The Challenge of Christian Idealism

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by Rev. Chris Surber

Applied Christianity is the implementation of a child’s dream in a world with endless possibilities. Children imagine play and dream. They are unencumbered by the iron chains that this often cynical world places upon the softness of our dreaming. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus gives His disciples a paradigm principle. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (NRSV)

Child-like faith gets us into the Kingdom of God. Playfully imaginative action brings the Kingdom of God to the world around us. It’s something like the imaginative play in the background of my life as I write this article. “Pretend there is a force field!” says older sister. “And then I use my magic to destroy it!” little brother asserts. “NO! This force field is impenetrable,” says the little girl from church. Children are capable of imagination with near-endless possibilities.

The highest ideals of godly virtue are imaginative faith and fearless acceptance of possibilities, calling us to be dreamers, to dream that the world can be different. Imagine that it can be better. Have the courage to playfully do something about the dream. Jesus saw death in the world and called it to new life. Consider John 11:25-27.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (NRSV)

Christians are, by definition, idealists. When we look like Jesus, we aren’t legalists, moralists, or anything else. We are idealists who, like Jesus, insist on dreaming and courageously create. It’s not enough to dream a dream for a better world.

Gaius Glenn Atkins, writing in 1917 while serving as the Minister at the Historic First Congregational Church of Detroit, said it this way, “For indeed He [Jesus] is always returning; not indeed in bodily form with such signs of his glory as fill the pages of Revelation with their thunder music, but in Christian ideals and commanding conceptions of life and holy challenges.” (Atkins, “The Godward Side of Life,” Pilgrim Press)

The challenge of Christian idealism is threefold. First, we must become utterly convinced that the world really can be better. Be careful not to allow practical concerns, and the mundane uniformity of the daily grind lull you to sleep from dreaming. Secondly, applied Christian idealism demands faithful faith-filled interaction with the world. No area of life is off-limits. If God cares about the poor, for example, then those fueled by faith in Him must not only care but also act on His behalf. Akins said, this kind of faith “Not only makes all the difference in the world but makes a wholly different world.”

Third, the last challenge to Christian idealism is the search for courage. “Safety and splendor of achievement do not dwell under the same roof,” Atkins said. Indeed, if we would dream dreams for a better world as well as implement them in the real world, we must believe the world can be better, we must apply faith in every area of life, and we must find the courage to be dreamers and builders of beauty and lovers of love in the world.

Imagine there’s a force field that limits our dreams, and I use my magic to destroy it! Our magic is hope. Our means of applying it is courageous action wrapped up on the love of God.

Dr. Chris Surber is Senior Minister at Mt. Hope Congregational Church in Livonia, MI. He is also the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Supply and Multiply in Montrouis, Haiti. www.chrissurber.com

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