"Jesus saves." Okay. 'Any idea what that means? Chances are, whether you've accepted that idea or rejected it, you've assigned a particular meaning to that pithy phrase. Prompted by a children's Bible he's come across, this week Mark challenges the idea that "save" simply means "rescue." Diving back into the original New Testament Greek, we explore how "save" means equal parts "rescue" and "healing," unpack the implications of a "rescue"-only paradigm, and advocate for a more holistic rescue/healing perspective of what God is doing in the world.
Then Mark sits down for Part 2 of his conversation with Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. Tyler is an anti-nuclear activist and founder of the Two Futures Project. He has authored two books and co-authored a third: Brand Jesus, The World Is Not Ours To Save, and Fighting For Peace. This week in Part 2 of the discussion, Tyler talks about the American Dream, how consumerism took such drastic roots in Western culture to begin with, and how the church is at risk of losing its subversive voice when we simply adopt the values of consumerism for our purposes. He unpacks his thesis that we shape our identities by what we consume and he implores Jesus-followers to see human identity not as attained by the marketplace but rather as given by God.
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Notable Quotes from Tyler Wigg-Stevenson
"It's hard to overstate how much the wars eliminated any sort of continuity with the past. And so as I described it in the book, we are kind of left in this field of rubble and we had to figure out who we were in the aftermath of that. And I think that's important to juxtapose with societies now in other parts of the world, but certainly societies in the past where the givens of life actually mattered definitively and were inescapable. So gender, tribe, class, caste, your parents' profession, where you're from – the geography of where you're from – all of these things in one sense can be viewed as imprisoning..., but in another way they also defined the world. And so there's not the sense of anxiety: 'I have to find out who I am and what I'm supposed to be.'"
"I think and what we might call more traditional society or premodern society there is certainly the sensibility of these givens of the world that matter: 'I come into the world, and I come into a world that is defined all around me – it has an architecture.' In the modern West..., it's a different story."
"The American Dream as it's popularly believed is that it doesn't matter where you come from, it doesn't matter what your parents did, it doesn't matter what race you are – and that's a lie by the way – but that's the story the dream tells you. It doesn't matter what your gender is, it doesn't matter whether you start out poor or rich. If you work hard, you can be anything you want to be. And this central message is that your identity is entirely up to you. And where I see this playing out in the cultural read of the West... is that there is this tremendous burden of 'It's up to you to decide who you are.' And the way in which we answer that burden – the way in which we take up that task – is through our consumptive preferences. And so it's through the choices we make, because those are the most significant daily choices."
"In a culture that doesn't give you anything - where nothing about you is determinative and is going to be recognized as determinative by anybody else – even if you say, 'No who I am is stable! It absolutely matters that I'm a man and white and straight and etc. etc. and these things are not socially conditioned and this is God-given,' I'm still making that declaration in the middle of a culture where everything is chosen. And that's the condition...: you choose who you're going to be, and unavoidably so. And the primary mechanism through doing it and communicating that to others is going to be through consumptive preferences, which is why it is particularly cruel to be poor in a consumerist society: because you lack the resources to be. You lack the resources to be meaningful in any meaningful sense of that word."
"On the one hand..., if we were in a different situation there would be a different condition, and it would be equally problematic. This is the point: that no natural circumstance is going to be conducive to God. This is what I read as Paul's starting point - that there is natural evidence for the God who created everything, but there's no society that's going to get it right. Every society will have gone wrong in its way. What I'm describing is the anxiety that comes from a society that's ' liberated' from things that are seen as givens, but in no way am I trying to roll back the liberation project of modernity, either. Because they are different problems in a different society."
"Paul is writing to the Romans – the Roman church – and he starts with a condemnation of Roman society that attempts to foreclose any possibility of a Roman justifying themselves on the basis of their ethical life and their respectability. And it's this prison that Paul articulates that is exactly the grounds for the gospel: 'You're standing on your hands in midair; you lack any foundation to do anything, and that is why the action of God coming into the world in the person of Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary.'"
