Christian heroism virtually never looks like a lone ranger standing for truth. Most stories that are told that way are, in fact, not grounded in real history. It takes the whole body of Christ. And a heroic tweet, blog post, or the like often amount to tilting at windmills, an imaginary stand often aimed at an imaginary enemy. It appeals to the base, but it will be forgotten next week.
A colleague recently compared (so-called) heroic stands of faith to Don Quixote. Someone thinks they will change the world by a controversial tweet or blog post. They think themselves to be like Athanasius, contra Mundum—against the whole world! Never mind that Athanasius never stood as an individual against the world, but worked with whole teams of peoples and congregations across the Roman World.
But here the facts do not matter. The point is the heroic stand. And the kind of heroic stand I am talking about often ends up with a knight tilting at windmills, thinking himself to be slaying a giant when he in reality has done nothing at all. Worse, he might have even hurt the cause which he putatively aims to support.
Over the years, Christians have mocked or attacked trivial things as man buns and the length of hair on men. Too bad for Hudson Taylor, who styled his hair into something akin to a ponytail, or Samson, whose hair flowed long because of his Nazirite vow (Judges 13:5), or John Owen, whose flowing locks border on the comical.
Such foolhardy statements flow, I fear, from a heart desperate to be the hero of the story. In some circles, the only way to be a hero is to be against something or someone. How else can you galvanize a community, if not by being against some hated person or entity?
This againstness becomes a self-made trap. To gain followers and remain the hero, one must constantly find new dragons to slay. If the dragons die, then the story of the heroic knight dies too. No more book sales, no more conferences, no more internet fame. How can you get the amens from the congregation, unless you attack the enemy everyone already despises?
I wonder how we might survive an encounter with Jesus, who once said that “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matt 5:41). As historian Michael Haykin recently explained:
This text is grounded in the brutal military tactics of the tyrannical regime of the Roman Empire. The Roman army, with its ubiquitous and endless need for transport, would often force citizens to carry equipment etc. It was a vicious and an ever-present reminder of the brutality of Roman rule, or pax Romana, as the Roman ruling elite called it (did the ordinary citizen experience it as such?).
Western Christians, raised on a pervasive diet of rights, etc., react to this saying, if they truly understand it, with disbelief. Surely, Jesus, the Son of the Lord of the Jewish people who commanded the slaying of tyrannical rulers, would command a different path?