Sunday, October 04, 2020

Preaching the Unrecognizable Jesus


Downtown Monroe

Pastors - stop trying to be "relevant." 

Stop it, in the sense of being culturally cool, or socially awesome, or acceptable. If you become cool, 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, is eternally relevant to the core, ontological struggle of humanity. 

Speak, teach, and preach the gospel in words your culture understands. That will be enough. You won't need the blue jeans. (I wear blue jeans, but don't think they are the key to attracting people to Jesus.) 

Imagine John the Baptist, concerned about "fitting in," and wondering "Will they like what I am wearing?"

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 of the philosophical prophet Kierkegaard, and his historical precursor Tertullian, who both said, Credo quia absurdum, "I believe because it is absurd." Absurd, in light of the prevailing ethos.

A clear presentation of the gospel must be understandable. Part of its clarity is that it will be unrecognizable. It will sound like it is from another planet. Why was Jesus on earth, and what was he expecting of his followers? To make disciples. Period. 

Remember that Jesus said, "My planet is not of this planet." 

This 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 recognizability. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10)

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

Jesus' planet ("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 will be comfortable and happy with church, because it is like snuggling up with the world.

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, touching nerves in dead flesh, igniting sparks on a cold night, sending drops of rain to a disenchanted desert, and speaking hope to nihilistic souls. 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 to them from another world.: FOLLOW ME.

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.