Why Centrism Is Off the Path!

Whether it’s politics, theology, or one’s official stance on Justin Bieber, it seems the growing sentiment is that being a centrist is always the right way to go. Given that option, or the other which is being labeled a radical or extremist, it seems like a pretty obvious answer, right?

Wrong!

Since when did being in the middle of the pack all of a sudden mean you were closest to being right.  A boring, vanilla, mainstream, dominant, popular, status quo perspective has never, and further more, will never mean you got it right on a particular subject. For example, when my ancestors were being brought from Africa as slaves, and the majority of Western Europe baptized it as morally fine, did that centrist view make it right?  In fact, it seems that during many of the most horrific events of history, the most centrist thing to do has been to apathetically turn a blind eye to the inhumane treatment and silently go about one’s personal business with minimal resistance against the wrongdoers.  No I am sorry, the centrist middle path hardly gets you anywhere.

You know what the Apostle Paul, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Deitrick Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, and Cornel West have in common? None of them were centrists, in fact each one of them would be best understood as radicals or extremists for their times. I know what your thinking “now wait a minute, I wouldn’t use extremist or radical to describe them, I save that category for nutjubs, terrorists, and bigots”. Immoral and crazy people very well might be radicals or extremists, I am not arguing that. The question that matters is not if they are radical, but rather to what are they radical? Are you radical about love, justice, mercy, equality, and human dignity? Those things ought not have a limit which caps them by the norm expressions of the larger society. Radicalism and extremism are not only acceptable but are made perfect when they have found their appropriate home.

As a Christian I ultimately look to Jesus as the model for life.  He surely was no centrist. His way was so different from every contemporary tradition that existed (Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes) that the only honest way to describe him would be as an extremist or radical. Calling others to laydown and sacrifice their life for others is radical. Telling people to take up their cross to die as they follow him is radical. Expecting people to be willing to leave home and family for his sake is radical.  Shoot, loving your neighbor as yourself and turning the other cheek when someone hits you just seems plain crazy because Jesus was a radical.

Being centrist, mainstream, and working out your morality by popular consensus will always take you down the wide path of comfort, if that is what you are looking for. But I reject centrism in search of that narrow, unbeaten path where great radicals are shaped and formed

Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

 

 

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You are Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind and Naked!

The third chapter of the book of Revelations Jesus writes a letter to the church of Laodicea. This community is a relatively wealthy community that seems to have all the material possessions one could want.  The letter written to them speaks into their context of financial security and wealth, greed, complacency, and self reliance.  Sounds a bit like America in my opinion.   This is what is the letter says…

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. To those who are victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

(Revelations 3:14-22, TNIV)

What is interesting is that this is a familiar passage in many churches in America, yet I have hardly heard it exegeted in consistency with the message and main point addressed there.  Many either isolate the section about being hot or cold from the rest of the passage… or some grab  vs. 19 about Jesus knocking oustside on the door and wanting to come in, using it as a evangelistic verse to ask unbelievers to “let Jesus in”.  The reality is that this verse is written to the church, to those who already believe, not unbelievers.

These folks were wealthy and self reliant, not fully following after Jesus. Apparently, Jesus is not present at their community and fellowship according to the passage.  They have been enticed by the things of this world, and have tried to chase after those things while attempting to follow Jesus.  The reality is that they can’t have both and so really all they have is the temporal wealth of this world.  They are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.

Lord, forgive us for our self reliance, pride, arrogance, and greed that continually pulls us, and has us chasing after things other than you.  Help us to truly see our brokenness and poverty without you. May we follow after only you, may you be at the center of our gatherings, may you shape and mold us to be more like you, may we be good stewards of your stuff, may we become generous and compassionate like you, and may we be fully committed to you.

Born Again or Entering the Kingdom of God???

Did you know that Jesus only talks about being born again one time, and it is to one specific person (Nicodemus) and only found in the Gospel of John. On the other hand Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God countless times throughout the gospels  (mostly Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew because they showed so much reverence to God’s name). Even when Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being born again, he mentioned the Kingdom twice, explaining why one must “enter” the Kingdom.  I think we should focus more on what Jesus ACTUALLY said, and less on the Evangelical tradition’s infatuation and limited focus with this one biblical metaphor.

We need more of a Christ centered, and scripturally faithful theological approach.  This does not mean discard the “born again” metaphor Jesus uses. It is both great and biblical! But lets keep things in focus and not major on the minors.  When we talk about being born again and divorce it from entering the Kingdom of God (which Jesus did not do) we justify our individualism in which our faith in Christ is only about us.  When we teach entering the Kingdom of God, we are subversively telling people that you have become a part of something bigger than yourself.

Once you are in God’s Kingdom, you must live as though Christ is King, and are now free to live free as a loved child of God. No longer enslaved to this world (its things, its appeal, it’s threats) but now may participate in what God has ultimately created you for… mission with God (to liberate, to save, to redeem, to reconcile, etc.)  and community with God’s people (while sharing love with one another). And we do this while we await the final return of our King to fully establish His Kingdom here on earth.

Given this, the thing Christians should explore is what it looked like for Jesus to do Kingdom ministry in the 1st century, and what that might look like for the church now in the 21st century.