un-privatizing the gospel
I know you've heard it a thousand times if you've anywhere near the church over the past 50 years. "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior". The phrase personal savior didn't appear out of thin air. There are countless encounters in the Bible between God and individuals. God meets Jacob, more than once, in order to shape him as God's child. God meets Moses personally. David compares God to a shepherd who cares for each sheep personally, and Jesus takes up that same theme with his story about leaving the 99 sheep to go after the one who didn't show up for church :) It's because of all this that I want to be careful not to denigrate the phrase "personal savior". There's perhaps nothing more comforting in our faith life than the understanding that Jesus walks with us personally, guides us, comforts us, cares for us, heals us, transforms us.
This piece of the faith, which plays so well in our individualistic culture, is in reality more of a sub-plot in God's story than a main theme. The sub plot of your attendance at a baseball game might be your discovery of garlic fries. They're good and as you enjoy them you might start a discussion with your friend, right there in the top of the 8th inning, about the cholesterol fighting merits of eating garlic. But your friend, as he distances himself from you in the interest in inhaling fresh air, will probably point out that the bases are loaded and there are two outs, and "we didn't come here to eat garlic fries, we came here to watch the game!"
And so it goes. "We didn't come to Jesus to get a personal savior. We came to Jesus to join a profound story that will end with a reversal of the global curse." Global Curse means, precisely, that the curse is more than just personal. There's a problem in the world and the problem isn't just my thought life, or my finances spinning out of control. The problem isn't just that I need a little help with my marriage, or the kids, or some career guidance. The problem is bigger. How big???
Of course, the great promise of Christianity is this (as one author has put it): "The answer of Christianity (is that) everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost." We're invited to Jesus not because we've personal problems that need fixing (though we do), but because the world is broken. I'm invited to step into the grand project of sowing seeds of hope in the world, offering a foretaste of what will be when Christ reigns fully and finally.
This is why I don't like the phrase "accept Christ as your personal savior". It's not an untrue statement, as much as it's the garlic fries at the baseball game. If all I do is sit by the snack booth and eat fries, I've missed the point. So it is for us, when we gather for worship and sing songs about all Jesus means to me...me...me, neglecting the grand cosmic transformation that's unfolding, of which we're invited to play a part. If I miss this, I remain entrenched the the kingdom of this world, singing songs about personal salvation and renewal, and comforting myself that I'm going to heaven when I die.
This is why I'm inclined to talk about sin as more than personal. It's not just that I've failed God somehow - it's that I'm part of global system that boasts genocide, sexual trafficking, and AIDS epidemic, gross economic inequalities, health issues, environmental issues, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. There's a better story on the way...and it starts now, when I turn to Christ and become part of the solution.