Thursday, October 29, 2009

Which Jesus?: Choosing Between Love & Power by Dr. Tony Campolo

Despite its relative brevity, I found this book to be quite powerful. Dr. Tony Campolo is a scholar of sociology, and the author of many books. Which Jesus?: Choosing Between Love & Power is a tiny book that could fit in your pocket, and is only about 80 pages in length. It succinctly makes the case that Christians ought not seek power to exert influence, but should instead choose the path of sacrificial love.

Campolo begins the book by reminding us of the events surrounding Jesus’s death. It was the Jewish celebration of Passover. The local Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, asked the crowd to choose which prisoner they wanted to free during the celebration. The New Testament tells us that there were two candidates: Jesus and Barabbas. Campolo explains that in seminary he learned it was odd that the Gospel writers refer to the other candidate by his last name, Barabbas (which meant “son of Abbas”), and did not use his first name. Some have observed that this anomaly might make sense if Barabbas’s first name was Jesus, which was a common name at that time. Perhaps the Gospel writers were attempting to distinguish between two men with the name first name. This theory inspired the book’s title and provides a metaphor explored in the rest of the book.

Campolo offers readers a biographical sketch of these two men. They lived at a time when Israel was suffering under brutal oppression and tyranny by Roman conquerors. Both men were from the town of Nazareth, which was known as a hotbed for radicals. Campolo compares Barabbas to Osama bin Laden; Barabbas was essentially a terrorist trying to challenge the Roman authorities through violent means. Campolo characterizes Barabbas as a tough hothead, who must have been fairly charismatic to attract a following of fellow terrorists, the Zealots.

In turn, Campolo characterizes Jesus Barjoseph (i.e., the son of the couple Mary and Joseph) as sharing Barabbas’s “zeal for revolutionizing the nation,” but having chosen to effect change in a vastly different way. He explicitly rejected Satan’s offers of worldly power; he quoted Scripture and declared that he would save the world through sacrificial love instead of exercises of power. Campolo explains Jesus Barjoseph rejected the use of coercive power in favor of self-giving love on the cross. The book notes the wisdom of that choice; the violence of the Zealots ultimately was disastrous for the Jews. In A.D. 70, a Jewish revolution was defeated in bloody fashion by the Romans. The temple was destroyed and thousands of Jews were massacred.

After comparing and contrasting the two men in the biblical story, Campolo asks readers: “Do we want Jesus Barjoseph, who comes in love, or Jesus Barabbas, who comes in power?” He notes that by nature people seem to understand and feel secure with power. Indeed, power is the choice made by most of us. Campolo discusses the truism that whoever exercises the most power in a relationship exercises the least love, and whoever expresses the most love is exercising the least power. But he points out that the use of power rarely succeeds in the long term; it primarily instills fear, which can eventually be overcome. Campolo asserts that those in history who have accomplished the most have done so without coercive force but through nonviolent love: Jesus Barjoseph, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Campolo speaks out against modern American Christians whom he says take up the ways of Barabbas in trying to impact society with Christian values imposed through the exercise of political power. Instead, he advocates that with regard to personal moral issues, Christians ought to use loving persuasion rather than powerful coercion to get people to live according to what we believe is right. Campolo states he wants “people to freely choose what they believe and do, as long as it doesn’t threaten the property or physical well-being of others.”

Which Jesus?: Choosing Between Love & Power was published in 2002, not long after the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11th. In the book, Campolo observes that it had become “dangerous to quote Jesus Barjoseph in many churches since September 11” because many Christians did not want to hear that we are supposed to love our enemies, do good to those who would harm us and return good for evil. Campolo warns that we are embracing the ways of Barabbas, and dismissing the words of Jesus Barjoseph as “unrealistic ideals.” Campolo makes a persuasive case for the transformative strength of love to bring lasting, positive change to our world.

Matthew 5:14-16, 38-48

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

No comments:

Post a Comment