Tuesday, February 21, 2017


It is possible to "update" Jesus for modern consumers by leaving out some of the offensive aspects of the Gospel. In a December 2016 NYT editorial, "Humanizing Jesus," Peter Wehner wrote:

·       Indeed, one of the indictments of him by the religious authorities of his day was that he was a “friend of sinners.” Jesus’ love was “undiscriminating and inclusive,” according to the writer Garry Wills, “not gradated and exclusive.” He spent most of his time with those who were forsaken, poor, powerless and considered unclean. In a patriarchal society, Jesus gave women an honored place. He not only associated with them, but they were among his disciples, the object of his public praise, the first people he spoke to after his resurrection.

Indeed, God does love the entire world, all of His creation and is willing to receive any who come to Him. However, Wehmer has left out a key and understandably offensive element – repentance and confession of sin:

·       There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5; ESV)

Teachings on the need to repent of our sins makes Jesus less than appealing to a modern audience, but it does fill churches and opens doors to the NYT and other progressive outlets.

Jesus teachings are even more offensive. He taught that many would not find the way to salvation, even those who claimed to have been His followers:

·       “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few…Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7: 13-14, 21-23)

However, modernity has no taste for such judgmental teachings. Therefore, many churches choose to ignore them.

Modernity doesn’t like rules either. It prefers undemanding relationships, which we can leave at will. And Wehmer seems to understand his market, the spiritual consumer:

·       While he certainly argued for the importance of righteousness, Jesus was far less concerned about rules than he was about relationships and reconciliation — with one another and with God. For some of us, Christmas is a reminder that while moral rules can be issued on stone tablets, grace and redemption are finally and fully found in a story of love, when the divine became human.

While I would agree with Wehmer that relationship must precede rules, according to Jesus, relationship contains its own set of rules. Consequently, we cannot live in any manner that we choose:

·       Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

·       Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2)

Yet many will protest:

·       Presenting such a demanding Gospel will just drive people out of our churches.

This is possible. However, thinking pragmatically, it is also possible that the Church has been harvesting the wrong fish, to its great detriment.

However, the first great commandment is even more important than these pragmatic assessments of cost/benefit:

·       And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38)

What does it mean to love God? It means to uphold His Word. On the basis of this, Paul declared Himself innocent before God:

·       “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)

While pragmatic considerations are important, they must never be allowed to elevate themselves above Scripture. Instead, they must serve the Word of God. Anything less is a failure to love God.

(I will not try to submit this to the NYT. I know better.)

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