I've been thinking a lot recently about what I believe and why I believe it, trying to go back to basics with my faith. A lot of this thinking has been influenced by two books. 'Velvet Elvis' by Rob Bell and the book I'm currently reading, 'A Generous Orthodoxy' by Brian McClaren.
Both paint a picture of a new theology, a new reality of what a Christian is and how we've distorted Christianity by shrinking it, giving ourselves labels, and making it fit shrink into our culture and our lives. They talk of radical new ideas of what the church and being a Christian is an should mean, and both authors have been labelled as heretics by the traditional, evangelical and pentecostal movement.
Someone quite famous in Christianity was once called a heretic, accused of preaching false doctrine, of working by the devil and committing blasphemy. In fact, He was even killed for it.
You might know who He is.
His name was Jesus of Nazareth.
In fact, if the selfsame people who call these guys heretics were preaching what they do now 500 years ago, they'd probably be burned at the stake as heretics.
Doesn't that say something about the Christian faith? And about Christians too?
Christianity is always progressive. Jesus was. As culture and society changes the basic truths may not change, but we may find out more historically, we may find new meanings which are in fact old meanings. We may re-discover our history again in a fresh way.
There's no new things. Only new readings of old things. Or original interpretations of teachings which have been seen one way for centuries and accepted as tradition, rather than the truth.
We need to be open to what God is saying and doing that is different. That is counter-culture What issues would Jesus discuss today? Who would He call hypocrites now? How would He live? Where would He hang out? What would He say about the church today? Would what He say fit with what Christian convention and tradition says?
Judging by what He did and said when He was here, I think we'd be very surprised.
We all assume today that we'd definitely recognise Jesus if He came now. We wouldn't make the same mistake as the Pharisees, not recognising their saviour amongst them.
Of course not.
I, however, beg to differ.
Are we truly open to see and hear what our Saviour is doing and saying? Are we open to new/old things?
In one of his sermons Rob Bell tackles this brilliantly.
Jesus once called the Pharisees "truly sons of their fathers". He was talking about the fact that while the Pharisees decorated the graves of the prophets and said they wouldn't make the mistakes their predecessors did in persecuting and executing a prophet of God. Yet it becomes clear further on that they already are plotting to kill Jesus.
The message, said Bell, is that sometimes we read the Bible and we look at Bible characters and our gut instinct, before we think, is that "I'd never do that", "I've never done that", when often if you look at the context and apply it to our culture and setting today, then there are equivalent things that we do or don't do that we say we never would or wouldn't do. For example the parable of the good Samaritan. Isn't it easy to say we'd help the man on the road in that situation.
But how often have we all - and I include myself in this - walked straight past a homeless person without giving it a second thought, or ignored them because we feel uncomfortable, or lied about how much money we have to get out of giving?
We've all done that.
So lets be careful before we go making assumptions that we'd recognise Jesus today. Jesus was a radical. He was different, He stood out, He was outspoken.
This leads me to my major point, and one which Brian McClaren and Rob Bell tackle brilliantly.
How big is our Jesus?
Have we shrunk him down, to fit on our i-pod, to access when we choose and what we choose to? Us in control, so we can avoid difficult things or things we want to ignore.
Is our Jesus actually i-jesus?
That would fit in with our culture perfectly wouldn't it? A Jesus we can carry around and dip into whenever we want, who we can ignore when we want and listen to when we want, who we expect to give us what we want when we want.
McClaren in particular argues that modern Christianity has become a lot like this. It has shrunk Jesus and adapted Him to fit in to our lifestyle. Its put Him as our Saviour but not our Lord in its truest meaning - one we serve, follow, listen to and revolve our whole life around. That's been forgotten. Keeping Jesus as our saviour allows Him to be i-jesus (and I use the lower case deliberately). We get salvation and eternal life, we get forgiven for whatever we do. We are free to live whatever way we want now, as we are forgiven. The beginning and end of our faith is that we are rescued from Hell.
How convenient. How consumerist. This is the ultimate in i-jesus.
We cannot and should not shrink Jesus to fit into our consumer society. We shouldn't be taking what we like and want and ignoring the difficult stuff. We shouldn't be basing our faith merely around Jesus as Saviour.
Its so much more than that, and Jesus is so much more than that.
Following Jesus and being a Christian is a daily journey, its a lifestyle choice, its an attitude to living, an attitude to the world which governs how we conduct ourselves, how we treat others and what we do, and it needs to be done in community. Yes its a relationship with Jesus, but part of that is through community with other Christians. Serving, loving, giving, forgiving, blessing each other as family, and as family reaching out to the wider world to show them the real Jesus.
Jesus who stands for social justice, fair trade, a healthy and clean environment, who loves and accepts and forgives all people no matter what their religion, culture, gender, social class, financial status, medical condition or sexual orientation. A Jesus who wants not a church that is 'them and us', 'in or out' , 'I'm right you're wrong', but one which re-defines culture by being different from anything else. Taking a stand against injustice, poverty and inequality but also against racism and homophobia. Who takes all our prejudices and tears them down.
Does this mean that everyone gets into the kingdom?
Well I'm not a universalist. I don't believe everyone gets in the kingdom whether they are a believer or not. No. I don't believe Christians should be praying with people of other religions in Christian churches or other religious buildings. No.
I believe Jesus is the only way to God. I do believe that the way of Jesus is the only way to live. I believe its God's best for us. I believe that the only way for us to get God's best is to be a Christian, and by that I don't just mean to believe, but to live as Jesus commanded us, and as He showed us.
I was at Westminster cathedral the other day. I was in total awe of the place. The amount of time, effort, devotion and work that went into that was incredible. I was in total awe of God, and realised again how big and how awesome He is, how much more He is than just what we seem to limit Him to.
He's even bigger than that church too. That, I realised, is almost nothing compared to the glory and majesty of our Lord.
Yet we seem to want to shrink Him into i-jesus.
Time to get rid of i-jesus. Time to meet the real Jesus, who's power, teaching message and lifestyle is so much bigger than what we want it to be or than we can even imagine it to be.
Our God and our Saviour are awesome. It says dominion and awe belong to God, so lets give it to Him. With our attitudes, lifestyle, with our hearts and minds, our words and our choices. By the things we stand for and against.
Otherwise, how are we ever expected to recognise Jesus if he came back? And more importantly, how are people who don't beleive ever expected to see the real Jesus?
Becuase if Christians don't show people who He is, then who else is going to?