“For God so loved the world.”
This is, to me, an absolutely astonishing sentence; nearly impossible for me to wrap my head around.
I grew up not loving the world, but fearing, rejecting, separating from, needing cleansed from, even hating the world. Non-Christians, Catholics, the poor, “townies”, communists, immigrants, the Chinese, Arabs, homosexuals, military personel, casinos, slums, cities, governments, culture, rock and roll… I could go on, were all on the list of unlove.
And so for God to love the world, is incomprehensible! People? Sure. Individuals? You bet. But the world: in all its diversity, pluriformity of cultures, ways of expressing itself, hungers, desires, passions, loves and beauty? That God loves the world is truly the kind of thing that can transform the Church today.
It’s certainly transforming my faith, character, and lifestyle. And thankfully, I’m not alone.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove chronicles The Next American Revival which will connect “the gospel with society’s deep need.” He looks at various movements in history that have believed ”the stuff Jesus said matters not just for the after-life, but for our lives here and now.” Examples are early American evangelists during the industrial revolution, the “health and wealth gospel” of pastors such as Joel Olsteen, the freedom movement in South Africa, emergent churches, progressives and those labeled “new monastics.” This is a great article worth a read.
Wilson-Hartgrove claims much of these movements have a single event that binds them together: 9/11, the 10th anniversary of which is fast approaching.
Unanticipated in so many ways, that irruption of violence on U.S. soil was a wake-up call to a whole generation that something is deeply wrong with our world—particularly, with its social systems. Of course, the tragic events of 9/11 were only symptoms of deeper problems. But those symptoms opened our eyes to systemic connections between religious extremism and extreme poverty, between unjust wars and unsustainable economics, between dependence on oil and global climate change. Eventually, an analysis of these social problems begins to connect the dots, bringing more and more of us to a frightening conclusion: we can’t go on like this. Something has to change.
I certainly remember how 9/11 shifted the tectonic plates of my young adult soul and sense of vocation. Indeed, I’m not sure I’d be a lead pastor in Houston, Texas had those towers not fallen. And after the tragic events in Norway Friday, I feel the depths of this post more than ever (I originally wrote this Thursday to publish Sunday morning).
But Wilson-Hartgrove is not alone. I’m inspired over and again by the depth and breadth of love I see in followers of Jesus who find themselves on the fringes of dominant Christian culture: Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Shane Hipps, Rob Bell. Many of these names are familiar. Harry Jarrett Jr.’s name might not be. But it should be.
In a confessional, probing blog Jarrett wrestles with our quietness regarding the East African drought in his post: A dilemma of presence: Ours and Gods, Why we need to do something about the famine. Jarrett laments how a group of churches in his area spent 400 people hours on an issue related to the “purity” of the denomination (“What the issue was is not important,” he says). But he laments he has no idea how to spend 400 hours today trying to share water with those in need.
I too feel his sense of weakness at addressing this massive issue. His passion and love for the world shine through his lament. You can feel it dripping through the pixels. Listen to what he says about our world’s great needs:
In the horn of Africa, it is food and water. In Lancaster county [PA], people are loosing their jobs in droves. Where you live, it is likely something else. I believe God is present there, in those places, wondering why we are discussing issues that will most certainly be completely spoken to when we are dead and gone. I believe that in the end we will know fully, see fully and understand fully, when we stand fully in the presence of God. Why must we resolve everything now when we are told we will get the “right answers” later. Why are we not focusing on loving God and loving our neighbor as our self? What should be so simple as a mission has truly become a mess of interpretive mayhem. We offer a meaningless message to a world in need.
I for one am all for purity: purity of mission, purity of love, purity of participation in God’s mission, purity of being missional, purity of presence. In my view, to be pure (as Jesus was pure) is to focus our 400 on East-Africa, the loss of Lancaster jobs, and the real stuff of life. Some famous guy (was it Barth, Chambers, Bonhoeffer?) said “Purity of heart is to will one will.” If God’s one will is to love the world, how can we call ourselves pure and do anything else?
Thanks Jonathan and Harry for showing me more today than ever before what John meant when he said “For God so loved the world”!