I remember clearly when my faith became an exciting prospect for me.
I had been a Christian for about 5 years, and was travelling in Australia for a few months. Someone had very kindly given me an audiobook on CD (I know, I’m old) of Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis. This was at the height of Rob’s influence in the Christian world, back before the cliff edge that Love Wins became.
I was on a train from Sydney to Newcastle, a journey of around 3 hours, and was listening, when something Rob said jumped out and grabbed me;
“I’m convinced being generous is a better way to live. I’m convinced forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way to live. I’m convinced having compassion is a better way to live. I’m convinced pursuing peace in every situation is a better way to live. I’m convinced listening to the wisdom of others is a better way to live. I’m convinced being honest with people is a better way to live.”
During all the time I had been a Christian I had never heard anyone speak about Christianity like this. It was all about personal salvation, it was all to do with the cross and forgiveness. It was about what happened after death, I couldn’t recall anyone saying that it was about living before that.
This feeling has come back to me recently as I have been thinking about the way that we evangelise, and more generally, about how we talk about faith in the Church.
It seems that we are obsessed with the death of Jesus, but can take or leave His life.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus are absolutely non-negotiable in any understanding of orthodox Christianity, but in focusing so clearly on the end of Jesus’ life, I believe that we have missed something significant. If we can redress this balance, I think there are three significant impacts we could see:
1. It shows us the best way to be Human
Through His life Jesus shows us the best way to be human, the best way to be an image bearer of God. He shows us a better way to live.
For a while now Christianity has been plagued by a version of humanism, the idea that human reason and logic are all that is needed for a better world. Some parts of Christianity have taken this idea, and said that because we are image bearers, we are able to make this a better world in our own strength.
The problem with this is that it is untrue, it is not our idea of image bearing that matters, but what Jesus shows us about being image bearers.
2. It reminds us we are called to build God’s Kingdom
If we can call young people to a better way to live, as well as to salvation beyond, then we can help to grow excitement in them for building God’s Kingdom on Earth.
This ties into an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith, of tzedekah and mishpat. These literally mean righteousness and justice, but in their Jewish forms, evoke ideas of righteousness as something given by God, and of going from retributive justice to restorative justice.
If a young person makes a commitment to Christianity at age forteen, there is a lot of life still to live between their commitment and the results of their salvation. But if that same young person is taught about tzedekah and mishpat, then they can see how their life can tie into this incredible, rich tapestry of people building the Kingdom of God. They can live for a purpose greater than any other.
3. We can make our evangelism more effective.
Millennials and post-millennials are keen to make the world a better place. They want to see equality in wealth, health, education, standards of living, and gender. They want to see peace.
And Christianity has an umbrella for all of these ideas to come under. If we can show people hungry for change that all of these causes can fit into the Kingdom, then think what a different picture that paints of the Church.
It ceases to be an institution desperate to serve and save itself, and becomes a movement that seeks to serve others. It becomes something people want to be a part of.
Jesus died for the sins of the world, but let’s not forget that He lived a life as well. His life was more than a way to get to the cross, it was to show us how to live as image bearers, how to be Kingdom builders, and how to seek after His righteousness and justice, putting others before ourselves.
Jesus did die for us, but he also lived for us. Let’s not sit around waiting for heaven, but live fully alive just like Jesus did.
When time allows he can be found cycling, either road or mountain, cooking or reading.
He holds a BA (Hons) in Mission and Ministry with a specialism in Youth from Cliff College, and is currently studying for an MA.
He loves Jesus and the Church, and wants to see the Church work to help young people live transformed lives by experiencing the redeeming love of Jesus.