“You need to get born again!”
I cannot tell you how many preachers, evangelists, radio hosts, guest speakers, theologians and televangelists I’ve heard use that phrase. It’s interchangeable with “You need to get saved!” It’s become almost a battle cry, a line drawn in the sand. Either you’re “born again” or you’re satan’s minion.
Asking someone if they’re born again is also a great little Jesus grenade to throw at Catholics. Since most Catholics don’t say “born again” too often, they must not be, so we win. Because letting everyone in the club doesn’t make it exclusive enough. You have to have a “platinum” level VIP list. You’re on the list if you’re born again, and you tell everyone…a lot.
Even though the airwaves are flooded now with preachers who would rather teach positive thinking than being born again, I can still hear the echoes of the call to get saved or born again. You probably can too.
The thing is, I got saved, and I got born again. Maybe you did too. The problem is, it didn’t seem to work as well as I had hoped…
First, I know that I’m going to sound like a teacher saying this, but if you ever hear a preacher say you need to get born again, or get saved, the only thing you need to “get” is out…immediately. I know not everyone does this, but I cannot keep quiet. In my opinion, saying you need to “get” born again is like grammatical fingernails on a chalkboard. You don’t “get” born again or saved, you “are” or “become” born again or saved. You wouldn’t say a pregnant woman is going to “get” a baby, would you? Not unless the baby was being “gotten” from the Wal-Mart bargain bin along with a five dollar “Nutty Professor” DVD. If you do not want me to rap your knuckles with a ruler like an angry nun, then watch your language.
I’ll get born on my own, thank you, ma’am
It’s more than just bad English, though. By saying you need to get born again, we’re kind of ignoring the fact that no one chooses to get born in the first place. It’s not something you do. Someone does it for you. Babies can’t do anything, much less birth themselves. I know my memory of those high school educational birth videos is hazy because I was attempting to blind myself out of horror…the horror…but I know that baby wasn’t exactly sprinting out of the birth canal. He just kind of sat idly by while Mom did all the work. What a slacker.
So when we use “get born again” as a rallying cry, we’re doing what humans do best. In some small way, we’re making it all about us and what we can do for ourselves again.
Getting saved didn’t take
You know the statistics about American Christians are pretty pathetic, so I know it’s not just me. Even among those of us who are “saved,” or “born again,” we don’t read our Bibles, we know next to nothing about what they say, we don’t have “biblical” worldviews, we get divorced, become addicts, and our kids drop out of the church faster than ever. Sure, we’re great at getting born again. It’s just that we kind of suck at being born again.
Say what you will about all great things Christians do. Seems to me that as important as we make it, “getting” born again didn’t work as well as it should’ve for a lot of us. Sure, I know who’s on my side, and who’s going to hell, and that’s handy knowledge for a mere mortal to wield carelessly. But there are plenty of days I don’t feel born again. I don’t feel like a new creation. I don’t feel like fighting temptation. I feel like plain old born-once Matt.
So where does that leave us?
It’s so easy!
I think people have done with “born again” what they try to do with most things. We’ve tried to make it “easy,” a one time thing. A simple three step process: pray a prayer, invite Jesus, tell others. Bam, born again! Check that off the honey-do list. Now, take out the trash…
My problem with being born again is the same problem I had when I was born the first time. I grew up. I turned into a calloused, cynical adult who likes to draw battle lines, who isn’t impressed by anything, who still doesn’t have it together. If I got born again ten or twenty or more years ago, that’s a lot of time to turn back into a crusty old spiritual curmudgeon.
Somehow, we’ve taken something as mysterious as being born again, and turned it into a cliche, something to divide “us,” and “them.” And a lot of us would probably be no worse off if we had never gotten “born again” in the first place.
What do you think has gone wrong? Are our expectations wrong about what being “born again” will do? Have we latched onto an idiom that Jesus never meant to be so important? Or are we not even born again at all because we’re trying to do it ourselves?