The Occupy Wall Street movement builds on over 2,000 years of Christian activism aimed at helping poor people and promoting social justice. Like Jesus, many of the people taking a stand are willing to sacrifice their own comfort and welfare to help the less fortunate. In this article I compile writings that demonstrate how Jesus Christ was a radical reformer and rebel who challenged the rich and powerful of his day. You will find key quotes that summarize how Jesus taught us to care for the least among us. He also fought hard against greed and corruption during his time.
I was moved to write this article by the “Poverty Tour” conducted recently by Tavis Smiley and Cornell West. This amazing program was broadcast over five nights on PBS. This article provides links to watch the shows, as well as a summary of the series. I was also inspired to write when Joe Scarborough finished his MSNBC interview with Smiley and West with his own testimony that “Jesus’ ministry was about taking care of the poor. We don’t see that from the very people who wave their bibles around the most.” This article documents the many ways in which Jesus would now be considered not just a liberal, but a radical in today’s culture. I have included a summary of an important book called “Radical: Taking back your faith from the American Dream” by David Platt. You will also learn about the great song “Jesus Christ” by Woody Guthrie (which uses the melody from Jesse James and has been covered well by U2.) Click to Learn Why Jesus would Lead the Fight against greedy Wall Street moneychangers
Conservatives claim Christ as one of their own. But in word and deed, the son of God was much more left-wing than the religious right likes to believe. …
That conservatives have succeeded in claiming Christ as one of their own in recent years – especially in the US, where the Christian right is in the ascendancy – is a tragedy for the modern left. Throughout history, Jesus’s teachings have inspired radical social and political movements: Christian pacifism (think the Quakers, Martin Luther King or Bruce Kent in CND), Christian socialism (Keir Hardie or Tony Benn), liberation theology (in South America) and even “Christian communism”. In the words of the 19th-century French utopian philosopher Étienne Cabet, “Communism is Christianity . . . it is pure Christianity, before it was corrupted by Catholicism.” …
where would Jesus stand in the main debates of our time, such as war and peace, wealth and taxation, health care and financial reform? To use the formula made popular by Evangelicals in America (often abbreviated to WWJD), “What would Jesus do?” He would do the same as any self-respecting lefty. Here are five reasons why.
1. Jesus the Class Warrior
From Cuban communists to New Labour social democrats, a belief in redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor is at the core of leftist thinking. The means used to achieve that redistribution, such as higher rates of income tax, are often decried by conservatives as representing the “politics of envy”, a misguided Marxist desire for class war.
Jesus, however, went far beyond the 50p top rate of tax or a bonus tax in his zeal for redistribution and his rhetorical attacks on the richest members of society. To see what the “politics of envy” looks like in the Gospels, turn to Mark 10:21-25. Here, Jesus gives a startling answer to a pious Jewish man who has asked him how he can “inherit eternal life”.
21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Forget taxing the rich until the pips squeak, Denis Healey-style; Jesus declares that the Roman Abramoviches and Donald Trumps of this world will struggle to achieve salvation in the afterlife. Why? “You cannot serve God and wealth,” he says (Matthew 6:24). And, according to the epistles, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). …
It perhaps offers a fitting slogan for the placards of UK Uncut, the newly formed group protesting against tax avoidance, at its next high-street demo. In recent weeks, UK Uncut has used direct action to shut down stores owned by Vodafone (accused of being let off £6bn in tax) and the coalition government’s “cuts tsar”, Philip Green – accused of avoiding a £285m bill by transferring ownership of his Arcadia business empire to his wife, who lives in a tax haven (Monaco.) Jesus would approve. …
2. Jesus the Banker-basher
In March 2009, the windows of the detached stone villa in Edinburgh belonging to the disgraced Fred Goodwin, former chief executive of the bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland, were smashed and his Mercedes S600 was vandalised. Some complained that the bankers were being made “scapegoats” for the financial crisis. I suspect Jesus might have been tempted to throw the first stone. He had form with “banker bashing”, as Mark (11:15-17) testifies.
15 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
Tables turned over, wealth scattered, moneymen described as robbers – Christ’s “cleansing of the temple” is a blueprint for the direct action against the financial and political elite by left-wing activists today. In Eagleton’s words, this was Christ’s attack on the “bastion of the ruling class”.
3. Jesus the Fair-wage Campaigner
It isn’t a coincidence that the campaign for a “living wage” – the minimum wage required for every worker to earn enough to provide his family with the essentials of life – has been driven by Citizens UK, a collection of urban community and faith groups that includes churches. The Gospels don’t quite tell us that Jesus was a trade unionist, but they do suggest he backed a living wage.
Matthew 20:1-16 narrates the “parable of the workers in the vineyard”, which tells of five sets of labourers who arrived for work very early in the morning, at 9am, at noon, at 3pm and at 5pm. They are all paid at 6pm and each labourer receives the same amount – one denarius, as agreed to with their employer. Unsurprisingly, those who arrived earlier and did more work complained that they had received the same pay as those who had come later: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But, for Jesus, the casual labourers who came to work for the landowner in his vineyard had basic needs that had to be satisfied, and those who had come late had been struggling to find work in a laissez-faire market: “No one has hired us,” the last labourers tell the landowner. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” in the words of Karl Marx. …
4. Jesus the NHS champion
Jesus was a healer. The Gospels contain countless stories in which he helps the blind to see, the deaf to hear and the lame to walk. There is little evidence that he charged for his services, demanded to see an insurance card before offering treatment, or profited from his miraculous ability to bring the dead back to life.
He called on his disciples to do the same, instructing them to go into towns and “cure the sick who are there” (Luke 10:9). Again, there is no discussion of payment or fees or charges. Indeed, throughout his life, in word and deed, Jesus was a champion of universal health care, free at the point of use. He would have been an ardent and passionate defender of the NHS from free-market “reforms”….
It is no wonder that in the heated town-hall debates that were held across the US in the run-up to the signing of the Obama administration’s health reform bill, which extended health-care coverage to an estimated 32 million uninsured Americans, some liberal activists carried placards proclaiming: “Jesus would have voted Yes”.
5. Jesus the anti-war activist
Would Jesus have backed the Iraq war? Or would he have joined the two million anti-war protesters marching through the streets of London in February 2003? How about the war in Afghanistan? Stay the course? Or do a deal with the Taliban and bring the troops home? WWJD?
Jesus’s pronouncements on war and peace, action and reaction, confirm his preference for non-violent struggle. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he says, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). And: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39). He also says: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). …
In his new memoir, Decision Points, the former US president and born-again Christian George W Bush recalls how he arrived at his decision to approve a request from the CIA to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 11 September 2001 attacks. “I thought about the 2,973 people stolen from their families by al-Qaeda on 9/11 . . . ‘Damn right,’ I said.” But Jesus, the man once identified by Bush as his favourite political philosopher, has little time for such talk of vengeance and retribution. In Luke 6:27-28, he says: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
The ex-president is said to have confessed to a group of Palestinian officials that God told him to “fight those terrorists in Afghanistan . . . and end the tyranny in Iraq”. Given Jesus’s rhetoric on non-violence and “peacemakers,” I suspect the voices in Bush’s head were not those of God, or his son.
Love your enemies. Renounce your wealth. Pay your taxes. Help the poor. Cure the ill (for free). These are the hallmarks of a left-wing, socialist politics. What Jesus wouldn’t do is allow the rich to get richer, give a free pass to the bonus-hungry bankers and invade one foreign country after another. It is difficult to disagree with Wallis when he says: “The politics of Jesus is a problem for the religious right.”
We created this website because we believe the historical, Biblically documented teachings of Jesus Christ clearly show that Jesus is a Liberal. His philosophy, based in compassion, equality, inclusion, forgiveness, tolerance, peace and – most importantly – love, is 100% Liberal. For 20 years we have seen the growing domination of the radical right wing evangelicals on TV, on the radio and in the news, newspapers and magazines and in politics – claiming to own a virtual monopoly on Jesus. They have redefined what He meant and used His name to advance their radical right wing social, business, governmental, political and military agenda – or as President Bush calls it their just and righteous Crusade. We strongly object and disagree.
We reflect the views of over 150 million Liberal, Progressive, Tolerant and Independent thinking Christians, Catholics, and others of all spiritual paths, religions and traditions in the USA and Canada. Together, we reject the radical right wing Republican evangelicals’ claims that they alone represent the will, expression and blessing of Jesus Christ. We believe it is high time someone stand up for the Liberal, Progressive, Tolerant and Independent thinking majority’s position that any plain reading of His words, any genuine interpretation of His intent, outline a Liberal, Progressive, Tolerant, Loving and holistic world view.
Our Mission is to promote the Integral Koan, holistic meme, and the original belief and understanding that Jesus IS a Liberal, and to their very core His teachings outline a Liberal, Progressive, Tolerant, Loving, open minded, holistic, and sustainable vision for our World. …
Webster’s dictionary defines a Liberal as one who is open minded, not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional or established forms or ways. Jesus was a pluralist Liberal who taught that one need not conform to strict and orthodox views of God, religion, and life. He rejected greed, violence, the glorification of power, the amassing of wealth without social balance, and the personal judging of others, their lifestyles and beliefs. Over and over again, He taught us to believe in and live a spiritual and ethical life based in our essential, inherent goodness. What Jesus promoted was succinct set of spiritual principals and a way of life based on love, compassion, tolerance, and a strong belief in the importance in giving and of generosity to those in need.
