Eugene Cho is the founder of One Days Wages and lead pastor of Quest Church - Image courtesy of Eugene Cho (Credit: Feng Images)

Eugene Cho is the founder of One Days Wages and lead pastor of Quest Church – Image courtesy of Eugene Cho (Credit: Feng Images)

Pastor Eugene Cho has a confession to make: “I’m more in love with the idea of following Jesus than actually following Jesus.”

But with his confession comes an indictment. He believes that many Christians are just like him. They like the idea of following Jesus or changing the world or doing good more than the actions themselves. And this, Cho says, is a big problem.

Cho is the founder of One Days Wages and lead pastor of Quest Church. In his new book, Overrated, Cho throws some powerful punches at American Christians. He paints a picture of couch-surfing, lazy slactivists who talk a lot about justice but don’t do much of anything. This has led him to propose that modern generations may be “the most overrated in human history.” Here, we discuss this provocative idea and what he thinks Christians can do to begin following the “Jesus of downward mobility.”

Courtesy of David C. Cook

Courtesy of David C. Cook

RNS: A lot of people talk about the potential of modern generations to positively impact the world, but you say we may be “the most overrated in human history.” Explain. 

EC: I’ve been to enough gatherings, church services, and conferences over the past decade and you’re right, a lot of people talk very positively about the potential of modern generations. I often year phrases like “history makers” and “world changers” and even the “This is the generation to…” At heart, I’m an optimist but if we’re not careful, I think we can sound–and be–arrogant and it can lead to a dangerous spirituality where so much revolves around us.

I’m also concerned that in our social-media-hyper-narcisstic-ego-self-centered world, we might be more enamored by the idea of “good”-– feeling good or good intent or doing good. But it takes more than just desire. It takes action.

Our wealth of resources and opportunities lends itself to this theory that we may be part of the most overrated generation in human history—because we have access to so much data, info, resources, modes of communication but we end up doing so little. We tweet, blog, talk, preach, retweet, share, like, and click incessantly. What do those actions actually cost us? How are we sacrificing?

RNS: How have following Christ and pursuing justice become, as you say, “unrealistic and glamorous” among Christians?

EC: We’re selling and communicating a very domesticated, safe, convenient, and palatable version of Christianity. In some ways, I wonder if we’re doing Christianity without discipleship, and yes, that is an oxymoron.

If I’m honest, I’m more in love with the idea of following Jesus than actually following Jesus. As such, this permeates all the aspects of my discipleship including the idea of pursuing justice. Everyone loves justice…until there’s a personal cost to us. But there’s always a cost to pursuing justice. There’s a cost to discipleship. There’s a cost to following Jesus.

I recall Jesus teaching his disciples something about carrying the cross and following him. Daily.

RNS: A lot of Christians–particularly young ones–become “cause-oriented.” Is there anything wrong with becoming a well-building, TOMS shoes-wearing cause-o-phile?

EC: Yes and No.

No. I certainly don’t want to knock folks that are wanting to support good meaning causes like TOMS. Honestly, I’d celebrate TOMS and other well-intended companies and social entrepreneurships over sweatshops and forced labor. Any day.

Yes. Consumers including and especially, Christian consumers need to more thoughtful and critical. We need to know more about the causes we support. We need to be more informed and not lazy. We need to let our money and spending more deeply reflect our values and supposed convictions of justice.

Go ahead and wear your TOMS, or whatever good gear but my other big point would be that if that’s the totality of our commitment to ‘just living’, I would say, it’s pretty shallow and we need to go deeper in our discipleship and convictions. Let’s ask the deeper questions.

Don’t just like justice but pursue justice. Don’t just pursue justice but live justly. And I really hope that living justly is more than just wearing our TOMS. And I really hope that living justly isn’t predicated on us consuming more and more products – often at the cost of the degradation of the environment and the exploitation of cheap labor.

RNS: A lot of people say that there is a division between Christians concerned about justice and those concerned about evangelism. Do you think this is true? 

