Monday, February 21, 2011

Born Again

“Ye must be born again.”

I saw this verse from John’s gospel twice as I travelled from north to south. First on a church building near Great Victoria Station and second on the DART to Dun Laoghaire. I wondered how the three Dubliners sitting next to me on the train would have responded if I turned to them and said, “You know, lads, the sign is right. Now who wants to go first?” Perhaps a greater fool than I would have found out. Perhaps a braver evangelist than I would have found out. As an ivory tower theologian in training, however, I was content to speculate and go on my way.

But this verse was not through with me yet.

I joined my brother and his wife for a Bible study that evening. They wanted a Bible college student’s perspective on the Bible study of a potential home church, seemingly unaware that a Bible college student has little time to devote themselves to reading and understanding the Bible. We may at best read a few commentaries on a biblical passage, but give us the choice between Scripture and the complete works of N.T. Wright and we’ll side with the ex-Bishop every time.

Nevertheless, I kept up the charade and went along only to discover that the passage up for discussion was the passage that had batted its eyelashes at me and given me a suggestive wink earlier that day. John 3 was our text, with particular emphasis on the words “born again”. Even for the hard of hearing such as myself it became impossible not to hear God speaking.

I’ve always understood the term “born again” as denoting an identity. It is an identity that says “I am not a Catholic”. The call to be born again is a call to leave behind dead religiosity and to embrace the freedom of evangelicalism. It is a call to a decision that, in Ireland, stands over and against the Catholic church. In many cases it is a decision that requires one to leave friends and family behind for the sake of a protestant understanding of the gospel.

You often hear that if Jesus was walking the earth today he could be a dentist, a shopkeeper, a janitor, a teacher; in other words, someone just like you. But there are two things he certainly couldn’t be, – a Jew and a Catholic (with Catholicism being, for many, “a Christian form of Judaism”). That’s the “born again” mentality I’ve grown up with. It can’t possibly be what Jesus was on about, can it?
It can't, but how can this language of Jesus become our language? Can "born again" be born again? Can we meet the term again for the first time? Much of Christian theology is a peaceful struggle between the reality of the kingdom of God and the words we use to denote the reality. If "born again" was good enough for Jesus then it ought to be good enough for us. The task now is to connect these two words with the kingdom of God in a faithful way.

Another time, perhaps!

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