Dangerous Gospel-The Model Home, by Jonathan Storment
For the past few weeks, I have been reviewing Jon Nugent’s great new book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church. Today I would like to conclude this series with the analogy Nugent uses that I appreciated the most.
Nugent’s point throughout the book, is that Christians have, for a variety of reasons stopped prioritizing the Christian community. By our unintentional neglect we have created a kind of lukewarm fellowship that may keep the institutional doors open, but does little else because we have all chosen something else.
In an ocean of good things to do, the Church has lost its appeal.
The Ideal and the Real
Only…that’s not quite right. The rise of the Nones and the growing number of de-churched people that I know don’t seem apathetic to the Church, they seem disenchanted with Her.
And while I know the reasons for this are legion, maybe the key one is not because Church asks too much of us, but because today, we ask too little.
In the words of the progressive Pastor, Nadia Bolz-Webber, “People leave church because they $*#@ing believe in church!”
In other words, people read the high calling that both Jesus and Paul had for the first Christians. They read stories in church history about what kind of community the church is called to be, and then they realize there is a divide between the ideal and the reality.
Nugent says that “The most dangerous religion is a form of Christianity that uses the name of Jesus to keep people happy and healthy, but doesn’t call them into a form of fellowship that showcases God’s kingdom before the watching world. “
Can I tell you I see a lot of that kind of dangerous religion these days? And it is that, not Isis, not al Qaeda, not the current political climate, that keeps me up at night.
It is that there are so many of us, me included, who have grown up around the Gospel, grown up around Jesus, we are familiar with the stories and the sayings and we know how to say the right church phrases.
We know to squint our eyes and use breathy voices to sound more spiritual. But we don’t live sacrificial lives for each other.
We may spend our days with other Christians, but they tend to be other Christians just like us, in the same season of life as us, with the same political views as us, with the same skin color as us, and so we never have to sacrifice any of those things for the greater good of bending our knee to King Jesus.
Very much unlike the earliest Christians, church doesn’t really cost us anything, and so we begin to wonder, and rightfully so, does this even really matter?
Slowly, over time, we begin to make choices that lead us away from being in any kind of Jesus-formed community at all, and we do it because we have been inoculated with the story of Jesus and never really had to lay down our lives for the Gospel.
In the words of G.K. Chesterton, the way of Jesus has not so much been weighed and found wanting, it has been tried and found difficult and left untried.
The world has never tired of the church’s ideal, we have gotten tired of the reality.
Because let’s be honest, this is hard. To be around people that you disagree with on so much, who are so different from you, who see the world so differently than you, that is hard.
What is not hard is the Facebook algorithm that makes sure you eventually develop an echo chamber based on the stuff you like, to keep you plugged into the matrix of your own design. What is not hard is the book club with like-minded, similarly educated, similar income level friends.
But this, having deep friendships, with deeply different people, for the love of God and for the sake of the world, that is hard.The world isn’t tired of Christianity, it just hasn’t seen much of it lately.
Christianity isn’t so much in ruins, as it is an uncompleted Temple, waiting for people to take Jesus seriously enough to follow him.
But you can’t do that alone.
Loving The New Humanity
Last week, I wrote about Nugent’s take on Jesus call for us to “hate our family” and how Jesus is trying to create a new community that runs deeper than blood. Hating and loving, according to Nugent, is the language the Bible often uses to describe choosing or prioritizing certain things over others.
It is not, by this definition, atheists and secular people who hate the church, as much as it is the Christians who have better things to do than share their time with other Christians for a deep and different kind of fellowship.
This may sound harsh and judgmental, but I don’t mean it that way, and I certainly wouldn’t say it if it were not in the Gospels. But it is, and I think Nugent is largely right in the argument he is making here.
The flip side of this is what happens when we love our biological families too much, in the way Jesus is calling us away from. Very few reading this would think love for our family was a bad thing, but to choose our family, to put the weight of the meaning of our life on family, to give our extreme loyalties and fidelities to our family can often turn toxic.
To illustrate this, one has to look no further than places like the parent running out onto the soccer field screaming at the volunteer referee. Or to the Mafia, or the Hutu and Tutsi genocide, or the outbreak of tribalism in the world today. Ah, but you say, isn’t this exactly what Nugent is arguing for? Just a new kind of Christian tribalism?
I don’t think so. I believe it is the Christian faith that has taught the world that tribalism and racism is wrong. But Christianity gave the world that ethic not so much by promoting new laws and enforcing them but by living out a different kind of family life and capturing the world’s imagination.
Christianity did this by creating in every city a kind of model home of God’s preferred future. We were called to showcase before a watching world a different kind of community, where the poor were honored, and where political/sociological/econcomic/educational differences didn’t define you or divide you.
The first Christians really did take this command of Jesus to heart. They treated one another as family. They referred to each other as brothers and sisters, and used adoption language to describe what it meant to join God’s family.
They shared their possessions and would take care of each other’s financial needs, they learned from each other about what it meant to live in different socio-economic positions and life-stations, and by their strange community they captured the world’s attention and grew from a band of peasants and slaves to something with unparalleled influence.
When Christianity first started, in the words of Nugent, we were the Model Home of God’s Kingdom. I think we still are called to be.
I will let him have the last word:
When developers plan to build a new subdivision filled with houses of a particular style, it is common for them first to construct a model home in a visible place. They then invite potential buyers to tour this model home. Anyone can walk around in it and get a feel for what life in such a home might be like. This hands-on experience helps them evaluate whether they wish to live in the subdivision to come. So it is with the church. We are the model home of God’s kingdom. To the extent that we display God’s kingdom in our life together, God is able to draw people to himself through our witness. Among us they can taste and see the Lord’s goodness. We are the evidence that Jesus has changed the course of world history, that he has already begun a new and better world. This new and better world can be experienced now. We are the foretaste of God’s perfected world to come.