October 8, 2014
By Mark Labberton
Called came out of a simple set of observations: (1) the church seems to be confused about its identity; (2) we often fail to practice who we claim to be; and (3) we think we live somewhere that we don’t. It’s a crisis.
The identity confusion seems to arise because for a long time, and today in still different terms, we think of our spiritual identity through the lens of the congregation or denomination where we are somehow connected. Our Christian life begins to be about the type, form, style, theology, culture, lingo, dress, music, ambiance or charisma of the body of believers we are connected to. All this can easily become a thick, layered, confused crust built on what is centrally meant to be our life in God through Jesus Christ. So our spiritual life can readily be defined more by where we go, who we hear, what we like and what we do than by Who we know.
This vividly shows itself when we fail to practice who we claim to be—followers of Jesus. Instead, disconnected from our belovedness in Christ, and absorbed in our religious self-interest or our spiritual and church activities, we fail to live a life that looks like the life of the One we claim to follow. So we become as snarky as the next person, or our attitudes become brittle and our hearts get tied up with the wrong concerns. We believe and affirm one thing, but we don’t live in a way that validates or replicates the implications of our belief. This basic inconsistency is not just run-of-the-mill hypocrisy—it’s worse—especially in a cultural moment that wants to see more than hear what really matters to us.
All this makes it clear that a lot of the church, in North America especially, seems to believe that the goal of the culture wars is to get back to the Promised Land, but the reality is that we must learn to face and to live in exile. If you think you live in the Promised Land when you actually live in exile, then whining, complaining and judging seem natural. Why can’t things be the way they were? But if we actually live in exile, and we live to follow Jesus, then the goal is not to get back to the Promised Land. Instead, the goal is to live as the salt and light Jesus said we are meant to be!
These three dilemmas create the context in which we all need to return to our primary call as followers of Jesus, and to our practice of that call in every domain of life. If God has some special additional direction or place we are to be placed in, let’s be open and eager to go there or to do it. But for people in exile, every setting is a place in which we are meant to love and serve, to authenticate in ordinary ways the profound presence and grace of Jesus Christ. In every setting in which we work or play, study or travel, we carry as part of God’s life in and through us gifts that are needed and can be given away. These dimensions of call are the most powerful and ordinary. They face the crisis before the church in the world, and they offer the promise that is God’s unfailing love, mercy and justice. This is our call.
Mark Labberton, author of Called, is president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He previously served as Lloyd John Ogilvie chair for preaching and director of the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute for Preaching.
Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:54 AM