Share Hope!

April 01, 2011

My latest column appeared in Churchnet's page in the Word&Way. The piece, entitled "Can 'Born Again' be Born Again," can be found below at the end of this post. Additionally, tonight and tomorrow is the Share Hope Summit, the annual gathering of Churchnet. It is being held at Windermere Baptist Conference Center with speakers Wallace S. Hartsfield, II (Pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City) and Doyle Sager (Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City and President of Churchnet). This year's gathering will also include breakout sessions covering the three areas of the Share Hope emphasis--Relational Evangelism, Congregational Ministry, and Community Advocacy. As part of the Missions Banquet tonight to raise money for Churchnet's ongoing partnership with Guatemalan Baptists, a new video I helped make will be shown (if you wish to contribute but cannot make the banquet, just send your money to Churchnet labeled "Share Hope Missions"). Here is the video, the footage of which was shot by Gary Snowden (Churchnet's Missions Mobilization Team Leader):

Can 'Born Again' be Born Again

During the Baptist Border Crossing event in Kansas City two years ago, Wallace Hartsfield, II, Pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, powerfully read an excerpt from a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. In the speech, King borrows Jesus's metaphor about being "born again" to talk about how our nation needed to overcome the problems of racism, economic exploitation, and war (which he argued are tied together). As King retells the encounter found in John 3, he explains that when Jesus told Nicodemus to be "born again," Jesus was saying, "Your whole structure must be changed." Using that drastic definition, King then declares, "America, you must be born again!" By this, King means the whole structure of America must be changed to root out racism, economic injustice, and violence. His speech still resonates today as a powerful call for societal change, but also as a dramatic reminder of what Jesus meant with the metaphor "born again."

I used to think Nicodemus was a little slow because he asked Jesus seemingly dumb questions about reentering his mother's womb. Now, however, I recognize that Nicodemus was a bright man who simply was surprised by this unusual metaphor he was hearing for the first time. Nicodemus understand what a drastic change Jesus was calling for. Yet, most Christians today seem to have watered-down what it means to be "born again," as if it is simply enough to walk the church aisle, say a prayer, and then do little else. Perhaps that is why research shows that Christians act just like everyone else in our nation. We claim to be "born again" but our structure has not changed. The problem in John 3 is not Nicodemus's confusion about the metaphor, but our comfortness with it. We are so used to the phrase "born again" that it no longer shocks us like it did Nicodemus. Perhaps the metaphor--to borrow another metaphor from Jesus--is like salt that has lost its saltiness.

I am not suggesting we get rid of the metaphor “born again," but rather that we must work to recapture what it truly means. Perhaps by seeing how others--like King--have borrowed the metaphor, we can save the metaphor. Consider the case of Toi Iti, the son of a prominent Maori activist (the indigenous Polynesian people in New Zealand), who was raised in Australia by his mother and raised speaking English. After he returned to New Zealand and got married, he realized his 2-year-old daughter knew his people's native language better than he did. So and his wife spent a year in an intensive re-immersion course. Now he calls himself a "born-again Maori." He added, "We are extreme born-agains, more Maori than your real Maori."

Or consider the story of Army Specialist Adrian Garcia, who lost his legs in Iraq. As he talked about adjusting to his new life, he told the local newspaper: "It felt like I was born again. It felt like I came out of the womb again, and now I have to adjust to my new life." Or consider the case of Fatima Abed Rabbo, a transgendered girl who underwent a transformation as a pre-teen to become a boy. After the procedure, the young Gaza resident said, "I feel like I was born again. I feel free."

These dramatic changes help us capture the nature of the transformation Jesus told Nicodemus was necessary. Like King reminded us, being "born again" is a revolutionary change of one's whole structure. This is why Churchnet's Share Hope emphasis covers three areas--Relational Evangelism, Congregational Ministry, and Community Advocacy. Together, these give us a full, healthy gospel. We must work to change our whole structure on the personal level, the corporate body level, and the societal level. Perhaps our understanding of 'born again' needs to be born again.