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
, 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. Israel
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.