The campus ministry I joined in the 80s was focused on the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Everyone knew Matthew 28:19-20 by heart and everyone knew they must give up everything for this great cause. Nothing was to get in the way of reaching the world with the gospel; not what you were studying, or the job you had, or your family was to get in the way of the Great Commission. Anyone who did not agree with this cause was not fit for the kingdom. They were wimping out on the gospel, they were chocolate Christians, those that melted at the slightest challenge of faith. This was radical Christianity, and I was down with it; (sort of).
The problem with this radical Christianity is it was not based on reality, or at least as I saw it. We were told loans should not be taken out for education, because that was Biblically wrong. The thought was to trust God for everything, to live like the church in Acts where the believers had all things in common. But someone had to work, didn’t they, I reasoned within myself. Money was needed to purchase the essentials. Being logical, I reasoned that the best way to make money was to finish my degree and get the best position possible. This also meant taking out loans for education. As the church matured, they began to let up on some of these ideas about finishing college degrees and getting jobs. But the church still believed in reaching the world for the gospel, and we often sang “Every Nation this Generation”. This song spoke of how we were marching to change the world with the gospel, lifting up the banner of Jesus Christ. Later the church believed this would best happen by entering politics and infiltrating the Republican Party. Several members with the best sounding names and backgrounds, were encouraged to run for office. It seemed like a good plan to some, but to others, it seemed somewhat deceptive. The goal was noble; return America to the values it was built on. However, little recognition was given to the American values that were inherently discriminatory toward African Americans and other people of color.
Eventually, the ill-fated plan was exposed by the media and the church split, but I suspect other churches followed through with similar plans and contributed to forming the Tea Party Republicans. The conservative church I was a member of believed that America’s moral decline is due to a hostility toward the religious fiber of our country (Hunter 2010, 115). They believed that they must take political action by informed voting for the correct values and be involved in the democratic process to the end of changing the culture (Hunter 2010, 121).
Next I would join a charismatic Christian, non-denominational church that never involved itself with politics. Its focus was evangelical in nature and living a holy life empowered by the Holy Spirit. While it possessed the power of the Holy Spirit to see people healed and delivered from all types of ailments, it was prone to factions.
Later, after moving to another area of the DMV, I would join a Baptist church that was totally the opposite in political thinking from the conservative church of my college years. This church believed in social justice and a God which took care of the “least of these” as taught by Jesus in Matthew 25:40. This progressive church aligns with the belief as set forth in Hunter’s To Change the World that, “”God hates inequality” and America is not only increasingly unequal, but the Christian Right has legitimated these inequalities of power and wealth” (Hunter 2010, 141). Hunter, speaking about the progressive church, points out that,
The political goals are different but the realpolitik is, in essence, identical to the long-standing instrumentalization of the Christian conservative constituency by the Republican Party—control over the power of the State (Hunter 2010, 149).
Viewing Christianity from several vantage points, including being raised Roman Catholic, I can relate to Hunter’s “Three Paradigms of Engagement: Defensive Against, Relevance To, and Purity From” (Hunter 2010, 213-214). Hunter states that the “Defensive Against” paradigm relates best to the conservative Christian church and seeks to create a defensive enclave against the world, setting up parallel institutions which form a parallel universe to the secular world (Hunter 2010, 214). The “Relevance To” paradigm, relates to the emerging church movement with some forms of theological liberalism focusing on issues such as child labor and civil rights (Hunter 2010, 215). Finally, the “Purity From” paradigm relates to the Neo-Anabaptist and some Pentecostals, believing that there is little that can be done for the world because of its fallen state, and is irredeemable this side of Christ’s return (Hunter 2010, 216).
Although each part of my Christian journey has had its positive and negative sides, as pointed out by Hunter, I am grateful for all I have learned in my pursuit to reach every nation this generation, sharing the love of Jesus Christ. While Hunter does not provide a clear path to reaching the Great Commission, he does show us areas where we all can improve by displaying the faithful presence of God as God’s word of love becomes flesh in us (Hunter 2010, 241).
Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possiblility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.