Our common sense understanding of His lessons as philosophically and politically Liberal is founded upon Jesus’ own words (see quotes below), modern interpretations of Liberation Theology, and in the positive, loving and compassionate application of His teachings – from the many early Saints to Mother Theresa and Liberation Theology. Certainly, Jesus brought a radically Liberal theology to the Orthodox believers of his time. Jesus IS a Liberal even today because now more than ever, His principals align with the very core of Liberal Beliefs.
Biblical Quotes Supporting the Belief that Jesus Is A Liberal
- Peacemaking, not War Making: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9] Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. [Matthew 5:39] I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despite-fully use you, and persecute you; [Matthew 5:44]
- The Death Penalty: Thou shalt not kill [Matthew 5:21]
- Crime and Punishment: If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her. [John 8:7] Do not judge, lest you too be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. [Matthew 7:1 & 2.]
- Justice: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. [Matthew 5:6] Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy [Matthew 5:7] But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. [Matthew 6:15]
- Corporate Greed and the Religion of Wealth: In the temple courts [Jesus] found men selling cattle, sheep and doves and other sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. [John 2:14 & 15.] Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. [Luke 12.15.] Truly, I say unto you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 19:23] You cannot serve both God and Money. [Matthew 6:24.]
- Paying Taxes & Separation of Church & State: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. [Matthew 22:21]
- Community: Love your neighbor as yourself. .[Matthew 22:39] So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you. [Matthew 7:12.] If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. [Matthew 19:21]
- Equality & Social Programs: But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. [Luke 14:13 &14.]
- Public Prayer & Displays of Faith: And when thou pray, thou shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou pray, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret… [Matthew 6:6 & 7]
- Strict Enforcement of Religious Laws: If any of you has a son or a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? [Matthew 12:11] The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. [Mark 2:27.]
- Individuality & Personal Spiritual Experience: Ye are the light of the world. [Matthew 5:14]
Helping others was something Jesus did on a daily basis. He was constantly approached by people, but He always found time to stop what He was doing to help those in need. This is a lesson we must learn if we want to be anything like Jesus, our savior. While Jesus was teaching one day, a man in the crowd tried to test him to see if he would give a wrong answer. He asked Jesus, what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus, who knew the man was a lawyer, told him to follow the law, which says to love God and love your neighbor. In order to justify himself, the lawyer asked who his neighbor was. Jesus then responded with this parable.
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:30-37)
To the Jews of Jesus’ time there was no such thing as a “good Samaritan.” Jews and Samaritans hated each other for religious and political reasons. The fact that it was a Samaritan who helped the Jewish man shows we are all neighbors. It also shows that God is interested in showing mercy rather than maintaining prejudice. Not to mention the fact that the Jewish priest and Levite who are temple assistants, and are usually recognized as servants of God didn’t lift a finger to help the man who was badly beaten. Then since this is the case our first priority should be to ensure that justice is carried out around us, that we show mercy to our “neighbors,” and that we practice our faith and not just talk about it, while letting go all stereotypes, forms of discrimination and hatred. A rich young man was wealthy enough for this life but he wanted to know about eternal life. He was unsure of his destiny and came to Jesus seeking security for his future.
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:18-25)
Notice how Jesus did not challenge the young ruler’s claims about his life, but said that he still lacked just one more thing. He then told the young man to sell all that he had, distribute to the poor, and he would have treasure in heaven. This focused on his wealth and caused the rich man to become very sorrowful because his money was obviously most important to him. However, Jesus clearly makes service to others the last indication of fitness for eternal life aside from keeping the ten commandments. Therefore real wealth involves following Jesus by living not to be served, but to serve others and to devote one’s life to the well being of others.
Two central themes run through the Bible concerning justice. The first is God’s all-encompassing love, concern, and mercy for all human beings. The second is our responsibility to love God’s earth and to care for God’s people.
God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and instructed them to care for it. In the story of Cain and Abel, God sent the clear message that we are, indeed, our brother’s and sister’s keeper. In the tradition of the exodus from Egypt, we learn of God’s compassionate response to misery, oppression, and slavery. God’s law not only calls for individual piety but also communal responsibility for the well-being of all. God never asks us to love only those with whom we are intimately acquainted, but instead a more difficult love is required. Over and over, the law instructs Israelites to remember the stranger, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow those most vulnerable to hunger and poverty and ties this instruction to the exodus. …
Laws provided for sharing one-tenth of the harvest with immigrants, orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), for lending at no interest to those in need (Exodus 22:25), and for the cancellation of debts every seventh year (Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11). Every fiftieth year was to be a Year of Jubilee during which property was to be returned to the family of the original owner. The intent of this law, which may never have been carried out, was to prevent the concentration of wealth and make sure that each family had the means to feed itself.
The prophets, too, insisted on justice for everyone. Amos, for example, denounced those who trampled on the needy and destroyed the poor in order to gain wealth. He railed against those who lived in luxury while the poor were being crushed. The prophets’ main judgments were leveled against idolatry and social injustice. The living God insists on personal morality and social justice, while idols offer prosperity without social responsibility.
The Psalms invite us to celebrate God’s justice
God always keeps promises; God judges in favor of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. (146:6-7) Happy are those who are concerned for the poor; the Lord will help them when they are in trouble. (41:1 TEV)
The wisdom literature in the Old Testament expresses the same theme, as these texts from Proverbs indicate:
If you refuse to listen to the cry of the poor, your own cry will not be heard. (21:13) Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Defend the rights of the poor and needy. (31:8-9)
Concern for poor, hungry and vulnerable people is pervasive in the Hebrew Scriptures. It flows directly from the revelation of God through the rescue of an enslaved people. Jesus should be our model of love, peace, and justice. The justice ethic of Jesus is built upon the foundation of Hebrew Scriptures. Yet, as Christians, our understanding of liberation emerges from the divine act of salvation the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” conquered sin and death for us, we are forgiven, reconciled to God, born anew to be imitators of God, called to sacrificial love for others. Through the gift of eternal life, Jesus sets us free to make the doing of good our purpose in life (Ephesians 2:8-10).
The example of Jesus is our guide and inspiration. He had a special sense of mission to poor and oppressed people evidence that, in him, the messianic promises were being fulfilled. At the outset of his ministry, Jesus stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and read from the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
The gospels depict Jesus repeatedly reaching out to those at the bottom of the social pyramid–poor people, women, Samaritans, lepers, children, prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus was also eager to accept people who were well-placed, but he made clear that all, regardless of social position, needed to repent. For this reason, he invited the rich young lawyer to sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.
Jesus expanded the traditional meaning of the word “neighbor”—defining our neighbor as anyone who is in need including social outcasts. (Luke 10:25-37) Moreover, Jesus calls us to love not only our neighbors but also our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) In his portrayal of the day of judgment, Jesus pictured people from all nations gathered before him. To the “sheep” he says, “Come you blessed of my Father, for I was hungry and you fed me. . . .” In their astonishment they ask, “When did we do that?” And he answers, “When you did it to the lowliest of my brothers (and sisters).” Conversely, to the “goats” he says, “Out of my sight, you who are condemned, for I was hungry and you did not feed me. . . .” (Matthew 25:31-46, paraphrased)
Clearly, in both Old and New Testaments the intention of God that all people find a place at the table is combined with a responsibility on our part for those who are most vulnerable, those most often kept from the table. This intention flows from the heart of God, who reaches out in love to all of us–rich, poor and in between. …
God requires both charity and justice, and justice can often be achieved only through the mechanism of government. The view that nations, as well as individuals, will be judged by the way they treat the weakest and most vulnerable among them is deeply embedded in the witness of prophets such as Isaiah, who said:
How terrible it will be for those who make unfair laws,and those who write laws that make life hard for people. They are not fair to the poor, and they rob my people of their rights. They allow people to steal from widows and to take from orphans what really belongs to them. (Isaiah 10:1-2)
Jesus criticized and disobeyed laws when they got in the way of helping people. He healed people on the Sabbath, for example, even though all work was prohibited on the Sabbath. Religion and government were intermixed, so Jesus was challenging the law of the land. The threat Jesus posed to both religious and political authorities led to his crucifixion. Government is not the only or always the best instrument to deal with injustice. But it is one of the institutions created by God part of God’s providence for the welfare of people. Because we live in a democracy, a nation with a government “of the people,” we have a special privilege and responsibility to use the power of our citizenship to promote public justice and reduce hunger.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (NIV, Romans 12:6-8)
Each of us has something to offer. We can give our money and our time to charity, be a friend to someone who is sick or lonely, do volunteer work, or be a peacemaker, teacher or minister. We may give unselfishly of our time to our spouse, children or parents. We may choose a service-oriented occupation, or we may just do our everyday jobs with integrity and respect for others.
