A sustained look at the spiritual landscape that constitutes Christianity at the close of the first decade of the 21st Century reveals a broad spectrum of trends. However, one that jumps out in an unexpected way is the interesting coalition of forces that are coming together with a common agenda and purpose. Although these forces are divergent in terms of size, theology, and background, they share a common objective: to serve the world in ways great and small in the compassion that Jesus did.
Noted social researcher George Barna has called these passionate and socially engaged believers “Revolutionaries” and goes on to say that this divergent network of Christians, which includes liberals, conservatives, and everything in between, has the potential to transform the very fabric of Christianity as we know it.
Although the mainstream media only paid passing lip service to these new trends, we began to see evidence of this new force in the faith community during the run up to the 2008 Presidential Election. The fact that Pastor Rick Warren and Saddleback Church played host to a special forum featuring both Barack Obama and John McCain was a major clue to what is beginning to be a groundswell of social and political involvement of a whole new breed of Christian. Post-election statistics reveal that it was these Renegades for God that helped elect Barack Obama. Although a divergence away from the traditional Evangelical support of the Republican Party, it should also be noted that this was not an indicator of a new allegiance toward the Democrats. In fact, research shows that these Revolutionaries are mostly independent and highly progressive in their political leanings.
The United States is home to an increasing number of Revolutionaries. These people are devout followers of Jesus Christ who are serious about their faith, who are constantly worshipping and interacting with God, and whose lives are centered on their belief in Christ. Some of them are aligned with a congregational church, but many of them are not. The key to understanding Revolutionaries is not what church they attend, or even if they attend. Instead, it’s their complete dedication to being thoroughly Christian by viewing every moment of life through a spiritual lens and making every decision in light of biblical principles. These are individuals who are determined to glorify God every day through every thought, word, and deed in their lives.
A most promising yet challenging aspect of these new Christian communities is that former barriers of ideology, theology, and partisanship are being transcended. Admittedly, differences do exist within these blossoming coalitions, but these dissimilarities are seen as minor when compared to the passion these believers have for the causes they espouse. Long-time Christian activist Jim Wallis observes:
Christians of color, younger white Christians, “new evangelical” pastors and leaders, and progressive Catholics and Protestants from many denominations are reaching across barriers to change the face of Christianity – and also to engage with allies in other faith communities. They have learned many lessons from the mistakes of the Religious Right and they aren’t about to repeat them. And they are not about to become a new “Religious Left.” When asked if they are liberal or conservative, many will answer “yes,” depending on the issue. And because they don’t easily fit the political categories of the left and right, they could become bridge-builders, bringing a divided nation together on the politically transcendent issues of poverty, human rights, climate change, energy transformation, and the urgency of peace.
These highly committed believers are what Barna calls Revolutionaries and David Foster calls “Renegades for God” or simply, “R4G.” It is a deep, incomprehensible but accessible God that issues an irresistible calling to these special believers, who to a man and to a woman have a deep, abiding hunger for the Divine, not just as a nice, cozy, image of a father in the sky, but instead, for a living, breathing, divine entity that lays claim to their lives and gives them a purpose and a calling far beyond the parameters of their egos and petty concerns.
Such a God is a dangerous God. He is dangerous precisely because he is unpredictable, counter-intuitive, and mostly because he cannot be mocked. Such a God can surely give us comfort; he is, in fact, called by scripture the “God of all comfort.” Jesus tells us his yoke and burden isn’t heavy or overwhelming and if we come to him he will give us rest.
Yet at the same time he will give us a calling, a mission, and a destiny. Yet at the same time he tells us that following him involves sacrifice, rejection, and something called “cross-bearing. Concomitantly, he supplies us a plan, a purpose, and a promise – “And be sure of this, I am with you, even until the end of the age.”
All three are needed, because the genuine path of Christ is a difficult undertaking. His yoke may indeed be easy, but his consistent demand upon us is the most arduous and threatening requirement that could ever be made of a mortal. In essence, Christ bids us to come and die. The promise of our own resurrection is there, but the prospect of facing spiritual death is a fearful commodity. What makes this whole process of dying and rising in a spiritual sense all the more ironic is the fact that we are already spiritually dead, we just don’t know it. In return for our commitment, Jesus offers more than we could possible imagine or comprehend, but above all, he offers us life. Indeed, we are resurrected from our spiritual death and brought into the light of his steadfast love. He loves us and expects that we share that same love with others. We can either accept the offer or reject it, but either way, we have to deal with it.
Remember the encounter between Master Jesus and the rich young man who was reluctant to follow Jesus’ demand that he sell his belongings and give the proceeds to the poor? The rich young ruler had no misunderstanding of what this demand would mean. He would have to give up his riches and give to the poor and that, of course, hit him where he lived – his wallet. But I think this young aristocrat understood something else after listening to Jesus, most likely on more than one occasion. He discerned the deeper message of sacrifice, suffering, and personal pain involved in following this radical teacher. No doubt he saw that look in the Lord’s eye when he spoke. He understood what Jesus was saying – that the entire order was corrupt and rotten and that something totally new, vastly sweeping, and thoroughly uncompromising was being put forth as salvation for his ailing world – something called the Kingdom of God – something requiring a price most costly for entry.
These contemporary revolutionaries we are speaking of fully understand exactly what Jesus meant in his confrontation with the wealthy young man. Whether or not these revolutionaries are rich is not the point; the point is they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get more of God – not more from God like the Prosperity Gospel advocates suggest – but more of God, as that gnawing spiritual hunger in their bellies demands.
These revolutionaries, these “Renegades for God,” have counted the costs and are ready to pay. These sold out believers fully understand what is going on at this critical juncture and they are willing to step up to the plate and take their swings. Watching from the bench (or the pew, for that matter) is no longer an option. These renegades have taken up their crosses….
Barna estimates there are already over 20 million Revolutionaries in the United States and these sincere Christ-followers have “gratefully and humbly accepted the opportunity to do what is right, simply because it is right, even if it is not original, politically correct or culturally hip.”
What makes Revolutionaries so startling is that they are confidently returning to a first-century lifestyle based on faith, goodness, love, generosity, kindness, simplicity, and other values deemed “quaint” by today’s frenetic and morally untethered standards. This is not the defeatist retreat of an underachieving, low-capacity mass of people. It is an intelligent and intentional embrace of a way of life that is the only viable antidote to the untenable moral standards, dysfunctional relationships, material excess, abusive power, and unfortunate misapplication of talent and knowledge that pass for life in America these days.
The new influx of Revolutionary Christ-followers seems to have surprised many people, in the church, the media, and the culture at large. In spite of the fact that the institutional church’s social importance has been on the wane for several decades, the advent of the Renegades for God should not come as such an unexpected development, especially when one considers the Master these revolutionaries claim to follow.
(c) L.D. Turner 2008/2012 / All Rights Reserved