From Patrick Mitchel at Irish Bible Institute recently wrote a powerful post about whether or not the kingdom life Jesus taught can be lived in the Western world, and in this post he is creating conversation about our One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow.
I want to ask a question at the top of this post to which I will return below:
Can a life of radical commitment to Jesus be squared with the ‘normal’ expectations of life within Western capitalist culture?
According to Scot, Jesus was an ‘extremist’. And anyone who claims to be a Christian and follower of Jesus is called to a pretty extreme form of commitment, such as;
– Let the dead bury their own dead. Come follow me now.
– Sell your possessions and give to the poor, then come follow me.
– Those of you who do not give up all you have cannot be my disciple
– Why worry about what you are going to wear? Trust God.
– Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees you certainly will not enter the kingdom of God
– Anyone who says ‘You Fool’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
– Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart
– Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
– Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect
McKnight concludes that Jesus is perfectly serious in these sorts of uncompromising demands. Jesus is a ‘moral zealot’. [I’m sure about this language; it makes Jesus sound a bit grim and possibly unhinged]. But the bigger point stands: Jesus asked and expected total commitment from his followers.
And the test, Scot says, of whether someone is a follower of Jesus or not, is, quite simply, whether they are following Jesus or not. And the problem, he says, with big swathes of Christianity is that there are many Christians who are not following Jesus.
The mark of an authentic disciple is a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus. And that looks like a life given over to Jesus’ kingdom vision: a vision committed to love, justice, peace, wisdom, church community …
But is such a life almost impossible to live within a Western capitalist culture?
I was preaching at MCC last Sunday on Luke 6:1-11. One point I tried to make was how Jesus claims extraordinary authority [“the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”] and offers a stark challenge that to obey ‘the Law’ is really to accept and follow him wherever it leads – and that is towards the radical call of life within the kingdom of God.But in preparing that sermon I found it much easier to say this than spell out what it actually means for everyday life without resorting to ‘extraordinary hero’ examples.
Too often, examples given of a radical commitment to Jesus involve the ‘extraordinary hero’ modelthat few if any ‘normal’ people in a church can relate to. In older evangelicalism, people like C T Studd and Hudson Taylor, or the martyred missionary Jim Elliott (“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”) were such heroes.
I gotta say Scot does a bit of this himself in this chapter – he holds up the example of Richard Stearns of World Vision, an extremely wealthy man who, in reluctant response to the call of God, sold up his mansion, left his business life behind and went to work as Director of World Vision.
‘Radical commitment’ to Jesus is virtually equated with a rejection of life within contemporary Western culture.
But for the vast majority of Christians in the West such rejection is not an option. Most people are working (or looking for work), are married with children, have mortgages or maybe college debts, wider family responsibilities, are plugged into their local communities and friends and so on. People whose lives are already shaped by non-negotiable commitments – working 40, 50, 60 + hour weeks while trying to snatch the occasional hour or day of ‘free’ time.
For most of these people, the evangelical ‘hero’ model is both irrelevant and probably only guilt inducing. It implies that if you don’t leave the Western way of life behind you are ‘compromised’, ‘half-hearted’ or ‘second-best’ in your commitment to Jesus.
This brings back to mind Philip Jenkins’ brilliant book The New Faces of Christianity that I did some posts on last year. One of many fascinating points he made was how the Bible ‘comes alive’ and ‘speaks’ so much more naturally and directly into life within the Global South – in countries suffering from famine, persecution, dictators, war, insecurity, injustice and so on.
Does the Western way of life so stifle, flatten and squash Jesus’ call to radical kingdom living that the only way authentically to follow him is to, like Scot’s example, resign from demands and values and comforts of Western capitalism?