It would seem that the more we give to others, the poorer we become, but just the opposite is true! Service to others brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives in a way that wealth, power, possessions and self-centered pursuits can never match. As Jesus said,
For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give — large or small — will be used to measure what is given back to you.” (TLB, Luke 6:38)
Helping those in need is one of the major themes of the Bible and of Jesus’ ministry. As far back as the thirteenth century B.C., the Hebrews’ law institutionalized assistance to the poor:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God. (NRSV, Leviticus 19:9-10)
The Bible tells us to share generously with those in need, and good things will come to us in turn. We are not meant to live hard-hearted or self-centered lives. This is never made clearer than in Matthew 25:31-46. A greedy, miserly life leaves us devoid of anything but an empty craving for more possessions, more power or more status.
He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. (NAS, Proverbs 28:27)
It is not necessary to be a wealthy philanthropist or a full-time volunteer to make a meaningful contribution. Rather, we should give generously of whatever wealth and abilities we have, no matter how small the amount.
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” (NAS, Luke 21:1-4)
Finally, our good deeds should be motivated by a sincere desire to help others. Public recognition should not be the goal.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (NIV, Matthew 6:1-2)
Each of us has something to give. Some have wealth, some have talents, some have time. Whatever gifts we have been given — large or small — we should share generously. When we do, we make the world better for someone else and find true meaning and satisfaction in our own lives.
There’s a radical in each of us, even if the years have mellowed it. The way to express it is surely through radical devotion to the Father’s cause. On one hand, Jesus spoke to men as they were able to hear it, not as He was able to expound it. Yet on the other, He gave His radicalism free reign. The Sabbath miracles seem to have purposefully provoked the Jews. When He encouraged His men to rub the corn heads and eat them like peanuts as they walked through a field one Sabbath, He knew full well this was going to provoke confrontation. And he said what was anathema to the Jews: ” The Law was made for man and not man for the Law” . Where there is human need, the law can bend. This was a startling concept for a Jew. Jesus described the essence of His Kingdom as mustard seed, which was basically a weed. It was like a woman putting leaven [both symbols of impurity] into flour. … He expected His followers to respond immediately, to pay the price today rather than tomorrow, with no delay or procrastination. There is an emphasis in His teaching on immediacy of response, single-mindedness and unrestrained giving. This is radical stuff for 21st century people in the grip of manic materialism.
His simple claim that God can forgive men all sins was radical (Mk. 3:28)- for the Rabbis had a whole list of unforgivable sins, like murder, apostasy, contempt for the Law, etc. But the Lord went further. His many words of judgment weren’t directed to the murderers and whores and Sabbath breakers; they were instead directed against those who condemned those people, considering themselves righteous. He calls those who appeared so righteous a ‘generation of vipers’. … Very clearly, the Lord’s message was radical. He was out to form a holy people from whores and gamblers, no-good boys and conmen. And moreover, He was out to show that what God especially judges and hates are the things that humanity doesn’t think twice about: hypocrisy, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, exclusion of others…
We need a shake up. Perhaps we need to remember that the teaching of Jesus was actually not directed initially at irreligious people; it was rather to the people of God, to those within the ecclesia. We need to read the Gospels from that viewpoint. They are a radical call to a radical life, a life and way of thinking that’s not about sitting around in a church doing humanly sensible things, taking the safe decisions and options, raising our children in a cocoon of safety and ‘fun’, often to see them walk out into life either indifferent to Jesus, or as merely passive members of a church. It’s not about ‘a religion that makes sense’. It’s not about God always keeping us safe on the roads if we pray regularly and go to meeting on time and read the Bible now and again. It’s about a call to do that which is humanly nonsensical, but to give and give up things in faith, to risk, to aim high, to leap in faith. I see this spirit in those newly baptized. But so often I see it quenched by their attendance at church driving them into the status quo, the utter monotony of civilized church life, within a nominally Christian culture.
I’m not against churches; to be together in the body of Christ is a vital part of our growth. But it has to be said that all too often, the structure ends up rationalizing apathy, and absolving the newly converted individual from the great weight of personal responsibility which they feel to take Christ to their world. Somehow we have to ensure that we all keep in personal contact with our Lord, with the spirit of the Gospels, that we never lose that sense of personal encounter with Him. For this will ever keep us from worrying too much what others think of us, doing what is smart and acceptable and right in the eyes of men… rather we will think only of what is right in His eyes. We’ll get the spirit of David as he danced before the Lord, being himself, with his wife mocking him for what he was looking like in the eyes of men (2 Sam. 6:21,22). The cause of the Kingdom must be forcefully advanced by “violent men” (Mt. 11:12). This was the sort of language the Lord used. He wasn’t preaching anything tame, painless membership of a comfortable community.
1. Love Your Enemies!
OK, you have to admit this is a pretty radical concept. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? (Matthew 5:43-47 )
2. Don’t Worry About The Future
Sometimes insightful sayings seem obvious once you hear them – I think that is the case here. Live in the moment you’re in! “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:34)
3. How To Treat Others
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
4. The Most Important Commandment
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
5. Spiritual Greatness
In the topsy-turvy world of the Kingdom of God it seems the usual understanding of things is reversed. Here is yet another example: “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
6. Gaining The World, Losing Your Soul
Here Jesus highlights that the eternal and spiritual dimension is more important than the temporal physical one. Those who choose to follow His teaching will make physical sacrifices for spiritual rewards. Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
7. The Kingdom Of God Is Not Physical
Christian faith should not be militant, things like the crusades were not in line with what Jesus taught, or even the concept of christendom. He also taught that the Kingdom of God was in the hearts of men. The statement below was said in response to questioning in his trial before the roman govenor. “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
8. God Loves Everyone
This very well known passage is actually a quote from Jesus. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
9. Ask, Seek, Knock
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)
10. His Claim To Be God
While it seems Jesus didn’t make a point of telling everyone that he was God, he did make it clear on a few recorded occasions. This quote is taken from Jesus’ court trial, from which the resulting conviction of ‘blasphemy’ led to his crucifixion. I include this quote, not because it’s a great teaching, but because it affects how one perceives his teaching. It’s hard to think of Jesus as [just] a good moral teacher when you know that he thought himself to be God. Either he is a weirdo, or he is God! Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64)
Do you know this man called Jesus? I’m talking to all you who claim to be born again, believers, followers of Christ. Do you know Him He had little use for those who used religion for their own gain. He was about transforming the hearts of sinners humble enough to admit what they were and turn from their wicked ways. He spoke in a way that many perceived as heresy. He claimed to be the Son of the Almighty. He healed people on the Sabbath ((gasp)) for goodness sake. It appears that he was trying to point out that people were too caught up in following a religion and hardly compelled by a love for God. Traditions are good but they can become crutches and even a facade. Rituals can hide where our relationship with Christ really is because we know all the right things to say, we know all the “right” things to do.
We sit piously and cast judgment on those who fail to conform to what man views a Christian should do, say or look like. Does someone having a tattoo automatically mean they must not be a very “good” Christian? Have we forgotten that none of us are “good Christians”? That’s the point. No one can be “good enough”, that’s why God sent Christ. How dare we squint down our noses at fellow believers who “do things differently”? Christ did things far different than the church of that day. If he really wanted to fit in with the “religiously correct” of that day, he’d have worn priestly clothing, spent endless hours in the synagogue and refrained from speaking to anyone who didn’t at least “appear” religious. No, he got in the streets with the sinners, he ate their bread, he drank from their wells, and he befriended them. He didn’t need a lot of “Christian-speak”, he used words they could understand and illustrations they could relate to.
Don’t ask yourself what would Jesus do but what did Jesus do. Once we familiarize ourselves with what He did on this earth, we can better surmise what he would do in a particular situation. Would his followers follow him if he were like every other stuffed shirt religious leader of his day? No. He related to them, he let them know he loved them. He chastised their sin but he encouraged rather than condemn. He showed them how to be in the world and not “of the world”. All the while he was amongst the sinners, going places with them and wearing the same clothes they wore, he never once sinned. He was “different” not by how he looked, what he wore or where he went. He was different by the message he spoke and what he lived out. …
If we’re going to carry out the great commission, we’ve got to get in touch with this radical, born of a virgin, healing, truth speaking, loving, sacrificing Son of God Almighty. Do you know Him? I mean do you personally and intimately know Him? When was the last time you spoke to Him that you weren’t just asking for a laundry list of “stuff”? When was the last time you actually listened to Him? If we don’t get to know our Savior, how can we be called His followers much less believers in His Name?
Jesus’ quotes provide some of the most memorable sayings of all time. This is my attempt at categorizing the top ten Jesus quotes, which I have done in a rather unsystematic way other than picking them based on…
- Popularity: Some of Jesus’ sayings are well known, even among those who don’t follow Him, but many others are not. I added weight for the popularity of a teaching–especially those that would be known by someone otherwise unfamiliar with Jesus.
- Power: The more radical, the better. Some of Jesus’ quotes go so against the grain of the way the world operates, that we gave weight simply for this quality alone.
- Person: I also chose verses because they were representative in some way or another of Jesus entire life and theme of ministry, such as a verse on the Kingdom of Heaven or Jesus’ quotes about love.
Number 10: He Takes It Personally
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25.35-40 ESV) Jesus kept and promoted God’s passion for the oppressed, hungry, widows and orphans that permeate the Hebrew Scritpures. In fact, it was so much a part of the fiber of His being that to care for them was to care for Jesus. Worse: to not care for Him was to turn your back on Jesus Himself. He takes it personally.
