As Jesus is on his itinerant mission, he arrives at the region of the Gerasenes where he is immediately encountered by a man who is so insane that he lives “among the tombs on the mountains, he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones,” (Mark 5:5).
As the scene plays out, we see a man trapped in a world of torment wrought by a multitude of lying voices. He is waiting on the shore for Truth himself, Sanity himself, Love himself — Jesus of Nazareth. There’s something about the soundness of mind that is deeply attractive for those being tormented by agents of insanity. No one knew the name of this man. Those in the city referred to him as “the demoniac.” But this will not do for Jesus. To get at the core of this man’s identity Jesus inquisitively asks, What is your name? The response that came out of the demoniac revealed that his identity had been disintegrated. The lies of a multitude of voices had reached his core. He was no longer a simple and sane one, but a host of fragmented identities: “My name is Legion; for we are many,” (Mark 5:9).
Jesus sets the man free without contest. But what I find incredibly revealing in this story is the reaction of the onlookers. “They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had the legion; and they were afraid,” (Mark 5:15). A once howling and self-harming man sits with a soundness of mind next to Jesus, and this is what provokes fear in the witnesses. Truth comes at a cost to any culture that is accustomed to insanity, so they ask Truth to leave the neighborhood.
In This Article:
- Theological Issues Facing the Church Today
- Where Do Modern Christian Challenges Originate?
- Overcoming Modern Christian Challenges
- Study Modern Christian Challenges and Earn Your Degree From GCU
Theological Issues Facing the Church Today
What are the challenges of being a Christian today? The above story powerfully illustrates underlying modern Christian challenges. I truly wish that in relaying the untethered confusion of the demoniac that I was merely describing the conditions of the world that have wrought insanity on the people trapped in it. All I’d have to do is simply exhort the church to continue to be the embodiment of truth that draws the tormented to bow to the Prince of Peace. But it seems that today, the church itself has been subjected to a legion of voices telling us who we are. We somehow have become just as susceptible and vulnerable to the anxiety, dread and confusion of the world. It is now us to whom Jesus is asking, What is your name?
Our inability to answer Jesus’s question coherently exemplifies a challenge of being a Christian today. People are formed by their surrounding world filled with the voices of advertisements, songs, messaging, cliches and endless scrolling. Today, those messages insist that our true authentic selves are ultimately an inward reality.
Where Do Modern Christian Challenges Originate?
In our modern world, the culture tells me that my identity is self-made and discovered privately, all by myself. This is not a Christian option. However, given the way that we practice Christianity individualistically, the members that make up the body have no recourse against it.
Let me throw some Christian language on this to show how we have succumbed to this assumption. Today, it is assumed that I am a disciple to the degree that I privately pray and read my Bible as I pursue a personal (read: individualistic) relationship with Jesus. I know God primarily in my private pursuit of him. Therefore, I am the chief arbiter of what it means to be a Christian based on my private prayer and Scripture reading.
When you have an entire Christian culture engaging God in this way and constructing the core of their Christian identities in their private lives, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the answer to the question What is your name? or What is the church? or What is a Christian? will yield a legion of answers. Why? Because all of us are separately being formed by some group of people telling us who we are.
If communities outside the people of God give me cues to the deepest truths about my identity, then I will come to Scripture and to God already formed as a person whose basic identity belongs to some other group. I will then come to the Bible formed as a good member of x political affiliation who watches y news network, or as a good citizen of z country, etc. But Jesus’s kingdom will not be set alongside these kingdoms. “My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36).
But the Bible tells me who I am! One of the unique features of the Christian faith is that the central figure around whom it is built, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t write any of our texts with his own hand. While we rightly claim to gather around the teachings of Jesus himself, this requires that we trust what John, Luke, Paul, James and others tell us about Jesus. Therefore, even when reading Scripture “by myself,” I don’t bypass my need for others to bring me to his feet. Without human witnesses, then, I would not be a Christian. Indeed, part of being a Christian calls me to have the discernment and faith to recognize that Matthew telling me about Jesus is coequal with Jesus himself speaking to me. That’s why the Bible, although written by the hands of human authors, can be called the word of God.
Christianity is a received faith. Therefore, what it means to be a Christian has already been determined. Our faith has been here long before us, our families, cultures and nations. We don’t get to decide what it is, nor what constitutes its practices. Therefore, when considering what are the challenges of being a Christian today, we recognize that our appetites need to be communally formed to think, love, act and read as Christians.
Christian formation happens in communal practices, teachings and worship where we are shaped to read Scripture as members of one body, rather than as modern individual citizens of this or that country, individual members of this or that political party or individual adherers to this or that cultural ideology. Countries, polities and ideologies will always vie for the allegiance of individuals attempting to put lenses on our imaginations by which to engage God, Scripture and truth. But these problems aren’t new.
Overcoming Modern Christian Challenges
The world has always had communal ideas of its own, attempting to shape individual identity — we call it culture. The success in us escaping the legion of the cultural voices is partly dependent upon our leaning into the historical community that has remained throughout all attempts to break it apart for the last 2,000 years. We’ve been here before, and if we are a community that is truly here not because we’ve organized ourselves as a bunch of individuals as the world does, but because God has acted in history and joined a community to himself as his body, then we have nothing to fear. Cultural identities are fickle, living and dying with the passage of time. God with the community he joins himself to, is not so fragile.
After reviewing all of these challenges, it’s natural to wonder how to live a Christian life in today’s world. We don’t have to live by the dread of a world filled with institutions, leaders and ideologies that come and go. For us, there need not be a constant fear of “worst case scenario” of our ultimate communal demise. For the Christian, “worst case scenario” — God’s death — has already happened. However, we are here as a community witnessing the fact that death does not have the final say because Christ is risen. I gather with the historical community that lives by that fact.
Despite our inevitable worldly citizenships, as Christians, we are fundamentally formed by the event that defeated death. The church is called to repeatedly tell that story to the world in proclamation, to each other in formation, and to God in adoration. That is who we are. And it is only when we submit our individuality to a community formed by that message that we are living according to our true identity. This is living sanely in a world gone mad. Being formed by, and embracing our sane otherness is indeed amongst modern Christian challenges.