EC: Yes, there’s division, but there shouldn’t be. We need both. We need people with various theological viewpoints to remind us that God and His Kingdom can’t be contained by our one measly human viewpoint. What I struggle with though is when folks contend that their viewpoints are the only right perspectives.

As to this question, some in the church throw out an either/or scenario: the binary worldview that is the evangelism versus justice debate. Why can’t a Christ follower pursue both? Some imply that a Christ follower is supposed to sacrifice one for the other. Don’t get lost in this debate. It’s a false dichotomy.

RNS: How are the two connected?

EC: Traditional evangelism still has a place in our world and culture, but here’s why I see pursuing justice as an equally important aspect of evangelism today.

The people in the book of Acts of the New Testament were hearing about Jesus for the very first time. Today, we’re dealing with a generation in which nearly everyone has heard about Jesus in some way. While it’s true that what people have heard is often distorted, we can’t dismiss that many have a negative feeling toward Jesus, particularly toward His followers. So how do we speak to a culture and world that have a broken and false understanding of Jesus?

In my years of living in Seattle, I have never met anyone who has not heard of Jesus Christ. They know Jesus, or more accurately, they think they know of Jesus. They have an opinion, one way or another. What they believe may not be true or consistent to the Jesus who loved unconditionally, sought peace, pursued the marginalized and poor, and challenged unjust structures and systems.

What brings credibility to the gospel is not just more hour-long sermons or door-to-door evangelism. What also brings credibility, passion, and, ultimately, belief is seeing the gospel at work: the incarnate gospel.

RNS: Tell us about the “Jesus of downward mobility.”

EC: There are so many things that compel me about Jesus, but one of them is what I call “the story of downward mobility.”It completely contradicts the movement of upward mobility that is pervasive in our culture. We want to upgrade everything at every opportunity: we want the best, the fastest, the slickest, the coolest, the newest, the largest, the most horsepowerest.

But the incarnation is the story of how Jesus humbled Himself and chose not to exercise His divine rights. Born in a manger to simple commoners, Jesus assumed a simple lifestyle as a carpenter who owned nothing but the things He could take with Him. His life is the mind-boggling, heart-compelling, countercultural story of downward mobility.

This is a lesson and a story we all have to get behind. This is the Jesus we have to get behind. He is not the Jesus of bling-bling, the Jesus of total prosperity theology, a Jesus of exclusivity and elitism, a Jesus of health and wealth, or the Jesus of “send $49 and we’ll mail you this special anointed cloth for your personal miracle.”

41 Comments

  1. Just a quick comment/observation:

    “who talk a lot about justice but don’t do much of anything..”

    Well, they do actually. They take to facebook, twitter, or whatever social media they’re involved with and talk about it, mention, or whatever there. It gives them a sense of ownership and involvement, when, really, it’s mostly meaningless as far as practices goes. There’s an old saying in martial arts and that is: “Qi never blocked a punch.” The kids these days have a whole lot of Qi or lifeforce or energy but expressing it in words doesn’t mean it will be put into practice to have a meaningful impact on one’s life.

  2. Eugene Cho is taking the lazy way out to make a quick publishing profit.

    Criticizing the current generation has always been in vogue and a great way to generate interest. Nostalgia sells. Finger pointing is always popular. Making shallow remarks and generalizations of a generation of people is always good for a quick disposable read.

    For religious types it has always been the complaint that the current generation is not as “godly” as the one before. For centuries now.

    The complaints of people not doing enough for social justice is a load of crap. Its simply the Baby Boomers trying to justify their past failures. The current generation is spending most of their time just trying to survive the mistakes of those guys. The current generation has to make greater efforts to achieve the same level of comfort as the ones before.

    • Neon Genesis

      Thanks for posting that. I’m glad I’m not the only one who had a problem with this article. I also think these complaints about young people being lazy are hypocritical because these old fogies still complain about how much young people are trouble makers when young folks do get involved like in the protests at Ferguson Missouri and the Occupy Wallstreet movement. Where were the old male evangelical Christians at in those protests?