Number 9: The True Path to Greatness
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.42-45 ESV) A lesser known but equally great among Jesus quotes, this verse teaches the true path to greatness is seeking to serve, leading with humility, and giving of self.
Number 8: The Main Motif of Jesus Life
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4.17 ESV) Spoken at the introduction of His ministry, Jesus introduced what would become the theme of His life: The Kingom of Heaven. Here, he proclaims it; in His teaching He explained it; in His parables He illustrated it; in His miracles, death, and resurrection he demonstrated it.
Number 7: The Antidote to Worry
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6.31-34 ESV) Jesus knew us well. We are, by default, worriers. He taught often and well on the peace and freedom from worry that only He can give.
Number 6: A Better Way to Live
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
- “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
- “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”(Matthew 5.3-12 ESV)
Often misunderstood because we don’t understand the Jewish way in which Jesus taught, these Jesus quotes from the passage we call the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ are nonetheless often quoted and provide a truly counter-cultural way to live.
Number 5: Gain the World and Forfeit Yourself
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospels’ will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8.34-36 ESV) This Jesus quote cracks the top half simply by virtue of its closing phrase, which gets cited for any circumstance in which someone has traded their own humanity and values to gain something of only temporary worth and pleasure.
Number 4: Judge Not..
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7.1-5 ESV) Among Jesus’ quotes this is trotted out by some of the most unlikely people at the most unlikely of times in the most unlikely places. It’s usually quoted when someone is feeling criticized or condemned. Of note is that Jesus wasn’t saying never to critically evaluate, but rather not to be judgmental in spirit, which is an altogether entirely different matter.
Number 3: Love Your Enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5.43-45 ESV) The most radical of Jesus’ quotes, less often quoted, least often practiced. Jesus great conspiracy to was to undermine evil with good. Would to God that His followers would do it.
Number 2: The Golden Rule
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7.12 ESV) One may argue that this needs to be at the top of the list, and they may well be right by virtue of popularity. But notice the similarity to number one, and I think this is actually number one restated in a different way. Ah, to treat others as we would want to be treated. This would change humanity forever.
Number 1: The Bible, in a Word.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22.37-40 ESV) Love God and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus linked the two. In other words, he was saying that to love your neighbor was to love God. You couldn’t do one without the other. The Bible, in a word. Love.
According to one scholar, there was one major theme of Jesus’ ministry that went beyond anything any other rabbi taught and was entirely unique to him. Not only was it radical, it also was central to his lifestyle, his teaching about the Kingdom of God, and his mission as the Messiah. It is the following:
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Mt 5:43-45)
This is probably the most difficult command Jesus ever gave, and even for us today it might seem impossible. But, rather than setting aside his words, understanding them in their context is critical for grasping the implications of Jesus’ ministry and our calling as members of his Kingdom. …
Jesus’ understanding of God’s mercy toward his enemies was central to his teaching about the Kingdom, and part of his radical challenge to the common belief about the Messiah. Most believed that the Messiah would be a warrior king who would liberate God’s people from his enemies. In ancient times, kings acted as the supreme judge of their land, and the Messianic King would do so as well. He would be the judge that would bring the Kingdom of God to earth by destroying the evil of the world. …
Everyone thought that the Messiah was going to establish God’s Kingdom by destroying God’s enemies, but Jesus was bringing God’s Kingdom by showing God’s love for his enemies instead. As their King, he personally would suffer for their sins and purchase their forgiveness. Paul says this very thing:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom 5:8, 10)
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Col 1:21-22)
For many in the early Jewish church, the most shocking and scandalous application of this truth was that God’s love extended even to Gentiles. Many laws were in place to keep Jews from being defiled by contact with “Gentile sinners” (Gal 2:15), who as a group were thought to be characterized by the three most terrible crimes in Jewish law: idolatry, sexual immorality and murder. With this dim view of the Gentiles as “enemies of God,” we can imagine the surprise when God poured out his Spirit on them! It took a special vision from God to convince Peter that he could even enter a Gentile home (Acts 10:28). Paul was a perfect apostle to them, as a former enemy to all God was doing through the early church. Such was God’s amazing love.
Perhaps the reason that the Gospel was so difficult for many to accept was that Jesus’ listeners saw themselves as already “on God’s side,” as righteous victims of suffering at the hands of the Romans, and felt justified in wanting God to destroy them. They were happy to read about God’s coming judgment in the Scriptures. It was the prostitutes and tax collectors who could see themselves as “enemies” that wanted to take up this offer of forgiveness. Only when we see that we are saved by God’s amazing love do we realize our obligation to show the same kind of love to others as well.
“Jesus was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His ‘turn the other cheek’ anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years. It was not for nothing that I wrote an article called ‘Atheists for Jesus’ (and was delighted to be presented with a T-shirt bearing the legend).” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (2006)
While Jesus is a revered religious figure, he was also, as atheist Richard Dawkins recognizes, a radical in his own right whose life and teachings changed the course of history. Too often today radicalism is equated with terrorism, extremism and other violent acts of resistance. Yet true radicalism, the kind embodied by such revolutionary figures as Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, actually involves speaking truth to power through peaceful, nonviolent means. Separated by time and distance, Christ, King and Gandhi were viewed as dangerous by their respective governments because they challenged the oppressive status quo of their day.
Jesus, in particular, undermined the political and religious establishment of his day through his teachings. For example, when Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” exhorting his followers to turn the other cheek and give freely, he was telling us that active peacemaking is the way to end war. Indeed, if everything Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount is true–a message that King, to his peril, adopted in protest of the Vietnam War–there’d be no need for wars, war budgets or military industrial complexes. Imagine that.
Unfortunately, as the gruesome torture and crucifixion of Jesus make clear, there is always a price to pay for standing up to one’s oppressors. While the New Testament Gospels are the primary source for accounts of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death, his ordeal at the hands of Roman soldiers has been the topic of scholarly research for years. …
Certainly, the torture Jesus endured was agonizing. Yet what was it about him that caused the Romans to view him as enough of a threat to make an example of him and have him crucified? In the time of Jesus, religious preachers and self-proclaimed prophets were not summarily arrested and executed. Nor were nonviolent protesters. Indeed, the high priests and Roman governors in Jerusalem would normally allow a protest, particularly a small-scale one, to run its course. However, government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that even appeared to threaten the Roman Empire.
The charges leveled against Jesus–that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King as Messiah of Israel (the gravest charge, for which Jesus was ultimately crucified, as inscribed on the cross: “The King of the Jews”)–were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion. Crucifixion itself, usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals, was not only a common method for execution by Romans but was also the most feared. …
Jesus told Pilate–the one person who held Jesus’ life in his hands–to stick it. The cruel torture and killing of Jesus were certain to follow after that. The fact that Jesus was killed for claiming to be king of the Jews was not an afterthought pinned on the cross above his head. The Roman soldiers commissioned to prepare him for execution knew this was the issue. That is why they gave him the burlesque of coronation, clothing him in royal purple with a mock crown and scepter. Then they abased themselves and called out, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (John 19:3). Afterward, they beat Jesus.
The mob must have played a key role in Jesus’ condemnation, although there is little extensive historical evidence to support the scene played out in films and movies in which Pontius Pilate asks the crowd to choose between Barabbas the robber and Jesus. Most likely the pressure to appease the masses would have forced the Romans to act. As author A. N. Wilson writes, “If the crowds could be pacified by the release of Barabbas, they could perhaps be cowed into submission by a cruel public display of what happens to Jews who use words like ‘kingdom’…to the Roman governor.” Surrendering to the people’s will, Pilate granted an execution by crucifixion. …
Unlike the modern church that drowns in materialism and supports the military empire, Jesus advocated love, peace and harmony. As it did in his day, this message when adhered to undermines the ruling establishment. Unfortunately, it is rare for the church today to challenge the status quo–a failing that Martin Luther King Jr. recognized in his famous “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” when he castigated the modern-day church for being “so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”
Written on April 16, 1963, while King was serving a jail sentence for participating in civil rights demonstrations, the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was a response to eight prominent white Alabama clergymen who had called on African-Americans to cease their civil disobedience and let the courts handle the problem of desegregation. King’s words reminded Americans that the early church–the church established by Jesus’ followers–would never have been content to remain silent while injustice and persecution ruled the land:
There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”…. They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
It is unfortunate that the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics. “Christianity today often resembles an egg into which someone has poked a hole and sucked out all its contents,” writes author Richard Smoley in Forbidden Faith (2006), “and then taken the shell, encrusted it with gold and jewels, and set it up as an object of veneration. In many ways, it remains a beautiful shell, but more and more people are finding that it no longer offers any nourishment. If they complain, they’re usually told that they just need to have more faith–which is of course no answer at all.”
Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire. As Mark Lewis Taylor notes, “The power of Jesus is one that enables us to critique the nation and the empire. Unfortunately, that gospel is being sacrificed and squandered by Christians who have cozied up to power and wealth.” Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus–the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be–is to be remembered.
Tavis Smiley had to look no further than his own circle of family and friends to see the painful effects of the ragged U.S. economy to know he needed to act. The radio and TV host is doing what he can for those close to him in need of money or work, he said. For the broader problem, Smiley is using his PBS series this week to put what he calls a “human face” on the nation’s poverty statistics.
