Thursday, February 12, 2009

Machismo Jesus?

Let me start off by saying that I try not to bash other pastors. Pastoring is hard enough that we don't need pastors bashing other pastors. I don't agree with a lot of what is being preached by others, but that's not an excuse to bash another person. Part of the problem in our culture is that we are losing the art of civil disagreement. So I hope that what follows does not cross the line, but I want to bring it up because areas of disagreement can be instructive.

A fairly well-known pastor in the Pacific NW made the following statement in a magazine interview:
Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.
Even if he has caricatured that group of Christians called "emergent"--and if you don't know what that means, don't worry about it--I have to chuckle a bit at his description. I have been silently amused at some of my younger colleagues, particularly those who are church planters, who in an attempt to reach their generation feel the need to dress and act "hip" and "cool." (I know a guy who is older than me who left his pastorate to start a new church, and when I next saw him his hair was spiky with bleached tips and mousse, he had new glasses that were really cool, and an untucked shirt. It was kind of like seeing Grandma in a miniskirt.) (That wasn't intended as bashing, it was just kinda funny.) Whatever Jesus was, he wasn't "hip" or "cool" and whatever Christianity is supposed to be, it's also not "hip" or "cool."

So while I can get on board with his dislike of a cool or even an effeminate Jesus, I don't know where this pastor's idea of a machismo Jesus comes from either. "I cannot worship a guy I can beat up"? Really?

From his quote it's obvious that much of his image of Jesus comes from the book of Revelation, and that is problematic in that Revelation is of that class of literature called apocalyptic which uses extensive use of symbolic language that is dangerous to take at straight value. In apocalyptic literature a sword is never just a sword; it's not even primarily a sword. It points to something more profound, and it's dangerous to use that imagery as a foundation for a violent theology. In fact, one of the main points of the book of Revelation is that faith is stronger than the sword. That caesars and kings who claim to foster justice and peace by the power of the sword are not as strong as they think that they are; rather, that people who bear crosses tap into a different kind of power that cannot be defeated by death, that in fact is made stronger and more glorious in death. That is why there is so much singing in Revelation about the glory of the resurrected Lamb who was slain.

The power of the cross is different than the power of the world, and when Jesus conquers the world it won't be by the world's methods. It will be through love, compassion, faith, and reconciliation. And if that sounds weak, well, I submit to you that it's a lot harder to love your enemies than to kill them. The cross isn't for wimps.

But neither is it for machisimo types who think that strength lies in being, well, strong. When John wrote in the opening chapter of his gospel that "The Word became flesh," he wasn't just talking about the fact that God became human. His point was that God became weak, undignified, and vulnerable. (And uncool, I might add.) The Creator of all things, the all-powerful One, became such that we could hurt him. And hurt him we did. Jesus submitted himself to the forces of sin and death and violence that we have unleashed upon the world.

And he won. That's the point of the Gospel. That's how this whole thing will be won, when we take up our crosses.

I have no choice but to worship a guy I could beat up. That's who Jesus is. He's the guy we beat up, and he calls his followers to go to the places where the weak and powerless are being beat up and stand up for and with them.

And that's not a job for wimps.

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