Following Jesus has never been an easy task. All the same, from the time of the disciples until today, Christians have been called to strap on their sandals, so to speak, and walk the road their Lord calls them down. While the basic New Testament call remains the same, though, each age places unique speed-bumps and detours along the path of discipleship. In Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (InterVarsity Press) Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, gives a bracing assessment of the challenges facing the North American church, as well as a hopeful invitation to trust the promises of God as we respond to the call of Jesus in the world. Derek Rishmawy, a minister to students and young adults in California, spoke with Labberton about that vision.
You talk about the crisis and the promise of following Jesus. In a nutshell, what’s the crisis?
The crisis we’re facing is that many people outside and inside the church don’t understand what it’s supposed to be about. It has become encrusted with so many cultural, historical, political, economic forms. As these get thicker and thicker, they distance us from the core affirmation of living as disciples of Jesus. If you look at the New Testament and ask “What is the church?” I think the primary answer is: people living their lives as an act of worship and response to Jesus Christ and seeking to live as daily disciples in community and for the sake of their world. The crisis is that Christians inside the church don’t seem to view this way of life as necessary. This leaves outsiders puzzled about the purpose of the church, because so little of it seems related to Jesus.
And what’s the promise?
The most illuminating moment of the “promise,” in cultural terms, is the shock of Pope Francis. The Catholic Church has been embroiled in scandal for many years. It has been seen as bureaucratic and unresponsive. Then, all of a sudden, there appears this authentic, living disciple. Here is someone who seems to live out of this deep spirit of humility—a Jesus follower who wants a life rooted in simple action.
Across the world, people have looked at his example—economically, politically, socially—and said, “That’s what the church is about?” And Francis is shocked by their shock: “This is what Christians do.” To live with integrity in a way that’s counterintuitive to the wider culture—that’s the promise of following Jesus today.
You can read the rest of the interview here at Christianity Today.