Each nightly episode of “Tavis Smiley” is featuring clips from an 11-state, 18-city tour Smiley and Princeton University professor Cornel West took in August to detail the economy’s effect on individuals and families. There are follow-up discussions with anti-poverty advocates and other guests, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
His intent, Smiley said, is to “get this issue higher up on the American agenda.” “We have to get serious about eradicating poverty in the long run while we create jobs in the short run,” he said. While millions of Americans are suffering financially, Smiley said he also felt compelled to address the particularly harsh blow the economy has dealt black Americans.
According to a recent Census Bureau report, the overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent last year, from 14.3 percent the year before, as a record 46.2 million Americans were counted among the impoverished. Poverty increased among all ethnic groups, except Asians, with blacks the hardest hit by a poverty rate of 27.4 percent and with 26.6 percent of Hispanics in poverty. In comparison, the poverty rate for white Americans was 9.9 percent.
What Smiley and West found on their tour was both heart-breaking and inspiring, they said. It was also an introduction to poverty’s changing face. “The new poor in this country is the former middle class,” Smiley said.
West recalled one Illinois husband and wife who fell from earning $100,000 a year to $15,000. The couple experienced a shift in perspective that the professor hopes will resonate with viewers. “Once they had blamed the poor for their plight. Now they can see being poor is a different kind of reality,” he said.
A national poverty summit that brings together economic, social and cultural leaders is needed, Smiley said. He also called for continued government action in the face of sharp political division.
His journey across America uncovered “rays of hope in programs that are working on the ground, right now. The federal government has to find the will to continue to fund those programs in honor of a better tomorrow,” he said.
Check out the following sites where you can watch all the episodes and learn more.
- Link to the Tavis Smiley show at PBS
- Link to Cornel West and Tavis Smiley’s site
- Link to Tavis Smiley’s own site
Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough’s comment came during an interview with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West about politics, Occupy Wall Street and recent comments made by the Rev. Robert Jeffress about Mormonism. Here are his inspirational words:
I don’t usually do this but I am going to do it now because it seems that Christianity is constantly being thrown into primary debates. It happened again this past weekend. How fascinating that, despite the fact that many on the right have brought religion up over the past 30, 40 years, they somehow missed the core of Jesus’ message?
Jesus was asked by his disciples, who is getting to heaven? How do we sit on the right hand of the father? This is what Jesus Christ said. By the way, Pastor Jeffress, if you open your Bible to Matthew, it is in red letters. That means Jesus said it. Then, the King will say to those on the right, come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.
And that was not Jesus talking about some side issue, some side board to his ministry. That was Jesus talking about, when asked, what His ministry was about. It was about taking care of the poor. We don’t see that from the very people who wave their bibles around the most.
Tavis Smiley will put a human face on the alarming new data about poverty in America with special programming on both his national public television and radio programs. With nearly 50 million Americans, or one in six, now living in poverty, “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience” will kick off with a roundtable discussion on The Tavis Smiley Show from PRI on Friday, October 7.
Each night during the unprecedented weeklong series on poverty, Tavis Smiley on PBS will feature video highlights from Smiley’s nationwide August 2011 poverty bus tour with his Smiley & West co-host, Princeton professor Dr. Cornel West. Stopping in 18 cities across nine states, Smiley spoke to everyday Americans, including children, about their struggles in today’s economy. Each night, following highlights from the tour, Smiley will speak with a leading poverty advocate.
“What I witnessed firsthand during The Poverty Tour was both inspiring and heartbreaking,” says Smiley. “Americans who were recently middle class are now considered the ‘new poor’ and they live in our cities, suburbs and rural communities. But in the darkness, we also saw rays of hope in programs that are working on the ground, right now. The federal government has to find the will to continue to fund those programs in honor of a better tomorrow.”
Featured guests in this TV special series include:
- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who will address how poverty is impacting the health and wellness of American families.
- Economist and author Jeffrey Sachs who has been at the forefront of economic development, poverty alleviation and enlightened globalization for more than 20 years. His latest book is titled The Price of Civilization.
- Vicki B. Escarra, president of Feeding America, which is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization that provides food to more than 37 million Americans each year, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors.
- Jim Wallis, best-selling author, public theologian, speaker and international commentator on ethics and public life. He recently served on the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and currently chairs the Global Agenda Council on Faith for the World Economic Forum.
- Princeton professor and New York Times best-selling author Cornel West who is considered to be one of America’s leading public intellectuals.
The tour highlights hardships in communities across the nation. Princeton professor Cornel West and PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, both vocal critics of President Obama, will embark on a “poverty tour” this weekend that will take them to 16 poor communities across the nation. It kicks off Sunday in Obama’s hometown of Chicago. Although according to West, “it is not an anti-Obama tour,” it does seek to highlight what they say is lack of effort by both the president and Congress to address the needs of the Americans who have been hardest hit by the recession. West (pictured above, right) recently discussed the road trip’s goals with BET.com, as well as some of the criticism he’s received for speaking out against Obama.
BET.com: Why are you embarking on the poverty tour and whose idea was it?
West: Tavis Smiley and I had been talking for a year about how to dramatize the poverty and humanize our perception of poor people in America. This is especially so for the Black poor. Poverty has been criminalized, poor people demonized and what we want to do is dramatize poverty and humanize our perception of poor people to overturn what has been in place for so long. When he came up with this idea for the tour I thought it was a magnificent idea.
BET.com: What are some of the stops on the tour?
We’re going to an Indian reservation in Wisconsin, we’re going to hit the brown barrios, the Asian poor communities, white poor communities, the Black hoods and we’re ending in Memphis to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s fundamental commitment to sanitation workers there, and of course his assassination.
BET.com: How are you going to share your observations and some of the things you’ll see while on the tour?
We’ve got an embedded reporter from The Washington Post, camera people who’ll be keeping track and of course you’ll be able to follow most every second of it on the Internet on the tavistalks.com and smileyandwest.com. And there will be documentary filmmakers so we can keep the story going after. I think we’re going to see great dignity, great suffering and great resiliency.
BET.com: A recent Pew Research Center report highlighted the widening wealth gap between whites, African-Americans and other minorities. To what do you attribute the growing disparity?
West: I think it’s tied primarily to greed and power among our oligarchs and plutocrats. I’m sure that the shattering of so much of the American middle class, but especially the Black and brown middle class, had to do with the Wall Street greed that led to the financial catastrophe in 2008—predatory lending, fraudulent behavior, insider trading—just criminal activity that has yet to be investigated or prosecuted.
BET.com: What kinds of policies would you like to see put in place to remedy some of the economic downturn’s adverse effects.
West: We need massive job creation programs and massive investment in public housing, education, transportation and health. The health care bill was an attempt to move in that direction, it’s weak, but it’s better than nothing. It’s a billion dollar giveaway to private insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies that mandate people to buy their products. It extends the number of people who can become part of the health care system, but the reason why we needed transformation in the health care system is because you’ve got 30 percent profits at the top. If you had Medicare for everybody, you’d only have three percent Medicare profits at the top and private insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies would no longer be in the driver’s seat.
BET.com: You’ve mentioned massive investments in domestic areas, but with the nation still in an economic crisis, where would that investment come from?
At West: the moment it’s very difficult now that the oligarchs and plutocrats have checkmated Congress and the White House and put them in a corner, so you end up having a debate about budget cuts rather than investment.
BET.com: In a recent NPR interview, President Obama was asked if he has a special responsibility to Black people and he gave his standard he’s the president of everyone answer. Do you think that he should have a special responsibility to African-Americans, given that community’s economic state?
West: I think that every citizen in a democracy has a moral obligation to be concerned about the weak and vulnerable and the president of the United States is a citizen. When he says he has the exact same responsibility to every member of society, I just say it’s not true, he’s lying. It’s clear that he has more commitment to investment banks than he does to poor people. It’s just clear because when they got in trouble he gave them $700 billion; he subsidized them. They have not made poor people a priority. That’s why we’re going on the tour.
BET.com: Do you wish you’d expressed some things differently so that people wouldn’t focus so much on your personal feelings about Obama and more on your message?
West: If someone had asked me only political questions about public policy, I would have responded only to that because I believe in telling the truth. Someone asked me a personal question, I believe in telling the truth about my personal relationship. I did 65 events and he didn’t say “thank you.” I don’t like that; that’s not decent to me. That’s true for anybody. The sad thing was that the personal truth did get in the way of the political truth, but I would phrase both of them the same way.
This past summer members of the Media Mobilizing Project traveled the country alongside PBS broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Dr.Cornel West on a Poverty Tour of the US. Tavis Smiley will broadcast the fruits of this outing in a 5 part documentary called “Understanding Our Struggles and Changing Our Conditions: A Poverty Tour Documentary”
The five-part documentary reveals the conditions of poverty facing the majority of Americans across the country (who some have recently called “the 99%”) and shares the story of brave everyday people who are fighting back, organizing and empowering their communities to come up with solutions.
MMP’s mission is to build a movement to end poverty led by poor and working people united across color lines. We see media and communications as a vital tool in this. Thus we were excited and honored to be part of this groundbreaking documentary that will show the nation real-life effects of the ever widening divide between the rich and the poor in this country–and more importantly, how different organizations and individuals across the nation are fighting back.
