Monday, December 9, 2013

Stop Sharing Jesus!

Yes! You heard me right. I think we should stop sharing Jesus. Let me explain...

Christians are commissioned to share the good news about Jesus with those who do not know Him (Matt 28:19; Act 1:8). But with the rising tide of pluralism and political correctness in our society, the concept of "sharing" Jesus is taking on new meaning. A growing number of Christians are starting to feel guilty about claiming Jesus as theirs and theirs alone, when lots of people from other religious and cultural backgrounds lay claim to Him also. In this context, "sharing Jesus" means showing tolerance towards other viewpoints on who He is. Rather than hogging Him for our Christian selves, shouldn't we share Jesus with people from other faiths and cultures, and free Him from a Westernized strait-jacket? Why should He be confined to our Christian churches with stained-glass and rows of pews, anyway? Isn't it unreasonable and, quite frankly, arrogant to think that we have all the answers about who He is? I hear this type of sentiment expressed more frequently now that cultural sensitivity is beginning to trump Scriptural accuracy more often in our churches.

There are indeed many different perspectives on who Jesus is that exist throughout the world—we may even encounter differing ideas among our friends or in our own neighborhoods. Our Muslim neighbors may revere Him as a great prophet. Our Mormon friends may proclaim Him to be their Savior. Agnostics may admire His moral teachings, but deny any certainty of His divinity. Spiritualists and New Agers may believe Him to be divine, but reject His uniqueness. And Jehovah’s Witnesses may tell you He is an archangel. We may even find varying opinions about Jesus within the Christian community. Living in the DC-metro area, and having worked in international development and missions, I have been exposed to a diversity of opinion on who Jesus is.

The fact is, however, these conflicting views on who He is cannot all be right. While it might make us feel more comfortable to adopt a politically-correct attitude towards Jesus' identity, it makes no logical sense. He's either the Son of God or He isn't. The lunatic, liar or Lord trilemma[1] comes to mind! But in an era of cultural relativism, the idea that there is absolute truth about who Jesus is, is widely deemed intolerant, narrow-minded, offensive, even bigoted. Many Christians, therefore, shrink away from making absolute statements about Jesus these days.

Rooted in the rise of relativism and pluralism in our culture is the interfaith movement, which attempts to bring about unity between otherwise opposing believe systems through an exploration of the mystical elements in all religions and identifying the common ground between them. In this context, the Bible cannot be treated as the supreme authority on matters of faith. Today, various—seemingly benign—aspects of the interfaith movement have permeated the church. One of these is the practice of interfaith dialogue. Many churches engage in interfaith dialogue as a means to achieving deeper understanding, and seeking common ground, between religions. Within evangelicalism, the practice of interfaith dialogue for the purpose of "building bridges" between those of different faith-backgrounds has become increasingly popular. The ultimate motive for evangelical churches in reaching out this way, often begins as a starting point to sharing the gospel. Usually, however, the rules of engagement involve a prior agreement to refrain from attempting to convert one another, as with the Christian-Muslim dialogue sessions practiced at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, for example. This can result in the gospel message being obscured, and relativistic compromises being made, in an effort to maintain the amicable relations that have been forged through such sessions. Moreover, the biblical Jesus is often watered down, even misrepresented, so as to be compatible with differing religious beliefs. In these dialogues, deal-breakers like the Trinity, for example, are almost always conveniently ignored or down-played.

A good example of this was when a slew of evangelical leaders (Wheaton College President Duane Litfin[2], National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren[3], and former Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, to name a few) signed what was to become a controversial document produced by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture titled, “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to a Common Word Between Us and You.” The document was in response to an open letter in which 138 Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals came together to declare that there is common ground between Christianity and Islam. The “Christian Response,” in agreement with the Muslim open letter states, “What is common between us lies not in something marginal nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both: love of God and love of neighbor.”  Essentially, then, the “Christian Response” refers to the love of one shared God. It treats the God of the Qur’an and the God of the Bible as the same and makes no mention of the fact that the love of God, as represented in the Bible, is expressed most significantly through Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ Himself is the central component of Christianity, but is completely omitted in the Common Word documents, while “common ground” is declared “absolutely central” in His place. Patrick De Leon illustrates well the difficulties with the Common Word movement: “If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, must we not be true to ourselves? Must we reject our own faith and deny the very persons we are in order to live in harmony? Such a peace is false from the beginning, and we would question if it is even possible to last. Can a peace founded upon falsehood be lasting?”[4]

