Gandhi, Dave Andrews and a ‘bigger Jesus’
Jarrod McKenna’s Wednesday’s with Gandhi:
“Because the life of Jesus has the significance and the transcendency to which I have alluded, I believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the entire world; to all races and people, it matters little under what flag, name or doctrine they may work, profess a faith, or worship a God inherited from ancestors.”
-Gandhi “The Modern Review: Oct. 1941”
I remember the first time I wrote in my journal in 2001, “Jesus are you bigger than Christianity?” At the time I was one of two white people within eight blocks living in East Nashville with Karl Meyer. Karl is an amazing man who became a Christian through Dorothy Day who started the Catholic Worker Movement. Karl had a photo of in his living room of him up front of the Civil Rights marches in Chicago shoulder to shoulder with two other organisers. On one shoulder Thich Nhat Hahn. On the other, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. After writing “Jesus are you bigger than Christianity” in my journal I wasn’t sure if to worship or ask for forgiveness. (From memory I did a bit of both.)
I have a mate who had a life changing experience watching “South Park” when he saw Gandhi in hell with Hitler. (God can use anything I guess).
I know for many this might provoke questions of who’s going to heaven (or hell) and who’s not. But that’s not what was going on in my head and heart when I was was journaling while living in this poor neighbourhood where I heard guns shots. My questions weren’t coming out of an understanding of the gospel ‘as fire insurance for the afterlife’ nor ’sin management’. Nor where they coming out of a liberal ’social gospel’ that reduced the gospel to ideals and principles. Instead they were arising out of a burning desire in me for an alternative to the fundamentalism and the liberalism which is so often on offer.
I longed for a Christianity that was ‘evangelical’ in the sense of being ‘good news’ to our hurting world that had integrity when it came to the context of the early Christians and how they would have understood the gospel (instead of just arguments of the sixteenth century read back into Scripture). I became convinced that the gospel is about God’s will being done “on earth” as Jesus taught us to pray and that we don’t “go to glory” rather biblically glory is coming here and it has broken in through Jesus! (notice the direction of the New Jerusalem or the Son of Man… this however has not effected the sales of ‘left behind’).
Gandhi famously refused to become a Christian yet daily spent 2 hours meditating after reading the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. (Anybody know any Christians who spent 2 hours meditating on Christ’s teachings today?) Repeatedly when asked for the inspiration of his nonviolent revolution in India he would not fail to mention Jesus and his teachings. Gandhi’s dedication to Jesus and practice of his teachings cannot be doubted, nor can his dedication to his Hinduism (albeit a Hinduism that looks like Jesus. So much so Gandhi was often accused of “Christianising” Hinduism and was finally shot by someone who believed he was corrupting Hinduism.)
I have a friend who, like Gandhi, makes many uncomfortable with his ability to live in liminal space between 2 ‘tribes’ which compete for him yet he feels, to be faithful, he has to be the bridge between. Like Tony Campolo he’s a sociologist, who never divorced his field from his faith. But more than a bridge, a better metaphor might be a prophet.
He’s the kind thinker that would be interesting if he didn’t practice his ideas making him so dangerous. He the kind of guy who is an influence on many but quoted by few because of fears that they to might experience the ‘blessings of being cursed’ that are seen in his life because of the way he challenges the principalities and powers. He has a gentleness and humility that is intimidating to the shamsters who travel the speaking circuit enjoying the fanfare and praise while merely talking about what he quietly speaks with his life away from the cameras and applause. Like Gandhi he has been written off by many Christians. Not because of his witness, his life, like Gandhi’s, has become a modern day metaphor for Christ-likeness. But he has been written off for suggesting that maybe Gandhi isn’t burning in hell for not becoming a Christian (it wan’t South Park that convinced him).
What is more interesting is that he hasn’t compromised on the centrality of Christ, nor avoided the question, nor departed from Scripture. But like Paul he’s suggested that maybe the “circumcisions” of our day make a mockery of the gospel. That the gospel was never about fire insurance for the afterlife nor sin management but God’s desire to heal creation which has broken into reality in Christ. His name is Dave Andrews and his books are a gift to the church at this time in history and a valuable companion to anyone thinking missionaly.
Like Gandhi we all wont agree with everything Dave says (we’re still talking about where an ecclesia fits in the ‘open set’ in his book Christi-Anarchy). But like Gandhi to ignore his life and writings is to miss a rich opportunity for our own journey and how better to bring others on that journey with us toward a the Jesus bigger than the boxes we put him in and a Christianity that does Christ justice.