“I want to salute my magnificent brothers and sisters at the Media Mobilizing Project; the world can now see the humanity of poor people and the reality of poverty-ridden conditions. It was a blessing to work with them, as they use their art as a form of service that inspires me and the world to muster up the courage to fight poverty,” said Dr. West.
Watch an interview conducted by Amy Goodman for Democracy Now
We thank you from the Chicago Anti Eviction Campaign and a special thanks from myself. The Poverty Tour that Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley has accomplished took courage, commitment, and a conscience to give a voice and visual to the world! By showing the multi-racial impact of poverty this tour has really help increase participation and unite our struggles across lines of race, class and beliefs. We are all in this together to better America and give the world a Human Rights model worthy of following! It was an honor to assist you all and we thank you for enlightening, encouraging and empowering those less fortunate. May the Creator bless all the hearts of those involved and watching, and help us all as one better this Earth that we will leave the next generations to Inherit. “Amandla Awethu” All Power to the People! – Willie J.R. Fleming (Chicago Anti Eviction Campaign)
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie
Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land
A hard-working man and brave
He said to the rich, “Give your money to the poor,”
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave
Jesus was a man, a carpenter by hand
His followers true and brave
One dirty little coward called Judas Iscariot
Has laid Jesus Christ in His Grave
He went to the preacher, He went to the sheriff
He told them all the same
“Sell all of your jewelry and give it to the poor,”
And they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.
When Jesus come to town, all the working folks around
Believed what he did say
But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed Him on the cross,
And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.
And the people held their breath when they heard about his death
Everybody wondered why
It was the big landlord and the soldiers that they hired
To nail Jesus Christ in the sky
This song was written in New York City
Of rich man, preacher, and slave
If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee,
They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.
What is Jesus worth to you? It’s easy for American Christians to forget how Jesus said his followers would actually live, what their new lifestyle would actually look like. They would, he said, leave behind security, money, convenience, even family for him. They would abandon everything for the gospel. They would take up their crosses daily… But who do you know who lives like that? Do you?
In Radical, David Platt challenges you to consider with an open heart how we have manipulated the gospel to fit our cultural preferences. He shows what Jesus actually said about being his disciple–then invites you to believe and obey what you have heard. And he tells the dramatic story of what is happening as a “successful” suburban church decides to get serious about the gospel according to Jesus. Finally, he urges you to join in The Radical Experiment–a one-year journey in authentic discipleship that will transform how you live in a world that desperately needs the Good News Jesus came to bring.
Chapter One: Someone Worth Losing Everything For (What radical abandonment to Jesus really means)
Even though David Platt was touted as “the youngest mega-church pastor in history,” he became uneasy when he compared himself and his church to Jesus and his followers. He said Jesus was more like “the youngest mini-church pastor in history,” spending most of his time with twelve men. While American church culture appears to define success by “bigger crowds, bigger budgets and bigger buildings,” He points out examples where Jesus turned away thousands of people and questions if possibly Jesus “spurned the things that… [American] church culture said were most important.”
Platt compared a secret (underground) church meeting he had attended in a closed country to his first Sunday as the pastor of a church in America: “I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. We were settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.”
Examining Jesus’ ministry and the countless times he practically dissuades would-be followers from following Him (i.e. the rich, young ruler) by making it clear that following Him required abandoning everything else, Platt considers how differently the American church would likely respond to those same situations. Platt contends that we are starting to redefine Christianity by rationalizing away the radical call of Jesus to abandon everything, pick up our cross and follow him. We have a more palatable Jesus. “A nice, middle-class Jesus, American Jesus…who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have…or to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, …who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.” The danger with this is not only that Jesus begins to look like us, but also that when we gather to worship we are potentially worshipping ourselves instead of Jesus.
As costly as it is to follow Jesus, not following Jesus has a cost as well—the cost of non-discipleship. When Christians choose to remain comfortable, ignoring true discipleship and Jesus’ commands (such as the command to sell their possessions and give to the poor), others pay the cost: the unreached, the poor, starving and suffering around the world. But it’s a cost the nominal Christian pays as well as he forgoes eternal treasure. Platt exhorts readers to believe that Jesus is worth it. Like the man who found a treasure in a field and sold all he had to purchase that field (Matthew 13)—Jesus is a treasure worth abandoning all earthly possessions and pursuits.
Chapter Two: Too Hungry for Words (Discovering the Truth and Beauty of the Gospel)
Meeting in secret, desperate to hear the Word of God, willing and eager to sit for hours upon hours while being taught Old and New Testament history and theology, forgoing income, ignoring discomforts—the underground church is a stark contrast to the American church. While the Word of God is enough for millions of believers around the world, Platt began to wonder if it was enough for Christians in America. Would the Christians in his church still gather if there was no cool music, no video screens, no cushioned chairs, no air conditioning…no entertainment value…nothing but studying God’s word for hours at a time? So began “Secret Church” at Brook Hills—a Friday night gathering from 6:00pm – midnight in which they simply studied the Word and prayed.
Platt urges Christians to examine how much of their understanding of the Gospel is American and how much is biblical—starting with who God is (a God who “evokes greater awe and demands deeper worship than we are ready to give him”). Secondly, Platt challenges our understanding of who we are. Contrary to our self-improvement cultural bias, we are darkened in our understanding, with hearts like stone, a people unable to save ourselves.
When we come to truly understand who God is and who we are, we will be brought to a more appropriate response. We have presented a weak Savior who is begging for us to accept Him. Platt finds this an inadequate and offensive response. God doesn’t need our acceptance; we need Him. Our response, if we really understand our hopeless estate and His glorious grace out to be one of total, immediate and unconditional surrender.
Chapter Three: Beginning at the End of Ourselves (The Importance of Relying on God’s Power)
The American dream leads to two key problems. The first is that we believe in our strength – our greatest asset is our own ability. We believe we can do anything we set our minds to. The second problem Platt sees with the American dream is more troubling—because we accomplish things in our own power, we are likely to attribute our success to our own strength and ability…ultimately this leads to our own glory, not God’s. We make much of ourselves when the Bible says we should make much of God. In fact, God has a history of putting his people into situations they cannot handle without Him, so that He gets the glory.
This is problematic, not only in our personal lives with Christ, but also in the way we do church in America. We have a system full of strategies, plans, programs, etc. which are nearly guaranteed to increase attendance. We start with a good performance, build incredible facilities to host it and contain the crowds, and start up a menagerie of programs to keep people coming back. And to ensure it’s successful, we hire professionals to do the job for us. However, Platt is concerned that this precludes our desperation for God in the process. And it dupes us into mistaking numbers and attendance for true spiritual growth.
Platt contrasts our American church system with the church’s beginnings found in Acts. He notes their dependence on prayer and on God. He also notes that they were not professionals, they were ordinary men. He also cites George Muller as an example of a man who lived in complete dependence on God. We can live in dependence on God, knowing that he is a father who loves to give to his children. When the God of the universe, our Heavenly Father, gives gifts to us, he gives the best gifts. He gives of his very self – he gives the Holy Spirit. For example, Platt explains that when we ask for comfort, God gives us the Comforter. Platt says that God especially loves to give to those who long to make much of Him.
Chapter Four: The Great Why of God (God’s Global Purpose from the Beginning till Today)
From Genesis to Revelation, Platt illustrates the global purpose of God: “God blesses his people with extravagant grace so they might extend his extravagant glory to all peoples on the earth.” When God blesses his people, it’s not ultimately for their sake, but so that they might extend God’s blessing to others. We are to be a conduit of God’s grace, not the end point of it. God’s grace isn’t give to us that it might stop with us, but rather that it might go on through us. He has commanded for us to go, take his gospel to the ends of the earth and Platt contends that “anything less than radical devotion to this purpose is unbiblical Christianity.”
Most Christians assume that “God loves me” is the point of the gospel. But Platt points out that this line of thinking makes “me” the point, the object of Christianity. Therefore, His grace is centered on me. And I make decisions about church, career, lifestyle, etc. all based on what is best for me. But God, not me is the center, the object, the end and the point of our faith. We need to be wary of disconnecting his blessings given to us from his larger global purpose, that of using them to make his name great among all peoples, lest we think the gospel and his goodness all centers on “me”.
The global purpose of taking God’s image to all the earth is something we are commanded to do. It is not an optional program. Yet, Platt warns that while we have made certain promises of God personal and directly applicable to our lives (such as John 10:10 that we will have abundant life), we have made other promises and commands optional and applicable only to some (such as in Acts 1:8 where we are told the Holy Spirit will take us to the ends of the earth). “In this process we have unnecessarily (and unbiblically) drawn a line of distinction, assigning the obligations of Christianity to a few while keeping the privileges of Christianity for us all.
Platt addresses the most common objection that arises, that of wanting to take care of local needs first, before addressing the needs of the world. He points out that most Christians really aren’t doing that much locally in the first place. But beyond that, our city makes up 1% of the world, our nation 5% of the world. That makes our city and even our nation a very small percentage of God’s heart for the world. “Shouldn’t every Christian’s heart be ultimately consumed with how we can make God’s glory known in all the world?” Platt asks, both locally and internationally.
