Friends 2007: Conversations: A Revolution of Hope

I’m still trying to catch up with the after event conversations … here’s one by Egalitaria worth some time – Conversations: A Revolution of Hope

“Thoughts have been clamouring to get out. Having been involved with the recent weekend event, and meeting Brian McLaren face to face with the privilege of personal interviews (not interrogation!), it’s only natural that I feel the need to articulate in writing my ideas of religion and Christianity. Note that these are only my interpretations and understanding of these new concepts, and may need (a lot more) retuning and refining!

Brian McLaren, as many would know, has been one of the foremost writers and speakers representing the Emergent Network in the
United States. Over the last weekend some of us have had the opportunity to be in conversation with him and many other leading

Malaysian Church leaders, people like Father Jojo (Jesuit priest), Rev. Wong Fong Yang, Tan Soo Inn, Sherman Kuek and so on. We had a great weekend talking about the Gospel, Church, Discipleship and the World. What a refreshing time to rethink all our conventions of “Christianity”! So many of the things discussed resonated deep within my heart and were manifestations of things I have always thought of but was never quite willing to explicitly say.

The question I asked him when we first met on Friday night (amongst many many other questions) at dinner was,

“What started you on this journey”.

And he replied, “It started when Bush get elected into office.”

I personally found that so hilarious and pertinent that I used that story when facilitating the final session on engaging the World.

Essentially the Emergent story is based on the need to present an alternative Christianity that most of the world has been exposed to these recent decades. The typical “Christianity” that has been presented has been a largely Western, Evangelical, Proselytising Christianity that focuses on saving the world through little booklets and tracts, short of forcing anyone to conform to a church culture and accepting in entirety the historical creeds, in long words and theological jargon that twists the mind and tongue. Made worse is the Christianity professed and marketed in America, the Christianity of television evangelism, “charismatic” repetitions of phrases shouted with the purpose of indoctrination versus a real inward reflection.

Finally of course, the Republican faith has done no better in reflecting the Church, by justifying foreign policy of war and imposition of regulation and (a certain interpretation of) democracy in the Middle East. Without a deeper analysis and reflection, much of the world can be and has been convinced that this is the only true version of Christianity. One that supports the victimization of others, supposedly based on biblical principles.

So does the Bible really support such action? If not, what does the Bible say? If “Christian” really means “follower of Christ”, should we not look at the things that he did and said in exemplifying a godly humanity?

The premise is that Jesus did NOT primarily come to this earth to die. He mentions “Kingdom of God” most times in his speeches. His vision was for the kingdom of God to be acted out, principles of life which would transform systemic evil that existed in this lifetime to goodness and holiness – emphasizing humility, sacrificial love, compassion, justice, and so on, to counter a world that was encroached upon by Roman dominance, deceit, lying, pomp, and pride.

I find that most Christians can agree with the execution/practical implications but not the theoretical premise behind it. For example, the need for Christians to engage with the world is not a new concept. In fact, the Catholic Church has done a great deal of work in social justice, acting on behalf of the poor and sickly. Think Mother Teresa. There needs no argument to convince that the Bible has stated a case clearly for principles of justice, equality, speaking up for the oppressed and so on.

But maybe more important and revolutionary is that all of this stems from the understanding that Jesus actually came to the earth to present a Kingdom of God in the here and now primarily. If so, then it gives a whole new meaning to the constant mantra we’ve often heard and believed, “If you believe in Jesus, you will be saved”. One that begs the definitions of each component of that statement – belief, Jesus, salvation.

Belief – belief and trust and faith in a person who has given you life principles that you can live by and experience abundance, just as how I believe in my mother. Salvation – salvation from the horrid injustices, poverty of spirit, depression, bitterness, hatred, institutional evil in this world but turning to a life that is marked by light, love, compassion.

The implications of this are far-reaching. It makes one rethink many things, a paradigm shift of how we should be living today.

1. Jesus’ Death … Did Jesus have to die? Perhaps it was a historical necessity rather than anything else. Anyone who proclaims a Kingdom alternative to the Roman Empire at the time would have been executed and killed. Anyone who proclaimed a Kingdom alternative to the sort of bigoted Pharisaic regulation-oriented “religion” would have been condemned to die. In that sense, yes Jesus died because he proclaimed something so revolutionary that most people would not have accepted. But yet he had to say those things.

2. Grace … The concept of grace is huge, in Christianity. The fact that we can never do enough good deeds to “get us to heaven” is justified by God’s tremendous grace swooping down upon us to “get us there”! But, as pointed out, perhaps we are not asking ourselves the right question. Maybe the question is not all about “getting to heaven” but “living heaven out on earth today”. We acknowledge incapability and inadequacy at being perfect, but God’s love is so great so we do the best we can. Grace still applies very much in this framework. But it is not so much a “grace that will get me to heaven and the finishing line”, but a “grace that allows me to admit my weaknesses and help others along and practice humility in living a godly life”.

3. Evangelism … I have always hated the way we have “done evangelism”, through evangelistic rallies and convincing people to say the “sinner’s prayer” and believe that Jesus is the son of God, that he died and rose again, and accepting him into your heart as Lord and saviour, this 1-2-3 step ABC that everyone has been convinced is necessary for the Christian faith. I beg to differ. Evangelism should now mean the telling people to look at Jesus because here is a man who taught such wonderful life changing principles, and being hands and feet to people through real and solid helping “save” lives of poverty, rejection and discrimination.

4. Jesus’ resurrection… I haven’t quite got my head around this one yet.

5. Eternal life… Haven’t figured this one out yet either.

6. Relating to people of other faiths … Anyone who looks to Jesus as a teacher, prophet, great man, can be a follower of Jesus, can they not? Or must the person go through the strict process of believing Jesus is the son of God and so on and so forth? And where does one cross the line? Perhaps it is a spectrum of possibilities, a continuum that one goes through and experiences daily. And because one cannot clearly define a particular point of “engaging in an active relationship with Jesus”, then perhaps we are all one and the same – people struggling to follow Jesus and all that he represents.

This inspires me to an even greater degree to do the work of Jesus here on earth. What this means is different to each person. Perhaps a lawyer feels that he needs to engage in human rights in order to stand up for the oppressed and underprivileged (of course this does not apply to the huge law firms of the world), the social activist to look at issues faced by the discriminated against, the businessman to ensure he uses his money wisely to responsibly care for the environment and sustainable development, the politician to represent the views of the people whose neighbourhoods must be well taken care of. It is indeed kingdomic principles that we need to wake up to. The right questions must be asked, in order for the right answers to be made clear to us.

For now, we see yet through a glass darkly.”

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