I’ve been seeing more and more of these NOTW stickers on cars that pass by me (often those who cut me off… but never mind that). I guess I can be happy for those who are willing to display their faith and belief for the world to see (please be better drivers, though). But in a culture that wants to (over) simplify everything, it just seems so… empty to subscribe in bumper sticker theology. My faith and what I want to express goes far beyond and deeper than the catchy phrases like “NOTW” or “3 nails + 1 Cross = 4given” or “He>i” and so forth that we find on shirts and bumper stickers.
It was raining last night, and the way to church, some guy totally veered into my lane cutting me off (again, while it was pouring). And of course on the back of his car was the “NOTW” sticker (which stands for Not Of This World) and I made up my mind then and there that I do not like the whole NOTW thing. Perhaps it was due to the reaction of being cut off… but after thinking and pondering over it, it goes deeper.
I know that Jesus says “I am not of this world.” But I want to go beyond that. First, by taking that one sentence out of the entire “Validity of Jesus’ Testimony” section and focusing on it, well… it makes Jesus sound like an alien. And this NOTW, how does that apply to me, the believer? Am I supposed to also think that I am not of this world? Because, there’s a ever so slight shift that happens in our thinking when we focus too much on the “not of this world” aspect. If Jesus truly wanted to be not of this world, then he wouldn’t have come to earth in the way he did. He wouldn’t have gone through the human experiences. He would’ve probably avoided all the things and emotions we go through from betrayal to abandonment to monster diarrhea and perhaps a few incidents of bed wetting. (Okay. You’re telling me that Jesus lived for 33 years and never once ate something wrong and had bad poops? C’mon…)
But the slight shift that happens… when we start putting emphasis that we are not to be of this world, what tends to happen is that we build a wall that separates us from reality. We create this bubble that we live in, which then we really start becoming (and behaving as if we are) not of this world. Many non-Christians view many Christians as sheltered, out of touch with reality, unrealistic, living in a bubble and, well, not of this world (but probably not the way we think about NOTW as Christians). The irony is, we focus so much on this “not of the world” that we do become “not of this world” but then totally useless for God’s kingdom and ministry.
We start hanging around with other Christian and start speaking Christianese. All we know is our church and things that have to do with church. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I do have to ask, what’s the point of being salt and light to those who already are salt and light? But the even bigger danger to this scenario is that, when that wall builds up, we then unconsciously become snobby and pietistic, but in a holier-than-thou way. We become judgmental and then we push away the very people who are in need of the Gospel. And a whole section of the flock are overlooked because they don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us… so forth. And when one of those brave lost sheep finally break into our circle of the church, we then… well, as Jesus puts it “tie up heavy loads and put them on [their] shoulder, but [we ourselves] are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
Okay, that may have been harsh and a huge sweeping generalization to some people (like my experience with certain campus ministries). We are not to be of this world, but we are also not to be completely separated from the world either. We are still part of the world. We are still called to be salt and light to the culture and community we are immersed in. As Mike Metzger writes (taken from UnChristian): Being salt and light demands two things: we practice purity in the midst of a fallen world and yet we live in proximity to this fallen world. If you don’t hold up both truths in tension, you invariably become useless and separated from the world God loves. For example, if you only practice purity apart from proximity to the culture, you inevitably become pietistic, separatist, and conceited. If you live in close proximity to the culture without also living in a holy manner, you become indistinguishable from fallen culture and useless in God’s kingdom.
Kinnaman continues to write: As Christians, we should pursue both goals: purity and proximity– living in a way that honors God, but doing so in a way that can influence outsiders. Instead of creating a chasm between us and the so called “outsiders” who in fact was who Jesus sought and ministered to. Let’s not forget that Jesus’ harshest criticisms and words were directed to the already religious and “insiders.”
The NOTW bumper sticker (and all those like it) are too shallow and simplistic to really convey who we are as followers of Christ.
And can I please add:
To all Christians and “Christians” who have the fish decals (or any other Christian bumper stickers) on the back of your cars to announce to the world and other drivers that you are a Christian, I kindly ask and urge you to also put one on your dashboard so that you can remind yourself that you are a Christian. Thank you.