A few times a year, Time Magazine or Newsweek will feature Jesus on their cover and we’ll debate a sucky article full of twisted examples and typical rhetoric.
So when I heard of this week’s new issue of Newsweek, I figured it would be more of the same. I clicked the Twitter link, saw it was Andrew Sullivan and was even more disappointed because I generally like him. I read his blog every so often and frankly, I respect his mind and his soul.
Scanned the article once, except for the title, I liked the piece and knew I must have missed something. Why would Newsweek put this out? Read it again and appreciated it even more on a number of levels. Here are three things I liked.
1. I think he got the crisis right. If you are undecided in reading the article or your time is limited, here’s how Sullivan describes what he calls, “The Crisis of Our Time”:
“All of which is to say something so obvious it is almost taboo: Christianity itself is in crisis. It seems no accident to me that so many Christians now embrace materialist self-help rather than ascetic self-denial—or that most Catholics, even regular churchgoers, have tuned out the hierarchy in embarrassment or disgust. Given this crisis, it is no surprise that the fastest-growing segment of belief among the young is atheism, which has leapt in popularity in the new millennium. Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from organized Christianity and toward “spirituality,” co-opting or adapting the practices of meditation or yoga, or wandering as lapsed Catholics in an inquisitive spiritual desert. The thirst for God is still there. How could it not be, when the profoundest human questions—Why does the universe exist rather than nothing? How did humanity come to be on this remote blue speck of a planet? What happens to us after death?—remain as pressing and mysterious as they’ve always been?
That’s why polls show a huge majority of Americans still believing in a Higher Power. But the need for new questioning—of Christian institutions as well as ideas and priorities—is as real as the crisis is deep.”
I couldn’t agree more, people area always asking the big questions and looking for purpose and meaning. Obviously as a Christ-follower, I feel that Christianity has the best answers to these questions and searches. But as a Christ-follower, I fear that we as a Church are squandering its power and opportunity for lesser things. I’ll fight for Christ and the Church but I completely understand why some are pursuing the former without the latter. I’m left thinking Andrew gets these broad strokes right.
2. He may have redeemed Jefferson for me or at least motivate me to take a deeper look. I like Jefferson. A particular set of former youth group kids would lead you to believe that I’m obsessed with him because I “forced” our group to visit his memorial in the heat of July. Whatever. I do appreciate Jefferson on a number of levels – founding father, architect of the Declaration, and key promoter of separation of church and state. If that last line surprises you, I believe in the importance of a secular society because I believe a strong Church is not threatened in such a context. One friend emailed me encouraging me to express that sentiment more. Perhaps I’ll also write a post on that some time.
But back to Jefferson, I’ve never been able to share any more of an affinity for him because of his denial of the supernatural aspect of Jesus. It’s not enough for me that he believes we need to serve the other if Christ has not been raised. As a humanist, it would be enough for me, but not as a Christian. From what Sullivan was saying, it’s clear I need to look further into what Jefferson was not only doing with the famous edited Bible but with his practice of Christianity.
3. Sullivan doesn’t write as an outsider, but as a Christian acknowledging its weak points and proclaiming its essential ones. I may push back on some parts (I think everything is political, but do agree that too many in the evangelical church are overly-concerned with power in our political system). Regardless of my push backs, I appreciate what he’s clear on.
“Whether or not you believe, as I do, in Jesus’ divinity and resurrection—and in the importance of celebrating both on Easter Sunday—Jefferson’s point is crucially important. Because it was Jesus’ point. What does it matter how strictly you proclaim your belief in various doctrines if you do not live as these doctrines demand? What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself? If we return to what Jesus actually asked us to do and to be—rather than the unknowable intricacies of what we believe he was—he actually emerges more powerfully and more purely.”
I read the article a couple times. I’m not sure the cover of “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus” is what the article is actually saying. Again, I ‘m biased because I do believe in the Church. You would expect a pastor to say that of course but I’d like to think that I’d believe in the Church even if I wasn’t. Jesus went through hell to establish it, we Christ-followers need to be the Church Christ has called us to be, I’m grateful to be serving in it and am praying I and many will be faithful to Jesus’ way.
In any case, for a Newsweek cover, this is perhaps the most Christian article on Jesus that I recall seeing.
Nice job Andrew Sullivan and may you have a beautiful Easter.