betraying jesus

Jim Wallis, the author of the bestseller “God’s Politics,” has a new book out entitled “Call to Conversion,” and, judging from the excerpt posted on the Soma Review site, I’d say it looks pretty promising. Here’s a clip:

I remember a conference in New York City. The topic was social justice. Assembled for the meeting were theologians, pastors, priests, nuns, and lay church leaders. At one point a Native American stood up, looked out over the mostly white audience, and said, “Regardless of what the New Testament says, most Christians are materialists with no experience of the Spirit. Regardless of what the New Testament says, most Christians are individualists with no real experience of community.” He paused for a moment and then continued: “Let’s pretend that you were all Christians. If you were Christians, you would no longer accumulate. You would share everything you had. You would actually love one another. And you would treat each other as if you were family.” His eyes were piercing as he asked, “Why don’t you do that? Why don’t you live that way?”

There was more sophisticated theological and political analysis per square foot in that room than most places. Yet no one could give an answer to the man’s questions. He had put his finger on the central problem we face in the churches today. Our Scriptures, confessions, and creeds are all very public, out in the open. Anyone can easily learn what it is supposed to mean to be a Christian. Our Bible is open to public examination; so is the church’s life. That is our problem. People can read what our Scriptures say, and they can see how Christians live. The gulf between the two has created an enormous credibility gap…

Evangelism in our day has largely become a packaged production, a mass-marketed experience in which evangelists strain to answer that question that nobody is asking. Modern evangelists must go through endless contortions to convince people that they are missing something that Christians have. Without the visible witness of a distinct style of life, evangelists must become aggressive and gimmicky, their methods reduced to salesmanship and showmanship. Evangelism often becomes a special activity awkwardly conducted in noisy football stadiums or flashy TV studios, instead of being a simple testimony rising out of a community whose life together invites questions from the surrounding society. When the life of the church no longer raises any questions, evangelism degenerates. The phrases “Jesus saves” and “Jesus is Lord” have been so often used in the absence of any visible historical application that most people simply do not know what the words mean anymore. Perhaps never before has Jesus’ name been more frequently mentioned and the content of his life and teaching so thoroughly ignored. One wonders what remains of Jesus in American culture except his name. Unless accompanied by a clear demonstration of what it means to follow Jesus now, the evangelistic message falls on deaf ears or, even worse, calls people to a conversion empty of real content…

Not surprisingly, our self-centered culture has produced a self-centered religion. Preoccupation with self dominates the spirit of the age and shapes the character of religion. Modern evangelism has played right along with this central theme. The most common question in evangelism today is, “What can Jesus do for me?” In other words, the question is how Jesus can help us make it in the present order, not how we can respond to the new order. Potential converts are told that Jesus can make them happier, more self-satisfied, better adjusted, and more prosperous. Jesus quickly becomes the supreme product, attractively packaged and aggressively sold to a consuming public. Complete with billboards, buttons, and bumper stickers, modern evangelistic campaigns advertise Jesus in a competitive market. Even better than Coca-Cola, Jesus is “the Real Thing.”

I know it’s all stuff that I’ve talked about here before, but I think that you’ll agree that it’s good to hear it enunciated eloquently for a change.

Oh, and I forgot to mention it above, but Wallis is the Executive Director of the Christian social justice organization Sojourners… If you haven’t stopped by his site before, you might want to check it out. (I have to get back to working on my comic now. I just wanted to pass that along before I forgot.)

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8 Comments

  1. Shanster
    Posted November 15, 2005 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the post and the link to Sojourners. They seem like an excellent group,and I agree with most of the things on their home page. I will start looking for that book today.

  2. Teddy Glass
    Posted November 15, 2005 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    If we can have a CEO President, why not a CEO Messiah? And it was time for him to get a brand overhaul. People are more receptive to the idea of him as a suburban self-help guru than a dirty old hippy anyway, and the free market is always right.

  3. Posted November 17, 2005 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Did anybody else notice that the Native American was talking about what most people in this world consider to be communism?

  4. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 17, 2005 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    The Christian vision is anarchistic communism. It

  5. chris
    Posted November 18, 2005 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    This truth is so obvious that the contradiction with the compassionate conservativism has stunned me so much that I am left speechless. Their language has been so Orwellian it is not even funny. The only solace that I have is that I might somehow watch them burn in hell someday.

    Somehow, I think that the underrlying mechanism that perpetuates the common man’s fiscal conservatism w/ respect to “choking the beast” is plain old fashioned racism.

    Yes, but has Sojourner’s made a dent into current social thinking?

  6. mark
    Posted November 19, 2005 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I see your point, OEC, but I don’t think that providing a minimal level of food and shelter for those people who truly cannot afford to do so for themselves is “legislating morality.” And, I don’t think giving people a hand up from poverty is just a moral exercise. I think it’s an act of good, responsible government.

    With that said, however, I think we have to be on constant gaurd for instances in which we get close to crossing the dividing wall between church and state.

    I have to attend to a crying baby now.

  7. Shanster
    Posted November 20, 2005 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Ol’ E-
    Wouldn’t the vision of Christianity be better defined as Theocratic Communism.

    I do think that helping the poor is legislating morality, but it’s morality that we can mostly agree on. Radical Capitalists such as E. Scrooge would have the poor waste away so that we could reduce the surplus population.

  8. mark
    Posted November 20, 2005 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Actually, radical capitalists don’t give a shit about surplus population. (Unless, of course, the government is paying for food and shelter.) Surplus population means cheap labor.

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