Existential - or not?
© 05.12.2014 By D. Eric Williams
This article appeared in the May 15 edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle
Are we part of a larger story as followers of Jesus or is the Christian experience better understood as Kierkegaardian existentialism? In other words, is it all about Jesus and me or is it about Christ and his kingdom?
No doubt Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners (of which Paul claimed to be the chief) and certainly that has to do with the individual (one might even say, existentially, the “independently acting and responsible, conscious” individual). But, any serious student of the Bible will recognize that Jesus Christ came as the fulfillment of an age long narrative that concerned much more than the saving of individual souls from hell. The Bible says that all of God's promises are yes in Jesus Christ and if you have read the Bible you know there are myriads of promises. And those promises, promise to have an impact on all of creation, not just the individual believer.
One of the peculiarities of 21st-century North American Christianity is that Christians embrace a existential style theology (Jesus and me) even as they bemoan the absence of “grand narrative” sort of results. In other words, most Christians believe their faith is a personal thing but they are upset with the direction things are moving in American society and culture. They don't like to live under a political system that continually increases in power while eroding personal freedom with its exploding regulation and taxation. They are upset that popular culture continues to grow ever more degenerate. They are sickened by society's acceptance of perversion as legitimate “alternative lifestyle choices.” Further evidence of the essentially existential character of American Christianity is the belief that the best way to fix the mess we live in is to get involved in politics. Now, anyone who knows me understands that I believe Christians should be involved in all areas of life – including politics. So, I'm not saying we should adopt a hands-off policy when it comes to civil society. However, we won't be able to do anything about the current state of affairs if we focus on politics alone. What we need to do is embrace the “grand narrative” view of the Christian faith.
As followers of Jesus we have a part in the age long story of God reconciling his good creation back to himself. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). In other words, our relationship with Jesus Christ is not all about us. It is about giving glory to God as we bring our arena of activity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us the first century Christians “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). They didn't do this because they had a Jesus and me style theology. They had an impact on the first century world far exceeding their numbers, simply because they believed God had called them to participate in the grand adventure of kingdom realization. They had a duty to do everything they could to see Jesus Christ acknowledged as King. We have the same duty today.