I’m one of those people who had a profound sense of being a messed-up sinner, so when people told me that if I accepted Christ, I’d be forgiven, I was all in. I’m personally so grateful that Jesus died for my sins, that God forgives me, and that, therefore, I will live eternally with God.
But the good news, the gospel, the biblical story is way more than that.
Not everyone is a mess like I was. Some folks have lived pretty decent lives. Why do they need Christ?
Not everyone is a mess, but the world sure is. Look around at the poverty, racism, and wars.
The gospel is God’s project of putting the world right and inviting us to be a part of that. No matter who you are, you can get behind that.
Sola scriptura (“by scripture alone” in English) was a motto that came from the Protestant Reformation. Rather than following the dictates of the Roman Catholic institutionalized church in general, or those of the Pope in particular, the Reformers declared they would henceforth follow the Bible. Virtually every Protestant denomination clams to only be following the Bible – all 45,000 of them.
So, if all Christians (or at least all Protestant Christians) are following the Bible, how’d we come to have over 45,000 ways of doing so?
The answer, of course, is that anyone can interpret the Bible any way they want.
The problem is Sola scriptura.
Jesus is the center of our faith, not the Bible, not anyone’s interpretation of the Bible. Jesus.
What Jesus did and said is well documented. The four Gospels are historically accurate. Proving that is beyond our scope here, but they are reliable for sure.
We know what Jesus said to do. It’s just that we don’t want to do it.
- Love everyone?
- Forgive enemies?
- Be willing to die, but not to kill?
- Practice active nonviolent resistance?
- Promote justice, peace, and wellbeing?
- Generously share everything?
- Willing take the place of a servant?
- Be kind and helpful to nasty people?
- Care for the sick, incarcerated, and homeless?
- Give away your coat?
- Live a simple life?
- Pledge allegiance only to Jesus?
If we were to put Jesus in the center, actually doing what he says to do, and filtering all of scripture through who he is, what he did, and what he says, we’d likely windup not very attached to religion, or denominations, or doctrines, or creeds. We’d likely end up being radical Jesus freaks.
Maybe I used to know, forgot, and have only recently rediscovered.
Or maybe I never really knew that there is a flourishing spiritual life of wholeness that isn’t evangelical, fundamentalist, progressive, liberal, Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic, or any of that stuff.
Who knew that being a radical on-fire fully devoted follower of Jesus could be so fulfilling, so meaningful, so rich, so life-affirming, and so glorious?
Theological deconstruction feels like death.
Ah, but then comes resurrection!
A Third Way That’s Neither Liberal Nor Fundamentalist
Whether Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, or Christian, adherents to religions tend to fall somewhere along a bimodal distribution that looks like this:
On the left side of the graph are those who are sometimes referred to as progressives, liberals, or left-leaning moderates. Towards the right are those referred to as conservatives, evangelicals, fundamentalists, or right-leaning moderates.
In Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant denominations (Lutheran, Methodist, American Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican/Episcopal, etc.) generally include clergy, faith communities, seminaries, and individuals across the spectrum. Denominations like the Untied Church of Christ tend to fall towards the left side; denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention tend to be on the right side.
Very generally speaking (and this is true for other religions as well as Christianity) those on the right side tend to be scriptural literalists, and those on the left side tend to have a broader interpretation of their religion’s sacred texts.
In spite of well-meaning efforts by those on both sides to persuade others whom they see as either too ridged or too tepid, neither is likely to convince the other.
Theological progressives see conservatives as close-minded. Theological conservatives see progressives as having abandoned the faith. Both sides insist that they alone represent a true expression of their religion.
There is a third way, at least from a Christian perspective.
The third way is radical. The third way is irreligious. It has never been popular.
It is the way of Jesus. It involves being spiritual, but not religious, if by “religious” we mean the outward form of institutions.
The third way is actually doing what Jesus said to do – forgiving enemies, turning the other cheek, willingly going the second mile, washing feet, serving humanity, caring for creation, promoting justice and mercy, living in solidarity with the marginalized, visiting the sick and incarcerated, eschewing violence and coercion, being willing to die but not to kill, loving unconditionally. The only law is cruciform love.
This third way was lived out by the radical Anabaptist reformers in the 16th century, by the likes of Clare and Francis of Assisi, Mother (now Saint) Theresa of Calcutta, Father Damien among lepers in Hawaii, and numerous Mennonite and Brethren conscientious objectors in both world wars.
This third way is being practiced in communities like the Simple Way in Philadelphia and the Bruderhof communities. It is being proclaimed by voices like Woodland Hills church in Minnesota, The Meeting House in Canada, and Northern Seminary in Chicago.
This is the way virtually all followers of Jesus lived for the first 300 years of Christianity.
This third way is the way of purpose, inner peace, deep happiness, and meaning. Here, we love and are loved. Here is joy.
But, this third way is not popular. It’s not patriotic. It rejects nationalism and capitalism and militarism. It won’t bow the knee to Caesar or Mammon or Mars. It might even get you crucified.