A ReKnew Manifesto
As our curious name indicates, ReKnew exists to encourage believers and skeptics alike to re-think things they thought they already knew. We want to promote a beautiful, Jesus-looking vision of God and his kingdom. We want to promote a host of related theological convictions that we believe were compromised or lost in traditional Christianity—especially since the 5th century when the Church first acquired political power and became the religion of “Christendom.” And we want to be a catalytic resource for the new tribe of Jesus-followers who are rising up and re-thinking their faith now that Christendom—which has been dying for over a century—is gasping its last breaths.
This does not mean we aren’t deeply appreciative for the multitude of true and beautiful aspects of the Church throughout history. To the contrary, we believe that all theological reflection should be humbly carried out in a respectful dialogue with the Church tradition. Yet the focus of ReKnew is to challenge those aspects of the tradition we don’t believe are consistent with the movement Jesus birthed, and with the teachings of the New Testament.
What follows is an overview of these core convictions stated in their simplest form. You might think of this as the first draft of a “ReKnew Manifesto.”
1. ReThink the Source of Life
Because traditional Christianity has often held that people get right with God by believing the right things, many Christians tend to get their “life” (their core sense of identity, worth, significance and being loved) from the rightness of their beliefs (as discussed here). Our conviction is that followers of Jesus should get all of their “life” from the love that God has shown them on Calvary. Every other source of “life”—including the rightness of our beliefs—is an idol.
2. ReThink the Nature of Faith
Many Christians throughout history (and still today) have assumed that a person’s faith is only as strong as the degree to which they feel certainty and free from doubt. Likewise, many have assumed faith is opposed to reason, antithetical to historical-critical approaches to Scripture, and at odds with much of the scientific enterprise—especially evolutionary theory.
Our conviction is that faith is not the absence of doubt, but the willingness to commit to a course of action even though one is not certain. However, that is not to say faith is irrational. While faith always goes beyond reason, we don’t believe it should ever go against it. We thus believe Jesus-followers should never be afraid of wrestling with biblical criticism, evolutionary theory, or any other field of rational inquiry.
Along the same lines, we do not believe the goal of faith is to arrive at a point at which we convince ourselves we possess all the right beliefs, and therefore close off further inquiry. Rather, when we get all our “life” from Christ (and not from the rightness of our beliefs), and when we understand that faith is not the absence of doubt, we are free to view faith instead as a process of honest, open-ended inquiry. It’s our conviction that the fearful, dogmatic rigidity that characterizes so much of contemporary Evangelicalism reflects an idolatrous relationship with beliefs, which in turn causes many to become hostile and unloving when debating doctrinal issues. We are convinced God is more concerned with the love with which we debate than the content of what we debate.
3. ReThink Our Picture of God
The dominant image of God espoused in the religion of Christendom has been a composite picture in which the revelation of God in Christ has been fused with violent images derived from the Old Testament, as well as other philosophical sources.
Our conviction is that Jesus is the one and only perfect revelation of God’s true nature (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus doesn’t merely reveal part of what God is like. Rather, the fullness of God is in Christ, and revealed through Christ (Colossians 1:19; 2:9). As Jesus himself tells us, when we see him, we see the very character of the Father (John 14:7-9). Moreover, it’s our conviction that Jesus’ self-sacrificial death on the cross expresses the theme that weaves everything Jesus was about together. From his incarnation, to his ministry, to his ascension, Jesus reveals the truth that God’s nature is other-oriented, self-sacrificial love. We thus believe that all of our thinking about God, as well as all of our reading of Scripture, must be done through the lens of the cross and with this cruciform understanding of God’s love.
4. ReThink the Kingdom of God
Once the Church was given political power in the 4th and 5th century, it has more often than not looked like a “Christianized” version of the kingdoms of the world, often relying on political and military power to advance its own self-interest.
