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Getting Real About Following Jesus

May 2, 2022 | Jay T. Smith

The Problem

In recent months, I have been reading heavily in politics, political theology, and cultural studies for a book I am writing. As part of this journey, I have read about the trials which Western culture is enduring, and some of the root causes. The issues of conservatism, liberalism, fascism, modernism, postmodernism, and neoliberalism have been common fair; however, a new concept, “capitalist realism” has now entered the arena of my study. Without getting into any details, let me just say that Western culture is in much more trouble than we could imagine. Not only do we have economic, environmental, political, and cultural problems, but now we have deadly spiritual problems.

There are no easy answers to our problems. I can tell you that neither the Democratic nor the Republican parties have shown that they have the quick, or even the long steady fix for American problems. Indeed the political parties of our era are now the Scylla and Charybdis of real life: one will swallow you as easily as the other. In times like these, people want to be hopeful; they need to be hopeful. They want to know that there is a happy ending possible. Quite honestly, if we leave it to politicians, businessmen, and academia to lead us to a “better tomorrow,” I don’t see any “happy ending” in the near future.

How Did We Get Here?

Long ago, Western culture began pushing God out of the picture. When people of faith began warring with other people of faith, the great “leaving” began. The fighting between the great monotheistic religions was the beginning: Jews and Christians, Christians and Muslims, and finally, Protestants and Catholics. It doesn’t matter that the quest for power and political leaders pushed this violence. People first lost faith in the church; then they lost faith. The mythology of modern progress eventually replaced theistic faith with few exceptions; but after the disastrous 20th century, even the modern myth was no longer enough for people. What has resulted is a generation of “Nones,” “Spiritual but not religious,” “Agnostic,” or simply “Atheist.”

The groundwork of societal norms and ethics is being “rethought” after the loss of transcendent faith. In the 21st century, people of all ethnicities and genders have little memory of what it means to have faith in God, and even less, to live a life in light of that faith.

Now, more than ever, those men and women who would claim to have faith, and are committed to following the way of Jesus, must do so. Yet the “do so” part must be different than what it has been. The days of simply attending church meetings, giving tithes, reading the Bible, affirming certain doctrines, voting on budgets, and being a one-issue voter are over.

Get Real With Jesus

Following Christ is a 24/7 life. Sunday is a recharge, restock, and reassess day. The tools for our task are forgiveness, mercy, forbearance, endurance, and absolutely, unconditional love for God, for neighbor, and enemy. There is no place for corruption, fear, anger, hate or violence. To “take up your cross, and to follow Jesus,” means certain death, as much as it means eternal life. But this is the way the world is changed. Hatred begets hatred, distrust begets distrust, and violence begets violence. The cycle only stops when we refuse to participate. You don’t like liberals? Then love a liberal, listen to them. You don’t like conservatives? Then love a conservative, listen to them.

This is what it means to follow Jesus. It’s about to get real folks. That’s what happened in the Gospel according to John, chapter 6. It got real. Many who had been following Jesus for free bread, couldn’t stomach the truth at the heart of Jesus’s message. Jesus Himself was the center of life, and His message was hard. Stop hating Romans? Befriend prostitutes and tax-collectors? Sell what you have and follow Jesus? Consort with lepers? Give up your cloak? Stop living for the almighty dollar? Stop living to accumulate wealth? Live in a country where everyone can afford health coverage? Give up my SUV? Stop polluting? Help AIDS patients? Stop judging LGBTQ+, impoverished people, women who have had abortions, Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals, and ethnic minorities? What’s left then?

Jesus is what’s left. Eternal life is what’s left. Making a better world for everyone is what’s left. Clean air, clean water, plants, and animals are what’s left. Sustainable living is what’s left. Turning swords into plows are what’s left. The question is, “are you ready to get real with following Jesus?” Are you ready to stop playing the church game, and start being the “called-out ones” of Jesus? His way is not easy; His way is not understood by our world. The world hated Jesus because of what He stood for, and because He held up a mirror for the world to see its true reflection. The world is getting angrier, and less hospitable. False gospels abound. It’s time to get real with Jesus.

Jay T. Smith

President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

Dr. Jay Smith leads the Yellowstone Theological Institute as its president. Dr. Smith has served as minister of youth, music and as senior […]

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