Updated: Jun 15, 2022
(This is the first in a series of reflections on books read by the Creekside Book Club)
In Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk by Rev. Eugene Cho, Pastor Cho asks the following rather tongue-in-cheek question. Does the following describe a good Christian – one who goes to church, serves in the church, does his/her devotionals daily, attends Bible study, and doesn’t ask too many questions?
Pastor Cho doesn’t answer this question, but my guess is no, or at least not quite. He writes:
The Kingdom of God isn’t merely about a ticket to heaven or reducing sin to a personal issue while we neglect what happens when sin becomes communal such as in systems, institutions and culture. We are not called just to be saved but to follow Jesus, maybe to some uncomfortable destinations.
Being a jerk, according to Cho, is limiting our Christian calling to just spiritual or physical activities while not caring enough about the world our neighbors live in. It is also about aligning oneself in political and national affairs with one’s always-right party, tribe, or way of thinking without being truly informed and living out our convictions pursuing the kingdom of God. Cho also writes:
We can’t love our neighbors if we don’t know our neighbors. It’s so easy to exclude and even hate those we don’t know.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus showed radical inclusion and loved sinners such as tax collectors like Zacchaeus. In today’s world where people are judged by three major criteria – gender, race, and economics – Jesus would love all including liberals, conservatives, elite coasts, rural towns, immigrants, and refugees. Our calling is to love those who don’t look like us, feel like us, think like us, and vote like us just as Jesus was determined to do with the “less-than, dirty, inferior, half-breed” Samaritans.
Cho speaks of cultural Christianity and the power it can wield in our society without necessarily being about the ways and heart of Christ. Cultural Christianity produces cultural Christians rather than disciples of Jesus. To some, being a good Christian means you vote Republican. For others, if you are a justice minded Christian you vote Democratic. Cho points out that during WWII 94% of Germans were Christian seduced by the evil propaganda of Hitler In the nineteenth century U.S., Christians lived with slavery. “Our unique and powerful role is to steer morality and culture,” writes Cho. But cultural Christianity conforms to a culture, and no longer adheres to the radical love, grace, teachings, and life of Jesus Christ.
Cho also speaks about Christians’ calling to be missionaries in the public square. He quotes Jim Daly, head of Focus on the Family, who said, “As evangelicals, take the good news of the Gospel to those outside the church and into the public square.” Cho argues that civic engagement is not defined as voting every two or four years but as serving our neighbors, advocating for the last and least, sharing the Gospel, and working for the common good and for peace.
Above all, the author admonishes us to be people of hope. Cho writes:
Hope comes not in the form of a politician, a political party or system, or a great nation, but around the person of Jesus who came to teach, challenge, love, and fulfill the ancient prophecy to make reconciliation possible with God.
It’s been a long time since I last wrote a book report in the eighth grade so I’m concerned whether or not it is proper for the book report writer to give his/her personal opinion. However, risking the chance of a reduced grade on the paper, I feel compelled to add the following.
With all that’s going on in our society today with regards to race, the high level of hate, vitriol and mistrust between left and right, and other divisive issues such as immigration, I believe it is high time that Jesus followers had a voice in the public square. In our increasingly secular nation, we have been for too long left out of the debates. We are not going to be invited to participate. It is up to us find ways to invite ourselves or just to barge in. However, as Pastor Cho says, our first step may be with the person next to us. I believe Cho is right on the mark for our times and I encourage everyone to read this book.
Rev. Cho is the founder former senior pastor of Quest Covenant Church, and founder of One Day’s Wages, a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.