Michael Frost is an Australian theologian and author. He is the Director of the Tinsley Institute for Mission Study and Head of the Missiology Department at Morling College in Australia. He has been called “a leading voice in Missional Church Movement.”
“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful” – Flannery O-Connor
In his new book, Keeping Christianity Weird – Embracing the Discipline of Being Different, Michael Frost asserts that Jesus is different and challenges Christians to be different, eccentric, and unique. Frost challenges us to conform to the patterns of the world and to instead see the world differently than the world sees itself.
Citing research from his book, Surprise the World – The Five Habits of Highly Missional People, and The Patient Fervent of the Early Church by Alan Kreider, Frost asserts that that Jesus promoted a life of living differently and counter-culturally, specifically citing the Sermon on the Mount as a directive to live differently. To support the directive to live differently, the Early Christian Church served as a counter-cultural community. Frost then challenges Christians to “live questionable lives,” meaning to live a Christian life so differently from the world that people will ask “why?”.
Below are some key takeaways from this new book on how to keep Christianity weird and embrace being different:
Creative Eccentric People
- Examples: Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Picasso, Jim Henson, Martha Graham, Caesar Chavez.
- Examples in Christianity: St. Boniface, Francis Xavier, Zinzendorf, Anne Hutchinson, Mother Ann Lee.
- “Eccentric” comes from the Greek “ex” meaning out of and “kentron” meaning center, to mean out of center. Richard Beck explains it as “The focal point life is turned from self to God,” similar to Luther’s explanation of “Incurvatis in se” or “the self curved inward”
- God is eccentric – outside the system or status quo
- “We have to learn the often-changing truth that God exists beyond our agendas”
- Who are some eccentric figures in history you admire?
The Weird Cities Movement is on the edge of something different
- Examples: Austin, Seattle, Ashville, Denver, Boulder, New York
- Weird cities have different values and are attracting young people. For example, Austin, TX values beautiful buildings, divergent lifestyles, and defying cultural trends.
- Mansions are sitting empty, malls are closing, millennials are buying houses, and learning to be neighbors.
- Weird churches are growing. They are connecting to a place, environmentally sustainable, tolerant of the views of all, welcoming diversity, and rejecting corporate styles of leadership.
- How do we maintain a distinctive Christian witness and be responsive to our community and setting?
Jesus was weird and eccentric
- The gospel of Mark gives us an impression of a wild Messiah wandering the roads of Israel accompanied by wild beasts an angels with sickness and demons flying off in every direction.
- He was a homeless, unmarried, thirtysomething rabbi who recruited a bunch of young mostly uneducated men to hit the road with him and proclaim that the Kingdom of God was coming and the best way to prepare was to repent of sins.
- Example stories of Jesus’ weirdness: Nicodemus, Woman with the flow of blood, and Cleansing of the temple (Matt 21:14-15 – to let in the blind, the lame, and the children).
- What impresses you and the weirdest thing Jesus did?
The Church at its best is always weird
- Citing research by Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Frost says: “What he found was that, far from the common view that the church grew like wildfire across the empire, the people of God slowly and patiently fostered the conditions that turned them into a force that could not be contained in three fundamental ways:
- Embodying a patient eschatological hope, trusting in what God has said about the future
- Committing themselves to countercultural communal practices or habits
- Discipling newcomers via a formal catechesis”
- In other words, the earliest Christians taught themselves to be weird like Jesus and created habitual practices to help keep that weirdness in place.
- True weirdness – Jesus-like weirdness – is so contrary to our natural impulses and interests that embracing it requires focus, patience, and discipline. Being weird like Jesus is a slow is a slow deliberate process.
- Examples of Christian Weirdness: Hiberno Scottish Missionaries, Cistercians, Anabaptist, Pentecostals, not all of these groups survived. Not all kept their weirdness. But they were all viewed suspiciously by the stayed and culturally acceptable church of their time.
- What other examples of historical Christian weirdness can you think of? (Reformation Lutherans?)
Why is it a battle to keep Christianity weird?
- Paul insists that one’s own mind is the battlefield. The default is conformity. God demands a “renewal of the mind.” Ephesians 4: “futility of the mind”, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2, and also Peter, prepare your minds for action” I Peter 1:13-14
- Example: In basketball, Wilt Chamberlain and his granny shot
- Being weird and eccentric is not just learned behavior, it takes a change in one’s mind. A supernatural work that can only be done by the Holy Spirit. (Transformational Ministry!!)
- Clues to affect the renewal of the mind: My eyes were open, adopting a posture of humility and worship, seeking to become more like Jesus.
- What keeps us from being weird is fear, shame, and risk.
- Are you a person that easily conforms or do you have a high threshold of collective behavior?
Weirdness is not carefree abandon
- It is a disciplines community that dedicates itself to teaching, worship, and service to foster a new set of habits that aligns itself with the values of the kingdom while still functioning in society and the political landscape.
- Be like salt and light; a lamp on a hill.
- Jesus’ new order is: a voluntary society, an integrated society, a countercultural society.
- Society cannot bring about the kingdom. “We can’t be confident in a political process to deliver the liberation Jesus promised. The church is called to offer such a space: a social reality that displays the Kingdom of God.”
- We need to look up to the example of Jesus and try to figure out what weird, unlikely, Christlike behavior should look like.
- Look up to Jesus, look down or around for context.
- Rice and Soerens Parish Collective: Five signs of the Parish Movement: Centering on Christ, Inhabiting our Parish, Gathering to Remember, Collaborating for God’s Renewal, Linking across Parishes
- What do you do when you feel pressure to conform?
Not crazy weird
- “Christianity needs to retain its weirdness to continue its ancient tradition of being unconventional, surprising, and eccentric in the true sense of the word.”
- Our identity is found in God not ourselves.
- We are weird because, we embrace an entirely unconventional ethic at odds with the world
- We are weird because we believe in some really crazy stuff – incarnation, resurrection, incarnational mission, power of love, grace, and forgiveness.
- How do you practice your weirdness as a Christian?