The Tribal Jesus Is Killing Our World

“Dennis: You cut the sleeves off of all your t-shirts. What, to show off your tats? Those are really original.

Mac: They’re tribal.

Dennis: ‘They’re tribal.’ I’m sorry, what tribe are you from?”

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The above quote has little to do with anything, but it mentions the word “tribal” and helps us laugh a little before reading something that may anger us (not sure why it would, but just in case it does).

I recently listened to Rob Bell speak about Philippians 3v1-6 (“Beware the dogs” on October 19, 2008). Much of his talk was about “tribal affiliation.” We each are a part of some “tribe.” The tribe sets up boundaries, beliefs, systems, etc. This comes from a natural human instinct.

I’d like to summarize and interpret some of what Rob was saying before I move to my point – There are three parts to human development. First, ego-centrism comes at a very early age. My 6 month old daughter, Giselle, swears the world revolves around her because she doesn’t know any better (or can’t know at this point). You are concerned with your own welfare. Second, ethno-centrism comes about in concern for one’s tribe. You understand the world is bigger than you, but your tribe limits this. You are concerned about the welfare of people in your tribe. Third, world-centrism understands that people are connected, and you are ultimately more concerned about everyone’s welfare versus your own.

The problem is that most of us are stopping at stage two, that is, ethno-centrism. It can be understood as “us vs. them.” My tribe versus your tribe. Me versus you. My beliefs versus your beliefs. Get the picture? What happens is that we begin to think the world is our tribe. For example, if I’m Reformed, that’s my tribe, and everyone else who believes differently than my Reformed theology is outside of my tribe and is incorrect or needs to understand the way I do.

The thing is, as Rob Bell states, “Jesus is always bigger than your tribe.” We desire for Jesus to be our tribe, but the fact is, he’s not. He’s bigger than it.

So, I think about this in light of being critical towards each other as Christians. We follow Jesus Christ. Jesus is world-centric. He is bigger than our tribe. What we often to do is criticize those who are outside of our tribe. Let’s use the above example again. The Reformed tribe criticizes the Pentecostal tribe because the Pentecostal tribe believes that you have ultimate free will in choosing or rejecting the Holy Spirit. So, the Reformed criticize. But remember – Jesus is always bigger than our tribe. On the other hand, we have those who criticize people who view the world in tribes and act like those people are ridiculous. That’s the same problem.

What we like to do is tribal-ize the gospel. We like to make the gospel sound like the language of our tribe. But, if Jesus is bigger than our tribe, and he is world-centric, we need to rethink this. We constantly belittle the efforts of others in other tribes. We constantly see them talking to other people from other religions, and we say, “They’re universalists! They believe all roads lead to heaven!” Or, we say, “They believe we’re all universalists! What idiots!” Paul says, “Beware of those dogs!” (Phil. 3v2). Beware of the Judaizer who thinks circumcision is necessary for salvation. Beware of anyone who tribal-izes Jesus.

Jesus is always bigger than our tribe.

The world needs Jesus. It doesn’t need our tribes. (Sorry to say it, but it’s true.) The world doesn’t need another Pentecostal church, or Reformed systematic theology, or an Anglican liturgy. The world needs Jesus.

Do you wonder why kids go to college and walk away from Christianity? They don’t struggle with Jesus. But they struggle with the tribe’s Jesus. They struggle with, “Well, everything you learn at that liberal, pagan university is a bunch of atheistic, Marxist pish-posh (Christians wouldn’t curse, would they?).” For instance, Galileo didn’t struggle with Jesus, but he sure struggled with the tribal-ized Jesus. He struggled with the tribe’s view that the world is flat – “the Bible says it (Isa. 11v12 – “four corners” can’t be on a globe) so I believe it!”

Is that Jesus? No, that’s a tribal-ized Jesus.

I hate to go here, but another example is this. “God hates gay people! And all those universities are following a homosexual agenda.” Then, a kid meets a gay person for the first time in their life, and the person is actually kind and not evil and doesn’t have an agenda; so what happens? They say, “Well, the Bible must not be true. It’s just a bunch of folktales. So, Jesus isn’t the way for me.” No, Jesus is the way for you, but the tribal-ized Jesus isn’t. You see what I mean? (If you’re angry, which I’m not sure why you would be, just read the above quote again. That should help). The tribal Jesus is killing our world, not helping it.

Jesus is always bigger than your tribe.


2 Comments so far
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Evan – found your blog through “tag-surfer” for Rob Bell. Loved this post. Brilliantly worded and clearly presented. It gives me a better way to clarify with some I have had discussions with lately on why certain pastors are hating on other pastors.

Comment by benjaminzimmerman

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