By George Elerick
Have you ever been in one of those moods where you just didn’t want to cook? Or there was nothing really appetizing eyeballing you in the refrigerator. So you opted for the fast food option. To be honest, that was our family’s motto growing up, we all loved our fast food runs. Sometimes, we would jump in the car and make a whole road trip of it.
When I was younger, and even into my late teens I would love to get the McDonalds’ happy meal. Why? Because of the prize inside.
I wasn’t as worried about gorging myself full of greasy fries (although, that was part of the joy), but rather it was what I had waiting for me in the bottom of the “M”-shaped box. The prize gave me something to look forward; the meal is what I had to get through to get to it.
I wonder if that’s we’ve done with Christianity?
In his book The Great Omission, author Dallas Willard says this about our views on salvation. Listen in:
The gospel of sin management produces vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else… At the heart of right-wing theology is the individual forgiveness of sins. On the left it is the removal of social or structural evils. The current gospel then becomes a gospel of sin management. Transformation of heart and character is no part of the redemptive message. Moment to moment human reality is not the arena of faith and eternal living. What right and left have in common is neither has a coherent framework of knowledge and practical direction adequate to personal transformation toward the abundance and the obedience emphasized in the New Testament.
Erwin McManus, pastor and cultural revolutionary of Mosaic, a church community in Los Angeles, says something along the same lines:
“How is it that, for many of us, being a good Christian is nothing more than being a good person? The entire focus of our faith has been the elimination of sin, which is important but inadequate; rather than the unleashing of a unique, original, extraordinary, wonderfully untamed, faith.”
Have we done this? Have we reduced the message of Jesus to a prize waiting for us at the bottom of the box? Have we cheapened our journey by reducing the words of Jesus down to something that we get? This is a question we all need to be willing to ask. We can’t afford to make the message of Christianity simply about the death of Jesus. There was more to it, wasn’t there?
I distinctly remember something hidden in the details of the story about a risen Savior and a charter to go and change the world. I wonder if the theologies of salvation and Christianity have become a bit anemic. Didn’t Jesus challenge us to love our neighbor? To show grace unconditionally? To give without receiving? To help the poor, the widow and the child?
Isn’t there more to Christianity than wanting Jesus for his blood? How does that make him feel?
The phrase “follow me” in first-century Palestine meant much more than walk down this road with me. Especially if it left the lips of a Rabbi. It meant that as a follower we are to be just like the Rabbi. Do what he does. And do all of it.
Listen. Challenge. Cry. Heal.
Wouldn’t it be the worst thing if the gospel we now have is the gospel that never was? Or that we have simply dismembered certain parts of the original message of Jesus and put together a gospel that looks a bit less like itself? It’s time to recapture the holistic gospel of Jesus. But how do we start? By realizing that what we have isn’t what was meant to be. There is more.
Jesus came to give “life and life more abundantly.” His words were opportunities for life, for people to chase after him.
Like Willard says above, the message we have tends to not focus on the transformational aspects of what it means to be one who follows in the way of Jesus. This isn’t about a list of do’s and don’ts, that would take us back to a place of sin management. We have been told for far too long that we are not good enough, that we have nothing to offer. In my study of the Jewish understanding of God, I have come to the conclusion that God has a pretty high view of mankind. Otherwise, why would he want to spend time with us?
If Christ came to save us from our sin, then we are no longer sinners. “Sin,” is a temporary word. If we are focusing on the problem all the time, then there is no room for what it looks like to live and be right. What it looks like to be Jesus. This is so much deeper than discipleship. This is an inner transformation of the soul – the mystical and mysterious kind of transformation.
Jesus is more than the Cross. He knows that. What will it take for us to know that?
George loves the outdoors, singing in the shower and doing underwater, synchronized pilates. He is currently working on a book entitled Jesus Bootlegged: Recapturing the Stolen Message of Jesus for The World. You can read more about him at his blog.