What was an essential for Jesus's ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem is one of the greatest challenges for Christ in our own time. Where His ministry was enhanced because of the spiritual literacy and Scriptural knowledge of the faithful Jews of the region, ours is challenged by the illiteracy of a post-Christian world.
For much of the past two thousand years, Christ was the center of all literacy. Life revolved around faith, and you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who did not know thoroughly the testimony of Jesus. There then came a time when other emphases, namely "reason" and "science" started to push on the edges of faith, and it was no longer the case that faith permeated all areas of life. It was still true, however, that most persons had a good familiarity with the basics of the Christian story.
No longer. Today, we are living in a world where even those in the most developed nations may have never come in contact with Christ in any form. We have secular preschools, which means that young kids are no longer dependent upon the church for their early education. We have 24/7 worlds, which means that carving out Sunday morning for something like church seems more and more foolish. We have a thing called "tolerance" (which is actually anything but) that says we're not really allowed to teach Christ any more, lest we be accused of "pushing" our faith on someone who doesn't want it.
Did you know that in today's world, for the first time, we are baptizing adult Christians who, just a year or two before, had never heard of Jesus before? At all.
This is a huge shift for the Christian faith, and it presents a number of challenges for those of us who carry His Cross into this world.
Now, more than ever, we need a holistic theology. We need a theology that starts not at the manger, but at the formless and void. Because if we start at the manger, we set up a great man, but we do not establish the Son of God. We create the impression that anyone can be born into such greatness, that it's just the kind of thing that sometimes happens (or, at least, happened once), and this doesn't tell our world much about our Jesus. We have to be able to start at the promise, not at the fulfillment, or this Jesus of ours makes no sense.
Now, more than ever, we need a truly Judeo-Christian framework to use as a point of reference. There's nothing in the New Testament that wholly explains what the sacrifice of the Lamb means for the people of God, except where it calls back unto the Old Testament. We have to know that Old Testament. We have to be able to talk about atonement from a historical faith perspective or we'll never be able to make enough sense of His sacrifice for our world to believe it.
Now, more than ever, we need the witness of the early church. Although they were living in a time when everyone had heard of Jesus, they were also living in an age in which there was a lot of hostility toward Him. They were persecuted, oppressed, and mocked, and yet, they carried on. They learned to worship. They broke bread together. And they never stopped proclaiming His truth. It's the kind of courageous faith that we need once again in a world hostile to Christ in an entirely different way.
But let us not forget that this hostility is not our greatest challenge, not by a long shot. Even the world He inhabited was hostile to Christ; He spent much of His time speaking against those who just would not believe Him, who would not buy that His was the holy way. No, our greatest challenge is not that the world despises Him; it always has.
Our greatest challenge is that the world no longer knows Him.
And that's why now, more than ever, we must labor to make Him known.