We aren’t supposed to be kind. We’re not. Jesus didn’t die for us to be kind.
He also didn’t die for us to be dicks, either. Or to fight over land. Or call people names. But being kind, being nice, that isn’t it. Being a good person, a kind and generous person is a truly important thing. We are all better for it. But, and its a big but, it isn’t the summation of the gospel or the main attribute of a Christian.Christianity is more than kindness. GOD is more than love. Click To Tweet
We’re called to be good. Not good like “good children”, but good as in creation, as in GOD looked at all that GOD had done and called it “good.”
In a recent conversation, I tried to explain Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) to some friends. We were talking about the way we pass on our tradition, and I wanted to share a real-world example of this struggle in our current age. I wanted to share why we haven’t passed down traditional Christianity, but something more like civil religion. A variant of an actual tradition.
Adam Ford has a fantastic description of MTD. You should really check it out.
I wanted to share what the problem really is: that it isn’t a denomination or a tradition; MTD has no priests or pastors extolling its virtue. There are no MTD churches or MTD webministries. There are no practitioners of MTD or any persons convincing us that this stuff is the real Christianity. No structure, no system, no church of MTD.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism isn’t something to which people subscribe intentionally. It is what Christianity can become when we essentialize a few aspects over others, or strip away some of its most important character.
This is big and important. And it is, I believe, weakening Christian discipleship.
Because this is what we are passing on, unintentionally. This is what we have given our children; it is the Christianity I was given. It is like teaching only addition, never subtraction, division, multiplication, and calling it “Math”. Here you go, Johnny! Live a full life with all you need to know about math!
And yet, as I introduced the concept, I couldn’t get past the “moralistic” part. I said that Christianity is about more than kindness and then…we couldn’t get any further as we tumbled into a conversation about the core character of Christianity and the chicken-or-the-egg argument of which word is at the root of the other: kindness or love.
I never got the chance to explain the rest of the story or why I brought it up in the first place.
And the reason is, I believe, because we don’t want to be jerks. And we can look at our tradition and say that we see a call to be nice and kind and decent to everybody. We can see “be kind” as an essential stream running through the tradition.
And we can look around at the other world religions, at Judaism and Islam and Buddhism and the like and we can say “yeah, I see it there, too!”
Kindness, niceness, decency seems like the foundation of everything. And for humanity, that may be the case. But it isn’t the foundation of Christianity.
It is more like the foundation of civil religion: the vague Christianity of assumption and identity rather than the particular of encountering Christ in the humanity of other people or the self-shrinking power of communal worship.
More Than Kindness
Christianity is more than kindness. And GOD is more than love.
But they are also more than the words we use to define and restrict one another. It is more than the essential character of our understanding and our blindness and our anxieties.
Christianity is hope.
We know that GOD not only has plans for us individually when we die or that GOD is up in the clouds like Zeus or a divine puppeteer. There is no hope when we are certain that we have no control.
We know that GOD created the world and called it all good. That GOD is looking for us to participate in its recovery and transformation. That GOD’s dream for us must be something in which we are intentionally engaged. And that through our work with GOD, all will be made whole.
Christianity is justice.
GOD’s dream is for a true Jubilee: a restoration and a return of property, the liberation of people from the evils of slavery, the liberation of people from the evils of poverty, the liberation of people from the evils of greed.
GOD’s dream is about building a new community where the hungry are fed, the homeless are sheltered, the poor are saved, the weak are supported, the disabled are lifted, the outcasts are welcomed, the sinners are reconciled, the divided are restored, and the children are the example, not the silenced, not as property at all, but leaders.
Christianity is mercy.
As the practitioners of GOD’s dream, the ones called to fulfill that hope and justice, we are called into a relationship of mercy. We are over and over convicted for our hatred and arrogance; for locking up our problems in little boxes and throwing away the key. Treating human beings like trash, rather than the very image of GOD.
We are called to the hard work of confronting our enemies, not in battle or the cool distance of another continent, but in prayer and mutual acts of restoration and kingdom-building. We are called to work with the dividers and the devils, not just the kind and the reconcilers.
Christianity is realized
It isn’t simply a set of principles to which a believer adheres or an organization of like-minded persons gathered for common purpose and devotion.
Christianity is a kind of realized eschatology of faith lived out in human interactions. It is the very faith that GOD is present in our twos and threes and inviting us into greater intimacy with GOD through greater intimacy with one another. An idea that we aren’t merely mimicking the actions of Jesus, but that we are making Jesus present in our actions in this world.
Christianity is following
When we hear Jesus tell his disciples “take up your cross and follow me” we never argue that Jesus is saying “go do what you want; it’s all good.” And we certainly don’t hear that as “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re nice.” BUT, we shouldn’t hear this as exclusive or exclusionary, either.
We must hear this as a direct invitation to follow. To follow the one who ate with everybody and proclaimed, not “be nice” but the realizing of GOD’s Jubilee in the present through his followers. Following Jesus means doing what Jesus does and changing the culture of domination and control to one of mutuality and love; of changing the culture of violence and hatred to one of reconciliation and Shalom. Following Jesus means changing the freaking world. Not watching cat videos on the internet and scolding people for cussing.
Christianity is way more than kindness. It is about deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. It is about being sensitive to the pain of others, not for the sake of sensitivity, but for the sake of making peace. It is about acting on behalf of the disadvantaged, standing up to the powerful, and demanding justice.
It is a stretch to call our work “kind”.
Kind is an aspect. It is a character. It is part of the call to humility. It is part of how we might make the deep change we’re partnering with GOD to create.
But our faith is much more than kindness. Not how we understand it or how we know it.
Our faith is about living a big, transformed/transforming life of action, faith, devotion, and love. A life in which the very grace of GOD is revealed through the shining of our faces when we encounter one in need.
Compared to that, kindness is a cup of weak coffee. It only makes you think it’ll do the job.
Hey! I’ve written an ebook about the subject of helping form our youth in the church and in the full-faith of Christ’s love. If you are interested in learning more about how this might look, check out A Church for All.