Our Priority Is Love

Jesus: Modeling an Evolving Faith

Our Priority Is Love
Thursday, January 3, 2019

Brian McLaren, a dear friend and fellow public theologian, shares my concern and hope that Christianity can evolve. In his book The Great Spiritual Migration, he writes:

For centuries, Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism to environmental destruction, subordination of women to stigmatization of LGBT people, anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, clergy pedophilia to white privilege. What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes and is dedicated to beloved community for all? Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life? . . .

For centuries, Christians have presented God as a Supreme Being who showers blessings upon insiders who share certain beliefs and proper institutional affiliation, but who punishes outsiders with eternal conscious torment. Yet Jesus revealed God as one who “eats with sinners,” welcomes outsiders in, and forgives even while being rejected, tortured, and killed. Jesus associated God more with gracious parental tenderness than strict authoritarian toughness. He preached that God was to be found in self-giving service rather than self-asserting domination. What would it mean for Christians to let Jesus and his message lead them to a new vision of God? What would it mean for Christians to understand, experience, and embody God as the loving, healing, reconciling Spirit in whom all creatures live, move, and have their being?

For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as an “organized religion”—a change-averse institution or set of institutions that protects and promotes a timeless system of beliefs that were handed down fully formed in the past. Yet Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation. We Christians have repeatedly adapted our message, methods, and mission to the contours of our time [for example, the Second Vatican Council within Catholicism]. What might happen if we understood the core Christian ethos as creative, constructive, and forward-leaning—as an “organizing religion” that challenges all institutions (including its own) [as Jesus did] to learn, grow, and mature toward a deepening, enduring vision of reconciliation with God, self, neighbor, enemy, and creation? . . .

If such a migration is possible, how would we describe that way of life toward which we are moving?

If we are to be truly Christian, it makes sense to turn to Jesus for the answer.

Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was the most radical of all. Love was the greatest commandment . . . his prime directive—love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled. The new commandment of love [John 13:34] meant that neither beliefs nor words, neither taboos, systems, structures nor the labels that enshrined them mattered most. Love decentered everything else; love relativized everything else; love took priority over everything else—everything.

Reference:
Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent: 2016), 2-3, 42.

Image credit: Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (detail), Nicolas Poussin, 1653, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The way Jesus tried to change people was by loving and healing them, accusing only their accusers. Why did we not notice that? His harshest words of judgment were reserved for those who perpetuated systems of inequality and oppression and who, through religion itself, thought they were sinless and untouchable. Jesus did not so much love people once they changed, but he loved people so that they could change. —Richard Rohr
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