Friday, July 21, 2006

Is America the Center of God's Activity in the World Today?

I think it's interesting and helpful to hear perspectives on Christianity from outside American culture. Obviously, not all perspectives are created equal—particularly in their commitment to biblical evangelicalism. I can't offer any background information on Reverend Niringiye from the Church of Uganda, but I found his gentle admonishment in a Christianity Today interview concerning the "Ameri-centrism" of evangelicalism in the United States worthy of consideration:
God very often is working most powerfully far from the center. Jesus is crucified outside Jerusalem—outside—with the very cynical sign over his head, "The King of the Jews." Surprise—he is the King of the Jews. "We had hoped … " say the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, but he did not fulfill our criteria. In Acts, we read that the cross-cultural missionary thrust did not begin in Jerusalem. It began in Antioch, on the periphery, the margins. But Jerusalem is not ready for Antioch! In fact, even when they go to Antioch, it's just to check on what's happening.

I have come to the conclusion that the powerful, those at the center, must begin to realize that the future shape of things does not belong to them. The future shape of things is on the periphery. The future shape of things is not in Jerusalem, but outside. It is Nazareth. It is Antioch.

If you really want to understand the future of Christianity, go and see what is happening in Asia, Africa, Latin America. It's the periphery—but that's where the action is.
African churches with Anglican/Episcopalian roots are often reported to be more evangelical than their sister denominations in Europe and the United States. I didn't see any overt evidence to the contrary in this assistant bishop's comments. In fact, I thought this was a great point:
We need to begin to read the Bible differently. Americans have been preoccupied with the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the Great Commission: "Go and make." I call them go-and-make missionaries. These are the go-and-fix-it people. The go-and-make people are those who act like it's all in our power, and all we have to do is "finish the task." They love that passage! But when read from the center of power, that passage simply reinforces the illusion that it's about us, that we are in charge.

I would like to suggest a new favorite passage, the Great Invitation. It's what we find if we read from the beginning of the Gospels rather than the end. Jesus says, "Come, follow me. I will make you fishers of men." Not "Go and make," but "I will make you." It's all about Jesus. And do you know the last words of Jesus to Peter, in John 21? "Follow me." The last words of Simon Peter's encounter are the same as the first words.
This seemed rather God-centered to me, and I'm grateful to be reminded that American Christianity is not the once-and-for-all apex of the history of the Church.

1 comment:

Nik C said...

A hint of surprise?