Chapter Five: The Multiplying Community (How all of us Join Together to Fulfill God’s Purpose)
Platt examines how we are to live out God’s global purpose of making his name known among the nations by looking at Jesus’ example. Jesus who considered his great work on earth the band of men he had made disciples, not all the great sermons he taught or miracles he performed. Platt feels that one of the consequences of our modern church strategies has been that people are often left out of the picture. He writes, “The plan of Christ is not dependent on having the right programs or hiring the right professionals but on building and being the right people—a community of people—who realize that we are all enabled and equipped to carry out the purpose of God for our lives.”
Go, baptize and teach – those were Jesus’ parting words. Platt explains in greater detail what is involved in each.
- Go – “Disciple making is not a call for others to come to us to hear the gospel but a command for us to go to others to share the gospel. A command for us to be gospel-living, gospel-speaking people at every moment and in every context where we find ourselves.
- Baptize – Baptism is the symbol of new life we have in Christ. It is symbolizes our identification with other believers and unites us as members of one family.
- Teach - As believers reproduce themselves, teaching and modeling through example is a natural part of that. And, “when we take responsibility for helping others grow in Christ, it automatically takes our own relationship with Christ to a new level.”
Platt says that the modern church usually aims to disinfect Christians, vs. making disciples. Disinfecting, he says, “involves isolating followers of Christ in a spiritual safe-deposit box called the church building and teaching them to be good.” In this system, holiness becomes a matter of what we haven’t done. Discipling, however, propels Christians into the world. In this system, success isn’t defined by the numbers of attendees on a Sunday morning, but rather by the number of people leaving in order to take God’s name to the corners of the earth.
Chapter Six: How Much is Enough? (American Wealth and a World of Poverty)
We all are susceptible to blind spots, no matter how good our intentions, how faithful our worship and consistent our Bible study. A blind spot which seems to be rampant in the American church today is our response to poverty in the world. Platt says that, “anyone wanting to proclaim the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth must consider not only how to declare the gospel verbally but also how to demonstrate the gospel visibly in a world where so many are urgently hungry.” To drive home the point, Platt explores some of the Bible’s judgment upon those who neglect the poor.
There are two common errors, according to Platt, when people read Mark 10, about the rich young ruler whom Jesus told to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, then come follow Him. People try to universalize Jesus’ words. They think Jesus always commands this of all his followers throughout all of time. (This is unsupported by Scripture.) At the other extreme, people assume Jesus never calls his followers to actually give up all they have to follow him. Also not scriptural.
The central problem was that the rich young man didn’t see God as sovereign Lord, he saw him as a good teacher. Platt asks if we are making the same mistake. Are you and I looking to Jesus for advice that seems fiscally responsible according to the standards of the world around us? Or are we looking to Jesus for total leadership in our lives, even if that means going against everything our affluent culture and maybe even our affluent religious neighbors might tell us to do? Jesus never intended to be one voice among many counseling us on how to lead our lives and use our money. He always intends to be the voice that guides whatever decisions we make in our lives and with our money.
He encourages readers that Jesus loves us, and as he tells us to let go of our grip on our possessions it is because of his great love for us. It is because he loves us that we can also trust that he will provide for us. This letting go of our possessions is hard. We think of wealth the way the world does—we see it as a blessing, something that is always to our advantage, rather than seeing that it may also be a barrier in our life and our relationship with God. It is not to say that possessions in and of themselves are bad. We give them away, not because they are evil, but because they might do more good on behalf of others. We give them away because Christ compels us to care for those in need around us.
What can we spare? or What will it take? There is a critical difference between these two questions/approaches to how much we are willing to give to spread the Gospel. We are accustomed to giving our leftovers, our scraps. We wait to see what we can spare. But we are approaching this from the wrong end. We need to start with asking ourselves what it’s going to take.
Chapter Seven: There is No Plan B (Why Going is Urgent, Not Optional)
Our belief that “all men are created equal” has subtly become the belief that all ideas are also created equal. As such, different religious views are simply a matter of preference and should be considered equal. Faith becomes a matter of taste, rather than truth. This belief, this way of thinking has permeated the church. The result of which is that rather than having a sense of urgency to reach the lost and dying with the Gospel of Christ, Christians often feel that people will “go to heaven simply based on their native religious preferences.” Platt explores Romans to shed some light on this line of thinking.
- Truth 1: All people have knowledge of God. (Romans 1:18)
- Truth 2: All people reject God. Our sinful natures rebel against God.
- Truth 3: All people are guilty before God.
“I am always amazed at how we bias this question concerning people who have never heard about Jesus. We give the man in Africa or the woman in Asia or even ourselves in America far too much credit. There are no innocent people in the world just waiting to hear the gospel. Instead there are people all over the world standing guilty before a holy God, and that is the very reason they need the gospel.
All too often we view heaven as the default eternal state for humankind. We assume that our race simply deserves heaven – that God owes heaven to us unless we do something really bad to warrant otherwise. But this theology is just not true. All people are guilty before God, and as such the default is not heaven but hell.”
- Truth 4: All people are condemned for rejecting God. Just because a person hasn’t heard the gospel of Christ is not a get out of jail free card. If it was, then it would mean that people were in heaven on the basis of not having heard the Gospel. It would mean that we do a disservice to anyone when we share the Gospel with them – previously they were going to Heaven, now they might go to Hell if they don’t accept the Gospel.
- Truth 5: God has made a way of salvation for the Lost.
- Truth 6: People cannot come to God apart from faith in Christ. “If we conclude that people can get to heaven apart from faith in Christ, then this would mean there is something else they can do to get to heaven…. It would also be tantamount to saying to Jesus, ‘Thank you for what you did on the cross, but we could have gotten to God another way.’”
- Truth 7: Christ commands the church to make the gospel known to all peoples. “Many stories are told today of God revealing Christ in dreams and visions around the world to people who have never heard of Jesus. Consequently, many Christians have begun leaning on the hope that God is using other ways to make the gospel known to people who have never heard of Jesus. But we need to remember something. There is not one verse in the book of Acts where the gospel advances to the lost apart from a human agent.
If this is all true, that people are dying with out the saving knowledge of Jesus, and it is up to us to take that message to them, then there is no time to waste, especially not on something as insignificant as the American dream. There are about 1.5 billion unreached peoples currently, and sadly, while they have never heard of Jesus, many of them have heard of Coca Cola. Platt points out that an American soda company has done a better job of getting its “message”, its product to the remote corners of the world than Christians have. While many think God is unjust to let so many people go unreached, Platt contends that it isn’t God who is unjust – He has provided the way and commanded believers to take that way to every corner of the earth. It is Christians who are unjust. It is Christians who possess the answer for those lost people and do nothing with it.
In a culture where so many Christians are wondering about God’s will for their life, Platt answers, “The will of God is for you and me to give our lives urgently and recklessly to making the gospel and the glory of God known among all peoples, particularly those who have never even heard of Jesus. The question, therefore, is not “Can we find God’s will?’ The question is “Will we obey God’s will?”
Chapter Eight: Living when Dying is Gain (The Risk and Reward of the Radical Life)
Jesus acknowledged that following him would involve risk. The question therefore, that must be asked is, “Do we believe the reward found in Jesus is worth the risk of following him?” Jesus commanded his followers to go to places of need. Go to the dying, the poor, the sick, the needy… Jesus “met us at our deepest need and now uses us to show his glory and to advance his gospel among the places of greatest need in the world.”
He also sent his followers out in the midst of danger, to the midst of danger. “We say things such as, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” We think, If it’s dangerous, God must not be in it. If it’s risky, if it’s unsafe, if it’s costly, it must not be God’s will. But what if these factors are actually the criteria by which we determine something is God’s will? What if we began to look at the design of God as the most dangerous option before us? What if the center of God’s will is in reality the most unsafe place for us to be?” Platt asks if we would be willing to be the first to tell a region about Christ and possibly even die in the process, so that someone after us might harvest the fruit of our sacrifice?
“As long as Christianity looks like the American dream, we will have few problems in this world,” according to Platt. But, he says, “the more our lives are conformed to his, the more we will receive what he received in this world…. The danger in our lives will always increase in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ.” Platt tells the story of the SS United States, “the fastest and most reliable troop carrier in the world” designed for the navy to use during times of war. However, she was never used for war and became a luxury liner for presidents and other “important” people instead. “The church, like the SS United States, has been designed for battle. The purpose of the church is to mobilize a people to accomplish a mission. Yet we seem to have turned the church as troop carrier into the church as luxury liner. We seem to have organized ourselves, not to engage in battle for the souls of peoples around d the world, but to indulge ourselves in the peaceful comforts of the world.”
The American dream rewards its followers safety, comfort, ease, success, security… But Christ rewards his followers with eternal security, safety, satisfaction, things which far outweigh what this world offers. God is sovereign, so we are safe in His care. God loves us, so we are secure. God gives us his presence, which provides more satisfaction than any pleasure on earth. Platt cites as examples people who lived in the face of the rewards of Christ even in the midst of martyrdom. When death is a reward, then you are freed to live a radical life. Platt believes that is the key to taking back your faith from the American dream. Once we are able to fix our eyes on better, heavenly country, then will we be able to take risks and live radically. In the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Chapter Nine: The Radical Experiment (One Year to a Life Turned Upside Down)
To know the validity of a claim, it must be tested. Thus, Platt encourages readers to take a one-year challenge to test the claims of Christ (as put forth in Radical). He guarantees that in one year, those who try it will find they have an insatiable desire to live radically abandoned to Jesus. He chose a year because he believes that, contrary to our American desire to reap long-term rewards for short-term commitments; long-term benefits are actually reserved for long-term commitments.
