Speaking Jesus with Charity (2)
“I just want to speak the name of Jesus Over every heart and every mind Cause I know there is peace within your presence I speak Jesus”. (Charity Gayle.com)
Charity Gayle challenges Pentecostals to “speak the name of Jesus” in a new context, the twenty-first century. The church must “speak the name of Jesus” to children of the Enlightenment.
Let’s use the metaphor of a picture and its frame to present the effect a new worldview can have on the Christian faith. Placing an old picture in a new frame can change perceptions of the image and give it new meaning. New frames often focus the viewer’s eyes on specific content and change the picture’s story.
Placing the gospel, God’s story, in a new worldview is inherently risky. Like a picture mounted in a new frame, a new historical frame of reference may refocus the viewer’s perception of the gospel and change the content and meaning of the original story. The “newness” eclipses the old and becomes the story. However, the gospel requires proclamation in human history again and again without anything new, without development. Paul boldly proclaims, “See now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). The proclamation of the gospel, God’s story, is a current event taking place in the real world in God’s time. Its proclaimers are to present “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). The gospel is a sacred treasure of “sound teaching” in need of guarding (2 Tim. 2:13-14). Passing on the “deposit of faith” to new generations is mission-critical for the church (1 Tim. 1:14; 2 Tim. 2:2).
The gospel makes the old present confronting new historical epochs and worldviews and calling all to faith in the God in whose kingdom they live. The metaphor challenges Pentecostals to articulate their faith in a new frame of reference, the culture of the twenty-first century, in a biblical manner that recovers and strengthens the original Pentecostal ethos and spirituality.
The Enlightenment fueled philosophy of modernism and post-modernism has created a culture that boldly announces it has outgrown religion. Modernists champion the ability of human reason to comprehend all reality. Humans control their destiny, characterized by progress in science, technology, human institutions, and social relationships. Although life has no ultimate meaning, the innate power of human reason promises a glorious future of unity, peace, love, and prosperity. The universe’s secrets will unfold by properly exercising human reason, and a utopia will one day arrive upon the earth.
When post-modernists took a hard look at human history, they became disillusioned with modernism Modernism promised great things but could not deliver. The promises assigned to human reason went unrealized in the world. Wars raged, empires crumbled, and oppression of people by political systems continued. Enlightenment reason failed to bring unity or a utopia. Humanity remained divided into a plethora of competing tribes. There was no one universal standard of truth common to all. Truth and religion were just matters of personal preference. The individual became the final arbitrator of truth with inalienable rights that all must recognize, even God. Post-moderns are moralistic therapeutic deists who evict God from the intrusive active involvement in the creation and their lives. They place God on-call to meet their individual needs and provide consoling therapy in times of crisis. They are spiritual but don’t consider themselves religious. Being religious would require the unconscionable, assigning priority to one belief and questioning the beliefs of others.
“Speaking Jesus to Children of the Enlightenment” requires understanding the new frame of reference in which we are proclaiming the gospel. We are speaking to the “nones,” identifying with no religion, the “spiritual but not religious,” who have invented their own spirituality, and the “disaffiliated,” who have abandoned the institutional and doctrinal heritage of their Christian faith but desire to retain a modicum of identity. They have not encountered Jesus, know the stories of the Bible, accept its authority, or embrace the truths of the Christian faith.
Several years ago, I received a warning about a problematic student I would face in the university marketing class I teach. She was an atheist who delighted in challenging the faith of her professors and fellow students, especially following devotions. Embracing the university’s spirit of toleration, professors allowed her to have her say, did not respond, and then politely moved on to course content. As teachers are prone to exaggerate situations, I didn’t give the problem much thought.
Following my first devotion in the class, the student erupted, challenging the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus, and the exclusiveness of the Christian message. Shocked, I stood in silence for almost a minute, eyes focused on her. The class was silent. Recovering, I asked a simple question, “Where did you learn this philosophy?” She replied quickly, “I just know. It is evident to me.”
With this prompt, I challenged her belief that she possessed a “view received from nowhere.” She was shocked as I asked her how she learned to speak English, if she went to the public school system, read books or magazines, talked with peers, surfed the internet, or sat in a university classroom. I finished by asking if she would prepare for her marketing exam by going outdoors and raising her hands to heaven, and asking to be filled with business knowledge. There was now silence in the classroom when I explained the Enlightenment origins of her philosophy of life and contrasted it with the Christian story. I quickly moved on to marketing content.
After class, several Christian students expressed appreciation for my unplanned homily. Like so many, they chose not to dialogue with a “child of the Enlightenment.” They could not have “a meaningful conversation” because their faith communities left them unprepared. We need to “always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15, NRSV).
With Charity, we must speak Jesus and engage an Enlightenment-soaked culture. We speak Jesus:
“Cause Your name is power Your name is healing Your name is life.” (Charity Gayle.com)