Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live faithfully...in the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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.

And yet...

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???

Watch this...

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.

8 Comments:

At 12/5/09 11:22, Blogger Patrick said...

Richard's above thoughts = awesome

 
At 12/5/09 12:40, Anonymous Sara said...

Oh, I agree, I agree. Our focus on our personal salvation works quite well with our inherent tendency to self-centeredness and selfishness. I have definitely seen this in my own life. I think we also need to be careful not to make the opposite mistake and place public transformation above private, either. Jesus summarizes the commandments as 1)Love your God, and 2)Love your neighbor. The first speaks primarily to personal transformation, the second to global/societal, but it is impossible to truly follow one of those commandments without following the other. If we love God, we will love our neighbors. In turn, loving our neighbors concretely is one way we live out our love for God (Matthew 25). I know that I need the personal transformation in order to be able to really love the people around me.

 
At 12/5/09 15:05, Blogger Riley said...

Richard, this is incredible. Revolutionary for me actually, and one of the things I've most enjoyed about the series on the minor prophets. It feels more collective, addressing the community... I love that.

 
At 12/5/09 17:17, Blogger Bob said...

Yes. Yes.

 
At 13/5/09 17:35, Anonymous Allison Carver said...

What, it's not about me??! Thank God, really. I am getting pretty bored with all my navel-gazing these days.:) LOOK UP, LOOK OUT. Do that enough and what needs transformation within becomes clear. I guess that's why it's called reflection: there are things we can see only when focusing our eyes outside ourselves. Thanks for the perspective shift, Richard!

 
At 14/5/09 08:03, Blogger Gerfried said...

AMEN!

 
At 21/5/09 09:59, Blogger alisha said...

This is great reading. I often wonder how our highly individualised culture has shaped Christianity to fit where we're at. Thanks for sharing.

 
At 28/5/09 14:07, Anonymous Andrew said...

I think I know the underlying principle that you're trying to communicate here - making faith not just about ME - and I agree. But honestly, to equate a personal relationship with Jesus as being as inconsequential as a snack at a ball game is way off. Our whole purpose for being created was for relationship with God. The focus on the personal God is what defines Christianity from most other religions - it's a radical concept.

You say, "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."

What is the global curse? It's sin that separated us from our intended relationship with God. A relationship where Adam walked with God in the garden - doesn't get more personal than that.

Again, if you're saying let's stop gazing at our belly button and do something - I agree! But you can say that without comparing knowing God in the flesh with garlic fries.

 

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