When it comes to cultural crisis points, today's church is far too willing to lend Jesus to the world, to let Him be co-opted by whatever is blowing in the winds right now. And as I said yesterday, this creates a crisis point for the church herself.
The trouble is that when you loan Jesus to the world, at some point, you're going to need to take Him back. You're going to have to come back and stand on the truths about Jesus that are given to us in the historical record of Him (a.k.a. the Bible). And this creates at least three major challenges for the church, which we will talk about over the next three days.
The first question that arises when we have to take Jesus back from the world to which we have lent Him is this: can we even do that? Can we take Jesus back?
I'm not talking, unfortunately, about whether the world will let us have Him back (we'll talk a little bit more about that idea, sort of, on Friday), but about whether we're even capable any more of taking Him back.
What happens is that we change the narrative of Jesus so that He has a lot to say about things like gun control or abortion or whatever else our culture happens to be facing at any given moment, and this becomes the Jesus that we preach. It's the Jesus we preach from our pulpits, and it's the Jesus that we preach when we're standing on the corner talking with our neighbors. It's the Jesus that we start thinking about all the time.
A lot of the time, this is because we're trying to shape the narrative ourselves. We're trying to take what we know about Jesus and spin it so that it seems directly relevant to whatever our culture is talking about. We spend our time crafting all of these talking points about Jesus so that we can show that He really does have the answer to every problem that we have.
But there comes a point where we have twisted and contrived so many of the narratives in Jesus's story to fit our current cultural needs that we lose track of the story itself altogether. We lose track of Jesus Himself altogether. The point we're trying to make becomes the lens through which we see all of Jesus, and when we try eventually to take Him back, what we have to do is make Him bigger again than the box that we've put Him in, and that is incredibly hard to do.
Did you know there are entire collections of things that even Christians believe God said in the Bible that God never said at all? Things like "God helps those who help themselves" or "Cleanliness is next to godliness" or "God works in mysterious ways" or "This too shall pass." See, what happened is that we came up with these ideas as talking points to meet our culture where it was at, to offer some kind of Jesus-christened platitude to make the church seem relevant or seem like it has a response, and now, we don't even know what's true any more. Christians are using these phrases left and right and attributing them to God, and they aren't willing to listen when you tell them that God never said these things because they are so sure that God said these things!
And that's precisely why this is a crisis point for the church. Because when you lend Jesus to the world, when you start crafting stories that meet the cultural talking points, when you start shaping Jesus in the image of whatever the current crisis is, it is so hard - almost impossible - to take Him back. Even in the minds of many of your fellow Christians, Jesus forever becomes whatever you're shaping Him to be today.
That is just one reason we have to be careful about loaning Jesus to the world. Tomorrow, we'll talk about a second reason.