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Weird stuff we believe

Posted: February 26, 2019
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Blayne Banting, Professor of Christian Ministry

Whether it is wise, commendable, or just simply fatigue, I am finding it harder to fake it as I get older. There seems to be less to lose for me when I admit that I don’t ‘get’ a lot of things. I worry less now. It’s freeing to admit that much has passed me by. I don’t need to pretend I’m as fit as I used to be because time and gravity have the last word. Have I heard the latest podcast? Probably not. VINES came and went, and I was none the wiser (or dumber, as it turns out). I haven’t taken an Uber or stayed in an Airbnb, but I don’t feel like that’s a big deal. It is what it is. I am who I am, and we are who we are. I guess that’s my point.

Why do we expend phenomenal amounts of energy trying to be who we are not? I’m talking big picture, now—we as the contemporary church. Some churches huff and puff about all the alarming societal trends in our country as if someone should have consulted them first. Were we ever in charge, really? Why do some churches spend all kinds of money trying to make their worship spaces on Sunday morning look like the favorite meeting places of non-Christians from the night before—complete with karaoke screens? Do we want to show these people we have something different to offer by showing them we’re just like them? Why do some churches try to become insular communities while offering all the creature comforts of life transposed into safe and family-friendly formats? Is there really a Christian version of fast food or bowling?

Here’s my point: we (the Church, that is) need to stop acting as though we are just another contemporary subculture and start acting like a true counter-culture. There is a difference—a big one. To be a subculture is to have primary agreement with the host culture with a secondary emphasis on its uniqueness. Someone in a subculture can still be considered respectable by those in the mainstream. To be counter-cultural flips this, giving primary allegiance to its uniqueness and maintaining a secondary emphasis on what makes them like everyone else—this is what it means to be ‘in the world but not of it.’

If we are true to our calling as followers of the Lord Jesus, we are a counter-culture. That’s just the way it is. We simply believe too many weird things to fit in with what most consider to be culturally appropriate. For starters, our basis of what is most authoritative is not our own opinions or preferences. We are not lords of our own lives; we reserve honour for Jesus. God’s self-revelation holds the pride of place here and not what we decide for ourselves as autonomous individuals. That’s weird, is it not? 

What if we were less concerned with saving face and more concerned with being faithful? What if we were able to show the beauty of holiness instead of either self-righteousness or a mushy selfishness that would rather be hip than holy? What if we were able to show the church as a community of mutual love and support instead of a huddle for hypocrites or a business that responds to the preferences of the religious consumer?

 And what if we were able to show the wonder of living for a goal so much beyond our own capacities that only God could make it happen? 

Related to the locus of authority is our ethic. For us, holiness is more important than happiness. We are called to die to self and not live for it. Also, we are called to live out this life of dedicated discipleship within the context of others—a community of other disciples, known as the Church. This is where we live, grow, and serve. This is the context where we are held accountable and do the same for others. This is a much deeper commitment than shopping around to see which church meets our ever-shifting list of criteria. What is more, our life mission is focussed on others and not ourselves. For us, self-aggrandizement is not an unalienable right. Our very marching orders differ. We are to be salt and light. All of this is weird stuff and we have only scratched the surface.

What are we to do with all of this? I think there is a call here to be a bit more transparent and more intentional in how we relate to each other and to those who don’t follow Jesus yet. Why do we want to hide our weirdness instead of leading with it? Not a scary weirdness that is nasty, arrogant, and angry, but a weirdness that is not ashamed of who we are and what makes us different. What if we were less concerned with saving face and more concerned with being faithful? Truth matters. What if we were able to show the beauty of holiness instead of either self-righteousness or a mushy selfishness that would rather be hip than holy? Holiness matters. What if we were able to show the church as a community of mutual love and support instead of a huddle for hypocrites or a business that responds to the preferences of the religious consumer? The Church matters. And what if we were able to show the wonder of living for a goal so much beyond our own capacities that only God could make it happen? Mission matters.

There is a call here to weirdness—to being who we are and to being different. It is a call to see weird not as an insult, but as a compliment. It is a call to stop being on the defensive. We don’t have to deny the Crusades happened, or there is too much gratuitous evil in the world, or that Christians often act ‘unChristianly.’ In the end, our difference doesn’t rest with us but with the God we serve, who is really different. It’s a call to take the advice of Os Guinness and relate to the world as holy fools or jesters. Jesters take God seriously, themselves much less so, and ask others why they believe what they do to help them see where that leads. All that takes is honesty and a willingness to admit our own weaknesses while pointing to the One whose power is made perfect in imperfection. 

It’s an off-the-wall call to all things weird and wonderful. And maybe, just maybe, as weird as it sounds, we might find ourselves catching up to our sisters and brothers in other parts of the globe.

 

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The professors really promote in-class discussion and I thrive off of that. The level of the engagement the professors show in their material encourages me to also have a deep level of engagement.
From the National Survey of Student Engagement 2015