Thursday, April 9, 2015

Progressive Christianity: Being Real Disciples

The next chapter that I want to look at in Ben Corey's book Undiluted is titled ‘Undiluted Difficulty’. His main point is simply this. Because following Jesus is hard there are many Christians who are failing to be real disciples. He makes his point by talking about his experience of American Christianity. Let me offer you some quotes so that you can get a feel for what he is getting at.

In American Christianity, we’re often sold this bill of goods that makes following Jesus look relatively easy…as if it were a singular event instead of a radical new lifestyle.
 Said the magic prayer? Check.
 Willing to go to church? Check.
 Going to work really hard to cut back on how much I use the “F word”? Check.

Ben then contrasts this with how Jesus talked about following Him.

What’s crazy, is that when we rediscover the radical message of Jesus, we find that he too warned people that following him might be way worse than what they envision

Over and over again we find Jesus not telling people that following would be easy or lead to prosperity, but warning them that — at least from a practical standpoint — following could actually wreck their lives.

It's clear that Ben has a hard time with so much of the Christianity that he sees around him and grew up with.

The diluted, plastic American version of Jesus fits right into the American dream, set neatly on the mantle beside our other valuables. Instead of the message often sent by American Christianity however, the undiluted message of Jesus reminds us that we can experience the ultimate life if, and only if, we first become willing to lay that life down.

I need to say that I have to agree with him on this. There is how Jesus defined being His disciple, and then there is what far too many American Christians understand Him to mean. It really is very sad. And it explains why the Church in America is so weak.

Ben uses the experience of his wife and himself to express a crucial truth of faithfully following Jesus.

Living out the radical message of Jesus — especially in regard to caring for the “least of these” wasn’t like anything I had been taught. Instead of a ticket to prosperity, it placed us on the fast track to hardship. Instead of an invitation to life, it became an invitation to embrace a daily form of death.
 Death to hopes and dreams.
 Death to finances.
 Death to our vision of what we wanted “family” to look like.
 Yet, like a winter snow that eventually retreats to reveal the sprouting seeds beneath her cold blanket, it was a death that eventually gave birth to new life. Through the pain and difficulty, we experienced something we never imagined — an unexplainable peace. The more we found ourselves chasing after the passions of Jesus, leaving behind those things in ourselves that so often interrupt his radical nature, we became more peaceful than ever before.
 More at peace than when our finances were whole.
 More at peace than when our family was whole.
 More peace than had we never decided to live lives of radical love.

It is this irony that is missing in the lives of too many Christians today. As Jesus said, 'Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.' More of us need to understand what it means to lose our lives. And then we need to do it.

It's at this point that this question needs to be asked. How does this get fixed? This is how Ben ends his chapter.

If we want to rediscover the radical message of Jesus, we must stop diluting it by focusing on power, peace of mind, and prosperity. Instead, we must embrace the truly radical message that invites us to find life through laying it down.

What Ben writes here is true. '…we must embrace the truly radical message...' But it's not helpful by itself. Why is it that so many Christians are not developing into the kind of disciples that the Bible describes? Is it because they know the truth about following Jesus and reject it? I suppose that's true of some, but I don't think that covers most Christians these days. Many of them have heard calls to a deeper kind of discipleship, but the change hasn't occurred as well as hoped. Why? What's the problem?

A verse I recently read applies here.

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. Psalms 119:18

There are many amazing things in God's word. Many. But we don't see them because our eyes are closed to them. We just don't see them. This isn't about being ornery and not wanting to see what Jesus calls us to. We start this life blind to so much. The psalmist understands this. So, he prays. 'Open my eyes.' He doesn't know what he's not seeing, but he knows that there are lots of things in the Word that he hasn't a clue about. He knows about his inability to see. And so, he prays. He wants to see more.

Okay, so Christians aren't seeing as much as they might about being a disciple. Why? For so many of them, they just don't see it. They aren't being particularly rebellious. They just don't see it. How does that change? The Church. We help each other to see. Some of that is just telling other people what we see so that they might see it also. Some of that is listening to other people tell us what they see so that we might see it also. It's us all praying for each other, 'Open our eyes...' It's the preaching of the Word and the enjoyment of the sacraments. It's being the Church, patiently working together so that we all get to see more. And the result? Real disciples whom Jesus uses to change the world.