Thursday, October 20, 2011

On Christian Swagger...

by Wye Huxford

The Outsider Interviews is an interesting commentary of sorts on David Kinnaman's UnChristian. Written by Jim Henderson, Todd Hunter, and Craig Spinks, The Outsider Interviews is a collection of interviews that basically tests some of the conclusions in Kinnaman's book. At its heart, the goal seems to be to help readers better understand what Kinnaman describes as "real people [who] embraced such hostile - yet often very nuanced - views about the Christian faith."

Here is a sample of the kind of thing Kinnaman would argue is a serious barrier to young adults in our culture when it comes to taking seriously the message of the gospel: "The primary reason outsiders feel hostile toward Christians, and especially conservative Christians, is not because of any specific theological perspective. What they react negatively to is our 'swagger,' how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project." In putting that idea to the test, Henderson and his crew heard words like rude, judgmental, anti, and smug when outsiders were describing insiders.

What in the world does that have to do with Christmas? Actually a whole lot!

Isn't it a bit strange that as a follower of what was no doubt perceived to be an illegitimate child who was born in a barn of sorts and laid in a feed trough - all the while being proclaimed King of the Jews - I would ever have much "swagger" about my status as one of His followers?

He was born to a peasant girl who would certainly have not met our standards of appropriate parent material and was to be cared for by an otherwise non-descript carpenter who drug his very pregnant wife all the way to Bethlehem just to sign up for some government program. He apparently didn't get the AAA Trip-tix necessary to good travel planning and had to beg for a place to spend the night the very night the baby was born.

When that baby grew up, He would find Himself turning the economic assumptions of Israel (and the rest of the world including our own) upside down and, more often than not, He enjoyed the company of sinners over self-declared saints. He never made it out of the poverty class, declaring "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Luke 9:58, Matthew 8:20, NRSV) He would declare weird things like "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20) and "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets." (Luke 6:26)

If any of the billions who have walked the paths of this planet have had a right to a little "swagger," it would seem that Jesus would be first on the list. Yet, in reading the gospel stories of His life and ministry, I cannot discover a single incident of "swagger." No doubt the most powerful person ever to set foot on planet Earth, He seems utterly disinterested in power as we know it.

So, at Christmas time this year, I've been thinking a lot about Kinnaman's research and Henderson's research. It is dumbfounding to me to think that as a follower of "the Son of Man [who} came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45) I could ever think "swagger" is ever an appropriate way of bearing witness to my faith in Jesus.

As we head to church on Friday evening and celebrate His birth with our families and loved ones on Christmas Day, may we do so "swaggerlessly." There's nothing about His birth that would suggest room for "swagger."

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