in spite of them.

      • >> . . . it is up to us to define ourselves as best we can within those circumstances . . .

        Indeed, Christiane. and in my view we define ourselves and our eventual path moment by moment. We might receive differing amounts of wealth or looks or smarts, but we all get the same dollop of free will, which is huge. William could opt out, as can we all. My sense is that he is doing a pretty good job with what he’s been given, including the privilege of being able to call the Queen of England, “Gramma”, or whatever he actually calls her. We get to do that with God Most High. Wow!

    • The difference between the priestly caste and the relationship Jesus offers us to the Father is a very unique selling point of Christianity, and sharply redefined things. And the priestly caste threw Jesus to the wolves. Nowadays leaders are seeking to instill that same paradigm that Jesus broke.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “All our fathers died to loose
        He shall bind again…”
        — Rudyard Kipling, “The Old Issue”

  10. First, I’m very grateful and touched that my first day of commenting here inspired a full-length post.

    And I think it is excellent. I need to read it a few more times but it is much appreciated.

    Lately, as we have seen more and more bad things going on the world and specifically in our cities–distrust, violence, etc.–I’ve begun to feel more compelled to devote some of my time to trying to do something about them. There are plenty of secular organizations I could get involved with that are devoted to fixing them, from the NAACP to local soup kitchens and mentoring organizations. In fact, I did get involved in one such secular organization. But I also feel a desire to be involved in doing something about these problems with a group of people who call themselves “Christian.” (i.e. a socially-active church). But why do I want to do this? Truthfully..it just feels like the right thing to do. It’s not like I ever decided “Jesus commands I do this.” I just feel that tug to be more involved. Just like other people do, in their own time and their own place.

    Maybe that’s what Mike is talking about. Doing something that is not distinctive, but by identifying as Christians when we do it, we witness. We don’t have to say that we are doing it *because* we are Christians. (Though we can, if that’s how we feel.) Unfortunately, Christians have a bad enough rap today that merely working right alongside secular folk for betterment of the world may be positive witness.

    Just some half-baked thoughts….

    • I use to volunteer with Feed My Starving Children. Great organization, but also worrisome at times. Staffers would make frequent comments about former liberal leadership and really draw on “God’s blessing” for being more conservative nowadays. I also noticed that it was the default pat on the back ‘good deeds’ place most Christian youth groups would go to once a year; that seemed troublesome to me.

      Now I volunteer at a much more liberal local kitchen that cooks meals for people with life threatening illnesses…including those who have aids and HIV and whatnot else due to “life decisions”. It’s growing, it’s huge, everyone there is dedicated and committed and invested in everyone’s lives, and you quickly realize that maybe 75-80% of the volunteers are daily/weekly/monthly regulars.

      I feel the latter is doing good work, and I love being there. But I know it’s not a Christian organization, and I can’t convince my believer friends to ever volunteer with me and rub elbows with the gays and queers and transgenders that I stand alongside cutting carrots. And their eyes always glaze or roll over when I tell them who they service and the illnesses that are cared for…because they fundamentally still believe that they ‘deserve it’.

      Wages of sin.

      Had a thought earlier that the only reason more evangelicals aren’t exactly like or praising Westboro Baptist…is because Westboro dared to attack the military, and that’s just not something you do. But theologically, they are almost in complete agreement.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Outside of the Thomas Kincade-decorated walls of The Bubble, Christians have the rep as more genteel versions of Fred Phelps.

  11. I suppose what it boils down to is that Jesus is what’s unique about the “Christian Life”, to the degree that Christians point to, and orient our lives around, him as the center of our experience of the meaning and purpose of reality. If he in fact still lives with us and in our world in the life-giving power of his resurrection and ascension, and he shares that life-giving power with us (that by no means that we are the only ones with whom he shares his life-giving power, though hopefully we are the most aware of it), then that is enough. No other uniqueness is necessary.

    If he does not actually live in our world and lives, then we’re just deluded.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Yes.

      A valuable book for any Protestant is Lesslie Newbigin’s “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”, in which he expands these thoughts.

      Dana

  12. Dana Ames says:

    Very well done, CM.

    I would add that the reason Jesus has been crowned Lord of All is that a) he is the first truly Human Being – as Man he was and did all that humans are meant to be and do – full of the Holy Spirit, in constant communion with the Father; and b) as God he destroyed the power of death, releasing us from the slavery of our fear of it (Heb 2). If we have already died with Christ in baptism, we have nothing left to fear.

    And I would also bring up, as Mule did, the Church. Is it simply another voluntary organization? Is it merely the institution we all love to hate? McKnight has noted that Evangelicalism is seen to lack both a good theology of the Trinity and an ecclesiology, even by Evangelicals. Here, though, is another flavor of a paradoxicle, for even though we see all sorts of problems with individuals and institutions, Scripture says that the Church **is**:

    the Body of Christ – and a body is not merely a concept, but something material in the visible aspect of reality that is acted upon (by the Holy Spirit) and affects life around it;
    the entity for which the Father has put all things under Jesus’ feet;
    the entity through which the manifold wisdom of God is made manifest to the principalities and powers in the invisible aspect of reality (the heavens);
    the repository, with Jesus (!), of the glory of the Father to all generations;
    the household of God;
    the pillar and ground of the truth.

    That individuals and institutions fall short doesn’t change what the Church IS.

