Try to Imagine the UnimaginableJanuary 17, 2018
Try to imagine the world without Christianity. Unimaginable, right? That’s the premise, the point and the title of Jeremiah Johnston’s latest book. His provocative question led me to wonder further: what would the world be like without the Gospel? What would I be like? What would my marriage be like? My family? My community? What would things be like without Christ?
Hopeless, careless, and fearful. Try to imagine a world without the Word of God incarnate and then without the Bible. Imagine life without the revelation and therefore without the knowledge of God; it is unimaginable, depressing. As a Christian, my identity, belonging to the family of God, meaning and purpose in life, and my hope for the future are all found, secured and enjoyed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Life without Him is unimaginable.
Reading Johnston’s #Unimaginablebook provoked me to pray on several occasions. At points I wept. At other points my heart thrilled with the possibility of a new Reformation that God might even now be fanning as Christians might regain a sense of our world-changing calling.
Johnston doesn’t put it quite this way but one of the truths he’s pushing on is the reality that Christians don’t worship a building, blessings that can be counted here and now, nor a book. Being an authentic Christian is about an identity that transcends the physical and circumstantial, a transforming ethic that affects every relationship, a morality and therefore justice based on eternal law and absolute truth. The followers of Jesus Christ, known throughout the world as Christians, live in the world knowing that this world is not all there is.
Christians are ambassadors of another Kingdom and subjects of an eternal King. Having been restored in right relationship to the Father, Christians live out the reality of substantially restored relationships with others. Everyone, literally every human being, is understood to be equally made in the image of the living God, equally in need of and equally offered salvation. Those who accept the free gift of God’s grace by faith in Christ stand as equal citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven and serve equally here and now as its representatives. Johnston notes that anything less is a sin-based perversion of Christianity and a sinful misrepresentation of Christ.
Unimaginable is written to cover the scope of civilized history in a way and length accessible to all readers. I enjoyed the fast pace but some contemporary intellectuals won’t like the casual familiarity with which Johnston handles the non-Godfearing figures of history. The book is an exploration of what Johnston calls “the Jesus factor.” So, as bad as things might seem right now, how much worse would it be if Jesus had never come? Unimaginable.
After surveying the world before Christianity and those who have sought from time to time and in various ways to rid the world of Christianity, Johnston surveys the “tour de force” the Christian Gospel and its people have been for the past 2000 years. Jesus came as the universal Savior for people of every tribe and tongue, every nation under Heaven. Christianity is for everyone and Christ breaks down every dividing wall of hostility between us. That means that Christians actually know the answers to the questions our neighbors are asking about race, gender, relationships between men and women, human trafficking, North Korea, Venezuela and every other presenting issue of the day.
As I read I was reminded of an experience with one local church a handful of years ago. When working with local church leadership at times of discernment about their future, one exercise I often commend is for them to ask themselves, the church’s immediate physical neighbors, closest school, city officials and the religion beat reporter: “If our church completely disappeared tomorrow, how would this community change?” In short form, “What real difference does the presence of this particular church make in this particular community?”
The answers are always surprising, often challenging and sometimes foment a radical reorientation of the local church to its rightful place in the life of the culture. In one case, when a national denomination threatened to seize the property from the local congregation, it was the homeless, the kids in the after-school program, the families in the weekend feeding program, the single moms, the city officials, and community health representatives who stood on the sidewalk as the denominational officials arrived. Those who would be impacted plead the congregation’s case and the people of the world asked the denomination not to take away “their” church.
If you, as a Christian, moved out of your current neighborhood, what would change? If the church you attend disappeared tomorrow, what would change in your community? If Christianity – which only lives as a movement through Christ followers – were somehow snuffed out, what kind of world would this be? Yes, unimaginable, but worth spending some time trying to imagine.
Buy it here: Unimaginable
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