Pray for the entire world. “I would have expected Jesus to say [Matthew 9], ‘You guys see the need. The harvest is plentiful. So pray for these people who are harassed and helpless. Pray for them.’ But that isn’t what he said. Jesus didn’t say to pray for those who were lost. Instead he told the disciples to pray for the church….When Jesus looked at the harassed and helpless multitudes, apparently his concern was not that the lost would not come to the Father. Instead his concern was that his followers would not go to the lost…. A fundamental reality snaps into focus: we are not praying. This is the only possible explanation for how there can be such great need yet so few workers. The multitudes are waiting to hear, and our most urgent need is to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out Christians into the harvest field.” Platt encourages readers to either read Operation World or check out their website: http://www.operationworld.org for information and prayer guides on every nation in the world.
Read through the entire Word. “[The Bible] is the only Book that he has promised to bless by his Spirit to transform you and me into the image of Jesus Christ. It is the only Book that he has promised to use to bring our hearts, our minds, and our lives in alignment with him…. When you or I open the Bible, we are beholding the very words of God—words that have supernatural power to redeem, renew, refresh, and restore our lives to what he created them to be…. In our quest for the extraordinary, we often overlook the importance of the ordinary, and I’m proposing that a radical lifestyle actually begins with an extraordinary commitment to ordinary practices that have marked Christians who have affected the world throughout history (i.e. prayer and reading the Bible.)
Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose. “For one year, sacrifice your money—every possible dollar—in order to spend your life radically on specific, urgent spiritual and physical need in the world.” Make it sacrificial. Give to gospel centered, church focused organizations that you can trust, and focus on specific, tangible needs.
Spend your time in another context. Platt challenges readers to spend about 2 percent of the year (approximately 1 week) in another context of ministry—going to minister to those in need. He asks, “How will I ever show the gospel to the world if all I send is my money? Was I really so shallow as to think that my money is the answer to the needs in the world?” Our going starts at home first. But it also goes beyond that. He found that for the members of his church, just 2 percent of the time spent going beyond, to some place out of their normal realm of influence, had significant positive impact on the other 98 percent of their ministry within their normal realm of influence.
Commit your life to a multiplying community. “I am convinced that one reason many of us have not taken radical steps in our giving, for example, may not be so much because we love our possessions as it is because we fear isolation. If the radical, simple living we see Jesus talking about were more common in the church, it would be much easier for us to live simply as well…. If we are going to live in radical obedience to Christ, we will need the church to do it. We will need to show one another how to give liberally, go urgently, and live dangerously. When we sacrifice our resources for the poor and then face unexpected and unforeseen needs in our own lives, we will need brothers and sisters to help us stand…. The global purpose of Christ was never intended to be accomplished by individuals.”
“What [the end] comes, I am convinced we will not wish we had given more of ourselves to living the American dream. We will not wish we had made more money, acquired more stuff, lived more comfortably, taken more vacation, watched more television, pursued greater retirement, or been more successful in the eyes of this world. Instead we will wish we had given more of ourselves to living for the day when every nation, tribe, people, and language will bow around the throne and sing the praises of the Savior who delights in radical obedience and the God who deserves eternal worship.”
This Book In 100 Words: So, you’re a Christian who proclaims to love God and live life as a testament to His glory. But have you ever really understood what it means to be a biblical Christian? Would you still be a follower of Christ if you didn’t have financial security, several technological gadgets, sanitary food and water, or even a stable roof over your head? If you were hesitant toward any of these conditions, your faith has been warped by the American Dream, an antithetical mentality to the Christian doctrine. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can change right away.
- Pros: From cover to cover, this book packs a punch. The chapters are divided up fairly evenly, with all but two containing approximately twenty pages that can be knocked out in under thirty minutes. There are several subsections within each chapter, too, in case you need a stopgap or a chance to digest what you just read. Though I chide the bold statements found throughout this book in the following segment, they are plentiful and provocative. In general, they all denounce the way of cultural Christianity found predominantly in American churches today. But these statements are not meant to cast shame upon the reader. If anything, they urge the reader to reconsider his or her place in the world, for all residents in the United States are living within the top 15 percent of the world’s wealth. Meanwhile, this book weaves the author’s insights and experiences seamlessly, making it compelling to read just one more page. In so doing, the author practically pushes you to become more proactive in your faith ‘coz, lets face it, if you can’t practice what Jesus preached about the “good life”, you may be kidding yourself if you profess to be a Christian.
- Cons: This is not a book meant to be taken lightly. Just because its short doesn’t make it sweet. If anything, you may be left with a bitter taste in your mouth when you’re done with it (figuratively speaking). It also makes a lot of bold statements that, depending on your walk with Christ and socioeconomic status, will rattle your cage to various degrees and even possibly question your commitment to the Christian faith. This book all but insists that the only way to live out God’s plan for believers is to quit one’s job, sell one’s house and material possessions, and become a missionary in some foreign country in the 10/40 window. The language, though far from Bible bashing, is reminiscent of the fire and brimstone sermons of the past, so don’t expect to be coddled, either. This book relies heavily on pathos to get its points across, so the author goes through a lot of trouble clarifying his points so that the reader won’t take his words to extremes, though the book’s title suggests otherwise. It leaves a lot of subjectivity, such as defining a necessity from a luxury, and it would surprise me none if several readers are turned off by its overarching premise.
- Final Verdict: This book lives up to its title, and then some. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream is the remedy for professing Christians, specifically in the United States, whose minds have been conditioned into thinking that the gospel of health, wealth and prosperity is what Jesus blesses his followers with. Surprise, its the polar opposite! This book is an uncomfortable, yet challenging, read that’ll make you think twice about renovating your house, or buying the latest model of flat screen televisions, or doing anything that is seen as self-promotion. In fact, after reading this book, you’ll never look at material possessions the same way ever again. Whether you’re a theology major looking for critical commentary or an ordinary believer looking for spiritual growth, you’ve stumbled upon the quintessential piece of contemporary Christian literature. The only complaints I have deal with its inclusion of subjective loose ends regarding the Christian way of life and its brevity, but even those are counteracted by the quality put forth by the author. As Californian beach bums would say, this book is “radical.” And may it be a mainstay in your personal library, too.
“In his compelling new book, Radical, David Platt delivers a powerful picture of the church in America today that, on key points, stands in sharp contrast to what the Bible shows us about the person and purpose of Jesus Christ. David challenges Christians to wake up, trade in false values rooted in the American dream, and embrace the notion that each of us is blessed by God for a global purpose—to make Christ’s glory known to all the nations! This is a must-read for every believer!” – Wess Stafford, president and CEO, Compassion Intl.
“We have moved into a generation of young leaders who have a passion to surrender the American dream if necessary in order to embrace fully, compassionately, and wholeheartedly a bigger dream—the Great Commission. I have never been challenged by an author more than I have by David Platt. Read Radical, be blessed, and be changed.” – Johnny Hunt, president, Southern Baptist Convention, and pastor, First Baptist Church of Woodstock
“Radical will cause you to bounce on a spectrum between two words: ouch and amen. Tough truths do that. They challenge us to examine our lives and then choose the lasting over the temporary. Read Radical if you’re ready to live differently.” – Gregg Matte, senior pastor, First Baptist Church of Houston
“David Platt’s book will leave anyone who sincerely engages with his challenge dissatisfied—and faced with a decision: What will authentic faith look like in my life? This book has the potential to revitalize churches today to practice a radical, biblical lifestyle that can transform society and reach a lost world.” – Jerry Rankin, president, International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention
“The church of the Lord Jesus has been seduced by a skilled seductress: the American dream. David Platt exposes this enemy of authentic Christianity and provides a way of escape through a radical faith that leads to a radical obedience. I am not the same after reading it. I trust that will also be true for you.”
—Daniel L. Akin, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
“It is almost impossible to keep the idols of our own culture from influencing us, whether we want it to happen or not. This is certainly true when it comes to the so-called American dream. We need our eyes opened! We need to be called out! In this challenging and thoughtful book, David Platt shows us the way to live for Someone and something bigger.” – Darrin Patrick, founding pastor, The Journey, St. Louis
“Sometimes people will commend a book by saying, ‘You won’t want to put it down.’ I can’t say that about this book. You’ll want to put it down, many times. If you’re like me, as you read David Platt’s Radical, you’ll find yourself uncomfortably targeted by the Holy Spirit. You’ll see just how acclimated you are to the American dream. But you’ll find here another Way, one you know to be true, because you’ve heard it before in the words of the Lord Jesus, perhaps most forcefully in the simple call ‘Follow me.’” – Russell D. Moore, dean, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Through solid examination of the Scriptures and compelling testimonies from believers enduring persecution, my friend David Platt pulls back the curtain on subtle dangers weakening the church in our Western culture. Radical is the urgent call we need to care more about the spiritually lost and physically impoverished people of the world.” – Ed Stetzer, president, LifeWay Research