    Dana

  13. Love the picture.

  14. One unique attribute of Christian life that I’ve found is the planting of God’s Spirit inside of us. At the risk of getting spooky or going all Pentecostal, there was a season in my life when the Holy Spirit became real to me in a way that He wasn’t before. And I can definitely identify differences and changes that have occurred in my life since that time. Not that I became a perfect person who never sins (far from it!), but I can tell that an extra element has been added to my life that was not present before that. No great miracles or prophetic visions — just something (or rather Someone) extra in among all the chaos and inconsistency of my day-to-day existence. And I can definitely say that this presence has influenced me to do some things I would not have otherwise done. I have also observed subtle but identifiable changes that have occurred in the lives of people I know. Again, nothing too dramatic — just a pinch of extra seasoning that seems to match what has been added to my life.
    So maybe the Christian life is somewhat unique in that our Creator has actually taken up residence inside us — and not just as a point of doctrine or a theological construct — in a real and active way.

  15. Humanslug brings up what I consider the other main distinctive available to those who choose to follow Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, as it is often called. It is not that the Holy Spirit of God did not make any appearance before Pentecost, you can find instances thruout the Hebrew Scriptures and in other traditions, but that which was promised and delivered by Jesus seems to me to be preferable, if not unique.

    Many traditions offer Oneness with the Universal Spirit, or Universal Consciousness, or as we like to name it, God. One of the more obnoxious and ugly aspects of Christianity is the denial of the reality of these other paths. It is not like all paths are equal, and I would think that Luciferians, for one example, would need to make a complete change of mind before being able to enter the Kingdom. But the stench of exclusivity arising from much of Christianity is foul indeed, some of it wafting thru these pages. God meets us wherever we are. Jesus was sent to the Jews first, but that done, he kicked out the jams

    Christians in the west have somehow managed to ignore, deprecate, misunderstand, misinterpret, and oppose the gift of God’s Holy Spirit made possible by Jesus. It almost seems wilful, and perhaps is. You can follow the faint trail of those who seemed to get it thruout the two thousand year history in the west, but it was only in the last hundred years or so that any kind of breakthru happened. And given the dismal understanding of the Pentecostal movement, it was three steps forward and two back. Most Christians in the so called third world now have this understanding, and I’m not sure what that means.

    All I know is that in America, which in many ways seems to be out in front, for good or bad, the Holy Spirit of God has a questionable reputation outside of the confines of the Nicene Creed, and as far as I can figure out, the Nicene Creed was hammered out to confine God to manageable parameters for the benefit of the institutional church. People, the Holy Spirit of God is real. Not only real, but available, not only available but yearning to operate thru you for the lifting up of the world and the Kingdom of God. And contrary to what you might have been told, it does not have a great deal to do with speaking in tongues or rolling on the floor or barking like a dog.

    As I said, access to Universal Spirit is available to all in all persuasions and traditions and cultures. But in my view, there is a distinct advantage in approaching Divinity thru what Paul often called the Mind of Christ. Granted this might be a cultural prejudice, but I can only speak from experience, and the experience is open to all. You don’t have to stop being a Jew or a Hindu or a Moslem or a Buddhist or a Zoroastrian to take on this ultimate help toward Oneness with God. Possibly you might have to stop being a Westboro Baptist.

    Altho I am often loathe to associate myself with others who self identify as Christians, I am convinced that Jesus offers the fast track to the Kingdom of God, not necessarily the easiest track. I am quite comfortable regarding those following the Lost Teachings of Atlantis as brothers as sisters, but I would point out that Jesus not only offers the ultimate example of overcoming the separate self in the Spirit of Unselfish Love, he graciously has provided the same Spirit that motivated and energized and enabled him to us all.

    This isn’t for pew potatoes. This isn’t for those waiting for the Rapture to rescue them. This isn’t for those comfortable with the stench of exclusivity. It is for all, meaning all, but also meaning all those willing to pick up the cross and putting one foot in front of the other on the path to Universal Spirit, denying the self and living in Unselfish Love. Painful. Not everybody’s cup of tea, but there available for all without reservation. You don’t have to be an official Christian to enter the Kingdom of God, but it helps a lot to know Jesus. Thank you, Lord.

    • Good points, Charles.
      Look in Luke’s account of very early church history in the book of Acts and you will see a particular importance placed on new converts receiving the Holy Spirit. It seems that those first Jewish Christians thought of this as being something novel and distinct when compared to the Jewish religious tradition they had been taught from childhood. And apparently this receiving of the Holy Spirit was something that could be recognized when it happened.
      Paul also put a pretty heavy emphasis on the Holy Spirit — living in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, gifts of the Spirit, fruits of the Spirit, etc.
      Now I don’t go in for all that Pentecostal stuff where new converts are pressured to start babbling in tongues or do something else out of the ordinary as evidence of the Holy Spirit. But I certainly can’t buy into the doctrine that all that Holy Ghost stuff was phased out — either when the last apostle died or when the NT writings were completed or later when they were canonized. And every time I hear Chapter 13 of I Corinthians abused to support that view, I want pull out what little hair I have left by the roots.

  16. First sentence is gold. I’m reading on…

  17. I’m late to the party as usual, but I agree wholeheartedly with Chaplain Mike. Jesus makes all the difference, but only if we live a life shaped by His Life. I believe we should all study the temptation of Jesus over and over again. What did the devil temp Him with? We should also look at what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God. Its like yeast? Perhaps then we will know that it is Jesus the world needs and He will be manifested when we live in God’s Kingdom shunning the temptations of this world.

  18. Sorry my last sentence should read. “Perhaps then we will know that it is Jesus the world needs and He will be manifested when we live in God’s Kingdom, shunning the temptations of this world by loving God and love like Jesus loved.”