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This past week, a friend pointed me to a fascinating interview with Tom Holland. Holland is a leading English author and historian who’s published several best-selling books and TV series with the BBC. He was being interviewed about his most recent book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World.
Holland isn’t a practicing Christian, but he writes his book to puzzle over a paradox that most in the modern West miss: that even in secular, 21st-century cultures, most of the values that shape our societies — universal human rights, a belief in medicine and science, concern for the poor, and more- are unintelligible apart from the the Christian story.
The whole interview is worth watching, but the moment I loved most was when the interviewer asked Tom Holland what he’d like to see Christians preach. Here’s how he answered:
I see no point in Christian preachers just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft left liberal, because everyone is giving that. If I want that I’ll get it from a Liberal Democrat councillor. If you’re a Christian, you think that the entire fabric of the cosmos was ruptured when, by some strange singularity, someone who is a god and a man sets everything on its head… this is a massive singularity at the very heart of things.
If you don’t believe that, it seems to me you’re not a confessional Christian… So, if you believe that, it should also be possible to dwell on all the other weird stuff that traditionally comes as part of the Christian package… It seems to me that there’s a deep anxiety about that, almost a sense of embarrassment — ‘oooh, Jesus was really just a nice guy…’ It’s a bit more than that; it’s stranger and weirder.
Pentecost is certainly a day when the Church leans into the weird stuff. The divided tongues, as of fire. The multilingual cacophony. The Holy Ghost.
Now, there’s certainly a justifiable squeamishness to all that Pentecost signifies — God pouring out God’s Spirit upon his people — because of the way it has in some corners been aped by snake-oil salesmen under religious pretense.
Even in the educated, secular West there is the stubborn, nagging thirst for spiritual reality, for transcendence. So maybe the message of Pentecost — that, because of the work of Jesus of Nazareth, the Almighty could be closer to you than your own breath, that you could experience the strange, personal presence of the Creator and Rescuer of the cosmos — might just be welcome news after all.
And on this Pentecost, followers of Jesus are right to — again, sadly — lament the wicked violence done to black bodies in our own country. In this moment, as cities fester and protesters gather to demonstrate and cry out, the promise of Pentecost that, in Christ, the living God, in stubborn love, is knitting together a renewed humanity not defined by race, skin color, class, or culture, but by grace — well, that’s a Gospel word we need urgently.
So, gentle reader, I say, on this Pentecost Sunday, let’s make Christianity weird again.
To borrow an old prayer apropos for the day: “Come Holy Ghost.”
Oh Amen. Yes, the singularity at the center. Yes, weird. Hendrikus Berkhof wrote two books, both translated into English, that undergird you: Christ, the Meaning of History, and The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In the first one is that memorable passage about the ambulance, and how we respond to the ambulance, and what that tells us about Christ in history.
Amen. Weird stuff – miracles – happened in very isolated times in biblical history with many years of no activity in-between. Cessationists say that the manifest gifts of The Holy Spirit came to an end with the ministry of The Apostles. That was about 1900 years ago. I say it’s about time then, for the “ordinary years” to give way to an era of “weirdness.”
I hope this grace seeps into us all-white and black and we seek a loving solution to all these years of bad treatment of blacks by supposedly Christian whites.
“I see no point in Christian preachers just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft left liberal, because everyone is giving that.“
Now we’re talking.
Thank you, Jared, for reminding your readers of the weirdness of Christianity. Of course, the theology of Christianity is based on the weird nature of storied events recorded in the Bible. Contributing significantly to the Christian message is the fall into sin of all humanity instigated by the anti-hero and arch rival of God, Satan himself disguised as a serpent; or that God is a three person being, the second of which came to earth as a human baby, who as he grew into manhood performed an array of miracles, and once rejected, crucified and dead was raised from the dead and has ascended into heaven where he presently reigns over the world and the church. And as Jared points out, today the church celebrates Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in flames of fire resting on new born Christians.
Yes, this all seems very weird, especially to those who stand outside of the Christian religion. But what would we expect of God, certainly not the ordinary. It’s the weird that validates the Christian message. Or is this weirdness more a matter of myth, imaginary and fictitious events and persons? Are the heroes of the Bible more legend than actual, or a mixture of actual and legendary? Common sense and reason would certainly question the factuality of such people and events. And it’s all this weirdness that causes our Western culture to call into question the validity of the Christian religion. Such weirdness is not unique to Christianity.
Realize that all religions are made up of miraculous events and persons. What do Christians believe concerning the display of the miraculous of other religions? Are the miracles of other religions factual? Do their recorded miracles confirm the validity of their religions? For instance Muslims claim that their miracles (as recorded in the Koran) prove the validity and divine origin or the Koran, the true divinely inspired Scriptures given by Allah. Of course, Christians wouldn’t agree, nor would Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, or any other religious group. Each claim their own miracles, as does Christianity, to validate their own religion. And all other miracles are seen as a fabrication.
It’s not so much that Christianity is weird, and based on many weird events. It’s that all religions are based on their own set of weird and miraculous events, while claiming their own Scriptures as the truly inspired word of God. Common sense and reason would naturally call into question any religion based on weirdness.
RLG there are answers to your questions that are commonly known among any who are into Christian apologetics! Whether or not they are Christians! Which I believe shows that your questions are more rhetorical then actual questions! If you ever change your mind to ask real questions to which you don’t already know the answer; there are plenty are people who want to talk to you!
I was shocked when I read your headline. I sometimes wonder if we Reformed folk have left the Holy Spirit out of the church. I have been with many who prayed in obedience to James 5 and saw God heal. But as long as we say only Charismatics have embarrassed the church we are in danger of acting out of human fear of people rather than in awe and expectation of God. We all know of many dead, uncaring, brittle folks on the REformed bus that bring shame on the love we profess.
Amen to everything you wrote. Thanks for pointing us to Holland’s book. He is not the only non-Christian writer to give testimony to the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that the yeast of the Kingdom will impact everything.
Thanks for this, Jared! I particularly appreciated listening to the interview. Lots of good stuff there. Stay weird!
Thank you pastor Jared I look forward to hearing your sermons at your new church!
I quoted you liberally (with credit given) today in a devotional I sent to several friends for Pentecost 2021 Thanks for your insight and keep it weird !
I cannot fathom the negative comments.