Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Mad Dog Faith

As we move through holy week, I have had a series of really interesting readings for a few different classes here. I was also recently visiting Dave's blog, who is a friend here at seminary (and fellow soccer fan...not!). He talked about the "Nazareth principle" in his post on Kant and Luther and it brought me back to something I read from Philip Jenkin's book, the Next Christiandom...
"Christianity grew as a grassroots movement, appealing to a rich diversity of groups. In some cases this might mean those on the margins of traditional societies. In his nuanced account of the conversion of the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria, Chinua Achebe describes how the faith gained its initial successses among the marginalized: "None of the converts was a man whose word was heeded in the assembly of the people. None of them was a man of title. They were mostly the kind of people that were called efulefu, worthless, empty men...Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, called the converts the excrement of the clan, and the new faith was a mad dog that had come to eat it up." Gradually, though, an increasing number of converts were drawn in from major families. (Today, the Igbo are overwhelmingly Christian.)" (p.43)
This gist of this story was repeated in my readings of how Christianity spread in Korea and China in the 19th and 20th century. The churches that grew the fastest and have had the most lasting impact are those that initially reached the lowest in society. It shouldn't be any surprise since the apostle Paul pointed out the fact that this is the basis of God's election:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Could it be that it is the "down and outs" who are most receptive to the gospel? I imagine that they are the ones who can most easily accept the word that comes tellling us that we can do nothing to save ourselves. That's probably why Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the self-satisfied, self-sufficient and self-absorbed (my version of a three-self movement) to enter His kingdom...

This is the message of the cross. God came and identified with the down and outs, by subjecting himself to the ugliness of the cross...
He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised,
and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement
that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53:2-5


David said...

Jon, I remember my grandmother commenting to me that Christians seemed to be made up of people who were deeply wounded. She honestly didn't understand why and I never did until years later.

That conversation made a tremendous impression on me.

Jon W said...

She must have been a really wise woman. Like the first step in AA (which really is the first step in the Christian life) says, "We admitted we were powerless...(and) that our lives had become unmanageable"