Rebel, Rebel….no, wait…you’re a Christian? by J. William DeMarco

I guess I grew up a rebel…funny now that I am a dad, Air Force Officer, student, pilot, commander, the list goes on…but I think I have always been a rebel at heart.  As a teen, the church I belonged to frowned on that…the long hair (well…that’s gone), the black ’72 SS/RS Camaro, my taste in music (anything loud and anti-establishment)…all added up to what they called a “rebellious hippie.”  The title offended me, not the rebellious part as much as the hippie part…weren’t the hippies done as of 1974?  I was a surfer and as a teen…the thoughts weren’t deep….but I had to ponder…didn’t Jesus have long hair, wouldn’t He have driven a muscle car, what kind of music would He like?

Webster defines rebel as “To renounce, and resist by force, the authority of the ruler or government to which one owes obedience”  First glance,…not so sure being a rebel is a good thing, but in the past few years…there appears to be a rise of folks that sort of get the concept as it pertains to Christianity.  Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Erwin McManus to name a few… these folks have really stepped out and showed those that care to listen, a different and perhaps more true side of Jesus…one we may have forgotten.

A recent Brett McCracken article in Christianity Today notes “Jesus was a rebel” is a favorite slogan of Christian pastors and authors trying to “reach twentysomethings.” The logic:

1) Young people think Christianity is tired, boring, and stale.
2) Young people are naturally rebellious and contrarian.
Therefore …

3) Maybe Christianity will be fresh and exciting to them if it is framed in the context of subversion and rebellion.

My sense is…it goes way beyond that…

It’s not a stretch to say that Jesus was a rebel. He was bucking a system, turning over money tables, and saying subversive things in His ministry. It is perfectly appropriate, then, for Christians to call Jesus a rebel or a subversive. Some Christians perceive the concept as awful… others think it fits neatly into a “Christianity is hip” PR ambition a church might be undertaking. Teens and college students love rebels, and even if they loathe the church or Christians, most of them still think Jesus is pretty cool.  But should we, as Christians, embrace or denounce the concept… should we even care?

McCracken quotes SoCal’s Mosaic pastor Eric Bryant when asked “why Jesus is still considered cool in the eyes of young people:”

“They’re intrigued by Jesus. They look to him. He is real, authentic, and relevant. He spoke with honesty. He was a man on a mission. He was a radical, a revolutionary, yet tender and kind and loving. He was doing things completely against the rules of the day. He was a mix of justice, kindness, judgment and grace.”

We all know… he was the perfect human.  We shouldn’t be enlisting people to join the “cause” because they think Jesus is a Che Guevara-esque revolutionary type. They should be joining the cause because they need God’s grace, not because they want to take down some system or join some romantic revolutionary cause.  It is up to us as followers to be clear in our message—it is not about the rebellion—it is about a relationship with God, the Father.

This is an idea that Donald Miller expressed in a New York Times article: that we have to be devoted followers of Christ first, and “rebels” second:

“If you’re a Christian, you need to obey God. And if you obey God, you’re going to be seen as a rebel, both within American church culture and popular culture. But that’s not the point.” The point is to obey God…(and I have to say… I love that!)

In the same article, Shane Claiborne notes “What we do looks extreme because it’s an indictment of the idea of Christianity that so many of us have settled for. When we look at the early church, it was very revolutionary. Jesus sat down to rethink revolution. He was able to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”

So growing up a rebel was perhaps not all bad. The good news is Christians should understand …If we obey Christ and follow his commands (to forsake our own lives in pursuit of him, for example), it may well be perceived as countercultural and maybe even “cool.” The countercultural and “cool” aspects were huge to me, but rebellion is only a virtue when it occurs as an unintended byproduct of obedience to Jesus. …as always, I find…there is much to learn in my Christian walk, hope you are always learning as well.

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