Monday, 2 November 2015

The not so mysterious case of the disappearing Jesus

The other morning we listened to a testimony in bed. I have to say that this isn't a daily occurrence... but we did then because someone Sarah knew from the Salvation Army had told their story in a well-known London church and the recording was now available online.

It wasn't short, though it wasn't always very detailed either. But what struck us both was the fact that throughout, the testimony was about coming to rely more and more on God with no mention of Jesus at all. God wasn't described further either - not Father, nor any other name or title - just the rather vague, generic, "God". 

I think this is part of a pattern. Fewer and fewer people seem to focus on Jesus when they tell the story of their spiritual journey. "God" is not identified, and sometimes seems almost impersonal. You might think that "Knowing God" was less a matter of a love relationship and more a question of "Use the force, Luke." 

Why is this? 

I don't think the answer is too difficult. Two things. 

Jesus has disappeared because we don't sing about him. For British Christians - certainly for all Protestants outside the Anglican scene - our hymn book was our liturgy. We have abandoned the hymn book in favour of the projector, and, perhaps oddly, one effect of this has been a massive reduction in the range of songs sung. Critics often focus on problems with particular songs, the "me-focussed-ness", the doctrinal howlers etc. What is not so often noted is how whole meetings can now occur with no sung mention of the name of Jesus. It is frequent these days for times of "worship" to not mention Jesus by name at all, let alone focus on his cross-work or the person of the Son within the Trinity. If our worship has degenerated into "I trust in you because you are so amazing" it isn't surprising that our testimonies are similarly vague and me-centred. 

And Jesus has disappeared because we no longer talk about him. Good sermons in the gospels are rare. Many talks in church are moralistic rather than kerygmatic - they tell people what to do rather than announcing the good news of what God has done. Preaching is no longer placarding Jesus before the people. 

For some Christians, including a substantial number in the Salvation Army, the Bible is no longer seen as one "Word of God" anyway; it is not a unified book with a divine author, but a collection of human writings. A love letter from our wronged Creator has been replaced in the mindset by a fundamentally incoherent, self-contradictory bundle of stories of personal journeys. Of course, the Bible is not less than the account of the faith-journeys of a number of more or less flawed people, but we lose at our peril the notion that it is the one book of God.  Above all we lose out when the idea of the Bible as the word of Christ is effectively abandoned. 

And I think it is that abandonment that is evidenced by the disappearance of Jesus from testimonies. If we preach Christ at all, it is more as "one of us", with his own faith and fragility to the fore (and those elements I am not denying) than it is as the Mighty to Save of whom all the scriptures speak. As a result, who runs to him? And who tells the story of how he saved them? 

I'm praying for a revival - a revival of Jesus in our stories because he is there in our worship and, at its heart, in the ministry of the word. 

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