This semester I’ve been in two classes in which we have read and discussed Nietzsche (pronounced knee-che or knee-chee; it’s hard enough to spell let alone get into the debates about pronunciation). If you’ve heard of him (which maybe you’re not sure if you have because you’re still not sure how to pronounce that name), you know of him probably as a great Atheist, but to Christianity a bad guy.
And make no mistake, Neitzsche is definitely a bad guy; his “will to power” shreds through any attempted morality and places the strong as supreme. But Neitzsche also may have some legitimate critiques of Christianity. Indeed, his view of Christianity is that the weak tell the powerful all these things you can’t do in the name of morality and thereby gain power.
This is a powerful construct because it seems like it could be plausible. Indeed this seems to be what happens in many churches today, as they disciple both new and old believers. Believers are given a laundry list of things that they can’t do – don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t party, don’t associate with “them” (whoever the “them” is in your context). It’s a discipleship that carries a strong “no.” And this is exactly what Nietzsche goes after.
Indeed, if we agree that discipleship is simply about the “no”, then Nietzsche’s battle is already won; if discipleship is really just about the “no”, then Christianity really is a weak system that attempts to protect itself by denying others the ability to do things that they really want. If discipleship is just about the “no” then we’re left at the cross.
Of course, there’s more to the story than Nietzsche sees. Jesus’s resurrection and the life that he lives transforms discipleship from being anything close to a “no” to a resounding “yes.” It isn’t an unqualified call to live life as you want, but it’s certainly not a “no.” When we realize this, suddenly “love your neighbor as yourself” and “pray for those who persecute you” begin to supersede the “don’t drink, don’t smoke” and yet recapture them even as we recognize the core of discipleship in the “yes”. It’s not a disregard of moral instruction but it’s a recognition of the vibrancy that the life of the disciple has within those moral boundaries.
Too many of us live our “Christian” lives hearing discipleship as a “no”. We get endlessly frustrated because we simply can’t seem to live up to discipleship’s standards and so feel like we’re never following Jesus. Yet discipleship is not about the “no”; it’s about the “yes”. It’s not just about what you don’t do but even more importantly about what you do do. Christianity isn’t just Nietzsche’s conception of a weak system that protects itself through denial; Christianity is a vibrant way of life that says “yes” to living well.
That’s a powerful reversal. As our culture continues to push back on the “laundry list of no’s”, we need to remember this: Jesus did it first. He pushed back on the “no” and declared a “yes” – a discipleship of action, that loves God and loves the neighbor.