Taking a Walk on the Human Side
Monday, March 10, 2008
“If you learn this you will know something about Jesus that many Christians do not know,” I told them.
They were both graduate students at the University of Southern California. Engineering students from Iran. One was a fairly devout Muslim and the other was more relaxed.
I was chatting with them in their apartment just north of USC. I opened up the gospel of Mark. “The time is at hand,” I read. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”
“These are Jesus’ first words in Mark’s gospel,” I told them. “And if you will listen carefully you will discover something amazing: Jesus did not come to teach Christianity.”
Most of you are aware that for many in the world, Christianity equals western. To become a Christian means to become western. Many in the world view the west as immoral — socially, economically, politically. Many outside of the US and Europe also admire the west, it’s freedoms, strength and generosity. But for many “Christianity” and “the West” are inextricably bound in a malignant embrace.
“How,” I wondered, “could I bypass all the baggage of ‘Christianity’ and the prejudice against western culture in order to allow a more face to face encounter between these Muslim students and the Jesus Christ of the Bible?”
A decade before, when I trained people in evangelism, I instructed others to avoid discussing denominations. “Don’t tell others you’re a Baptist or a Methodist or a Pentecostal. It only muddies the water.”
Now, as I spoke with these two young men, I realized again that, in our shrinking world, even claiming to be a Christian muddies the water.
In fact, the term “Christian” has baggage not only for Muslims but for those raised in Christian America and Post Christian Europe. Being “Christian” is perceived by many through a bad childhood experience, or through a “haven’t we been there and done that” immunity (whether personal or cultural), or a political filter like “right wingers” or “left wingers”.
The term is laden with baggage for a lot of listeners. And, the term isn’t even necessary as an introduction to Jesus.
After all, Jesus Christ did not teach Christianity. He showed us that the world might become human again.
Indeed, the natural result of the presence of God in our lives is not that we become Christian but that we become human. God, being who he is, makes us be who and what we were created to be — human.
When I use the term, to “become human again,” it’s not that we have been less than the biological species “human.” It’s that we chose to live like we were less than human. We became little more than animals when we were designed to be just a little lower than God (Psalm 8).
Jesus Christ did not intend to establish a new religion. He intended to set Israel and the world of men free to relate to God personally again.
That’s why I prefer to talk about humanity over and against Christianity. It bypasses so many unnecessary issues and puts us in the right place to relate to God and to relate to others.
Follow Jesus, Christians say, and you’ll become a Christian.
Follow Jesus, I say, and you’ll rediscover what it means to be human again.
Becoming a Christian means you get to go to church.
Becoming human again means you rediscover people and community.
Become a Christian and get to support the church programs.
Become Human and you get to go out and save the environment, or build an orphanage.
Become a Christian and you get to give your money to build your church.
Become Human and you get to give your money to make the world better for everybody.
Become a Christian and you get a pastor to relate to God for you and then tell you about it.
Become Human and relate to God directly.
Become a Christian and you’ll have opinions that are so right they are beyond challenge.
Become Human and you’ll drop your dogma and begin to listen to Jesus’ life and words.
Become a Christian and you’ll be able to speak for God.
Become Human and God may speak for you.
Are there churches today that are human?
Of course, nothing is perfect and we must think in terms of a spectrum and not in terms of either/or. But there are many, many Christ following communities and Christ following leaders who are on a path towards humanity. They become human because they don’t focus on Christianity, but focus instead on Jesus Christ.
Sometimes, people feel that if we stop talking about Christianity and talk only about Humanity, then the distinctiveness of the Christian faith will be lost. But perhaps faith in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ as expressed in Christianity has already lost its distinctiveness. After all…
- For some, Christianity is the west.
- For others, Christianity is the right wing of the American political spectrum.
- The experience of some is that the church has lost its activist zeal and the Christianity is a religion of passionless people.
- Others observe that Christianity has not kept the west from dropping bombs on innocent people, nor from participating in the slave trade.
- Still others note that not even churches, the embodiments of Christianity, have been saved from propagating prejudice and racism. Christianity has not called upon its adherents to challenge the status quo, but is largely a culture conserving social structure.
Of course, the Christ following faith has had a huge impact on the west. Because of it, the West is more human than it would have been without the influence of Christ and is comparatively one of the world’s most humane cultures ever. But that essence that makes the West Human is not one and the same with the organizational structure of Christianity as expressed in Churches, Denominations or in State sponsored churches. Yes, sometimes they correspond, but they are not the same thing.
In fact, if Jesus came today, and if he happened to be born into a Christian family, we should not be surprised that, when he became a teacher and healer, Christianity would divide into camps against him. Perhaps today’s Conservatives would be the Pharisees and the Liberals the Sadducees?
I suspect that Jesus would not worry himself about our churches or about Christianity itself. Instead, he would require that we join him on his quest to make the world human again. I suspect that both Christians and non-Christians who follow after Christ resonate with this.
The world becomes Human as we
- realign ourselves in relationship to the God of Abram
- jump cultural, racial, ethnic and economic barriers in order to reach out to others in love
- recognize in the stranger’s face the image of God
- speak the truth in love
- awaken through the life and words of Jesus to the promise of what being human can mean
- refuse to stop until the whole of the world and everyone in it is included
The world will not become better if everyone becomes a Christian, but it would radically transform if everyone became human. Human like Jesus.
Jesus –and not the religion (Christianity) that we institute — is THE distinguishing feature of the Christ following faith. To follow him is to dare taking a walk on the human side.
What do you think?
Keep an eye out for the new book, MAKING THE WORLD HUMAN AGAIN: Jesus’ Quest to Save the Future from Religion by Alex McManus to be released in October of this year.