  3. THE WHOLE BASIS OF THE THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS is

    we must keep our eyes on Jesus not on what were doing ..but rather what Jesus has done for us

    Peter learned that lesson the hard way . when he went to meet Jesus on the water one day .. as soon as he became interested in what he was doing he began
    to sink ..He took his eye off his savior God and placed them on him self..
    Peter Finaly Got the point right before he drowned . he realized he could not do it .. And he yelled for Jesus to save him.. Immediately Jesus reached out his loving hand and saved him..

    JESUS IS THE ONLY God WHO was God enough to have WON OUR WAY ..
    this world is filled with gods who just want you to follow saying they will lead the way..if you want that type of god there is thousands of them..

    Heaven is already securely won for us by Jesus nothing good or bad we do can change that fact..

    FOLLOW JESUS YES BUT NOT IN THE WAY THE WORLD THINKS

    • Jesus is the son of God, whose Father is Jehovah God. Jesus is in subjection to his Father, as the head of the Christ is God (1 Corinthians 11:3). Jesus also made it a point that his Father is greater that he is (John 15:28), and he always gave glory to and prayed to his Father, not himself.

      Psalm 83:18 also brings out, in the King James Version: “That men may know that thou, whose name is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.”

  4. Bible says man shall perish because of their lack of knowledge and we see
    it everywhere with people not knowing what the Bible says about sin and
    it all starts in the pulpit! Bad mouthing religion backfired and many of these
    “preachers” preach about nothing/are more worried about trying to sell their
    book. Ephesians 5:18 says don’t get drunk and also 1 Corinthians 6:10 says
    that all drunkards go to hell yet many don’t know because most people
    only talk about gay marriage or abortion so they don’t have to face their
    own sin. People have premarital sex/sleep around get married thinking they
    covered it up but never Repent/agree sleepin around/premarital sex is wrong!
    The wine that Jesus made was from the fruit of the vine/new wine/diluted
    and the Bible says don’t get drunk on strong wine so people who get drunk
    with wine are also wrong! Being mean/sharp tongues,gossip,gambling and
    coveting/greed,jealousy,liars,thieves,pride are all sins as well. Many people
    today seem to forget that Jesus said you are one of Mine only if you follow
    Me/many will say to Me Lord,Lord and not enter heaven! If you say you love
    Jesus then don’t follow the Bible/religion no Truth is in you! It doesn’t matter
    how spiritual people are if they aren’t Biblical they are still lost/headed for hell.
    Bible says Repent and believe the Gospel to be saved! We all must Repent!

  5. The unity between evangelism and justice is scripturally based; it’s found in Jesus’ first recorded synagogue sermon in Luke 4. People who try to separate the two are not only spouting a false dichotomy but are actually preaching a false gospel.

    • @Tim,

      “The unity between evangelism and justice is scripturally based…”

      Of course it is. But it depends completely on what you mean by ‘justice’!

      To Jesus, everyone is guilty
      and nobody is even worthy of being a disciple!

      Everyone just goes to Hell and feels worthless every step of the way.
      Primitive nonsense.

        • @Frank,

          For the record:
          I don’t claim God to be impossible.
          I am not claiming “there is no god”.

          I am saying I do not believe in a god. I also think God is very unlikely.
          I am also saying I do not know if god exists.

          Until we get more evidence of a real god, or at least some evidence of which god is the true god (if any) we should abandon religion as its claims are unfounded and the practices are too dangerous.

  6. Christians have become a faith story of creeds over deeds. But Jesus grew up in a faith story that taught deeds over creeds. The former is taught today from pulpits and in small groups of how it is bad theology to believe there is anything we can do to assist in our salvation. We teach that it is solely something we must believe in. While this is true and honoring to a historical Christos theology, it has created a culture of devaluing our deeds–those things we should be doing that also honor a Christ-centered faith story.

    The theology of creeds-over-deeds is one that contributes to the current toxicity rampant in churches today. Pastors, church leaders and Christians live a lifestyle where their actions do not represent the very things they proclaim as transformative to their own personal faith story. Christians proclaim how a gift of grace has changed their life and yet fail to gift that grace to others. They proclaim how a love compels them to reconciliation and yet fail to reconcile with those with whom they have caused harm.

