Reversing an Eclipse
Newsflash: THE WORLD IS INTER-CONNECTED!
I know you know that, but recent scenes from my life have brought it home to me afresh.
For instance, I was just listening to BBC Arabic news (I know, not your typical pastime, but it works for me). They were talking about the normalization of Israeli-Arab relations. One of the interviewees mentioned the “extremist Christian right.” That piqued my interest. The Christian right he was speaking of was not in the British Isles or South Africa or Rwanda. It was the US. Interesting, huh?
This blog is not about the interminable conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Nevertheless, moves of the current US administration with the blessing and unconditional support of evangelicals have resulted in one part of the world seeing Christians—US evangelicals like you and me—as “extremists”—fundamentally committed to our own political interests with little regard to basic human fairness.
Well, who would have thought??
Are you getting a little hot under the collar? I’m not agreeing with that perspective, by the way. It just struck me how American politics has become intertwined with evangelical Christianity, such that US government policies become the face of our faith to the world.
So irrespective of your political leanings, I’m asking you to consider, is it a good thing that the world’s peoples understand our gospel and our faith to be expressed through US political interests (be they right or left, Republican or Democrat, Trumpian or Bidenesque 😊)? Is that a fair and accurate representation of Jesus’ gospel?
Obviously, I think not. So what do we do?
A second recent scene from my life: I taught a Zoom course on the history of Muslim-Christian relations. It was a graduate course (to students in Ethiopia) so we started with Muhammad’s first encounters with Christians all the way through to modern times, admittedly hitting the peaks of those interactions. Suffice to say, it is a jaded history. Going through that material again, I had to confess that it’s no wonder that the Muslim world has been resistant to the gospel. They’ve understood our gospel, from the 7th century until today, in a nexus of political, military and economic interests. The gospel itself—the good news that God extends to human beings an invitation to be reconciled to him and to one another through Christ—gets eclipsed, skewed, dropped. I’m not saying that Christians bear all the blame for that. Muslims are responsible too because they played a big part. Nevertheless, the eclipse of the gospel is real.
And it’s not just Muslims. Take a look around our Western societies. There is a deep suspicion of evangelicals for their political partisanship. It has gotten so bad that many minorities and youth cannot see the Christian faith as a plausible way to live in the world. Is that what we want? Do you think we might need a change of direction?
It made me think of ancient Israel. They were to be God’s priesthood on the earth—a source of blessing and reconciliation to all ethnicities. It went south for them, resulting in a disastrous exile…repeatedly. But we’re really no better. In fact, we might say the church is a “hot mess.” We’ve been given the most life-giving and exhilarating work of all—to bring Christ’s message of freedom from condemnation to the world and we blow it…again and again. We can’t manage to extract ourselves from the swamp of the kingdoms of this world to soar on the heights of the kingdom of God.
All is not lost, of course. While we’ve messed it up royally, the Spirit of God has been quietly blowing winds of renewal into peoples and cultures that span the globe. As he did with ancient Israel, he continues to pursue his purposes, inviting us into them. He’s still inviting us.
Would it help if all Christians thought alike politically? Fat chance. We won’t all agree. And that’s not the point. I want to ask, can we love each other to the extent that our disagreements (political, economic and military) recede into the background while our true calling comes into the foreground. Can we reverse the eclipse of the gospel? In prophetic language, can we forsake our insecure whoring after the kingdoms of this world long enough to see our true beauty? Can we be a source of blessing and joy to the peoples and nations of the world? To our neighbor? Our colleague?
On the one hand, that may require some hard work. On the other hand, the Spirit of God is present and more ready to take us down that path than we are to go. I’d like to go there…with you…especially if you disagree with me!
Think about it.