We said in an earlier post that an extreme incarnation – where God in Jesus took on fallen flesh like ours – would be a terrible threat to our comfortable middle class existence.
It’s about closeness. We asked, how close has God come? If he has come that close, to become truly one of us, then he’s come all the way. The greatest difference in the universe – the difference between Creator and creation – has been bridged or unified. At the heart of God’s mission plan to reclaim his world, is solidarity. Fellowship. Coming near. Entering in to our experience, in all its sin and misery.
If that’s the mission plan, what does that mean for us evangelical Christians? It means radically redefining mission faithfulness. It means that if we think we can take part in God’s mission to his world, then coming near is going to be at the heart of our activity. Our faithfulness in mission can be measured by this yardstick: did we get close to the people we were hoping to reach for Christ? Did we enter into fellowship with them? Did we share in their experience of life, in all its messiness, moral ambiguity, and downright degradation? Did we share their tears and joys, their worries and hopes and – everything? Did we get close enough to understand how to serve them and show true friendship?
If God in Jesus really became one of Adam’s fallen race, then this is where mission faithfulness is at: are we willing, like God in Jesus, to touch the unclean ones?
Our middle class existence relies on walls of protection which we build up against the outside world. Our neighbours? – our church buildings have walls and no windows. We all go in and boldly declare Christ where no one can bother us or be bothered by the gospel.
Our money? We protect it in bullet-proof banks, so that we can spend it all (or almost all) on ourselves. That’s the middle-class way. After all, our affluence is what sets us apart from them. It’s the mark of a decent life.
The poor and working classes? – we make sure we live in different suburbs where we don’t meet them. Our children go to schools in nice areas where they won’t meet them. If the schools aren’t effective barriers, we go private.
People whose lives are ‘sinful’ or broken? – we have all sorts of ways of distancing ourselves from them. We’re so good at it we don’t even notice we’re doing it (over-busyness is one classic technique). But the result is unmistakable: by and large our church members don’t form close friendships with ‘sinful’ people.
My time at bible college gave me a taste of this. We spent four years in a suburb full of such people: troubled, needy, sinful. But it was as though they didn’t exist. We were a little island of Christian academia, and who knows what might have been out there in those murky waters? We were certainly never encouraged to find out. For four years our next batch of leaders learnt the art of insulation.
Being so well insulated from the sinners around us, we Christians have developed a style of evangelism which is about getting people to listen to presentations. We seem to imagine that if we can achieve that, if we can have a conversation about Jesus, or bring them to a bible talk, or whatever, then we’ve been faithful in mission. As if God had just lobbed a letter down from heaven, rather than coming to walk amongst us.
But if we’re taking part in the mission of God incarnate, then of course the cost is going to be much higher than that. Mission is going to require us to get involved with people, to sweat and suffer and maybe even bleed with them, to get the taste of the degradation of their lives – i.e. to learn to really love them. Costly love – that’s step one when you’re on mission with Jesus.
So that’s the threat of the incarnation. Now the question is, how many of our middle-class protective barriers will have to come down before we can begin to be faithful to Jesus in mission? How much will it cost us? And will any of us be willing to pay the price?