    It isn’t surprising at all that our culture as Christians has become one where our creeds about justice are greater than our deeds about justice. It is indicative of our current faith story.

    However, I have hope in a growing culture (even in the church) that is centered on doing the hard work necessary to become and stay healthy. But, the bullies in the church don’t want that to happen. They are counting on those who are healthy to remain silent. They would rather those who are healthy to leave the church rather than stay and contribute to a healthy faith story. They are counting on themselves not having to do any work to become healthy. They are doubling-down that it is something only spoken about (a creed) and not something they have to be held accountable to (a deed).

    If we are not known by the goodness of our deeds any greatness of our creeds is little more than hollow words.

    • I am going to blockquote you for the article on Mark David Chapman’s discovery of his faith.

      You provide a nice argument why “grace” without attendant deeds attached to it are meaningless.

    • “But, the bullies in the church don’t want that to happen.”

      2000 years of bullies!
      How many more centuries will it take to understand
      why there are so many bullies in the church?

      “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws!” – JESUS (Matthew 7:23)

      Christianity is a wild angry dog
      in sheep’s clothing.

    • You create a false dichotomy between creeds and deeds, brother. The issue isn’t “creeds over deeds”. If we believed the creeds then the deeds would flow out from our lives.

      Remember too that forgiveness is a deed. Graciousness is a deed. Humility is a deed. Compassion is a deed. May we truly believe our creeds.

  7. Cho said, “we can’t dismiss that many have a negative feeling toward Jesus…”

    Why might that be?
    Well…Because Jesus taught
    some transparently immoral
    and primitive gibberish:

    JESUS – I WILL DISMEMBER PEOPLE WITH A SWORD
    “The master shall cut him to pieces” – Jesus (Luke 12)
    JESUS describes what he intends to do to his own enemies.

    JESUS – I SHALL RETURN TO EXECUTE MY ENEMIES
    “..bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and execute them in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    JESUS – YOU SHOULD DROWN THEM
    “Drown him with a millstone” (Matt 18:6)

    JESUS – KILL YOUR CHILDREN THE WAY GOD TOLD YOU TO
    “And why do you break the command of God
 for the sake of your tradition? …. ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ ” (Matthew 15:3)

    JESUS – YOU MUST JUDGE OTHERS HARSHLY
    “…if it is not worthy..REMOVE your blessing of peace.” – JESUS (Matt 10:13)

    JESUS – I CAME TO BURN UP THE WORLD AND DESTROY IT
    “I have come to bring FIRE…What constraints! I am impatient to bring NOT PEACE BUT DIVISION.” – Jesus (Luke 12:49-51)

    JESUS – HATE THOSE WHO LOVE YOU
    “Hate your parents…hate your life” – Jesus (Luke 14:26)

    JESUS – I’M A MAFIA GODFATHER. DO IT, OR ELSE.
    “Eat of my body” and “Be baptized and believe” or “Be condemned to Hell” – Jesus (John 6:53-54) (Mark 16:16).

    JESUS – I WILL KILL THE CHILDREN MYSELF
    “I shall kill her children with Death” – Jesus (REV. 1:22-23)

    JESUS – I WANT YOU TO LIVE IN A HOUSE FULL OF ENEMIES
    “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death…for ME.” – JESUS (Matthew 10:21)

    JESUS – I’M HERE TO RUIN YOUR LIFE AND ALL THAT YOU LOVE
    “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his daughter, and a daughter against her mother, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.” – JESUS (Matthew 10:35)

    Shame on the preachers who say this man must be followed like a god.
    Christianity is a blunder.

      • @Neon Genesis,

        I was a Christian for 44 years.
        I know how you feel when you see sides of Jesus that you don’t want to see.

        But I’m offering something real.
        My life was saved by Atheists who cared enough to tell me the truth.
        And I love them for it.

        • Neon Genesis

          That’s nice but that has absolutely nothing at all to do with this article whatsoever. Why don’t you ever post anything relative to the articles? If you just want to whine about something you don’t believe in, go start your own Tumblr blog or something.

