By Jonathan Ho
I recently saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a movie about Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager who becomes Spiderman. Miles grows up in Brooklyn with a Spanish-speaking mother and a police officer for a dad. In the movie, he encounters Spidermen/women from different dimensions. Although they all have similar powers to the original Spiderman (Peter Parker), they also bring in their own different experiences and cultures. They might still be fighting the “bad guys”, but their fighting styles and motivations are a bit different. Each of their worlds both developed and demanded a different sort of Spiderman.
While our world doesn’t have a real Peter Parker Spiderman to save the world, we know Jesus calls each of us to follow him as he seeks and saves the lost. Not only does God call us to follow, God also calls each of us to remain as we were when Jesus called us (1 Corinthians 7:20). Too often we unintentionally and intentionally urge people to conform to our world, to speak as we do, dress as we do, and live as we would have them live, rather than encourage the gospel seed to grow in them within their context. To borrow an idea from Kung Fu Panda, if you have a peach seed, no matter how hard you try to make it something else, it will always grow to be a peach tree. While we seek healthy growth, we must be careful not to impose our calling over someone else’s calling.
We often keep trying to “disciple” people into our own image, believing our story of the world is the true story, not realizing that although there is one true gospel, our contexts affect how we see the gospel and the overarching story of Scripture.
A small example of this is how many black churches see the gospel as opposed to many mainstream evangelical churches (within the United States). If you’re like me, from a mainstream evangelical church, your gospel sets you free from personal sin. You wrestle with accountability, with learning to lead a holy life. If you’re from a black church, you likely hear of a gospel that will set you free from sins of oppression, from systems (meant for justice) where, according to the U.S. Census in 2010, black men are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. Is one of these gospels more true than the other? One side might ask, didn’t Jesus come to set us free from the penalty of sin within my own life? Didn’t Jesus say to not sin? But then, the other might say, didn’t Jesus come as a person born into an oppressed Jewish group to bring in a new system?
The people of Israel expected a Messiah, the Christ, to come save them. They expected a warrior, like a king of old. Maybe they expected someone like King David, a man who fought and defeated many of his enemies as he did Goliath. This wasn’t only existential personal freedom from being sinful people. And yet, this also wasn’t only freedom from unjust systems. Jesus’ agenda is much bigger than ours.
People tried to turn Jesus into a king by force. When he didn’t act accordingly, they eventually had him killed. What if we have begun forcing our own agendas upon Jesus? And what if, instead of listening for and to Jesus, we have begun acting as religious zealots who, not so unlike Judas, turn in Jesus for our own profit?
It is time for the Church to reevaluate the narratives of what we do. Is Jesus our personal Savior sent to save us from our personal problems? Or is he calling us to dig deeper into the larger narrative of Scripture in ways which require more than reading commentaries and Scripture in context?
In this edition there are articles I pray God may use to stretch your horizons, to challenge your concept of sight in the Kingdom of God. Scott describes the type of person God uses, Andrew writes of how hard it is to persevere in following God’s call while others come and go. Julia writes of how our knowledge of God comes with tinted lenses, and Matt describes the both purposeful and unintentional ignorance of our Church history. My hope is that God would humble us to stop thinking of only ourselves and start thinking of and pursuing others. These articles are not about creating more informed Christians. These articles are about pushing you to step outside your walls and start engaging with those different from you. I warn you, before you read these articles and explore these ideas, know that awareness leads to responsibility. If you claim to be able to see the world clearly then you will also be responsible for acting properly.
A colorblind person cannot tell that they are colorblind without another person. A blind man cannot fully see on his own. Reading these articles may, God-willing, open our eyes to our biases, our assumptions about the world which cloud our vision and affect our relationships.
Jesus once said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind may see and those who see may become blind”. The Pharisees then asked Jesus, “Are we also blind?” Jesus then responded, “If you were blind… you would not be guilty of sin. But since you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (see John 9:39-41).
Beware if you claim you can see.
Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
If you don’t want to listen to Albert Einstein, try listening to James, a follower of Jesus, who wrote, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17, NASB) or to Jesus himself who said, “That servant who knows his master’s will but does not get ready or follow his instructions will be beaten with many blows” (Luke 12:47).
Jesus will return soon and this is no time to puff ourselves up. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work in the world.
P.S. As always, we’d love to hear from you. Do you find the articles helpful as they are? Do you have suggestions for us in our content or approach? We’d love to hear your story as you process where God is moving and how you may join him in his work. Email email@example.com with any stories, feedback, thoughts, and questions you might have.