For those who are unfamiliar with him, John Oliver has recently emerged as a very colorful comedian-commentator on HBO, and is already sort of a cult-figure with my younger friends, with his Last Week Tonight news commentary. What he does is what is called: reductio ad absurdum—reducing a subject to absurdity. He finds some news item that he thinks is essentially a contradiction, or a humorous glitch, etc., and then ramps up its absurd side. OK? He is, by profession, a stand-up comedian, he is British, he has a twinkle in his eye, he is colorfully profane, and nothing it out-of-bounds, nothing is sacred. In short: he is good at what he does.

So, what has this got to do with Bob Henderson’s blog? Just this: I had the humorous thought wondering what John Oliver would do with the new he reads about the church in the media, about its clergy, its foibles, and all the kinds of things the media revels in? This is a guy who does his homework well. Though he shows no evidence of Christian faith or interest, he would probably check out the teachings of Jesus and tweak the contradictions. He might even discern the teachings of Jesus much better than many of those (often mindless) folk who inhabit the pews of so many churches. He would not be inhibited by any “sacrilegious” accusations. He might even see more clearly what the church is intended to be than many inside of it seem to sense.

Case in point: he recently did an evening on the phenomenon of some horribly judgmental folk flying (falsely) under the banner of ‘evangelical Christians’ in Uganda who were grossly homophobic, and promoting the efforts in Uganda to impose the death penalty on gay-lesbian folk. It is one of the numerous aberrations exhibited by some expressions of the church that one could easily lampoon, and which should be an embarrassment to the Christian community.

[Disclaimer here: Such folk as John Oliver seem unwilling to see all of the awesome acts of sacrificial ministry, humanitarian service, costly love, and culture-creating wonders accomplished by the church across the world. But the media has a proclivity to ignore those in favor of the more scandalous.]

We folk, who take seriously the teaching of Jesus, need such as Oliver to remind those of us inside the church what those outside the church see in us, and to see through their eyes. It was Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, who wrote: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!” My point in all of this is: that over 50% of the world’s populations is under 25 years of age, most of whom did not grow up in the church, and have no knowledge of it, nor interest in it, … and all they know is what the media reports—which is often not very flattering, but too often true. It is critical for us that this emerging pragmatic and cynical generation have before it a church that is actually part of the thrilling news of Jesus. The church is intended to be the veritable demonstration of God’s new humanity in Christ—a whole new reality—and to demonstrate God’s love, grace, freedom, relationships, caring, creativity, etc. … to the watching world.

Confession: so much of what goes under the rubric of church, its expressions and leadership, … is, indeed, laughable, self-contradictory, and puzzling to my under-25 friends. Where do we go with this? Where would this emerging generation see enticing demonstrations of God’s new creation community?

It might begin with random small colonies of Christ’s disciples (you, me, others) who take Jesus Christ seriously meeting together to probe his teachings, and assisting each other (covenanting with each other) to demonstrate to this emerging generation such a new reality that expresses Christ’s love and caring to a world of men and women thirsty for authenticity, for meaning, for hope, for some guiding line in their lives. What if … ?

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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