John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Redefining Absurd

Absurd (adj.): wildly unreasonable, illogical or inappropriate; foolish; arousing amusement or derision; ridiculous. Jesus' last words to his followers -- just before he left them -- were over-the-top. He told them, "Get out there into the wide world and take this message with you to the far corners of creation. Get people everywhere to convert from whatever their faith is in currently to this new operating system I've introduced."

This message has become so familiar to people who attend churches that we've lost a sense for just how absurd it must have sounded to the original audience.

See, there wasn't really much of a concept of "conversion" back then. Most people in the ancient world believed in multiple gods or goddesses. You didn't need to switch loyalties in some kind of exclusivistic way. If you found a god you liked, you just added him to your collection. Most people had multiple gods, and all the gods were cool with that. It wasn't an either/or proposition to them; it was both/and. You had a god that helped you at work and one that helped you at home. One god was in charge of the rain, and one god was in charge of the harvest. People didn't convert.

Well, there was this one group of people who believed in just one God: the Jews. But they didn't really have any notion that they needed to get out and convince people to switch from following multiple gods to following just one. If someone came to them and wanted to become part of their group, they'd let them. But they didn't feel compelled to go out and convert people.

So, when Jesus gives these marching orders to his followers, it's kind of a new thing he's asking them to do.

"You want us to go out and convince people to swap their belief system for this new one? Okay, that's original. Do we have any kind of budget for this project? A strategic plan? Do we at least have transportation?"

Jesus was a little sketchy on the details.

Think of this: 11 guys who had never traveled more than 100 miles away from their homes going out to the ends of the earth on a mission that had never been attempted before -- never even thought of in all of human history. They have no money, no connections and no plan.

This is absurd.

Except for one thing: it actually started to happen. The only thing more absurd than the idea itself was its success.

I've spent the last two months pouring over the Book of Acts, and I've been amazed again at how bold and innovative the early church was. Did they make mistakes? Of course they did! Were they messed up and dysfunctional? Of course they were! Should we attempt to imitate them in every detail? Of course not!

But they knew that God was at work in their midst, and because of that belief they knew they could take absurd risks of faith, trusting that God was going to get his will accomplished one way or another.

Perhaps the biggest advantage they had over us is that there was no box for them to try to think outside of. The "box" wouldn't be constructed for several decades yet, so they had the luxury of making things up as they went along.

Perhaps the most absurd thing of all was when we decided it was a good idea to build a box in the first place. Wait...maybe it was when we decided to climb in the box and lock close the lid. Wait...maybe it's the fact that so many churches know they're trapped in the box and still refuse to do whatever it takes to get out.

What do you think is the most absurd thing about churches?