Based on what you see in a lot of churches today, it would be easy to assume that the ministry of Jesus had mostly to do with teaching people 1 weird trick to avoid damnation. The Jesus we are most often presented with is a walking, talking get out of hell free card. Popular Evangelical theology tells us that we will be justified – that is, freed from the consequences of our sin – if we choose to accept certain intellectual ideas about God, Jesus, and the Bible.
But that’s just a head trip. The old-time Quakers referred to the Devil as the Reasoner, because one of the main ways that foul, life-denying ideas take root is by appealing to logic built on unquestioned assumptions. As long as the assumptions are wrong, our reason can take us to all sorts of nasty places, all the while being quite logical!
The popular theology of Jesus-as-hell-avoidance is rooted in a whole host of assumptions that just don’t jive with the broad thrust of scripture. Yet, once we accept those assumptions, it’s easy to read the Bible through these hell-colored glasses. Jesus’ political theology becomes entirely spiritual. The words of the prophets take on an other-worldy hue, suddenly irrelevant to the reality of modern day empire, violence, and greed.
Why Ask Why?
It’s scary how effectively our unconscious assumptions can block knowledge of the truth. So often, we in the church fail to ask the most basic question that every child knows so well: Why, why, why? If we had faith like children – a faith that kept asking why, kept challenging assumptions – we’d be more likely to uncover the false logic that blinds us.
Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to have our worldview challenged. We live in a society that increasingly denies the fundamental doctrines of popular Christian faith. Most people that I know aren’t looking for a God who will save them from hell. The most urgent questions of my neighbors have to do with pressing issues of this life: Is there a power that can overcome my addiction? Where can I find hope in a civilization that seems intent on destroying itself? How can I find the strength to love other people when I’m so angry and afraid?
These questions unlock real conversations that don’t require shared faith in Jesus to begin. These are conversations that don’t rest so solidly on our own theological assumptions that the only discussion to be had is whether the other person is going to accept our worldview. These are authentic, nonviolent questions.
Do You Buy It?
We live in a world that is bombarded with marketing. Whether it’s for Jesus, a political candidate, or the new iPhone, there is no shortage of coercive, deceptive communication whose only objective is to convince us to buy. In such an environment, the simple act of asking a non-loaded question is almost revolutionary. It opens the door to the real possibility of change – not just in the other person, but in our own lives, as well.
To ask such revolutionary questions, we’ll have to break free of the many hidden agendas that have been bundled with the gospel for centuries. We must become like little children – ready to learn, open to examining our hidden assumptions when they are pointed out, and free of any objective beyond the transparent desire to embody Christ’s love.
Time To Lose Control
This won’t be easy. It’s going to mean giving up many ideas that we’ve invested a lot in. We humans get pretty attached to concepts of God that we can control. We want things to make sense, and we want to be right.
But Jesus isn’t interested in having disciples who are smarter and more pious than everybody else. Jesus loves us in our weakness. He rejoices when we acknowledge our brokenness and insufficiency. He asks subversive questions to overcome our ingrained answers. Jesus substitutes the mystery of the kingdom for the settled law of empire.
How would it feel to allow Jesus to call all our assumptions into question? What would it be like to embrace Christianity as an invitation into ongoing discovery, rather than a system of settled answers? How might our relationships with others change once we let go of the need to be right all the time?