Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Counterintuitive Appeal of the Exclusive Jesus

The logic appears to be that the more all-inclusive we see Jesus, the more appealing he will be to a lost world. The Jesus who judges the quick and the dead in such a way to consign those who reject him to eternal damnation, the Jesus who demands utter allegiance to himself alone, it is suggested, is too-narrow, too exclusive to commend Christianity to those outside the fold. Let's make the circle bigger, we're told, bigger even than explicit belief, because the Jesus who loves and does not hate and plans to bring all individuals into heaven is a more compelling Jesus than the Jesus of the "traditional church."

But history shows us the opposite is the case. Ask the mainline denominations right now if "love wins" in this way. This "bigger" Jesus ironically makes for a smaller following. And this, I think, is why: A Jesus who is all-inclusive and demands no all-forsaking allegiance to himself for salvation and threatens no damnation does not commend others to him; he commends others to sit tight wherever they're at. He would not win people to himself; he would tell them such a thing is unnecessary. A person who believes that Jesus will save him even if he never believes has no compulsion to believe. He receives assurance without faith.

The universalist Jesus cannot be found in the Gospels; the Jesus we find there is too busy putting himself at the center of everything. The universalist Jesus is safe and safely ignored. It is the compelling Jesus of the Scriptures who refuses to be disregarded.


Paul Walton said...

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” -Luke 14: 34-35

Have you ever wondered about this verse? It just seems kinda weird because right before Jesus makes this statement, He's talking about a king who is going to war and considering if he can defeat an army that's twice the size of his.

And verse before that, Jesus is talking about if one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?

And then Jesus starts talking about salt loosing it's saltiness. What?

I think Jesus is telling all these people who are following Him, are you sure you want to be my disciple?

It's not going to be a walk in the park, to be my disciple you will have to forsake everything, even your family.

And if you start down this path with me, and start to look back at what you gave up, and desire to go back, you are worthless to me, like salt that has lost it's flavor

Your like salt that has no benefits, Jesus said look, I can't even use you to fertilize the soil, because you will ruin the soil.

And I can't even put you in a manure pile because you will ruin that too. Your worthless, I just have to throw you away.

Jesus told his disciples to make other disciples. He didn't say if you can't make them disciples, then just make them casual Christians.

The Jesus in the gospel of Mark doesn't sound very inclusive, in fact He wants to narrow the field, considerably.

kevin holtsberry said...

This is tricky ground because while evangelicals have done better than mainline churches attendance is still flat - with much churn - overall in America.

Second, the elephant in the room here Rob Bell does not portray Jesus as some easy going non-demanding it's all good type. He argues that choosing self over Christ has incredibly important consequences both now and in the future. Following Jesus requires everything we have but the result is the only true and abundant life - again both in the here and now and in the life to come.

More on this when I can put my thoughts together for a review of Live Wins.

Jim McNeely said...

I think that ironically, the main reason that Jesus is exclusive is that every other way involves gracelessness. If you want a God who is a Father, and who loves and still upholds justice, Jesus is the only door to that. It isn't exclusive in the sense of a preference or choice, it is exclusive in the same way that 1 + 1 exclusively equals 2. If we ask, "How can it be true that God would condemn GHANDI?!" Then we say, at least GHANDI is good enough. That smacks of works!

Full blown universalism asks God to transgress justice, and love demands justice. If someone is harmed, there must be a sentence or statement by which God says "I dislike that. I frown upon it. I hate it, because I love that person you've harmed." You can't have love without justice, which is why you can't have grace without atonement.

That is why Jesus is the door. I believe it is inherent that He intends there to be a choice as well, but that is beyond the scope of a little blog response! You might read this if curious:

Thanks for a very interesting post!

Michael said...

First off, love the blog. I read regularly, and I am consistently encouraged and challenged. A couple of thoughts based on watching the Rob Bell controversy unfold from a distance:

1. I'm not sure I've seen much direct engagement with Bell's actual position. I've noticed a lot of talk about universalism but not a lot regarding "inclusivism" which seems to be his position. He seems to say that Jesus IS the only way to be reconciled to God, right? Only then does he begin to ask questions about how this reconciliation actually happens. This is where I grow frustrated with his questions because he doesn't acknowledge the clarity of Scripture with regard to the necessity of explicit faith in Christ.

