Meeting the Challenge of Deep Difference Part 6: The Way of Cross

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The final part of a series of posts by Cameron McAllister which examine the contemporary responses to deep differences. In part 6, Cameron concludes the case that the Christian church provides the most holistic answer to the challenge of deep differences.

But difference can only be celebrated if it is finally seen to be not an obstacle, a liability, or a threat, but a gift. The monumental event of Pentecost is the most full-orbed witness to this truth. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Christ’s apostles begin to speak in other languages to a large international crowd (Acts 2:4-13). Though there is some initial jeering about public drunkenness, this miracle should be read as a divine act of cultural affirmation, one that sanctions the transnational efforts of the church. A native tongue is the most primal expression of a given culture, and the Lord of all creation is here honoring the rich tapestry of human nations. More importantly, in this event, we see this diversity coalesce into an overall unity, for this is the birth of the Christian church: “A community was created by the Spirit in which the embodiment of Christ’s mission continued corporately after his ascension, as a household, a family, a koinonia.[20] This eclectic group of men and women from every nation, tongue, and tribe is “the body of Christ.”[21] Certainly, the church is as susceptible to conflict and its ensuing turmoil as every other human institution. However, to the degree that it follows the dictates of Christ, it offers a powerful rejoinder to secular culture’s superficial efforts at honoring diversity: “The Church is nothing other than that movement launched into the public life of the world by its sovereign Lord to continue that which he came to do until it is finished in his return in glory.”[22] When the church is modeling proper fidelity to her divine author, unity and diversity remain indivisible and issue in a sustained profusion of creative creation care that includes everything from Pastor Lee’s dropbox to the faithful presence of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

In 2011, a remarkable film, entitled Of Gods and Men, dramatized a true story about a group of French monks in a remote Algerian outpost. Though the director is an atheist, the film is very reverent in its portrayal of these monks, for these Christian men are true servants to their Muslim neighbors, offering them free food, clothing, shelter, and medical treatment; they are the wellspring of the community. When the village is targeted by a group of radical Islamic insurgents, it soon becomes clear that a return to France is the only possible way to preserve the lives of their chapter. Through a harrowing process of prayer and deep soul-searching, every man chooses to stay, and most of them pay the ultimate price for this decision. As we have seen, the two major answers from contemporary culture to the challenge of real difference are coercion and assimilation.

On the one hand, we have the hijab-clad professor insisting that there is no essential difference between the Islamic and Christian conceptions of God, that difference itself must ultimately be converted into an anemic cultural artifact of economic globalism. On the other, we have ISIS forging its murderous path toward a new world order, insisting that real difference must ultimately be conquered and vanquished. Of Gods and Men is a timely reminder that there is a third way. Christ announced that the kingdom of God was at hand and proclaimed it to be the home of the world’s disenfranchised. He then proceeded to raise the dead, restore sight to the blind, mobility to the lame, and health to the sick. The world’s rulers and authorities sentenced him to death for his efforts. His subsequent resurrection and ascension confirm both his kingship and his imminent return. In the context of this portentous interval, one of the most powerful responses to the challenge of real difference will be self-sacrifice, a joint refusal to betray neither Jesus nor neighbor. As Lesslie Newbigin reminds us, “The soldiers in Christ’s victorious army were not armed with the weapons of this age; they were martyrs whose robes were washed in blood.”[23] Miroslav Volf and Larycia Hawkins have located the answer to the challenge of our contemporary world in symbolic gestures of solidarity and the minimization of real difference. Christ’s disciples will locate it in the cross.

Cameron McAllister is an itinerant speaker and writer with RZIM and host of RZIM's weekly podcast Vital Signs.

[20] Classic Christianity, 703.

[21] Ibid., 704.

[22] The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 221.

[23] The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 210.

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