Evidence, Conviction, Revolution: living biblically in a digital age? #digidisciple

During the medialit week at Durham, Kate Bruce showed the group a video clip of Pete Rollins reading a parable from his book Orthodox Heretic.

The parable is a kind of over reading of the old question (was it Lewis or Chesterton?) about whether there would be enough evidence to convict us of being a Christian.

Rollins argument is clear – all the paraphernalia is not enough.  However much you have the trappings of being a Christian, the externals, they are not enough.  Indeed, he goes further. Even worshipping God, even speaking in Church, even writing poetry and being creative is not enough. In Rollins parable, theology is never good enough. Living Christian faith is not enough unless that faith is ‘laid down in a Christ-like endeavour to create a Christ-like world’.  In the end, martyrdom seems to be the only way out – “until you live as Christ and his followers…until you die to yourself and offer your body to the flames, you are no enemy of ours”  – says the judge at the end.

I think that that last sentence is where the parable is both right and wrong. Christianity is about living your faith – its about living biblically in a digital world. A Christianity which reflects merely external trappings without the change in core values effecting who we are and what we do, is an empty Christianity. It is faith without works (James) which we all know is dead and meaningless (Matthew 25 – parable of the sheep n goats) – Paul’s famous clanging symbol (1 Cor 13). But what does it mean to live the lives of Jesus’ disciples? Isn’t that broader than being a revolutionary? Does it necessarily mean martyrdom? Do we have to all be extrovert world-changing history-makers?

To be honest, Rollins seems to consign a whole swathe of Christians over the years to hell. What of the anonymous Christians over the centuries who have served Christ faithfully and quietly. Who have witnessed to the faith in their loving and living and giving? What of the people who are too weak, too poor, too focussed on living the next day to have the opulent, carefree, revolutionary voice? What of those who are just faithfully seeking to live faith in the teeth of opposition from other faiths or other traditions? Are they going to hell because they don’t have the means to think about revolution, let alone to do it?

Yes, we want to applaud the Martyn Luther Kings of this world. Methodism had as much to do with the birth of Britain’s trade unions and Labour Party as any other teaching. We want to stand for the poor and be active in social justice. We want to affirm the ministry of those who change and challenge the norms of a human society which robs people of their humanity. We want to confirm the need to live a biblical life.

But does that exclude from the title ‘Christian’ those who are not paid by a wealthy trust to go around pontificating? Does it exclude those who have to work all their lives simply to live with no time to become radical activists in politics and revolution? Revolutionary lifestyle tends to go hand in hand with the rich and famous! Often a sign of conspicuous disposable wealth than of faithful Christian living. Does it exclude those in the persecuted church of China and sub-saharan Africa and Indonesia faced by horrendous consequences of trying to protest? Does it exclude the normal people, the anonymous people, the people simply seeking to live out Christ’s love in their own community.  What does it mean to live biblically in a digital age?

Surely living biblically, is living a life focussed not on revolution but on love – a revolutionary love. It is not by our radical politics that people will know that we are Christians but by our love for one another. It is not by his overturning of the tables in the Temple that Christ saved us, but by  spreading out his arms of love upon the Cross and embracing all of our sin and enabling our forgiveness.  It is not because God wanted to turn the world upside down that he sent his son – but because he loved the world so much.

Radical Christianity is hot news: the Tea Party radicalism of the States; the new right wing Christianity of Louise Mensch, Nadine Dorries and co.; to the pseudo-Christian terrorism of Anders Breivik.  Is this the kind of radical Christian witness which we want to see? Is this what it means to live biblically in a digital world?  In fact, in preparation for this I read the news from a Catholic Church where a young 15 year old youth worker was put on trial for being a Christian. She was convicted. Not for being a revolutionary but for being a faithful, active, ordinary Christian. A good outcome…read the story.

As Jesus said, “It is by your love that they shall know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)

Love conquers all. By love, we shall be judged. In love, we shall all live.


About pmphillips

Pete Phillips Bio: I'm into the New Testament (especially John's Gospel), technology, literary theory, postmodernism, football and that kind of stuff. I am married to Theresa and we have three great kids (and a Westie called Grace). I'm a Christian and love the whole church thing, which is good because I also work for the Methodist Church in the UK. My formal job titles are: Director of Research for CODEC at St John's College, Durham University and Secretary to the Faith and Order Committee of the Methodist Church.