2. Of course, this is the very point at which I think many evangelicals will have to deal with another elephant in the room. Many are inclusivists on some level because many believe that infants and the mentally handicapped who die are automatically covered by God's mercy and welcomed into God's everlasting kingdom, without explicit faith in Christ, even though they, like all other human beings, inherit Adam's sinful nature.

Any thoughts here?

zach hoag said...

Jared, the only problem with this line of reasoning is that it does assume an either-or scenario. But in reality, there are lots of in-betweens. Consider seeker mega-churches. Or Joel Osteen's church. Or even Mars Hill GR itself. All of these are clearly teaching a message that is less than the consigning-to-hell message that your suggesting.

I honestly think that the "mainline is dying because of compromised theology" argument simply doesn't add up in light of these other forms. It would appear that in comparison to evangelical seeker models or Rob's 'other' model, the difference is probably contemporariness or relevance.

All of that to set the stage for this: if a new perspective/anabaptist/wesleyan/missional third way does begin to emerge in evangelicalism (and it already is), i.e., not Reformed and not progressive/mainline, it may, while accused of doctrinal waywardness by the Reformed wing, yet flourish.

Jared said...

a new perspective/anabaptist/wesleyan/missional third way

I understand this is your hope. As (I think) you know, I have my own concerns about the T4G/TGC becoming "together 4 Calvinism," so another coalition marked by its non-Reformedness would be both of our losses. But while I easily see such a proposal's distinction from the neoReformed, I struggle to see what will unify it other than being "not neoReformed." What would distinguish (and unify) such a coalition from the mainline?

Jared said...

All of these are clearly teaching a message that is less than the consigning-to-hell message that your suggesting.

Well, yes, but I'd also argue they are not commending people to Jesus, but to moral therapeutic deism masquerading as Christianty.

zach hoag said...

Last comment first: Maybe, but the point is that they are not suffering because of it. They're thriving.

Second to last comment: Much is to be gained from this proposed theological movement, much in every way. It won't be known for its non Reformedness anymore than any other movement is known purely by its antithesis. It won't be known by what it's against, if that's what you mean. It'll simply be a group doing theology and praxis in a certain direction, one that many find necessary for the road ahead.

But it will ruffle feathers, I'm sure.

Jared said...

Maybe, but the point is that they are not suffering because of it. They're thriving.

Well, sure, but my point wasn't that there's not lots of ways to draw a crowd. My point was that the universalist Jesus doesn't commend people to him, not that only an exclusivist Jesus draws a crowd.

And I might distinguish between commending people to Jesus and drawing a crowd.
But I don't think universalism draws a crowd, really; at least, not from folks outside the disaffected evangelical circle.

it will ruffle feathers, I'm sure.

I wouldn't expect anything less.
But, again, while I'm very clear from Fitch, McKnight, etc. what it won't be, what I'm still wondering is how it will be different from the mainline. I see inclusion of all kinds of prospective movements/groups, the common denominator of which is that they're aren't Reformed ;-), and the emphases that rise to the surface look like the same as the mainline denominations. How it will be different?

zach hoag said...

It seemed like a smaller crowd was exactly the point you were making: 'Ask the mainline denominations right now if "love wins" in this way. This "bigger" Jesus ironically makes for a smaller following.'

And that's exactly the point I've seen made over and over again by neo Reformed folks, not least in regards to New England.

As for the new 'coalition' (I hate that word), some place has to be given to the fact that when it comes to visibility and media, the neo Reformed thinktanks and networks are almost monolithic in the US (the Bellpocalypse just one proof of TGC's influence). So the fact that this is emerging as an "alternative" is not the fault of the theological perspective itself or the emotional posture but rather the facts of the landscape in the US. But I'm not really getting how you're not getting the difference; it'll be as different as John Piper and NT Wright, I suppose. Or Al Mohler and John Howard Yoder.

zach hoag said...

Oh sorry, different from the mainline was the other part of the question. It's different because central evangelical concerns are still intact. But, I anticipate the accusation that it is no different from the mainline. That is a popular accusation.

zach hoag said...

Sorry, last thing, also, it will be utterly different missiologically. In fact, in the emphasis on praxis in a post-Christendom context, it will probably be the merging of what would typically be seen as a church planting network and a theological thinktank.

That's how I envision it anyway.