It seems common among Christians of the evangelical background – whether conservative, liberal, emergent, or whatever – to imply that their opponent is somehow anti-Jesus and that if Jesus were to come back down to earth today (as He did 2,000 years ago) He’d really stick it to the opponent.
The emergent/liberal/whatever group likes to look at conservative Christians and say, “Jesus would overturn your churches man! He’d go into a flying rage and call you all hypocrites!” They point out that the churches that have coffee shops or bookstores open before and after the services would be in deep trouble; Christ would throw the coffee into the faces of the adherents and call them a broad of vipers. Of course, He’d leave there and go to the church down the street called “Hell’s Sanctuary” that met in a bar on Sunday mornings, gulp down a few beers with the people there, take a few drags off His cigarette, and then discuss how enlightening Zizek’s newest book was.
The conservatives immediately point out that Jesus would have condemned the non-conservatives for acting like Pharisees. The Pharisees set certain rules and parameters on what constituted “holy living” and the emergents/liberals have done the same. The conservative would point out that unless you believed a certain way or acted a certain way or went to a certain type of church, the emergent/liberals would have nothing to do with you. In their minds, Christ would walk in and in perfect Koine Greek that would make any seminary professor blush – or for some sects of evangelical Christianity, He’d speak in perfect King James English – condemn the emergent/liberal Christians for their focus on actions and deed while ignoring the importance of creed. After such a condemnation, He would go down to First <insert town/street> Baptist, deliver a moving solo, preach a 45-50 minute exegetical sermon pointing out the intricacies of what a particular Greek word means, and then give an invitation singing all 52 verses to “Just As I Am.”
A lost and dying world looks at both and simply shrugs them off. They shrug off the emergent/liberal Christians because that version of Jesus is a tamer version of any celebrity. That Jesus might be cool and edgy, but so is Russell Brand or Quentin Tarantino. Jesus becomes an enlightened celebrity and His followers become tag-alongs or an annoying fan club. They look to the Jesus offered by the conservative Christians and they see a cold-hearted Jesus who cares about nothing but Himself. While His ethics might be nice, He’s no different than someone who protests outside of an abortion clinic or speaks up against homosexual marriages. Such a Jesus might have the right morals, but He’s just one man out of many. In both cases, Jesus ceases to be Jesus.
The sources of the problem are many, but the problem ultimately boils down to the view of, “I got it figured out more than the other guy.” While it’s true that at some point we have to think we understand more of Christianity than some people (otherwise how could teachers be teachers or how could we disagree with heresy), we sometimes take it so far that we think Jesus would be extremely well pleased with us. The fact is, the pursuit of holiness begins with the attitude that fears the return of Christ because we’re so afraid that He’ll treat us like the Pharisees. While we can recognize when someone really doesn’t understand Christ we should never be so bold to think that we have “arrived,” that if He were picking new disciples we know we’d be at the top because we’re good and faithful servants.
A person in pursuit of true holiness and the true Christ would say, “While I have no doubt that Jesus would walk into many mega-churches and cause an uproar and some damage and that He would have quite a few things to say to emergent leaders, I realize that I would not be free from His condemnation and that scares me. That is why I am unwilling to label someone or an ideology a Pharisaical; I fear that I too might have some aspects of a Pharisee or worse that I am indistinguishable from a Pharisee.” It would not be made out of some false piety, but rather from a sincere heart that recognizes his flaws.
Recognition of one’s flaws seems to be a problem for both sides though. While either side will admit to flaws, neither side will admit that their flaws transcend the flaws of their opponents. There’s nothing wrong in admitting that your personal piety or doctrine might be insufficient in comparison to those you disagree with, but you wouldn’t think so from looking at most evangelicals and their various offshoots. The conservative pastor might say, “Yeah, I’m fallen, but at least I’m not Brian McLaren!” If you press the pastor on how he’s fallen, you’ll get a general litany of sins that any pastor can safely admit to. Rarely would he admit to his ambition for glory, his desire for a bigger church, or his acting on sexual lust. Alternatively, you could ask the same question of an emergent leader and he’d boldly say, “I struggle with sex, I’m prideful, I’m fallen, but at least I’m not Mark Driscoll.” While the emergent pastor might admit he’s fallen and even name his sins, in his mind his sins will be far better than the sins of his opponent.
Now, some might be wondering, “If what you say is true, then how can we ever criticize anyone’s beliefs or actions? Wouldn’t this make your previous articles monuments to your hypocrisy?” While my hypocrisy is monumental it is not because of this post or what I am saying in this post. Instead, I would advocate there is a difference between speaking out against someone’s actions as defining who you are and speaking out against someone’s actions because of who you align yourself with. Admittedly, this is an area I struggle in constantly (and my writings do indicate this).
The problem is we have failed to define what we are for, and more importantly we have failed to make what we are for our goal in all that we do.
When we think of conservative evangelicals and their beliefs, we often think of what they are against. We know that evangelicals are anti-abortion, but are they anti-abortion because it’s abortion or because they’re for Christ? An evangelical might say, “Well it’s because I’m for Jesus!”, but is that how it comes across to the world? Is that how it comes across to someone considering an abortion? Someone who was against abortion because they were for Christ would see the whole event of abortion as a tragedy. They would seek not only to stop the abortion, but also to alleviate the mental and physical anguish of the women considering the abortion. They would seek to step in and help her in whatever way they could. Someone who is against abortion as opposed to someone who is for Christ (and therefore against abortion) would simply try to get the abortion stopped. Beyond that it’s the woman’s fault/responsibility. To a follower of Christ, such a mentality is unacceptable.
If we think of emergent’s we know that they are against the conservative evangelical status quo, but we don’t really know what they’re for. For instance, whenever someone writes against the emergent movement very rarely do proponents disagree with the summarization of their critiques of the established evangelical culture. Oftentimes the disagreements begin when a critic begins to venture into what he thinks the emergent church is for. That’s because no one really knows what the emergent movement is for (some might disagree, but the moment anyone tries to say what the movement is for he is immediately silenced and told that he is wrong).
In both cases it is not apparent that either side is “for” Jesus, but rather each side uses Jesus as a catalyst to achieve an end. Jesus becomes the means to end abortion. Jesus becomes the means to end Christian culture. Make no mistake; such things must come to an end and that end is reached only through Christ, but we’re doing things in reverse. Instead, Jesus is the end in Himself and the closer we draw to Him and draw others to Him the more the auxiliary issues come to an end.
Do you want to end abortion, discourage homosexual marriage or homosexual activities, get people to church, or have a better community in church? Then define who you are for. Seek after Christ (which requires both spiritual growth and intellectual growth) and encourage others to do the same. Do you want to see an end to Christian culture, to poverty, to oppression, or to holier-than-thou preachers? Seek after Christ.
There’s nothing wrong in realizing that Christ would overturn the coffee shop tables in the local mega-church today or that He would correct believers who question His teachings. There’s nothing wrong to try to correct such problems. We are wrong, however, when we elevate ourselves to a higher state of enlightenment than those who we criticize, when we think better of ourselves for not being in their predicament. We can only see Christ overturn the tables of whatever we oppose when we first allow Him to overturn the tables of our hearts and minds; such a brutal cleansing can only come once we begin to see Christ for who He is and declare that we are for Him, rather than using Him to defeat all that we are against.