Everyone talks about that crazy uncle. I’m sure he had some rich things to say at Thanksgiving dinner last week. But what about your distraught moderate Republican aunt who is deeply troubled by the ugliness of white supremacy, fake news, and outrage culture? The one who votes against abortion not as part of a backlash against second-wave feminism but because she actually loves babies. The one who tries her best to form authentic personal relationships with the underprivileged people she serves through her volunteer work at church. The one who wept tears of joy at her niece’s same-sex wedding even though she thinks marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman. The one who secretly hopes that God won’t send her atheist friends to hell. She’s the audience I had in mind when I wrote my book How Jesus Saves the World from Us.
I’m not interested in making your aunt a Democrat. That’s not the point. I want your aunt to see that the intuitions of her Christ-shaped heart are actually legitimate and much more biblically faithful than the toxic Christianity that has hijacked our churches over the past three decades of culture war. So much of evangelical Christian teaching is actually good and true. I don’t say that enough. I just think that there are some very important ways that our gospel needs to be reframed so that it can be detoxified from its worldly corruption in an age when salvation has become a sales pitch, discipleship has become ideology, and evangelism has been replaced by the mission to defeat and destroy the liberals.
My book’s twelve chapters each offer basic exhortations that should not be controversial to evangelical Christians because they are rooted in the assumptions of evangelical Christianity which continue to shape my theology. I’ll bet your aunt will agree with most of these chapters if not all of them, though she may well come to different conclusions about the details than I do. But you know your aunt better than I do. So I figured I’d share a sentence summary of each of my chapters below, and you can decide whether she would appreciate finding this book under her Christmas tree.
1. Worship not performance: Stop putting on a show for God, and let him lead you into pure delight and wonder.
2. Mercy not sacrifice: Don’t validate yourself through your sacrifices; accept Jesus’ sacrifice and become God’s mercy for the world.
3. Empty not clean: If you’re trying to keep your hands clean, you won’t be moved with compassion the way you will when you’ve emptied your heart of idols.
4. Breath not meat: God doesn’t want us to hate our bodies but to relish their beauty as temples of the Holy Spirit.
5. Honor not terror: To fear God doesn’t mean that we’re worried about his lightning bolts; it means we hate trampling the truth even when we get away with it.
6. Poetry not math: The Bible is not a word problem we can reduce to simple formulas; it’s poetry that transforms us the more it is savored.
7. Communion not correctness: The purpose of doctrine is not to make us feel like we’re right, but to help us experience the deepest possible communion with God and each other.
8. Temple not program: Our declining congregations will not save themselves with brilliant programming if they have forgotten how to be a temple.
9. Solidarity not sanctimony: Jesus’ opponents stood up for the rules; Jesus stood up for sinners and the victims of their sin.
10. Outsiders not insiders: Too often, our churches are structured to validate the world’s insiders; Jesus’ focus was to welcome the world’s outsiders.
11. Servanthood not leadership: Christian leadership is about servanthood, which means a true Christian leader is focused on empowering others not controlling them.
12. Kingdom not stadium: Evangelism is not persuading other people to pack out my stadium; it’s an invitation to journey together into a kingdom I have not yet reached.
If these ideas seem like they’d resonate with your aunt and give her strength and courage in a dark, turbulent season, please feel free to make use of this resource. And please feel free to help me spread the word (which I’ve mostly failed to do so far).