There is a question I cannot get out of my mind. I have been thinking…
What’s the primary difference between a classic Bollywood and Hollywood love story?
More than the amount of dancing, the difference lies in what makes the ending truly happy.
In a Hollywood love story, at the center are two individuals on their way to finding each other and a truer version of themselves in the process. “Following your heart” comes first. In a classic Bollywood love story, it’s never just two people. The family comes first. Actually, falling in love is often what lands the key characters in trouble, and if there is to be a happy ending, reconciliation with parents and family must take place.
Art and film can reveal some of the deepest but most invisible everyday realities. In the United States, we swim in the water of individualism. Individualism puts the self at the center of the world, and we are often unaware how this perspective informs (and even deforms) our understanding of the Christian life.
If you take note of the pronouns in nearly every major contemporary worship song in the US, you’ll notice a trend. Just looking at sheer frequency, it’s easy to conclude “me,” “I,” and “you” are the focus. We tend to emphasize the Christian life as a “me and Jesus” affair.
For example, Fernando Ortega’s chart-topping song, Give me Jesus, highlights this focus.
When I am alone, give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
But give me Jesus
And yet interestingly enough, so does LANY’s recent song, i still talk to jesus:
I don’t change my ways, I don’t change my shirt
I go from the club straight to the church
It’s the same prayer, it’s the same hurt
Maybe I drink too much
Fall in and out of love
There’s been a couple of times
I’ve done a couple lines
I lie to my mama, I smoke marijuana
Most of the time I do what I wanna
You might not believe it
But I still talk to Jesus
And herein lies the biggest divide between older and younger Christians in the US. As I talk to younger Christians who are frustrated with their parents, or parents who are discouraged by where their children are at in their faith journey, I’ve come to see it’s less a different understanding of the gospel, and more a different cultural application of the individualistic framing of the gospel. While there are clear differences, the main point is the same: the Christian life is between me and Jesus.
Where do we go from here? The answer is not a return to a former cultural application of an individualistic framework. Rather, we need to return to a more robustly biblical framework of the gospel which also includes the collective alongside the individual.
Hollywood has something to learn from Bollywood.
Rather than understanding salvation and the gospel in purely individualistic terms and reading the Bible looking for what the text means for “me,” we need to learn to swim in different water. We need the sea of Galilee, not a chlorine rich pool. In an ancient near-Eastern (not Western) framework, the biblical authors didn’t think about life or write Scripture from a primarily individualistic frame.
With this in mind, we turn to the final chapters in the Gospel account of Luke seeking to understand what the original authors meant to convey, and what the original audience would have heard.
In one sense, all of the Gospel of Luke is written from a collective perspective with an emphasis on “us” and not just “me,” and the language of the kingdom puts the collective emphasis front and center. Fascinatingly enough, Luke’s Gospel doesn’t end with Jesus just equipping individuals to have a personal relationship with Jesus on their own. He’s inviting them to embrace Jesus as King of a kingdom over His people throughout the world. This becomes more explicit in Luke’s “Part 2:”, the book of Acts, but it’s also right here in Luke’s Gospel account if we can relearn how to see through Luke’s eyes.
Once we have a different perspective, we begin to understand why one rich man is called to give everything he has to the poor to follow Jesus, and why Jesus says salvation has come to the house of a particular tax collector only after that man announces he’ll give reparations. It gives insight as to why Jesus tells us to pay our taxes, and why leadership is cultivated primarily with a basin and towel service in the community.
In Luke’s Gospel (and every gospel account for that matter), if you want to know Jesus and follow Him, then you can’t just embrace Jesus. You also need to embrace His kingdom, which He is bringing. For Jesus didn’t come to help us escape the world, He came to reclaim it.
But what does His kingdom look like? Do we even know what we’re asking when we ask as we are taught to ask by Jesus Himself: “Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2)?
Jesus and His kingdom seem absolutely backward from the way everything else operates, and yet it’s both Jesus and His kingdom this world needs. It’s what we need. It’s what our city needs. And yes, it’s even what you and I need personally.
Join us as we Rediscover Jesus’ Kingdom through the Gospel account of Luke.
If you would like to read and process Scripture with a frame closer to the original authors, here are two resources that are a great place to start:
- Misreading Scripture with Individualistic Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World by E. Randolph Richards and Richard James (pseudonym of a cross-cultural trainer who is also involved in leading church planting teams in the Middle East)
- Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth Bailey