Can Christianity Become Beautiful Again?
Fact: Christianity — true Christianity, the kind that Jesus introduced through his life, death, resurrection, and moral vision — never stopped being beautiful.
Fact: Anything that calls itself Christianity, but that is ugly, judgy, abusive, or abrasive, is not true Christianity. It is a counterfeit of the worst kind, and of the highest order.
Fact: We have some work to do to reclaim Jesus’ true, always life-giving, and never life-sucking way…
Jesus said that his followers would be a light to the world and a city on a hill, a wildly diverse yet compellingly unified multitude of earthbound citizens of heaven. This multitude would have the impact of a virus, infecting the world with love. They would not crawl into a corner, but would position themselves in every corner of God’s world – the City of God penetrating the City of Man, so to speak.
Jesus’ multitude would be counter-culture, but in a way that is for the culture, not against it. They would be known as those who, as NT Wright has said, surprise the world with hope by imagining God’s future into the present. They would do this by proclamation and demonstration – words of grace and truth coupled with life-giving deeds. They would gain power, not as a religious majority but as a life-giving minority. They would lead the world in acts of love and justice and be the most life-giving bosses, employees, neighbors and friends. They would also be the best enemies, returning insults with kindness and persecution with prayers. They would stay true to their biblical convictions and – not in spite of those convictions but because of them – would love, listen to, and serve those who don’t share their convictions.
Jesus’ multitude would participate with God in bringing foretastes of heaven down. They would leave the world, as far as it depended on them, better than they found it. They would be a sign and shadow of a better world, a world that all have imagined but none has yet seen. Over time their movement – Jesus’ movement – would become irresistible to people everywhere.
In Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeleine L’Engle wrote:
We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
There are many who would say they don’t recognize Christianity in L’Engle’s words. To them, Christians come across as everything but a light so lovely. As Gandhi is famously alleged to have said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.”
Skeptics like Gandhi do have a point. Need we rehearse history? Servetus burned at the stake. The Crusades. The Inquisition. The genocide of Native Americans. Slavery. The “God Hates Fags” and “Fags Burn in Hell” signs at Matthew Shepard’s funeral after he was beaten to death for being gay. Calling the September 11 terrorist attacks God’s judgment on America…
…and using the Bible, of all things, to justify such godless behaviors…things that Jesus would never endorse and would always condemn…things that would make Jesus furious.
In spite of such behaviors falsely perpetrated in Christ’s name, I remain optimistic about Jesus and his multitude. I am optimistic because these stories aren’t the full story. Moreover, they aren’t the real story – because for every poor representation of Christ, there are a thousand lovely ones. History is marked by the light so lovely spoken of by Madeleine L’Engle. History is marked by a Christian orthodoxy that is beautiful.
CS Lewis said that if we read history, we will find that those who did the most good for the present world were the ones who thought the most of the next. To be heavenly minded is to be more earthly good, not less.
Throughout history, Christians have shown groundbreaking leadership in science (Pascal, Copernicus, Newton, Galileo, Koop, Collins), the arts and literature (Rembrandt, Beethoven, Dostoevsky, TS Eliot, Tolkein, Fujimura, Cash, Dylan, Bono), the academy (almost all the Ivy League Universities were founded by Christians), healthcare (notice how many hospitals have names that begin with the word Saint), mercy and justice (Wilberforce with abolition, Mueller with orphan care, MLK with civil rights), and much more.
Contemporary, secular observers are also taking note of how orthodox Christian belief, in its purest form, spawns beautiful lives. New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, an avowed agnostic, has written at least twice on how Christians are the first to come, the last to leave, and have the deepest pockets every time he covers poverty, natural disaster, or some other horrific event. Gay activist Shane Windemeyer, so moved by the kindness, humility and friendship of Christian businessman Dan Cathy, “came out as a friend” in The Huffington Post of the man whose business he used to protest. Or, closer to home, there’s the abortion provider who recently told a member of our church, “I want your God, whoever he or she or it is, to be my God.”
I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of orthodoxy I want. Beautiful orthodoxy. The kind that electrifies the light so lovely. The kind that gives a tired, sometimes cynical world a reason to pause and consider…and to start wishing it was true.
Scott’s latest book, A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us-Against-Them
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