Imagine Jesus wearing a baseball cap, attending the Republican National Convention, celebrating American Independence Day, and advocating for another war in the Middle East. According to blogger Benjamin Corey, author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message, this is the Jesus that conservative American evangelicals have created. As a result, many worship a domesticated Jesus and have diluted his radical good news.
Here, we discuss what it means to be “set apart,” the idolatry of certainty, and whether he’s just making the same old liberal arguments we’ve been hearing for decades.
RNS: Many evangelicals work to be “set apart” from culture, staying true to the fundamentalist roots of some denominations. But you say evangelicalism, has fallen prey to syncretism—the blending of culture with religion so that it’s difficult to distinguish them. Where do you see this?
BC: Over time, I’ve noticed syncretism in a variety of ways within our own culture—such as our cultural focus on individualism, justification of violence, and our often narrow Western understandings of justice. The big picture concern however is this: following Jesus has become something that fits snugly into an American evangelical worldview, both theologically and politically. Unfortunately, as I argue in Undiluted, any time following Jesus becomes comfortable, and any time Jesus seems to agree with our entire worldview, it’s a good sign that we have adapted our concept of Jesus to our culture and that we’d bode well to return to the roots of his message and start over.
RNS: You share about leaving fundamentalism/conservative evangelicalism and moving into a faith that you describe as being oriented on a more radical Jesus. Isn’t this just liberalization?
BC: Not at all, and I think this is part of the problem with a modern evangelical worldview. We have become so sure, so confident in our theological and political rightness that any straying from the company line is dubbed “liberalization” and immediately discounted. But the liberal vs. conservative paradigm is a false choice when we’re talking about following Jesus. Jesus claimed that his kingdom was “not of this world”; he did not come to push a conservative agenda or a liberal agenda—he came to present a radically different way of living that no human worldview could ever duplicate. In a world of false binary options, Jesus is the one in the middle inviting us into a “third way” of living.