Domesticating Jesus?

Fierce Lion

“Arguably, one of the most potentially destructive things that can happen to a faith is for it to become the accepted and established religion of the political, cultural, and social unit in which its adherents live.  -Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence, 2008

“These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also,” -Description/Criticism of Christian disciples in Thessalonica, recorded in Acts 17:6

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” -Psalms 138:3

Read the Bible lately? The story is one of twists and turns, nomadic movements, and heroic deeds. All this happens even before Jesus, a central character, shows up. Then Jesus goes about turning his world upside down. As we read along in the gospels, we can see far before the story’s end how it will turn out. We almost cringe along the way, thinking, “Jesus, did you have to say it that way?” Or, “Jesus, did you have to go there?” Couldn’t he have used a bit more political savvy or emotional intelligence? Just a bit more? No, Jesus does not fit our categories, or expectations, or wishes. Instead he’s edgy and untamed. Reading the Bible is fascinating, exciting, and disturbing.

And then we look at church. Several years ago I read books like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s New Monasticism and Mark Scandretti’s Soul Graffiti. These books (and others like them) are encouraging and discouraging. Apparently many sincere younger Christians are forming monastic-like communities in cities… right there in the midst of urban culture. Their motivation…they (some of them) don’t believe their churches can sustain them as Jesus followers in our current world. Wow. Most of us know other Christians who simply have opted out, seeing the church as just another organization trying to survive.  When we get down to it, most of us entertain these thoughts from time to time.

What to do? Or first, what might we need to let go of, in order to embrace a more authentic faith?

Over time, most movements become acculturated and systematized. The great danger therein is mistaking the organization for the essence of the faith. Buildings, bodies, and budgets are the traditional ways to measure church success. These may be important, but they don’t draw humankind into the Jesus story. I remember growing up as a Southern Baptist Missionary’s kid in a state which was not much Southern nor Baptist. As our family started new churches, I was aware that we were counter-cultural in our setting. Being that brand of Christian in that context was a major decision; costing us something in community esteem (though actually minor inconveniences). Now, as the American church moves more toward society’s periphery, more of us are having to confront our motivation for church life.

So then, what do we embrace? Good question. The answers will call us to be more than we have been and done before. It’s likely to shake up our world. And, we are going to need help. We are going to need each other, and a Savior. It’s not what we embrace, but it’s who we embrace….an untamed God. May God increase our strength of soul!

2 thoughts on “Domesticating Jesus?

  1. oldshaman2013 June 16, 2019 / 1:57-04:00Jun

    This is a good and insightful essay. Civil religion has plagued the Church through much of its history, but God looks after the Church and the Church is still here. There’s our hope: Not in us, but in God’s grace.


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