Multiply Justice

Archive for the tag “faith”

Departure-lounge Christians aren’t following Jesus

departure_loungeIs there anyone who doesn’t hate long layovers when you’re traveling alone? The airport teems with people, but they’re all strangers. Some wander aimlessly about the terminal, but most travelers have their eyes riveted to a “mobile device.” Virtually no one is looking to interact with a flesh-and-blood human being. The Airport Authority tries to make the place more interesting, but the best they can do is a nondescript shopping mall like the one you have back in your own city – where, by the way, you are as rootless and lonely as you are at the airport.

Author Michael Frost thinks the airport departure lounge is more than a powerful metaphor for postmodern life. He also sees a warning of grave danger for Christians who claim to follow a God who “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,” as one colorful paraphrase of John 1:14 has it.

The airport departure lounge is “full of people who don’t belong where they currently find themselves and whose interactions with others are fleeting, perfunctory and trivial,” says Frost in his new book, Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement. Even though the core idea of the Christian faith is incarnation – the idea that God took on flesh and came to live among us – Western Christians today are being swept away by a culture that is rootless and disengaged, “connected to our world more and more through screens, rather than face to face.”

Frost calls it “excarnation.”

The spiritual climate produced by this disembodied faith “is a culture of individualism, narcissism, materialism and triviality,” says Frost, who is founding director of the Tinsley Institute, a mission study center in Sydney, Australia. “In such an excarnate environment it is easy to objectivize others, rank feelings above morals, prefer the therapeutic above the transcendent and nonconformity over authority, and absolute freedom becomes an intense form of slavery.”

Self-absorbed people inevitably treat other people as objects. On one hand, Frost says, morality becomes disembodied and the vulnerable are decimated by pornography and sex trafficking. On another hand, reason is disengaged, exalted as the road to knowledge, and “ruthless ideological debates” rage against other people we have reduced to cartoonish stereotypes.

“We are creating new generations of believers who know more than they choose, who understand things they never act upon, who discern ideas they never use,” Frost says. Churches resort to “stagecraft, sensory pageantry, charismatic leadership and an upbeat, unchallenging vision of Christianity to provide their congregants with a powerful emotional religious experience.”

Instead of making disciples who make disciples, we create “shy, socially awkward, emotionally removed and risk averse” cripples who are “unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships ….”

When faith is reduced to knowledge, the church has abandoned its mission of being the body of Christ among the broken souls around it. A generation distracted by its mobile devices thinks it can pursue its mission of multiplying God’s justice by clicking and hashtagging. We are quick to Like on Facebook and text to donate, thinking we have done good, yet we never get personally involved with someone who needs to be set free from the power of sin and death.

Everyone wants “to take the ‘road up’ to a poverty-free world, but no one [is] willing to get there via the road down, into the gutter, among the poor themselves,” Frost says. “But the incarnation teaches us that the way up is via the downward road.”

He adds: “In a time of disengagement and excarnation, the body of Christ is required all the more to embrace a more thoroughly embodied faith, a truly placed way of living that mirrors the incarnational lifestyle of Jesus.”

God-in-the-flesh came to live among a particular group of people. He walked among them. He touched the lepers and healed the blind and lame.

Frost says: “Instead of churning out books, manuals, DVDs, podcasts, websites, tweets, status updates, Jesus took a band of protégés to his elbow and humbly but relentlessly passed on the ‘hidden rules’ of service. Like Jesus, incarnational leaders model it, live it, breathe it and invite others to copy them.”

And more: “What the world so desperately needs are incarnational servants of Christ to wade into the muck and stench of this world and to partner with the locals, as broken as we all are, in helping to shape human society as God intended it to be.”

From God’s lips, to your ears.

Departure-lounge Christians aren’t following Jesus. He’s out in the neighborhood.

Cross-posted from here.

More than bread alone

Erich Bridges writes at WorldView Conversation:

search for GodWhat is the meaning of life?

That’s a question only rich people have time to ponder, some folks say. The world’s poor are too busy struggling for survival to concern themselves with something as nebulous as the “meaning of life” — unless it helps put food on the table.

Not true, according to a recent study published in the academic journal Psychological Science.

The study analyzed Gallup World Poll data from more than 130 countries, including the bottom 50 in terms of gross domestic product. Citizens of poorer countries actually ranked the importance of meaning in their lives higher than residents of more prosperous nations. The study looked at multiple factors contributing to this phenomenon, but in country after country, a common element emerged: faith.

“In part, meaning in life was higher in poor nations because people in those nations were more religious,” reported the study’s authors. “The mediating role of religiosity remained significant after we controlled for potential third variables, such as education, fertility rate, and individualism. As Frankl stated in Man’s Search for Meaning, it appears that meaning can be attained even under objectively dire living conditions, and religiosity plays an important role in this search.”

They meant Viktor Frankl, the renowned psychiatrist and author, who said, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” As a survivor of Nazi death camps, he had authority to speak personally on the subject. Echoing Nietzsche, Frankl wrote, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”

The “why” for many people who responded to the Gallup World Poll is faith.

I can hear the skeptics now: Faith is a rickety crutch the poor lean on — and an opiate the powerful use to lull the weak into accepting their lot. That might apply to certain lives or particular moments in history, but it can’t explain the power of faith in the human heart through the ages.

Even in affluent societies where secularism and materialism appear to be prevailing, people want something more, something deeper, so they look for God substitutes. “Instead of relying on religion to give life meaning, people in wealthy societies today try to create their own meaning via their identity and self-knowledge,” the study reported. Materialism and self-worship have become the “religions” of the rich, but they’re obscene counterfeits of the worship of God.

When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, the devil challenged Him to prove He was the Son of God by changing stones to bread. Jesus answered from the Scriptures: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”’ (Matthew 4:4, NASB).

Humanity needs bread to sustain life. But bread isn’t enough. People crave the Bread of Life: Jesus Christ. That’s why the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ and the making of disciples among all peoples are the primary mission of God for His church in the world.

There are many ways to carry out that mission — including feeding the poor, ministering to the sick and needy and seeking justice for the oppressed. Fair-minded observers who put aside stereotypes of evangelical Christians long enough to examine evangelical activities in the world quickly discover that they are doing all of those things (see some examples here). The love of Christ compels them. Above all, however, the Great Commission command of Christ and the mission of God compel them. There is no artificial division between the Word of Christ and the love of Christ in authentic ministry.

“Every time Jesus sent out His disciples and apostles, He always told them to heal the sick and preach the Gospel,” said a missionary doctor some years ago. “It’s not that we heal so that we can preach. We’re not ‘bait.’ We heal and preach together in obedience to the commands of Jesus. It’s like a two-handled plow: You heal, you preach and you push forward — and God cuts the path so He can plant the seeds of the Gospel through His power.”

The Gospel gives ultimate meaning.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: