Thursday, December 22, 2016

Preaching the Unrecognizable Jesus

Downtown Monroe

Pastors - stop trying to be "relevant." In the sense of being culturally cool, or socially awesome and acceptable. If it happens, you will swiftly become passé, swept aside by the nothing-new-under-the-sun, question-begging waves of culture.

Just be clear.

Be clear about the gospel.

The gospel, not you, has eternal relevance to the core, ontological struggle of humanity. 

Speak and teach and preach the gospel in words your culture understands. That will be enough for you to do. You won't need the blue jeans. Real prophets would never have worn them. (John the Baptist, concerned about "fitting in?")

Jesus was, and remains, shockingly a-cultural. Therefore be free of obsessing about your hair;. Remember Einstein, whose hair-care issues indicated neglect, but whose ideas started a scientific revolution.

The presentation of the gospel will sound strange and irrelevant to the indoctrinated cultural masses. That is good. It should sound this way. Think, perhaps, of the philosophical prophet Kierkegaard, and his historical precursor Tertullian, who both said, Credo quia absurdum, "I believe because it is absurd." 

A clear presentation of the gospel must be understandable, and part of its clarity is that it will be unrecognizable. It must sound silly, from the viewpoint of secular culture. The more you try to make the gospel relevant to culture, the more the gospel loses its unrecognizability. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10)

Of course. Had the this-worldly masses recognized him, it would not have been him. They didn't. Not even his disciples.

Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. Not two thousand years ago, not today. The great danger is that people would begin to see the two conflicting kingdoms as the same kingdom (like the mindless conflating of "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas.")

People today need to come face to face with the unrecognizable Jesus, the one New Testament scholar Michael McClymond named the "Familiar Stranger." So pastors - preach, with as much clarity as you can bring to the moment, the unrecognizable kingdom.

Then, let it go.

Trust God's Spirit, who will hover over the irrelevance and the cognitive dissonance, and touch a nerve in dead flesh, ignite a spark on a cold night, send a drop to a desert, and speak hope to a nihilistic soul. Then behold as another insane mind, stuck in the meaningless eternal recurrence of the same, awakens, by the power of the Spirit, and hears the voice of redemption calling from another world.

Note: When the absurdity of the gospel reaches the low levels it had in first-century Rome, then I expect the gospel's intrinsic power to be unleashed in another global outpouring. In those days the world will have long-tired of the world-system and the futile way of life handed down from generation to generation, and the absurdity of the gospel will be clearly seen as the answer to systemic world-weariness.


My recent book of prayer is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Currently in process of writing - Leading the Presence-Driven Church.