As the one sinless person in history, we believe Jesus is the one and only perfect reflection of what it looks like for God to fully reign over a person’s life. Jesus is thus the perfect embodiment of “the kingdom of God” (the “dome” over which God reigns). We at ReKnew therefore believe Jesus-followers are individually and corporately called and empowered by the Spirit to look like Jesus and reflect God’s humble, self-sacrificial love toward all people. To the extent that an individual or group doesn’t look like Jesus, the kingdom of God is not present—regardless of what the individual or group professes to believe.
Given the massive harm that has been done throughout Church history when the Church has become too closely aligned with versions of the kingdom of the world, and given that the Church continues to be co-opted by political regimes (especially in America), we believe it’s vital that Jesus-followers today strive to keep the kingdom “holy”—which means separate and distinct from the kingdoms of the world. Of course we are called to assume responsibility for poverty, side with the oppressed, and fight injustice as well as all other social ills. But the way followers of Jesus are to do this is not by telling governments what they should do. We are to do it the way Jesus did it—by sacrificing our time, energy, and resources on behalf of others.
5. ReThink Providence
The dominant image of God within Christendom after Augustine (5th century) has been that of an all-controlling deity. The Church has therefore tended to espouse a “blueprint worldview” in which it has assumed every event that comes to pass conforms to a meticulous “blueprint” God had before the creation of the world. In this view, God wills (or at least allows) every particular event for a specific good reason—including each and every evil.
Our conviction is that the cross reveals the kind of power on which God relies: not power over others, but power under others. It is the power of self-sacrificial love—which is the greatest power there is, for it alone is able to transform hearts. Along with every church father before Augustine, therefore, our conviction is that “God is a God of persuasion, not coercion”—as Irenaeus (2nd century) put it. While God remains in control of the big picture, we believe God has given humans and angels free will, which means we have a degree of “say-so” over what comes to pass. We can either use that “say-so” to further God’s purposes, or to resist them. As such, we believe all evil is the result of the misuse of created free wills, whether human or angelic. In place of the “blueprint worldview,” therefore, we advocate a “warfare worldview” in which the creation is viewed as a battlefield between God and Satan, along with all created human and angelic agents who align themselves with one or the other.
Moreover, since creation includes free agents who have the power to resolve possible courses of actions into actual events, we believe the future is partly comprised of possibilities and that the all-knowing God therefore knows them as such. Yet, because God is infinitely intelligent and can anticipate future possibilities as effectively as certainties, we don’t believe God loses any providential advantage. Whatever comes to pass, God had been preparing a plan, from all eternity, on how he would bring good out of it in case it came to pass. So while we don’t believe everything happens for a good purpose, we believe everything happens with a good purpose—namely, the eternally prepared good purpose God had in place in case any given event came to pass.
6. ReThink the Atonement
The majority of Evangelicals today believe that the main significance of what Christ has done on the cross (the atonement) is that he satisfied the Father’s wrath against sin by being punished in our place, thereby allowing the Father to accept us despite our sin. While the Church has always understood that Jesus died in our place, as our substitute, the depiction of the Father venting his wrath on Jesus instead of on us — the “penal substitution” view of the atonement — originated with Calvin and Luther. The Church has always embraced a variety of atonement theories, but it’s worth noting that the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement was the dominant view for the first 1000 years of Church history. This view holds that “[t]he reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn3:8; Heb.2:14), which in turn liberated humanity and all creation from his oppression and reconciled everything to God.
With the historic-orthodox Church, we affirm that Jesus died as our substitute and experienced the death-consequences of sin in our place. But we do not believe this means the Father needed to “satisfy” his own wrath by violently pouring it out on his Son in order to forgive us and reconcile us to himself. And while we affirm that Christ accomplished a variety of things by his life and death and resurrection, we believe that Christ’s victory over Satan and the powers of darkness lies at the base of them all. We thus consider the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement to be the foundation to all other views.
