Friday, June 7, 2013

What Being A Christian is About

I just finished reading a book that framed the Christian life in a way that broadened my perspective on the gospel. Its main point is that the good news of Jesus' coming, dying, rising, and return is not primarily about the individual reception of a product (ie. "I get to go to Heaven when I die") but about God's becoming King of the whole earth, and the healing His reign will bring to all things. 

The author argued that in our Western culture, we are very individualistic and consumeristic, so it's easy for us to read the Christian message through those lenses: "the gospel is about what God did for me so that I can get a certain thing." He argues that while it is true that the gospel-- God's good news brought to us through the person of Jesus-- does apply to us as individuals in a life-changing and important way (and does include us "getting" good things!), an overemphasis on the individual can end up truncating it, causing God's good news to appear smaller than it is.

I could write about a million different things this book taught me, but that wouldn't be very nice to anyone who actually attempts to read my ramblings. Instead, I'll just share a few ways I was challenged by this perspective and how I think it makes a difference for people who already profess to be Christians and for those who are investigating the Christian life. 

First, for a Christian, it means realizing that the gospel actually doesn't revolve around me. This might seem like a given, but I think it's so easy to conclude that since God loves me, died for me, wants to have a relationship with me, has good plans for my life, etc., it must, in fact, be all about me! I've heard this described as cat theology-- While a dog thinks, "Wow, my owner feeds me, cleans up my poop, takes care of me, plays with me....SHE must be the center of the universe!" A cat thinks, "Wow, my owner feeds me, cleans up my poop, takes care of me, plays with me....I must be the center of the universe!" 

This realization-- that the gospel is actually about God and about Him being the center of the universe-- keeps a Christian from viewing Him as Someone who exists to make me happy. But it also keeps me, as a Christian, from obsessing over my own behavior as if the whole point of the Christian life is about me "being good." I hardly need to point out the political flavor of the American church to illustrate this point; on a national scale, we are so concerned with how individuals should live that it might seem on TV or the news that it's all we care about. "Personal holiness" is incredibly important, but an overemphasis on that can deceptively lead to (or stem from!) the idea that we are the point of it all.

Understanding the gospel primarily as the announcement that God in Christ is extending His Kingdom throughout the whole world and inviting us to be a part of it, also has significance for a non-Christian-- someone standing outside of faith in Jesus Christ but looking in, investigating, pondering. It suggests that "signing up" for Christianity means a lot more than giving up heinous sins or even enjoying a personal relationship with God (though it does include that incredible gift!). It means being made new by God in order to participate in God's making all things new; it means being swept up into something much bigger than just "me and God"-- something that God has been doing through all of history-- namely, establishing His healing reign throughout the whole world.

It means for the non-Christian that Jesus' offer to you in the gospel is not just one "self-help" approach among many, and that the choice is yours based on "what works for you." It means becoming a Christian, though it will change your life and bring personal transformation, is not ultimately a pragmatic path to find personal fulfillment or ease pain. Rather, it is about allowing God to broaden your perspective to the extent that your story-- including the pain God does promise to ease and the fulfillment He does promise to bring, because He loves you-- is swept up into a bigger Story; it is about choosing to follow Him as the Protagonist, the Hero, the Main Character, and about being a part of the good news and healing that He is bringing to the world. 

Whether a Christian or not, what do you think about a more panoramic perspective of the gospel? What difference do you think it might make in your own approach as a Christian, or in the attitude of the church as a whole?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this is awesome. I've been trying to put into words what it is I feel so unsettling when groups of Christians get together and condemn non-Christians and individual Christians alike for their actions. Perhaps not outright, but I see it in their eyes. This deep unsettling feeling that I cannot measure up to the model of “goodness” and basically worthiness set out for me. It is so refreshing to hear someone say that “All things will be made new.” Because when we say all things, we take every dirty, vicious, painful situation that we have ever been in and say that our stains from that can be clean, because He makes all things new. He doesn’t just make good Christian girls from nice homes new. He makes the broken ones new, too. Their grief, their awful memories. Their fear. All things. Our God is not a God who looks past the poor in spirit and to the 99 sheep. He is one who sees.