Sunday, July 3, 2011

Are Progressive Christian Agendas Prone to Materialism?

After many years of devotion to progressive causes, I have come to an uneasy realization...

My conception of helping my neighbor is materialistic and idolatrous.

You see, ever since I went to college, I have been passionately politically aware. And in large part due to my understanding of Jesus, I have bought into the idea that as a Christian I should devote myself wholeheartedly to political causes that promise to the meet the physical needs of vulnerable people.

Now don't worry, I still totally believe that Jesus calls us to care for the vulnerable. In fact, there is simply no arguing with the fact that followers of Christ are called to feed the hungry. The story of the feeding 5,000 in John 6 certainly demonstrates Jesus' commitment to providing for the physical needs of hungry people. But this story also reminds us of something else.

After feeding the 5,000, Jesus speaks to the crowd about why he came into the world, which is to give the world two kinds of bread: physical and spiritual. We all know what physical bread is. Spiritual bread, on the other hand, is Jesus himself. And we partake in Spiritual bread when we join Christ in relationship.

We might be surprised that of the two Jesus said that the spiritual bread is the greater. Because while physical bread spoils and at best satisfies the body for a while, it is ultimately insufficient to provide life. Only spiritual bread truly lasts. Only spiritual bread can bring true fulfillment.

Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die
. John 6:49-50

So where does this connect with what I was saying earlier about materialism in progressive Christian politics? Only this:

The main promise of many progressive Christian agendas seems to be: If only we could raise everyone's physical standard of living... if only we could get the whole world three meals and a decent house, then everything would be okay. This gospel may sound appealing, but it is by definition a materialistic gospel, because the hope it offers is in material well-being.

The problem with this mindset is that it's a lie. After all, plenty of people with very high standards of living are completely miserable. Because what they have materially cannot compensate for what they lack spiritually.

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
John 6:27

And so I have come reconsider how much faith I should put in sharing physical bread, and whether this is really the primary calling of the Christian life. And I have come to believe that while sharing physical bread with my neighbor is an essential part of discipleship, it should not distract from or replace offering my neighbor spiritual bread.

Perhaps humanitarian-minded Christians like myself need to remember what it is that that truly satisfies.

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