7. ReThink Salvation
With the rise of the penal substitution view of the atonement, the western church began to think of salvation increasingly in legal categories. God has thus come to be viewed as the judge, humans as the guilty defendants, and Jesus as our defense attorney who allows us to be acquitted by suffering our sentence in our place. As a result, salvation has come to be thought of primarily as an acquittal (escaping hell) that people receive when they simply believe that Jesus did this for us. Among the many unfortunate consequences of this view is the fact that Christianity has become much more focused on how we benefit from what God has done for us in the afterlife than it is focused on the beautiful things God wants to do in our present life—the relationship God wants with us, the character that God wants to cultivate in us, and the things God wants to accomplish through us now.
While legal metaphors are sometimes used to express salvation in the New Testament, the dominant way of expressing it is as a covenant—like marriage. Salvation, in our view, is not primarily about being acquitted by God, or about the afterlife. Rather, salvation is about becoming part of “the bride of Christ” and participating in—and being transformed by—the fullness of God’s life that he opens up for us in the present. For this reason, salvation is not merely about believing in Jesus; it’s even more profoundly about being empowered to follow Jesus’ example. Salvation thus cannot be divorced from the call to follow Jesus’ example of loving enemies and refraining from violence; of caring for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. It’s about manifesting God’s fullness of life by cultivating a counter-cultural lifestyle that revolts against every aspect of society that is inconsistent with the character of God and his will for the world. It’s about living and praying in a way that actualizes the fullness of the Lord’s prayer that the Father’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
8. ReThink Hell
The earliest Christians understood “hell” in several different ways. Some viewed it as annihilation, others as eternal conscious suffering, and others redemptive process that will result in everyone being saved (“universalism”). After Augustine however, the view of hell as eternal conscious suffering became dominant. Annihilationism quickly became a marginal view and universalism was eventually officially condemned.
In light of the love that God has revealed for all humans in Christ, we are convinced that if there is any way that God could save all, he most certainly would save all. Moreover, we don’t see how anyone who genuinely loves all people—as Christ commands and empowers us to do—could fail to hope that God’s love will eventually rescue and transform everyone. At the same time, our belief in free will rules out the Universalist’s belief that there will come a time when everyone must be saved. Moreover, we don’t see in Scripture sufficient warrant for being confident that all will be saved.
What is more certain to us is that the fire of God’s love will salvage and purify everything in a person that is consistent with God’s loving character and will burn up (metaphorically speaking) everything that is not. If it unfortunately turns out that people can sink to the point where there is nothing salvageable, it’s our conviction God will justly, yet mercifully, withdraw his sustaining hand, allowing them to return to nothingness – “as though they had never been” (Obadiah 16). When Scripture speaks of hell as “eternal,” we believe this most likely refers to the effect of this punishment, not the duration of anyone’s experience of it.
However, we are convinced that what is more important than the particular views we hold is the manner in which we hold them. Since the biblical material on this topic is ambiguous, and since the witness of the early church is not uniform on this matter, we encourage Jesus-followers today to not christen their own view as the orthodox view, but rather to allow all views to be entertained and lovingly debated.
9. ReThink Humanity
Against the long-standing patriarchal mindset of the Church tradition, ReKnew is passionate about encouraging husbands and wives to assume an egalitarian mindset in their marriages, and passionate about urging local Church communities to empower women to serve in any leadership capacity for which they are gifted and called to serve. So too, against the ethnocentrism of the western Church tradition, we believe Jesus died to create “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15) that has done away with the separating walls erected from the curse of Babel. Racial reconciliation is thus not something a church can choose to engage in or not. We believe it is one of the reasons for which Jesus died and that it must therefore be proclaimed and practiced by all followers of Jesus.
This is, in a nutshell, what ReKnew stands for. There are a host of other beliefs and practices ReKnew hopes to challenge people to reconsider that need not necessarily be elaborated in this “manifesto.” We of course don’t expect all who get onboard with ReKnew to agree with each and every particular thing we espouse. But if you’re one of those who believe it’s time to thoroughly re-think the Christian faith—especially our picture of God and our understanding of his kingdom—we are here to help you do that and to help build a network of like-minded, open-minded, passionate disciples.
Image by James Butler. Used in accordance with Creative Commons. Sourced via Flickr.