          • Of course my comment is relevant:

            Pastor Cho was explicit in his interview that Christianity is fading – he said it exactly:

            “we can’t dismiss that many have a negative feeling toward Jesus…”

            I merely point out some reasons for this.
            Pastor Cho does not explore the problem with Jesus as he is forbidden to do so. The implications for Pastor Cho and his efforts are considerable.

            A world which has access to the entire bible will find no reason to believe the narrow preachings of one Pastor over another – or the sound arguments of an Atheist.

    • Jonn McDaniel

      An honest question for you. I truly don’t want to even appear to be trying to trick, trap or argue with you. That is not my intent.

      Is it the claims of divinity that compel you to disregard any positive things that Jesus is to supposed to have said & done?

      I guess I am questioning if someone regards some things that Jesus said as insane (taken in or out of context) then must one have to take everything he said as insane? Is there some truth he spoke or with his actions that transcends religious dogma?

      (I realize my question is made under the assumption that Jesus was a real historical person. And, if this is too far off subject from JM’s original post I don’t mind continuing this conversation in another format.)

      • @Jonn McDaniel,

        “Is it the claims of divinity that compel you to disregard any positive things that Jesus is to supposed to have said & done?”

        Yes.
        The divinity of Jesus is the ridiculous claim. Christianity makes absolutist claims about Jesus which, if they were true, would lead to mass hysteria, mass murder and theocracy.

        1. Words are attributed to Jesus. We don’t know for sure if he really said them.

        2. Most preachments of Jesus are deeply immoral.

        3. The principles in Christianity are deeply immoral, (God had his son killed for your personal benefit, etc.).

        4. The consequences of preaching this immorality is devastating to our culture and is a real threat to American liberties.

        5. I am AGAINST outlawing religion (damaging though it is). I emphatically believe in building up the wall of separation between church and state to protect Christians, Muslims, Jews, others and Atheists and allow all of us to pursue our own freedom of religion without the hindrance of the current Evangelistic Theocratic Oligarchy which is so incredibly dangerous to our country.

        Since Christians have worked so hard
        to tear down the wall of separation of Church and State
        (Hobby Lobby being the latest example) it is important to confront these Christian beliefs and encourage a bit more secularism and skepticism among our population.

        Having said all that, I do think Jesus
        had some constructive ideas and perhaps even some wise words
        on a few things:

        “first take the plank out of your own eye,
        and then you will see clearly to remove the speck
        from your brother’s eye.” – Jesus (Matthew 7:5)

        “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”
        – (attributed to Jesus but does not appear in the gospel until 400 C.E.)

        “Do as the Good Samaritan” – Jesus (a nice re-play on the morality of the ancient Golden Rule which pre-dates Jesus and requires no gods)

        “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do”
        – (appears in the crucifixion chapters of Luke)

        “Blessed are the peacemakers” – Jesus (Sermon on the Mount)

        There are some other examples.

        Unfortunately
        Jesus is hogtied to spectacularly immoral and irresponsible concepts
        such as Vicarious Redemption, unlimited forgiveness, End times philosophy, blessing of slavery, Faith, etc.
        Jesus is to blame for this.

        If the Evangelical Christian movement continues to try to make moves against our public places and public laws, the only reasonable thing to do is to try to challenge Christians themselves (with arguments not physically) and sow a bit of doubt about all this religious fervor.

        Simply put:
        Christians must be free to believe whatever they want and go to church
        while they leave me to be free TO NOT BELIEVE ANY OF IT.

        I was a Christian for 44 years and those days are over – don’t want Jesus in my laws, not in my kid’s schools and I don’t want it forced on me through work either.

        • “I was a Christian for 44 years and those days are over – don’t want Jesus in my laws, not in my kid’s schools and I don’t want it forced on me through work either.”

          I shall therefore seek out christian blogs on the internet and post on them.
          There’s gotta be a Bud Light Real Men of Genius award for you Max. Lol, what a rube.

          • @Tully,

            This is not a ‘Christian blog’.
            RNS is a NEWS SITE.

            Go to Pat Robertson dot com to cry for your Christian salvation. Don’t bother with it here.

