“The enemies of the church seek to turn it aside its own way, in order to make it follow their way; the moment it yields it becomes the plaything of the forces of the world. It is given up to its adversaries.” – J. Ellul
”…remember that the meaning of life is to live it as if it were a work of art.” – A. Heschel
I came across these quotes today as I was reading. The first comes at the end of Ellul’s The Presence of the Kingdom. The second was quoted by Rob Bell in his book, Drops Like Stars. Both of these quotes can offer a new way of seeing both the church and the life one lives with the Body of Christ.
Ellul’s book is older than I am (at least the French version). Though he does not provide a detailed exposition, theologically or otherwise, regarding the Kingdom of God, the conclusion in which the above is found addresses tendencies within the church that have not aboted in 40 years time. His concern is that of teh church adopting the ways of the world be they Marxism, socialism, capitalism or any other -ism. This adopting of technical methods leads to teh church becoming nothing more than another social movement. Though the church is in the world and in history, her origin and destiny is eternal. The issue for the church in the present age is how to proclaim the Gospel when most of humanity does not care. His challenge is for the church to return to and find her way. In this struggle, much like Jacob’s wrestling, the church can discover two things. First, a style of living in the world, that engages teh world and also challenges the ways of the world. The second is working to provide a place/space in which the Gospel can be heard by the world today. He calls for revolution that transcends any tmporal revolution. A revolution of heart, mind and community that can only come through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The second quote, by Abraham Heschel, can be a jumping off point for creating such a space for a Gospel hearing. Though the quote refers to how one lives life, how would this look for those living together in Christian community, in the church? A few things come to mind but I’m open to further suggestions. Freedom is needed to allow the creatives in the church to pursue such ends. Like the blank page or canvas they face, such freedom is frightening because of the responsibility that come with it but it is also liberating when the creative work begins. Likewise openness is needed in supporting those pursuing such work. A space is needed for such pursuits without fear of judgment or cries of heresy or even worse, the expectation of overly literal (Biblical) interpretations imposed on the work. My final point, though surely not the last, is the need to embrace the reality of the world. We live in a world filled with both goodness and pain, joy and horror. This is the source material for the artist, the life lived in the midst of joy and pain. The art that draws from the reality of the world will in some way reflect, enhance or challenge that reality. If we are the poetry crafted by God, can we not embrace the transcendent while embracing the world? If Jesus came to the world in love and reconciliation, why do we seek to avoid the world?
“Christians were never meant to be normal. We’ve always been holy troublemakers, we’ve always been creators of uncertainty, agents of dimension that’s incompatible with the status quo; we do not accept the world as it is, but we insist on the world becoming the way that God wants it to be. And the Kingdom of God is different from the patterns of this world.” — Jacques Ellul
This quote from Ellul is a source of comfort and hope for me, but also troubling. As we are called to follow Christ and seek the Kingdom of God, Christians are at odds with the kingdoms of this world. What is normal for the Christian is not normal for the world system and those who live by it. My comfort and hope is that creation will one day be put right by the Creator. We can experience the Kingdom now, in part, in glimpses, in moments. The troubling aspect is that we live in the ‘not yet’ of that fulfillment and have a gut level knowledge that the world can be better. This tension will not be resolved until we die or Christ returns, whichever comes first.
So what do we do in the meantime? What is normal for the Christian life? Love God and love neighbor. Jesus said this is the entirety of the Law and the Prophets and its fulfillment. This is an inversion of the greed, apathy, lust and power seeking prevalent in the world system. We recognize that the world system will eventually fade. We know that ‘business as usual’ will no longer do. We clearly see that things are not all right in the world and that must change.
Now the question is, should we intentionally seek to cause trouble? I tend to think, no, but if you pursue a life of seeking the Kingdom, trouble will eventually find you. This trouble will often be either the religious authorities or the powers that be in government. The Christian life is not intentionally subversive for the sake of stirring up trouble. It is subversive by the very fact that living in such a way is counter and contrasted to the pattern of the world. Some have written that the Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. In the eyes of the powers it is. For those of us seeking it, it is the world put aright.
“Jesus died for being fully human in a crucifying world. “ -@TrippFuller