In a sermon several months ago, Pastor Rick commented that over 70% of Americans stilldeclare Christianity as their primary faith. I feel like our culture is rapidly becoming very “post-Christian” and was a little shocked. When I researched the stat later, I found that the Barna group reported a couple of years ago that the population of Christians in our country had dropped to 76% – which (according to them)was the lowest point in our history. I was taken aback by the number of people claiming to follow Jesus.
There is a thoughtful writer and speaker I enjoy named Peter Rollins. He is smart, funny, and he is Irish. I reallyappreciate Irish stuff like Celtic art, James Joyce, C.S. Lewis, Guinness, U2 and famous people named Liam; so whenever I can find Peter Rollins speaking on a podcast, I usually listen in.
When I started thinking about how many Americans claim Christianty, it made me think of Peter Rollins and the parable he often tells about a wheelbarrow. You know that I love a good parable… I will have to paraphrase the tale, but it goes something like this:
There once was a bearded man who lived in a border town of a faraway country. This was a small town that sat on the dividing line between two nations. Next to the town, therewas a border patrol tower strategically situatedat the top ofa hill. There were two young border guards who lived in the town and manned the stationnight shiftto monitorthe activityalong the border. Each night at the same time, the two border guards watched suspiciously from the tower as the bearded man would come sneaking across the border and over the hill under the cover ofdark with a wheelbarrow. Every night, he would return several hours later from the neighboring country without one. As the story is told, the bearded man was not known around town as a troublemaker.The border guards didn’tsee reasonenough to investigate or arrest him. They watched in amusement each night at the same time as he would come creeping across the border with a wheelbarrow. The guards passed time playing cards, laughing, and wondering what could possibly be in the man’swheelbarrow! What washe smuggling across the border each night?
After years and years of this, the much older bearded man finally ceased his midnight crossings. One evening, the curious guards happened uponhim sitting alone in the local pub. After buying him several pints, they finally got up the nerve to ask the old man. They queried, “For years we watched you sneak across the border each night with a wheelbarrow. We always wondered what you were smuggling? What were you doing?” The old man smiled sincerely and responded, “I wasn’t smuggling anything. I was simply stealing wheelbarrows.”
The parable (miserably retold by me) seemed relevant when I considered how many people claim Christianity as their faith — and profess to follow Jesus.
At church, I think we spend a lot of time worrying about the Jesus in the wheelbarrow, but doesn’t discipleship have to be observable? If 70% of America attends a Christian church, then how can we explain all the poverty, crime, disconnection and hurt? How much self-sacrifice do we really see happening in our culture?
Shouldn’t the expressions of our faith be obvious like the response in Matthew 25?
“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.”
As I read these words from the Gospel narrative, I shudder to realize that some of my own acquaintances mightbe shocked to know that I attend church.
Considering Pastor Rick’s sermon about discipleship and Peter Rollins’s parable, Iwonder how different the world might look ifthe 70% of Americans who claim to be Christians (including me)were a littlebusier “stealing wheelbarrows.”