I had a new book published recently, entitled The Rebel Christ. Provocative? I certainly hope so! Because its starting point is a question, based on a claim. Why is it that the purest, most supremely liberating philosophy and theology in all of history is now seen by so many people around the world as an intolerant, legalistic, and even irrelevant religion embraced only by the gullible, the foolish, and the judgmental? If that shocks you, so be it. That’s a good and not a bad thing, and the truth is often shocking. As a Christian, as someone whose faith informs his entire life and meaning, I pose this question with no relish and with a great deal of remorse, but I pose it nevertheless because it’s real and it’s proven, and unless Christians admit the problem and struggle to remedy it, matters will only deteriorate. For Christians and for non-Christians alike, for the sake of public discourse, for the sake of the church, and for the sake of generations to come, we have to set matters right.
An authentic relationship with God is a dialogue, and one that involves questions, arguments, and even doubt. We’re made—and if we’re Christians we believe we’re made by God—to be thinking individuals who want answers, and not robotic creatures who simply obey. A mature belief in Scripture necessitates an understanding that the Bible is not divine dictation but an inspired history of God’s relationship with humanity, which is a wonderful guide to life but doesn’t solve every modern problem and hourly challenge. It can be complex; it’s often nuanced. Some would argue, although I disagree, that it’s even contradictory—but at heart it’s about absolute love.
And that love culminates in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, who says not a word about, for example, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, pornography, or the so-called traditional family, but demands justice, forgiveness, equality, care for the poor and for the marginalized and for strangers, and compassion even for enemies; who insists on peace, and on the abandonment of materialism; and who constantly speaks of the blistering risks of wealth and prestige. He turns the world upside down, he challenges the comfortable and the complacent, sides with the outcast and the prisoner, and has no regard for earthly power and worldly ambition. Love and hope. Christianity isn’t safe and was never supposed to be. Christianity is dangerous. Yet, truth be told, we have often transformed a faith that should revel in saying yes into a religion that cries no.
Its founder died so that we would change the world but many of his followers fight to defend the establishment, they try to link Jesus to nationalism and military force, and they dismiss those who campaign for social change as being radical and even Godless. Of course, this is only a culture within Christianity, and not Christianity itself but ask most people what they think of when they consider the public face of the Christian faith and they speak of American conservative politicians, anti-abortion activists, or campaigners against sex education or equal marriage. Worse than this, many Christians themselves—especially in North America—have retreated into a bunker mentality, seeing persecution around every corner and retreating into literalism and small-mindedness. They have built an alternative culture, not one that’s anchored in the simplicity and altruism of the early church, but that’s hinged on nationalism and insularity.
This is all nostalgia rather than the Jesus movement, and as much as change can be frightening to all of us, the Son of God told us that fear and anxiety are unfounded. If we worry about the evolving world, we’re just not listening to the words of Christ that we claim to revere. It’s as though the cosmetics of the Gospels, the veneer of the message, has become more important than its core and its central meaning. Jesus spoke less about the end times than the time to end injustice, less about whom we should love than about how we should love everyone. If we miss that, we’re missing the whole thing.
The great C. S. Lewis, one of the finest communicators of the faith in modern times, once wrote that “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Let Christians not be moderate in their vocation as radicals of invincible and, yes, revolutionary love. That, I believe, is the essence and message of the rebel Christ.
The Rebel Christ is published by Dundurn Press.