While America grows more secular and bored with the irrelevance of Americanized Christianity, while the young flee “organized religion” and while Emergent “Evangelicals” (**cough**) hijack earnest Christians into religions of useless banter (“universalism” they call it, but “uselessness” it is), can we finally say “Goodbye…” to mainstream Christianity? Better still, can we say “Hello!” to a new wave of Outlaws?
What the Barna Group calls a “Revolution” behaves more like a reconfiguration or deconstruction of Americanized Christianity. When 70-80% of Americans consider themselves Christian, large numbers of church dropouts are pending. Who believes three of four Americans are Christian, or even know what a Christian is? The deconstruction of Americanized Christianity means people stop pretending, which is good, and there’s more of that ahead.
expect a large number it may be good if bad it seems there Barna’s polls come from a long and successful history of identifying modern Christian trends, so his reports are important. But his proclamation of Christian Revolution underway is premature. Perhaps the mass exodus from institutional churches will result in a spiritual revolution, but for now his data only supports the assertion that many Christians are leaving institutions “in order to do ministry” (and the percentage in pursuit of this quest is not known). Yet the growth of informal home groups led by disenfranchised Christians is, in fact, rising sharply, and authors are writing furiously about “Simple Church” and other alternatives like “Emerging Church.” Yet among all these innovative exit strategies, “revolution” is not evident, if we use the historical sense of the word.
Christian revolutions are evident in history. If there are any radical Christians remaining (and there are), it is reasonable to say they are somehow connected to the Jesus Freak movement of the early 70’s–even if remotely–which was the last known American Christian revolution. Student-age Christians were called “freaks” and “traitors” by both religious conservatives and radical contemporaries (i.e., Hippies), because Jesus Freaks seized the initiative from those other movements. Jesus Freaks became outlaws, lived like outlaws, and smelled like outlaws, and the untold millions saved by those renegades became the vestiges of North American Christianity today.
Jesus Freaks lived by an Outlaw Faith which was counter-cultural, but they certainly did not invent it. The Great Awakenings were driven by Wesleyans, Quakers, and Baptists who were persecuted and hunted far more than any Jesus Freaks. They too were denounced as outlaws by religious institutions, both Protestant and Catholic. More precisely, any Outlaw Faith still alive in the U.S.A. is connected with the original Jesus Freak movement of the 1st Century (Jesus was the original Hippie, BTW). Those old-time Jesus Freaks were persecuted and outlawed more than any others–and by religious institutions, as usual.
To be a “freak” or an “outlaw” may be a difficult proposition for soft Americana, but lets us never be party to the institutions that crucified Jesus and hunted Saints through the millennia! Nobody has to actually crucify or hunt anyone to share in that shameful reverence for institutions. What a disgrace it would be if the Jesus Freak movement culminated in more stolid religious institutions.
God’s Kingdom always works outside and beyond the reach of any human governance, Jesus said (John 18:36). Jesus People are liberated from the muck and mess of electioneering and politics because Jesus is our eternal King, by unanimous vote. Still, operating outside the powerful institutions of any culture poses a threat. (“Aliens!” Or, “Xenos!” in Greek.) Racism and all wars are actually culture wars waged by threatened cultures. “Ethnic group will rise against ethnic group,” Jesus said, “but see to it you are not frightened, for these things must take place.” (Matt. 24:6,7)
Everyone else races to join the cultural-elite in their Culture Club, but just like Jesus, His People can step aside to watch and rescue the losers and downtrodden (Lk. 4:18,19), and there are so many disenfranchised! Even the cultural elite will devour their own–today’s winners are tomorrow’s losers. A rich harvest of disenfranchised are waiting in North American queues, and now emerging. Is there any calling more noble than what Jesus embraced? Its nobility is why He said, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26)
Today the American landscape is erupting in a firestorm of “Culture Wars” so useless and destructive, we must ask: is there any reason for Jesus Freaks to be caught up in it? What happens when Russians compel Hungarians to be Russians? What happens when Christians compel Pagans to act like Christians? The Pauline approach says “we persuade others!” (2 Cor. 5:14) Instead, Americanized Christianity waged multi-billion dollar culture wars, grows less persuasive, but more dictatorial. Embracing the pillars of human culture always ends in Sampson-like disgrace, groping and pathetic under the jeers of Philistines–that is is the history of rich and proud Christian monoliths.
Jesus Freaks won by rising above the gathering storm: “Although you live in a crooked and perverse society, shine as lights in the world!” (Philippians 2:15) To “shine” is not retreat, and certainly not a Holy War.
JFUSA.ORG is an effort to explicate, promulgate, and esteem our freedom from cultural containment. The upheavals of governments and nations cannot alter God’s Kingdom because it is invisible, yet never ineffectual. Love is the invisible but tangible glue of Christian fellowship. God’s love is the invisible, volatile fuel “which is poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)
God is not building a trite Jesus-Culture confined by its traditions and rituals. God is not building a global institution. God is building, however, something relational, not institutional, and something compassionate, not elitist. Culture’s disenchanted swarm to the nobility of God’s Kingdom, history says–when God’s nobility is evident.The same will be true in North America today when Jesus People become Jesus Freaks and cultural outlaws rather than pillars of the culture. A body of loving Saints has no cultural equivalent, no cultural containment, and proves the nobility of God’s revelation to humankind through clear results:
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 16:25-27
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