Jesus Himself, however, demonstrated that understanding who He is, is of utmost importance. Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13-15). Our answer to this question will be the most important one we will ever give. The Bible tells us that knowing the true Christ is a matter of critical, life-and-death importance. In this vein, Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” (John 16:6-7, emphasis added). A relationship with the authentic Son of God alone is upon which our salvation depends. The Bible is clear that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But the fact is, many who use His name do not actually know the true Christ. Jesus said: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matt 7:21-23) Jesus makes it clear, then, we must understand the truth about who He really is, and what He actually taught.

Jesus also taught us that being truthful with others about who He is, is paramount. He said,  "whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven." (Matt 10:33). The fact is, Jesus is polarizing and His work on the cross is pivotal. Because of this, the very nature of who Jesus is, is a "stumbling block" and a "rock of offense" to many (1 Tim 1:16). Jesus said, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'" (Matt 10:34). Tragically, many will reject Jesus because of who the Bible says He is. 

But thankfully for those whose hearts truly seek Him, Jesus is not an elusive figure. We are told that we will find Him if we seek Him with all our heart and with all our soul (Deut 4:29). And we must seek to know Him better through studying the Word; Jesus said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, emphasis added). The Word of God is the only dependable source of information about Jesus; the doctrines and beliefs of other faiths or philosophies that might use His name, should not be trusted or promoted in any way as a means to learning about Jesus. He Himself warned us to beware of false teaching (Matt 7:15; Matt 24:24)

Despite this, there are missionaries today who use certain verses from the Qu'ran that shed Jesus in a positive light to teach Muslims about Him. The controversial Camel Method, for example, an evangelistic strategy that was promoted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2010, does just that. The figure of Jesus also features prominently in New Age spiritualism. New agers often use Christian-sounding language, which can be confusing to new believers who might be more susceptible to being led astray by false teaching. For this, reason, we should be on guard against the insidious strains of New Age teaching that are seeping into our churches.[5] 

The Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded (Matt 28:19-20) was the last and, perhaps, the most important commandment given by Jesus right before His ascension. We can conclude from this that our mission as Christians is first and foremost to make disciples, which involves conversion and baptism, as well as the on-going teaching of Jesus' commands. Jesus said, "whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27). Jesus made it clear that knowing the truth about who He is and responding in obedient submission to Him are what makes a discipleWe must encourage others, then, to study what the Bible teaches about Jesus, not confuse them with some type of kum-bah-yah notion that all religions can share Jesus and coexist happily.

So then, let's stop sharing Jesus with other religions, and stick to sharing the good news about Jesus as revealed in His word. 


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[1] Famous CS Lewis argument, "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God." Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, p54-56

[2] Due to the unbiblical nature of the Common Word document, the evangelicals who signed it have come under criticism, after which Dr. Litfin, for one, felt the need to explain his decision: 
“I signed the statement because I am committed to the business of peace-making and neighbor-love,” Litfin wrote in The Record. ”I did not savor the document’s unnuanced apology section, but swallowed that in order to be a part of reaching out a hand to these Muslim leaders who had courageously taken the initiative. Though the statement was not written in the way I would have written it, it seemed to me that I could sign it without compromising any of my Christian convictions.” Eventually, Litfin chose to have his signature removed from the document, however. 

[3] Despite signing the document, Rick Warren, has since stated very clearly that he does not believe that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  

[4] Patrcik De Leon, “Who You Gonna Serve? Theological Difficulties in A Common Word Between Us and You.”

[5] Please refer to future blog posts on the New Age Jesus and Jesus in Islam.

4 comments:

Barb said...

Very, very well said. Thanks.

Barb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liss Askew said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent article..so very well said...

Laurie Trlak said...

Amen and amen.