            I study religion for the same reason doctors study cancer.
            I want to learn how it spreads and find the safest methods to combat it without harming people.

            How many ISIS beheadings do you need to see before you wake up to the disease of religion?

            How many Pastors need to defend Creationism before you wake up and discover we are ruining our science education system in several states by teaching ‘intelligent design’ garbage to children?

            The Rube is not the defender of humanity – but the defender of its enemy; faith.

  8. Favorite part of the whole interview is when Pastor Eugene Cho said, “What also brings credibility, passion, and, ultimately, belief is seeing the gospel at work: the incarnate gospel.”

    What a refreshing, relevant, timely and honest article about millenial Christians.

    It’s a difficult thing to admit reading about yourself in an article and probably much more difficult to actually do something about it.

    Well done. Thank you.

  9. I don’t see Jesus’s unconditional love. If Jesus loved me unconditionally, he would not care if I believed in him or not.

    Christianity has a long history of persecution and forced conversions of Jews. They have lost the right to evangelize to Jews.

    It seems to me that in every generation we could say the same thing about any religious group, including me.

    • I don’t see Jesus’s unconditional love. If Jesus loved me unconditionally, he would not care if I believed in him or not.

      Jesus was not the father of 1970s psychobabble. Sorry to break it to you.

  10. What a bunch of pessimistic, self-righteous, critical and miserable bunch! This guy has the audacity to speak out the uncool truth and is simply pointing out what’s so incredibly obvious in today’s self-obsessed, self-promoting pretend culture of mini-celebrityhood of Facebook, twitter and the like. Talk about being obtuse and not knowing oneself.

    • The guy was a lazy bum looking for quick attention doling out the usual nonsense about how the current generation is not as good as the ones before. There is always an audience for that.

      People have been complaining about the lack of human contact and technological interferences with personal relations since the days of the telephone. Anomie and a culture of isolation is an old chestnut which is easy to bring up in a modern society. Railing against the tastelessness of social media is just the modern equivalent of the Baby Boomer who didn’t own a TV or only listens to NPR. Ridiculous smug self-satisfied snobbery

      Social media exists because it provides a false sense of control over a world where the average person is feeling more and more powerless. People connect with each other as a way to avoid situation imposed isolation that our world creates for us.

  11. I haven’t figured out whether you’re a preternaturally lousy interviewer or you have an allergy to interviewing anyone who has anything distinct and specific to say?

    “If I’m honest, I’m more in love with the idea of following Jesus than actually following Jesus. As such, this permeates all the aspects of my discipleship including the idea of pursuing justice. Everyone loves justice…until there’s a personal cost to us. But there’s always a cost to pursuing justice. There’s a cost to discipleship. There’s a cost to following Jesus. I recall Jesus teaching his disciples something about carrying the cross and following him. Daily.”

    What does that even mean? The man complains about people being slack, but do they have any idea of what’s he’s talking about when you get down to brass tacks?

    Has the pastor ever done something out of the ordinary, like put a flyer in the bulletin advising people that expressive and discretionary divorce is a grave sin?

    • “Has the pastor ever done something out of the ordinary, like put a flyer in the bulletin advising people that expressive and discretionary divorce is a grave sin?”

      Yes.

      He’s a leading evangelical voice for the rights of the homeless and oppressed, and is the founder of One Day’s Wages: http://www.onedayswages.org/

      He’s not just looking for a quick buck. He has history to back up his statements. I trust this guy.

      And his statement about discipleship and following Christ being costly? Someone else said that, too: Bonhoeffer. I think Cho is on to something good here.

      • He’s a leading evangelical voice for the rights of the homeless and oppressed,

        Running a soup kitchen requires some organizational skill and commitment (and I’ve met pastors who lack it). What ‘rights’ you could possibly be referring to I’ll leave you to elaborate upon. Dunning your congregation for contributions is quite ordinary behavior by clergymen. Telling them an indulgence they fancy is theirs at their discretion is not theirs at their discretion is not the stuff of which saints are made but at least has a certain amount of brio attached to it.

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