I just finished reading Phil Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew. I’ve been so busy that I think I read it in five-page snippets over lunch over the course of a month and a half, but I read it nonetheless. Highly recommended, even if it’s not anywhere close to being a new release. (It came out in 1993. Wow. Time DOES fly.)
As good as Yancey’s book is, it somehow got me thinking about the worst ostensibly “Christian” book I’ve read in the last five years, David Limbaugh’s Persecution. So you don’t ever waste your time on it, I can sum up Persecution nicely for you:
When the world comes against you as an American Christian, the time-honored response is simple: SUE!
Yes, you too can resolve all attempts at “persecution” by filing a lawsuit. File early, and file often. Then file some more. In fact, keep an attorney (Christian, of course) on retainer at all times so you can sue any and all monolithic organizations that want to impinge on your rights. The impinged rights don’t even fundamentally have to do anything with religious freedom. Just being a Christian means you have the right to defend yourself in a court of law should even one of your rights be remotely challenged, even if it’s those bad men attempting to take away your access to the closest parking spots to the shopping mall.
I don’t know why I read Persecution all the way through. I guess I kept looking for some alternative point that eventually became scriptural. You know, along the lines of
“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Somehow that seems markedly different from “The school district wants to change the name of Christmas Break to Winter Break ! AND they dropped all the Christian carols from the elementary school play! Oh, what are we going to do?”
I’ve never had my nose broken because I am a believer. Never taken a series of steel-toed shoe kicks to my ribs because I had the Holy Spirit-inflamed guts to speak the name of Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. I can definitely be thankful that we haven’t experienced that level of attack here in the States. But those days may be ending. When I am an old man, the world may be very different. The persecuted church in China has been praying for years that the Church in the United States would taste some real persecution, not the faux Westernized version that consists of “The town council won’t let us put up a nativity scene in the square!” and the inevitable response of “We’ll sue!” I suspect the Chinese will get those prayers answered in the affrimative.
So much of Christianity in America is nothing more than a kneejerk, worldly reaction to the world’s own kneejerk, worldy reaction. But I can expect that from the world; I shouldn’t from the Church. We’ve built an entire social structure within our country and, subsequently, within our churches that says that one must wage war as the world does. Sword to sword. Hate to hate. Fear to fear. “You take away my priveleges and I will take away yours.” We want our eye for an eye, even if it means everyone in the world must go blind.
But one of the major themes that came out of Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew was that Jesus never acted on script. His response was “You have heard it said, but I say to you….” He consistently responded in a way that befuddled everyone. Every expectation lay shattered, no matter what side of society you came from. He ate with prostitutes and also said to them, “Go, and sin no more.” The Kingdom He came to establish not only opposed the worldly kingdoms, but the religious ones as well. He is the long-awaited King who said to His followers, “They will hate you on account of me.”
In short, His is the upside-down, inside-out angle that no one EVER seems to expect.
If I were a public school administrator, here’s what I could expect from the followers of Jesus in America should I decide to take one step toward returning a morning prayer to the school day:
“You’re not doing it right! We’re going to sue!”
“You didn’t call our group to lead it! We’re going to sue!”
“Why were we not consulted? We’re going to sue!”
“A moment of silence? That’s so wimpy. We’re going to sue!”
So because we have no idea what genuine persecution is, we’ve made everything persecution. And that partly explains the origins of the lowest common denominator sentimentality that epitomizes the quasi-religious spirit in this country.
I keep wondering what it would be like for the Church in America to know real persecution. Would it bring genuine revival? Or would it merely degrade into a series of lawsuits with Founding-Father-quoting attorneys on both sides of the issue pontificating for the nightly news, best soundbyte wins.
When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on Earth? Or will he find a packed courtroom arguing the constitutionality of a plastic, electrically lit version of Him as a newborn shining in my neighbor’s front yard?
Maybe a boot to the neck isn’t such a bad thing.