In the Bible, Jesus often spoke in parables, stories offering insights, examples and life lessons for those he talked to, from Pharisee contrarians to often-confused apostles.

In the Bible, Jesus often spoke in parables, stories offering insights, examples and life lessons for those he talked to, from Pharisee contrarians to often-confused apostles.

Christian pastor Jim Wallis instead asks questions and sparks comments from some who read his new book, “Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus.”

Within and about his 304-page book, Wallis – a best-selling evangelical author who’s speaking in Chicago three times this week – presents challenging questions that become examinations of conscience, such as, “Who speaks for Christians in America today?” and “How can we change the narrative?”

The founder of the progressive Christian community Sojourners and one of President Obama’s spiritual advisers, Wallis insists “Christ in Crisis” isn’t partisan.

“This isn’t about Left or Right, liberal or conservative, but goes deeper,” Wallis says. “This is about ‘What did Jesus say?’ And I think to love our neighbor – the one who is different than us – is the most key question or choice for America's future.”

Today, political disagreements and related divisions among those who claim to be people of faith, Wallis writes, “have revealed how disconnected many American Christians have become from Jesus. Everything Jesus said was exactly the opposite to the political environment in which we find ourselves.

“Jesus said eight different times, ‘Be not afraid’,” Wallis writes. “Anti-Christ politics says, ‘Be afraid: I'm going to make you more afraid.’ Jesus says leadership is about service. Anti-Christ politics says it’s about wealth and power: winning and losing. The Bible says we are all made in the image of God, but anti-Christ politics says, ‘No, some people are more valuable than other people.’ In Jesus politics, how we treat the ‘least of these’ is the test of our politics. In anti-Christ politics, the ‘least of these’ are the least important.”

More than two-thirds of the book is devoted to asking and discussing eight paramount questions central to Jesus’ teachings: the Neighbor Question, the Image Question, the Truth Question, the Power Question, the Fear Question, the Caesar Question, the Peacemaker Question, and the Discipleship Question.

Asking them, Wallis provokes readers who say they’re Christians to judge whether we think and act “in Jesus’ name.” Wallis himself isn’t judgmental in the Biblical sense of condemnation. Rather, he’s a counselor, relying on the New Testament to lead Christian readers to what’s called “discernment.”

Others see value in that. Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr said, “This is a ‘Jesus book’ better than any I’ve seen in some time and could not be more timely or more challenging. It offers a drink of fresh water to anyone who has felt despair at the state of the world – Christian and non-Christian alike.”

Servite nun Sister Joyce Rupp on Friday commented on the Bigger Picture, drawing on the Psalm “The nations are sunk in the pit they have made” and saying, “The nations have sunk into an ethical morass. Divisions among people and deterioration of values abound: ugly racism, religious intolerance, terrorism, arrogant leadership and a casual acceptance of lying and greed. But ‘the nations’ are made up of people like myself. Each move toward good, each decision to live a Christ-like life, each action to help a person in need, lifts the nations up.”

And philanthropist and singer Bono of U2 described Wallis’ book as “a spiritual health-check for the ailing, wheezing American body-politic.”

Indeed, together, Christians face a choice between such familiar directions. Wallis describes the decision as “between our better angels and our worst demons. Between the politics of Jesus and ‘anti-Christ politics’ – politics antithetical to everything Jesus valued, taught and modeled for his followers.”

For followers, love and compassion, service and justice all are up to us, individually and working with others. As St. Teresa of Avila (whose Feast Day is Oct. 15) said, “Christ has no body now on Earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

Finally, Wallis is frank but funny.

He commented, “If you are followers of Jesus, you can’t ignore what Jesus said.” Then he shared a sense that though we all can be forgiven for our flaws, none of us are “worthy” and whimsically remarked on the value of Jesus’ teachings DESPITE human weaknesses, errors and ignorance: “It's always amazing to me how apparently Jesus has survived all of us Christians.”

 

Knight has been a reporter, editor and columnist for more than 50 years. Also an author, Knight is a journalism professor emeritus from WIU, where he taught for more than 20 years. Contact him at bill.knight@hotmail.com; for archives, go to https://mayflyproductions.blogspot.com/.