Rethinking the approach
The world is in a constant state of change; people are too. For these reasons, the Church needs to be opened to new methods of ministry. This is not about doctrinal compromise – Jesus died for our righteousness, for our right to God’s presence, and this truth is much too valuable to water down. Nonetheless, Jesus accomplished our salvation by changing His very nature (Phil. 2:7-8); He became one of us, and to follow His example means, among other things, showing the same willingness to move toward those we mean to reach.
The change in the world is evident in that ‘normal’ has been redefined and doubt has become a virtue; pluralism presents varying and often opposing ideologies with opportunities for expression, in other words ‘truth’ is a matter of perspective and preference (the Christian alternative remains open for consideration – Ps. 34:8). Moreover, now more than ever, truth boundaries collide with identity boundaries, and this is why I believe a shift is needed – a move away from a ‘truth’ focused approach towards one where humanity’s true identity is affirmed. Let me explain.
At the center of the great, cosmic conflict is, and has always been, the issue of identity – of who God is and who we are! New atheism doesn’t always claim outright that God doesn’t exist, it rather makes the idea of God repulsive and thus dismissible by speaking of a god who is indifferent to human pain and misery – more so, he’s vindictive, capricious, and genocidal (Dawkins, 2006). Why would anyone in their right mind choose to be subservient to such a master? Dethroning God has always been evil’s agenda (Is. 14:13-14), and tarnishing His reputation and marring His image goes a long way to do that. God may not be dead, like Nietzsche claimed, but He is certainly compromised. At least in the minds of many.
The ‘identity approach’ flips the paradigm from doing to being. For example, Jesus did wonderful and miraculous things; but He did what He did because He was Who He was, not in order to become or be someone; in other words, Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God and therefore did what He did. His actions did not elevate Him to being the Messiah; His identity unlocked the power to live and choose to die for humanity. What if we were to employ the same reasoning in regard to ministry? What if our focus were to shift from teaching people how to behave and what to believe, to reminding them who they are and thus unlock the potential and spiritual power to live in accordance with their identity? For when one is in Christ, due to the divinely granted rights, one can access blessings which are beyond human ability and comprehension (1 Pet. 2:9).
We were created in the image and likeness of God – imago Dei (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:103; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jas 3:9). “This is not just another label but a way of speaking profoundly about human nature” (Groody, 2009, p. 644). Moreover, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), restored to His likeness through Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice. Acts of love should be intrinsically tied to our identity and that of God – God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). There should be nothing forced or prescriptive about us loving our neighbour; it should rather be a natural result of our association with and identity in Christ. This love in action, derived from our ‘who we are’ (Jn. 15:15; Jn. 1:12), would then provide true motivation and purpose to be church, and thus fulfil the great commission, which, before reaching the hereafter, seeks to resist the “dehumanizing of the world” (Campolo, 1986, p. 179).
Dublin, 28 January 2020
Campolo, Anthony. 1986. A Reasonable Faith. The Case for Christianity in a Secular World. Word Publishing, Milton Keynes, England.
Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God Delusion. Bantam Press, London.
Groody, Daniel G. 2009. “Crossing the Divide: Foundations of a Theology of Migration and Refugees”. Theological Studies. 70 (638-667).