Reframing a Relevant Faith
by C. Drew Smith
Progressive Christian C. Drew Smith asks, “Is Christianity a religion that legitimizes intolerance, subjugation, and violence, or is it a faith of tolerance, equality, and peace?”
He locates the answer only after digging clear back to our Savior, and Smith brings a Ph.D. in the New Testament to help with the job. Jesus, Smith explains, believed that God was presently acting in the world to bring about something new, a radical shift in the Judaism of his day. He invited people to enter an empire; an alternative empire, the Empire of God, under the rule of God. He was calling them to offer their allegiance to God and not Caesar. Jesus’s dream of a Kingdom of God was never about getting to a place called heaven. It was a call to insubordination against the Roman Empire and all that was unjust. Joining the Jesus movement meant opposing the powers that carried out oppression, violence, and injustice, whatever those powers may be.
How do we oppose injustice? First and foremost, Jesus called his followers to respond to the harm that is done to them with nonviolence. Turn the other cheek. Learn to love even those who harm you. Develop a “radical love” for neighbors and enemies equally in the quest for compassion and justice. And do so in an outward practice, welcoming and embracing your enemies.
Can it possibly work? Jesus bet his life on it, and he turned out to be right, though he wouldn’t live to know it. Smith argues that Jesus surely understood his fate, that he would most likely be crucified. History had told him that to challenge the authority of Rome was treason, and the penalty for treason was death. We may not need to die for the cause as did our leader, but let’s be clear: Following Jesus is liberating, but it is also demanding. It is costly. If your Jesus permits you to wage unjust violence against your enemies in the name of national security, if he allows you to hoard money and possessions in the name of financial security, if he consents to your prejudices against people of other races, genders, religions and sexual orientations, then he is not the Jesus of the Bible. The real gospel of the real Jesus calls us to give up ourselves in self-sacrificial service to God and others by taking up the cross and following Jesus. The question is not “can it work,” but “can we embrace the crucified Jesus?”
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I absolutely loved this book. I struggle to rate it because, frankly, I agree so strongly with everything inside its covers that I fear my own bias will unfairly influence my rating. Yet as I now go over my notes, I see how much encouragement it provided me, which seems a fair measure of the book’s value. So, five stars, with no apology. Thank you for your humble message, Mr. Smith, and thank you, Energion Publications, for knowing how much i would fall in love with the review copy you sent for my perusal.
Energion Publications, © 2014, 122 pages