"Paul's articulating this the Romans, and so the analogous question for us today is, 'Well, we're saying these things about a reality that's external to us - God preexisted us, will exist us after we're gone; there's a God who created all things, this God sent us his Son, we know the Son through the Spirit that he left behind - but what does it mean to say these things in a world where there are no givens - where the category of givens has been taken away? So it's unavoidably conflicted with the consumerist situation in which we live. So I say that there is this God, that this God stands above all things, and yet everything I say is my own personal preference. That creates a conundrum for the Christian. So that's the existential conundrum of what it means to be a Christian in a society like this; it's exacerbated when Christians embrace the condition and try to channel the faith through as a consumptive preference in its own right, and create a whole class of consumer preferences of, 'I buy this kind of book, I go to this kind of conference, I hang with these kind of people, I live in this kind of neighborhood, go to this kind of church,' and all of it is embracing the pattern of the age.... and that's what I call Brand Jesus."
"Evangelical culture is so fast-moving in its iterations – the zeal to reach people for the gospel means that change happens so fast and works through various permutations - 'Does this work? Does this work? No? Okay, well how about this? How about this?' - that I think it has a very hard time being adequately critical of the cultural tools that it eagerly and uncritically deploys in the name of reaching people for Jesus."
"If someone were to read the book and accept the thesis that consumerism is the water we swim in – it's inescapable – then, that changes the nature of the problem. It's not, 'how do we fix this?' It's, 'how do I live faithfully in the midst of circumstances that can be described rightly is tragic?'"
"Sanctification is about living a life of perpetual repentance."
"So you have that initial repentance, but then the life of sanctification is a life of repentance where it's not so much changing the mind, but putting one foot in front of the other on the narrow road, on the way of Jesus. And repentance is the course correction of straying from that narrow path. And the more you do it, the more and more you see the fruits of holiness in your life. I'm not saying we do this by our own efforts; this is an ability given to us by God....To bring it back to consumerism, I would say the challenge is then to recognize that it's in a climate of consumerism that this life of repentance is going to be lived out. And so the challenge is this continual life of repentance rather than thinking, 'I'm going to escape to a safe place - there's a pure place; there's a pure culture that if I was just a part of that and if I just lived within these markers' - that then I would be okay, then I wouldn't have to be mindful about it, then I would live in the right way."
"By recognizing what a prison consumerist society is, it drives us every single day back and back to a life that is characterized by continual repentance."
"God will make God's self known; Jesus will show up in places that I find less-than-pure. At the same time, I think there is the need for theologians within the church and pastors within the church (hopefully those are the same thing) and lay people within the church - there is a need for everyone in the church to be conscious - and Paul says this: 'don't be conformed to the pattern of this age.' This is a task for all of us: just watch the ways in which you are being drawn in so that they don't become your dominant mode and that you rest naturally in them. Remember that you are called to a daily repentance toward an entirely unnatural reality of God breaking into the world and reconciling all things to himself to Jesus Christ."
"If we take this seriously, I think it means focusing within our churches on living into the sense of the God-given reality - of an identity that is God-given and not consumed, that is freely given. And we will come to that in a compromised way because we're not going to be able to offer a mode of being – an identity – that doesn't look like a consumer choice, just one consumer choice among all other things."
"...The church is not one institution alongside other institutions. The Christian life is not one lifestyle among other lifestyles and it could well be equally the Harley lifestyle or the John Deere lifestyle or the Ferrari lifestyle or something – that it is a categorically unique thing. And then you just try to live into that week-to-week. And as to what that looks like on a practical level, I think it probably does mean consuming less; it probably means taking consumed identities less seriously and trying to be mindful about not literally buying into them."
"I think there are things that the church can attend to that reject the pattern of the age, which would be organizing long demographics or a focus on programs.... There are things that the church can attend to that point to the fact that our reality is a body and our reality individually is that our identity is Jesus and that no matter how compromised that feels and is – how compromised our living into that is – that it's still the thing toward which we strive. And in fact if there were a program – Rejecting Consumerism in 10 Easy Steps - you'd have failed from the get-go. Because the whole point is there is no solution; now keep walking anyway."
"I think that this is an eminently biblical theme: that the reward of faith is not imminent. So, the Beatitudes: 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.' Their comfort is in the promise of comfort. Jesus has all sorts of nasty things to say about people who get what they're trying to get in this life – "They've got their reward, they don't need anything else.' So part of embracing and recognizing the situation is recognizing the fact that you're never going to get free of it. And that that is okay because God is who God is."
Next Week's Episode 28
Guest: Alison Witt, founder of Micah House Hamilton