Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Unique Presbyterian Voice Regarding Vital Ministry

4)  What unique voice to we, as Presbyterians in the Reformed tradition, bring regarding vital ministry in churches and society? 

Answer:  Jesus.  As Presbyterians in the Reformed tradition, let me deepen that a little bit.  I think what our unique voice has to offer is  יֵשׁוּעַ, with a side order of Ἰησοῦς 

What that means, put a bit less coyly, is that what Presbyterians have to offer in this coming century goes well beyond seminars on how to run the most agonizingly complicated possible process for bringing a pastor to your church, or books entitled The Seven Ways Robert's Rules of Order Can Spice up Your Love Life.

Oh, wait.  That's still coy.  Let's take another swing at it.  

This is an era in which history has been forgotten.  In this age of the interwebs and the 24 hour infotainment cycle, what pours through us from that big data pipe is the right now.  It's immediate, lizard-brain amygdala data, gratifying our desire for gossip and sex and violence and tension and kittens, sometimes all at once.  It affirms that we are wonderful, the center of everything, and that even given the wonderful thing we are, there are all manner of electronics and pharmaceuticals that would make us even more amazing.

It is not a deeply literate era, or an era that sees past itself and its own immediate hungers.  That impacts how Jesus is interpreted and understood in ways that is increasingly driving the majority of Christians away from the essence of his teachings.   Christianity, as it exists within the realm of our globalized society, is increasingly focused on matters that pertain not at all to the core teachings and ethos of the Gospel.

We come to Jesus so we can be successful and live lives filled with an abundance of material prosperity.  The Gospel of Health and Wealth is easily the biggest growth market for AmeriChrist, Inc. and its international subsidiaries. We come to Jesus to affirm our political positions, particularly as it pertains to those uppity hoe-moe-seckshals.  We expect Jesus to embrace the binary conflict dynamics of our culture, and pay no attention to what he told us was the core decision point against which we either stand or fall.  We want a neatly packaged, soundbite faith, and so chop the great story of redemption and reconciliation into verse-by-verse prooftexts that meet that basic human desire to not think, not imagine, and not understand. It's just easier that way.

In coming to Jesus with those things front and center on our shopping list of demands, we walk away from our interaction with the Nazarene precisely the same as we were when we walked towards him.

We want a commodified, packaged, and marketable Jesus, one who meets our needs and gets us what we deserve.  And Lord knows, we get what we deserve.

In the face of this dominant cultural approach to Christianity, what Presbyterians have to offer is countercultural.  We remember.  As Reformed Christians, we pay attention, not just to the now, but the great arc of history.  We understand the nature of what the church has been, how it has moved across languages and cultures, how it has stumbled from being in the thrall of the state to being a pitchman for the market.

We understand the character of the sacred texts that guide us, and the forces that formed them from outside the crucible of the Right Now.  That may mean that we're no longer front and center as a force in cultural Christianity.  But as cultural Christianity pitches out consumerist treacle, pop psychology pablum, and literalist straw men, what the Reformed Tradition offers is a sentient Christianity.

Not all will want that.  But it is what makes our witness unique and valuable.  It's our gift, and we should both cherish it, develop it, and be willing to make the case for it to those who are disaffected by the  spiritually self-evident failings of marketized and politicized Christianity.