Vital Christianity: As I see it

An effort to describe vital Christianity in 12 key characteristics, beginning with passionate love of God and neighbor. 

By David Gushee

Follow David: @dpgushee

Here on the eve of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly meeting in Atlanta, and with other national religious conventions recently in the news (for better or for worse), I choose to articulate what I think vital Christianity looks like, that version of Christianity to which I am drawn and which I think might have a future in post-Christian America. What follows are my top 12 proposed characteristics of vital Christianity. Of course, this is an invitation to dialogue. Here goes: 

1. Vital Christianity looks like people who love God-in-Christ with all their hearts. It is characterized by spiritual passion, heartfelt worship and unashamed devotion to God (Mt. 22:37).

2. Vital Christianity looks like people who seek to love their neighbors as themselves (Mt. 22:39). It overflows with such love and related virtues like compassion, mercy and kindness (Col. 3:12-14), directed not just toward others as individuals but as advocacy in the public arena.  

3. Vital Christianity looks like people who want to see God’s transforming reign take hold on this suffering planet. It fosters holy dissatisfaction with the unjust and violent kingdoms of this world and a desire to participate as Christ’s body in the work of God’s reign of justice, peace and reconciliation (Mt. 6:33).

4. Vital Christianity looks like people who humbly yearn to grow in Christlikeness and are willing to work at it with discipline and sacrifice. It has a holistic personal transformation agenda, pursued together in meaningful Christian community (Rom. 12:1-2).

5. Vital Christianity looks like people who attentively and regularly listen for God’s Word and seek to do God’s will, gathering in communities where the Bible is both revered and authoritative, preached, read and studied with responsive and teachable minds and hearts (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

6. Vital Christianity looks like people who do not accept worldly social divisions, prejudices and stratifications as immutable givens, but instead seek to build boundary-crossing communities as modeled by Jesus and commanded in scripture (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28).

7. Vital Christianity looks like people responsive to human need and eager to go, and to serve, where the need is greatest, seeing in the suffering “least of these” Jesus himself (Mt. 25:31-46).

8. Vital Christianity looks like people who commit to full participation in some (flawed but beloved) local expression of the body of Christ while aware of and acting on their connection to the (flawed but beloved) church universal (Heb. 10:24-26).

9 Vital Christianity looks like people characterized by the disciplined practice of prayer as taught in Scripture and practiced in historic Christianity (Lk. 18:1-8).

10. Vital Christianity looks like people who are convictional and correctable; that is, who want to study and understand the most important historic doctrinal and moral traditions of Christianity, in order to be firmly grounded in the intellectual heritage and core commitments of the church/es, even while aware that church tradition is neither infallible nor immutable (cf. 1 Cor. 15:2-4).

11. Vital Christianity looks like people who are most deeply shaped by their Christian commitment rather than casually integrating churchgoing into a life primarily about other goals (Ex. 20:2).

12. Vital Christianity looks like people who value their freedom, and that of everyone else, to seek truth and live life with integrity, while recognizing that for Christians freedom is in and for Christ and one another, not merely about personal autonomy (Rom. 14).

In short, vital Christianity as I see it is Christ-centered and wholly committed, passionate, loving and just, personally and socially transformationist, missional, public, and global, biblically serious, boundary-crossing and countercultural, attentive to those on the margins, committed to the local and universal church, prayerful in service to others, theologically informed, convictional, correctable, and free-in-radical-obedience-to-Christ. 

Which means vital Christianity is not: thinly universal or rigidly dogmatic, mushily lukewarm, merely casual, or coldly doctrinaire, too cool to be passionate about Jesus or angrily pounding people with loveless judgmentalism in Jesus’ name, satisfied with the personal, social and ecclesial status quo, parochial or centered just on serving the people within the church walls, loosely tethered to Scripture or brutal and authoritarian in its reading of Scripture, anti- or post-church or post-prayer, squeamish about believing in something strongly or unteachable because it already knows everything, all about personal autonomy or all about crushing legitimate Christian freedom through power plays.

Here’s to vital Christianity and a vital Christian future.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.