Monday, January 9, 2012

Three Characteristics of Transformational Christianity

I believe there are three foundational characteristics of transformative Christianity. One is inclusiveness. Christianity that is unhealthy and toxic (and can be destructive and deadly) is always dualistic. It divides the world between “us” and “them.” Obviously, in order to explain one’s own faith or position some differentiation and categorization is necessary, but this is vastly different than saying that only members of one’s group or faith possess the truth or are accepted by God. 

Inclusive Christianity does not believe that all roads lead to God or that all beliefs are equally valid. But it does contend that God will travel many different roads to get to us, and that truth is truth wherever it may be found. 

The basic difference is this: Christians entrenched within exclusive Christianity insist that those outside their group must believe what they believe or relate to God the way they relate to God in order to become God’s children. Inclusive Christianity begins with the core belief that all people are already children of God. It’s all grace—radical, unconditional grace. It’s not that some are chosen and others are not. We are all chosen.  For example, the best of the Hebrew tradition says that God chose Israel, not because God loved them more or they were more special than others, but in order to communicate that “chosenness” to the rest of the world. So that through the seed of Abraham all the peoples of the world would be blessed. This was at the heart of the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen. 12:1–3). And it is at the heart of inclusive Christian faith. 

A second key characteristic of transformative Christianity is compassion. Compassion is both a feeling and a way of being that flows out of that feeling. In the English etymology, “passion” comes from the Latin word that means “to feel,” and the prefix “com-” means “with.” Compassion means, “to feel with.” To show compassion is to feel the hurt or pain of someone else and then, on the basis of that feeling, to act on that person’s behalf. It includes the twin capacity to participate in both the suffering and the healing of someone else. Transformative Christianity looks to Jesus as the embodiment of what it means to be compassionate. 

The third characteristic is conversion. Transformative Christianity results in real life change. Salvation is not merely about the afterlife, nor is it about some cosmic, judicial transaction that occurs when one believes certain things about Jesus. (Why would God care so much about specific beliefs anyway? None of our beliefs can capture the whole reality of God.) 

Conversion is about becoming who we already are (children of God) and learning how to live as God’s children in the world. It’s about becoming persons and communities that exude integrity, humility, forgiveness, and compassion. It’s about learning how to love—how to love one another in the church (the faith community) and those outside the church, accepting everyone as God’s child. In fact, the writer of 1 John argues that this is how we demonstrate our love for God, namely, by the way we love one another (see 1 John 3:11–20; 4:7–21). 

Transformative Christianity is not about emotional worship services that leave everyone feeling good. It has nothing to do with how many religious activities the church offers, or how many people are attending, or how large the church budget is. It has nothing to do with the American trappings of success. It has everything to do with how well we love, care for, serve, and uplift one another. Christians learn how to love through their discipleship to Jesus. Therefore, discipleship to Christ (being an apprentice of Christ) is at the very heart of the Christian gospel.

11 comments:

  1. Steve, I would say that the content of your blog is a very good representation of what I mean by "exclusive Christianity."

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  2. quite simply superb. Totally agree (although a couple of points need slightly more unpacking i think. For example emotional worship services are ok i suggest as they engage with our emotions and Christ is interested in our emotions but we need to balance that with unhelpful hype and hysteria).

    Great article. Well done!

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  3. I do not know who you are but what you said is totally awesome. You have put down into words what I have understood for a while. May God Bless you

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  4. Dear Pastor Queen:
    As a Lutheran (ELCA) I do not often get to interact with Baptist theology, but I chanced upon this blog today and it resonates deeply with my own expression of my faith, as well as that of the Christian friends (both Lutheran and Methodist, see, e.g., Rev. Roger Wolsey, author of a wonderful book about Progressive Christianity). I've read several more of your entries, and they too resonate. I'm happy to learn of your blog and will continue to check it out. I pray we all can continue to live God's Word via the transformational Christianity you describe (and the similar stuff Roger describes) and really spread the love of Christ in our world, even though we undoubtedly still have some differences in the details of our beliefs. (I'm very keen on ecumenism, among other things.)
    God's blessings on you.

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  5. Maybe I'm naive, but is this supposed to be some kind of new theology, this transformational Christianity you speak of?
    This is what I've always believed since day one as a Christian. This is what the Bible says. Anything else is merely sin and failure to read and comprehend the Word of God as the God breathed truth that it is.
    I have always and still do believe that Jesus is the "line in the sand," if you will. Either you belive He paid the penalty for all sin and choose to put your faith in and follow Him, or you don't. Either He's the Son of God and the only way to Heaven, or He's a fraud.
    That's what seperates the believers from the nonbelievers.

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  6. I was curious about what "transformational" Christianity was all about. Did it mean the transformation of the individual via Christianity or Christianity being transformed. What I read made me smile, it resonated so fully with my core beliefs. You see, I'm a Mormon. (Okay, everyone, don't get up in arms. We are Christians. Christ is the very foundation of our Church---our Savior and Redeemer. Please don't use this thread in a negative way.) Your message echoes what I've always believed. We are all God's children, worthy of the horrible price that was paid for reconciliation with our Heavenly Father. We don't always *act* worthy, yet He loves us and has provided a means for our return to His presence. It's on us to accept that marvelous gift or reject it. If we accept it then we need to work on the actual conversion process of becoming the person we were intended to be. It's a continuous process and very personal. It requires a demonstration of that conversion via our actions. But the actions have to be for the right reasons. Out of love, compassion, humility and a true desire to serve. Yes, I am a Child of God. And working daily on full conversion. One step at a time. Bless you for your work. Thank you for this wonderful message.

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  7. This is a message of hope - all of mankind is loved by God. Yes, we are ALL children of OUR God.

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  8. I became a Christian (I think) three years ago, at the age of 57. Throughout my life I have felt the need of "a faith" but have been unable to subscribe to the "us and them" views I have heard expressed amongst many of those purporting to believe in Jesus Christ. The last three years have been a difficult quest for the inclusiveness I feel Jesus teaches us, as I have found that even the most welcoming "Church-goers" have an implicit concept of the walls of the church.

    Having read and listened to, representatives of many different denominations (and non-denominations) I truly believe that God is much bigger than our puny attempts to channel His truth into our own little packages. Thank you, Chuck, for articulating this.

    We are all God's children through His unconditional Grace.

    By the way I have found that good, uplifting worship is also tranformational.

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  9. Thanks for your simple and very clear description of transformational Christians. Hope that as many conventional and fundamental Christians come to your blog and ponder on what it means by inclusion, compassion, and conversion.

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  10. I have been contemplating on this topic,transformational Christianity but more in the light of the process of an individual being transformed.I am greatly interested in this topic and hope to work on it.This is good presentation.

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