The most impressive thing about Christianity is its Christ.
No one ever turned to the Church because they were drawn to the quality of her moral standing. If anything, they’re put off by our relentless meat eating, weakness for wine, gender inequality and self-righteous condescension.
Of course, no one is made righteous by what goes into the body, wisdom is proved right by her actions, women have a treasured place in the Bible and the self-righteous are unrighteous before God. But try telling that to someone who had the dust of our sandals kicked in his face.
Despite our own devices, Jesus remains that unmatched pinnacle of personhood who has no equal in fact or fiction. He is the best thing about Christianity, if not the only thing worthy of mention. He’s the reason that Christianity is neither religious nor irreligious, but something else entirely.
There are two growing trends in the world today that are creating a world more divided and polarized than ever before. Robust religious faith and skepticism towards religion are both flourishing. The world is getting more religious and less religious at the same time.
Globally, faith is growing. In his book, The Reason for God, Timothy Keller says, “…It is estimated that 10 to 25 percent of all the teachers and professors of philosophy in the country are orthodox Christians, up from less than 1 percent just thirty years ago.”
The number of Christians in Indonesia has grown from 1.3 million, forty years ago, to more than 11 million today. Until 1960, no Christian was officially allowed to live in Nepal. Today, there is a church in every one of the 75 districts of Nepal, with estimates of over half a million believers in Christ.
Twenty thousand Africans turn to Christ every day. The Continent had a three percent Christian population in 1900. Today, more than half of its people consider themselves Christians.
At the turn of the 20th century, Korea had no Protestant church and the country was deemed impossible to penetrate. Today, Korea is 30% Christian with more than 7000 churches in Seoul alone.
But skepticism is surging forward as well. Keller also says, “A century ago, most U.S. universities shifted from a formally Christian foundation to an overtly secular one. As a result, those with traditional religious beliefs have little foothold in any of the institutions of cultural power.”
According to the Dublin Archdiocese, “Church attendance in Ireland, though still among the highest in Western Europe, has fallen from about 85% to 60% from 1975 to 2004.”
According to the Center for the Study on Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “Every major religion except Islam is declining in Western Europe. The drop is most evident in France, Sweden and the Netherlands, where church attendance is less than 10% in some areas.”
Global media is not merely suspicious, but often hostile to any and all things religious. The subtle assumption is that you have to be irreligious to be reasonable and you have to be irrational to be religious.
While both religion and skepticism fight to get ahead of each other, the two are struggling with their own shortcomings. One doesn’t know how to think. The other doesn’t know how to make sense of living.
It’s commonly stated that Christianity in Africa is two miles wide but only two inches deep. The death of God has left too many questions unanswered and too many answers unquestioned. Someone left a tap open in the other room and it’s hard to fall asleep.
As is always the case in controversial questions, the answer might lie somewhere in the middle. Perhaps in the place between religion and irreligion; the place where Jesus lives and breathes.
The outcome of following Jesus is to become like Him. The proof is in the fruit tree. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and bad one cannot bear good fruit. If a person who follows Jesus is not gradually becoming more like Him, then perhaps it isn’t Jesus whom they are following, but themselves. It’s for this reason that many prophets, healers and exorcists will stand before God in judgment and find themselves without favor.
To understand or to reject Christianity, you must come face to face with its Christ and not its Christians.
He rises above the religious and the irreligious to confront the first with their unjust hypocrisy and the other with their borrowed philosophy. God is not a faceless, impersonal force without personality, purpose or power.
He doesn’t live in churches or in temples, made by human hands. He cannot be overcome and He will not be contained. He doesn’t sit in silence and He doesn’t hide his face. The writers of the Gospel declare that God is made visible in Jesus.
“I and the Father are one”
His opponents picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy,
“…because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
But God is not what the religious expected or the skeptic denounced. He is something else entirely. The trouble with Jesus is that He doesn’t fit into any of the boxes that we have made for ourselves.
He’s too gracious for the religious and too moral for the skeptic. He’s too inclusive for the self-righteous and too exclusive for the open-minded. He’s too loving for the judgmental and too pious for the amoral. He’s too reckless for the traditional and too structured for the spontaneous. He’s too courteous for the submissive and too arrogant for the rebellious.
Anyone who comes to Him has to leave something behind. Perhaps the trouble is not with Jesus, but with ourselves. Perhaps when it comes to faith and reason, we are scaling a mountain on which He sits enthroned.
The most difficult thing about Jesus, then, is that He reserves the right to be God, even if you reject His Lordship. But the most important thing about Jesus is that as long as there are people searching for a clue to the meaning of the universe, He will stand above religion and reason, the church and the university, to remain the Lord of all.