Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Thoughts on What it Means to be "Christian"

This is a brief article I wrote last June (for no particualar reason other than to get it off my chest). I have submitted it for publication at theOoze.com but - I'm not sure - it might be a little to "liberal" for the site. I guess we'll wait and see....

Thoughts on What it Means to be "Christian"
by Trevor Andrew Harden, June 2004

Day by day, I become increasingly aware that following Christ has little to do with what one believes. More specifically, I'm convinced that being a Christian has nothing to do with agreeing with a bullet-point list of doctrines or belief statements (such as the Apostles Creed or any individual church's statement of beliefs). I am aware that our beliefs inform our actions and therefore nothing can be done without a "belief" behind it, but Christians for ages have argued (with good scriptural reference) that being a Christian simply means believing in Jesus or the contents of the Bible (so that one might "go to heaven").

I am now convinced that being a Christian is all about following "the Way" of Jesus. This verb - following - is an active verb. Sitting in church, doing Sunday School, being a moral person does not a Christian make. What, then, is this Way? It is an alternative lifestyle choice that informs all of life. It isn't about personal purity, holiness, or morality - though oftentimes that is the result (or fruit) of walking "the Way." It is not about being good. It is not about getting into heaven after death.

Being a follower of Jesus is a radical, spiritually enlightened way of living on this earth that flows from love, thereby creating a "force" in the world. Many people follow the Way of Jesus their whole lives and don't even know it. Being a Christian is doing so intentionally. The Way of Jesus, then, is not an exclusive path - negating other modes of life or religiosity. People in other religions and lifestyles very often follow this Way better than we Christians do.

Some of the characteristics of this "Way" are thus:

  • Death and Resurrection - Dying to an old way (usually a destructive way) of living and being born into a new way. This happens not only once, but like the cycles of nature is a constant process. It understands that we are not punished FOR sin (by God), but BY sin and therefore as Marcus Borg puts it: "is a path of liberation from existential, psychological, and spiritual bondage to the lords of convention and culture."
  • Evening out the social playing field - Vigilantly raising up the poor and oppressed. Bringing down unjust systems, empires, and structures. Finding worth in all people and seeing the God-Light in every human (and even non-human). I am convinced that Jesus was (among other things) birthing a social movement and that his egalitarian message was truly the "good news." The individual Christian and the Church should be ALL OVER compassion and justice.
  • Community Life - Sharing and giving. This does not mean tithing to a church building or giving to church programming in an already affluent community. It is about real communal living where people share with each other and with the less fortunate in such a way that one goes without that others may have.
  • Healing -The Christ way as the bodhisattva way. Living to love. Living to serve. Living to relieve suffering wherever one sees it.
  • Returning sight to the Blind -Helping people "wake up" and see the Kingdom of God that is already "spread out upon the earth although people don't see it."
  • Fullness of Life -Jesus was a joy to be around because he truly lived. Social activism is often plagued by cynicism, whereas the Jesus way is teeming with excitement and life.
  • Led by the Spirit of God -This entails tuning into the Spirit of God that is present in every human being and in Creation (consider a suggestion that the Holy Spirit may not have been sent on Pentecost, rather recognized on Pentecost). This Spirit is endowed with Wisdom and always suggests "the highest good."
  • Although the list could certainly go on, finally the Jesus way is rooted in the "Jewish Way" which shares these same characteristics and adds a few subtleties of its own. One of the more important attributes of this Jewish Way is a reverence for and sacredness of Creation and the Cosmos - helping us to understand that humanity is not the center of the Universe and that we should therefore respect the earth, the skies, the plants and animals, and everything that is bound together in the web of life.

Evangelism, then, as Tony Campolo would say is "signing people up for the revolution." Notice the contrast between this and the standard notion of saving people's souls from hell and/or helping people become better or more moral in life. One way is "me" based, the other is cosmically altruistic. One makes people more comfortable, the other calls for change.

What the world does NOT need is more radical fundamentalism. The revolution that the Jesus Way calls us into is not inclusive, closed, or violent in any way. As silly as it may sound, this uprising is a "love revolution" that looks beyond oneself with radical and embarrassing levels of charity and acceptance. It sees the knowable, yet mysterious God not as the means to some personal end, but as an end in himself - thereby freeing us up to be a people who are radically and joyously about the Way of Jesus.


Amy Harden said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Amy Harden said...

ok so I just skimmed through the entry today, and I am hating to admit this, but we basically agree on a lot more than I thought spiritually speaking. I always just assumed that you were the more liberal one and me the almost fundy member of this marriage. Key word, Almost. I hope they publish you, I think you may even make sense on this one.. Amy

Anonymous said...

you guys are such an awesome example to me (from the outside anyway!) of a really fun and supportive and strong marriage. i just love how you are so quick to affirm each other and stuff.
just wanted to say that it made an impression on me. :)

jaxun said...

Heady stuff, bro. This is probably one of the most concentrated examinations of what's inherent in the pursuit of The Way I've ever read.


tim said...

i critiqued your article on my blog; just thought you might want to know in case you want to defend you thinking. here's the link:

atman (ic) pantheism

dave said...

Right on! Really well put and insightful. It is interesting, growing up as a bit of a christian mutt, to find that there are others out there who are not trapped by "lack-of-thinking" religion. I am constantly amazed at the "christian" reaction to something new. I read through some of the other comments and was surprised that there wasn't more objection. Maybe you need more readers (notice big smile). I have spent years unlearning the fundamentalist lessons of my upbringing and am finally enjoying my faith instead of trying to earn or prove something with it. That is such an amazing thing.
I am also amazed with how much we can learn and grow by simply following Christ and not working so hard to label that faith.
I also enjoyed your apparent openness to other thoughts and faiths. This is all too rare amongst organized religion. In my own searching I have found so many amazing people who believe differently than me. I have also found quite a few similarities between the world religions, both good and bad, save one: grace. I have found no other path to the Creator, or to enlightenment, in the world that is offered without earning or worthiness. That would be the only reason for me to keep up the pursuit of Christ (not the only part, but the grace part). That unconditional thing is great comfort and challenge when dealing with moralistic and legalistic "christians" or when stumbling through life. It is good to be reminded that I can be lumped in with open minded people instead of the typical closed minded christian.
So, I just wanted to drop you a few and let you know that I truly enjoyed the article and wish you luck in getting it published. That should be a nice challenge. Having some of my own experience getting shot down by the "christian" press I feel your plight.
enjoy the journey.