Friday, June 13, 2014

Who the hell needs Jesus?


No really, that wasn't just an eye-catcher title to get you to scan further down. It's a genuine question.

Having run across something online earlier, I spontaneously thought of Christian evangelism and how the approach a Christian uses in sharing their "good news" sums up what they think of God and their faith.

That took half a second, so then in the other half the idea popped into my head of comparing approaches to evangelism in a society that is filled with so many people who are tired of the implications of over-used methods for proselytizing and the responses those methods can elicit. A few seconds into this line of thinking I came up with an idea that I've never heard expressed before.

Now maybe this idea was common in the first decades of the Christian faith, or maybe some theologian wrote such an idea down in a book I haven't read, so I can't claim it is one hundred percent original. I'll work out how I got to the idea and what it could mean for the image of Christianity below, but here it is:

Not everyone is called to be a Christian and that doesn't mean that they are going to hell or that they will face some kind of annihilation after their physical death.

Before I write anything else, understand that I am not writing this out of concern over whether anyone is or isn't a Christian or whether anyone becomes one. I am not promoting Christianity or validating any of its claims by discussing its basic concepts and ideas. Also, the reason I tossed in the "no hell/annihilation" part is because Christians are usually all about what happens after physical death even if they don't emphasize it. If I just said "not all are called to be Christians" people might think I had simply re-discovered generic predestination theology.

So if that is enough for you to chew on, go ahead. But if you are considering a response such as a share or comment, read a little further for additional context and clarification.

Above I skipped from tiresome forms of evangelism and their theological requirements and implications to where that line of reasoning ended up in my head several seconds later. Here is the missing stuff with more words and elaboration than was necessary when I was just turning it over in my own mind, along with the extra stuff that occurred to me as I was writing it all out. Starting with the idea that everyone needs Jesus and its attendant arguments.

First there is the "everyone needs Jesus to be saved because of original sin" argument, which many do not find compelling at all as it requires that you subscribe to a particular theology first and because many see no good reason to accept that theology. The arguments for it tend to be insulting and circular and its advocates don't tend to give it a good name by their example.

Next is the "everyone needs Jesus because of (some rewording of or a substitution for the concept of) original sin" argument. It's kind of like updating the theology to match the color of the current culture's drapes.

Then we have the more rare and never stand-alone twist which is "Jesus needs you (to be his active presence in the world)."

Other twists that get added onto some variant of "everyone needs Jesus..." include the suggestion that the Christian Logos, which the faithful believe manifested as Jesus, is also the same presence that is operating in all other religions that are sincerely practiced by honest, decent people. And maybe even in the lives of those who practice no religion at all. So technically your striving for goodness, your yearning for a better life and a better world, and so on, is really being illuminated and guided by the same thing that Christians follow. Hence it's OK not to go around trying to convert everyone to your church's rituals and theologies because if they are sincere they will come to know Christ in their own way.

That last sentence is really a separate twist associated with universalism, the idea that all will eventually be saved by/reconciled to God through Christ.

The one thing they all have in common, though, is that root assumption that everyone needs Jesus, wherein Jesus is the Christ, which means in virtually all Christian theology that he is somehow an aspect of or co-equal to God.

Not everyone?

This view that everyone is supposed to need Jesus and to be reconciled with or through Christ creates some really awkward encounters in a multicultural and religiously plural society in which religious tolerance is promoted. Hence the relief and eagerness with which some Christians embrace the reconfiguring of original sin and the kinds of twists I've described. Yet the uncomfortable subtext remains: our religion is superior and conversion to our faith is probably the best and safest thing for everyone in the world.

Now I am not trying to start some new theological approach based on a couple of verses from a canonical gospel, although I wouldn't be the first to try, but what might happen if enough Christians who already reject the "accept Jesus or else!" view really took this example from Mark 2:15-17 more seriously?

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

To be clear, these Christians could keep their theologies and liturgies that revolve around the claims that Jesus is the child of God (however they understand that), that he is one with God the Father (however they understand that), that his incarnation, life, crucifixion, and resurrection are part of a reconciliation of humans to God (however they understand that), and so on.

The only difference is one idea, which so many Christians seem adamantly determined to cling to even if they are willing to allow their understanding of other doctrines to evolve or to be understood in a broader context. That everyone somehow needs Jesus. The difference I am suggesting is that while such reconciliation is open to anyone it is not needed by everyone, nor do those who might need it require it to be regularly renewed. Not everyone is sick. Not everyone is called.

Now of course this view hurts the established methods of recruitment and retention efforts for the Christian religion and church membership, but that is declining in the older regions of Christendom anyway.

Consider what this might look like in practice.

There would be no high-pressure "turn-or-burn" pitches to the "unsaved", and you could talk about being called to Christ without sounding sanctimonious as the call itself marks you as among the unrighteous and the spiritually sick. This doesn't mean that others might not benefit from your message and practice, but rather that you couldn't presume their spiritual status nor try to pressure them into conversion. You would have to primarily rely on your own example and whatever powers or gifts, if any, that have been bestowed on you.

The latter wouldn't be viewed as tools for conversion, as salvation would no longer be a numbers game with a potential market the size of the human population. Rather any talents or abilities would be geared to help others regardless of their views on your religion or any religion. There would be no need to try to plaster the popular images and identifying symbols and words of your religion all over every little act of charity, nor a need to idolacize excessively in an effort to make every book, album, film, store, and nick-knack properly pure and reflective of the faith. At the same time sharing your faith wouldn't be so intrusive and presumptuous so actual word of mouth could function again outside of its current "Oh no someone is trying to 'share Christ' with me" context.

Other possible outcomes include not requiring people to abandon or renounce every non-orthodox wisdom teaching or non-orthoprax spiritual practice. Moreover, people wouldn't feel compelled to remain in the religion out of fear of somehow losing their salvation or displeasing God but rather out of gratitude, a feeling of genuine belonging, and a desire to share their healing with others.

This approach ignores the fact that religions sometimes function as social markers/identifiers to denote "us and them" and as supporters of the status quo, but I am guessing those who want to use religion that way probably don't mind the prevailing theological mindset in Christianity anyway.

But if you do fancy the picture I've painted of a possible Christianity where not all are called but all are still loved, why not give the idea some thought and share it with other like-minded individuals? You're probably the type that more conservative Christians see as heretical or blasphemous false prophets or anti-Christs anyway, so what have you got to lose?


  1. words feel no spring rain you have some balls calling yourself a "buddhist."

    1. Just checked and you were the one who left the off-topic word salad on another post last year. I have no time for or interest in provocation or insults. If you don't have anything else to offer, there is no reason for you to comment here.


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