Saturday, April 01, 2006

A "Sort of" Christian?

Robert Jensen tells us how he is a “sort of” Christian while being an atheist:

Even an Atheist Can Practice Christian Virtues: Why I am a Christian (Sort Of…)

I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe Jesus Christ was the son of a God that I don’t believe in, nor do I believe Jesus rose from the dead to ascend to a heaven that I don’t believe exists.

It would be stating the terribly obvious to note that Jensen completely ignores the Bible’s own use of the word “Christian.” I’m not exactly sure why theological liberals and humanistic apostates think that their unbelief gives them free access to commit linguistic terrorism, hijacking historical words that actual mean something and twisting them for their own agenda. Obviously, someone who denies the deity of Christ has missed the fundamental principle of Christ’s teaching; you can’t claim the label of Christ if you deny the central doctrine of Christ.

Given these positions, this year I did the only thing that seemed sensible: I formally joined a Christian church.

[sarcasm] Yes, we can all see how that would be a sensible option. [/sarcasm]

Notice that Jensen does not simply tell us “I decided to start attending a church regularly, sitting on the back row.” No, he “formally joined” a Christian church. This means, most likely, that Jensen had to lie to the leaders of this church. This means that he had to falsely profess belief. This means that he has insincerely received the sacraments. Jensen isn’t some poor non-believer whose emotional level has driven him into professing some type of spurious faith; no, this is someone who actively disbelieves yet lies and claims otherwise! It is a wonder how Jensen would expect us to take seriously anything he has to say after he has openly admitted to purposefully deceiving the body of Christ.

Standing before the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX, I affirmed that I (1) endorsed the core principles in Christ’s teaching; (2) intended to work to deepen my understanding and practice of the universal love at the heart of those principles; and (3) pledged to be a responsible member of the church and the larger community.

So the deception begins. Upon reading this, I had the feeling that Jensen wasn’t simply going to openly admit to lying; he was going to justify his lies. He’s going to try to convince us that he really does endorse “the core principles in Christ’s teaching.” But this is going to require a radical misunderstanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ, as we will see further on.

So, I’m a Christian, sort of. A secular Christian. A Christian atheist, perhaps. But, in a deep sense, I would argue, a real Christian.

So the justification for lying begins.

A real Christian who doesn’t believe in God? This claim requires some explanation about the reasons I joined, and also opens up a discussion of what the term “Christian” could, or should, mean.

So the linguistic terrorism begins. Jensen is going to tell us what the term “Christian” should mean. I’m curious how such revelation has been made available to Jensen. How does Jensen, living almost 2000 years after the first follower of Christ was called a “Christian” (Acts 11:26, 1 Peter 4:16), become privy to the knowledge of what the term “Christian” should mean? I guess the Apostle Peter didn’t know what it should mean when he wrote, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Well, whadya know: Jensen knows something about Christianity that Christ’s apostles didn’t know! Gifted fellow, indeed.

First, whatever my beliefs about the nature of the non-material world or my views on spirituality, I live in a country that is extremely religious, especially compared to other technologically advanced industrial nations. Surveys show that about 80 percent of Americans identify as Christian and 5 percent as some other faith. And beyond self-identification, a 2002 poll showed that 67 percent of all people in the poll agreed that the United States is a “Christian nation”; 48 percent said they believed that the United States has “special protection from God”; 58 percent said that America’s strength is based on religious faith; and 47 percent asserted that a belief in God is necessary to be moral.

While 84 percent in that 2002 poll agreed that one can be a “good American” without religious faith, clearly there’s an advantage to being able to speak within a religious framework in the contemporary United States.

It is great that Jensen admits for us that he lives in an atmosphere that is permeated by theological ignorance. I should hope that Jensen can connect the dots between his cultural atmosphere and his own views. If not, I’ll be here to connect them for him.

So, my decision to join a church was more a political than a theological act. As a political organizer interested in a variety of social-justice issues, I look for places to engage people in discussion. In a depoliticized society such as the United States — where ordinary people in everyday spaces do not routinely talk about politics and underlying values—churches are one of the few places where such engagement is possible. Even though many ministers and churchgoers shy away from making church a place for discussion of specific political issues, people there expect to engage fundamental questions about what it means to be human and the obligations we owe each other — questions that are always at the core of politics.

I suppose Jensen has abandoned his original thesis, for he surely hasn’t given us anything that would defend it. On the contrary, he has told is that he is a “real” Christian because: 1) he deceived a church by consciously professing false faith, and 2) he joined a church for political reasons. I don’t remember finding either of those in the teachings of Christ.

The pastor and most of the congregation at St. Andrew’s understand my reasons for joining, realizing that I didn’t convert in a theological sense but joined a moral and political community. There’s nothing special about me in this regard — many St. Andrew’s members I’ve talked to are seeking community and a place for spiritual, moral and political engagement. The church is expansive in defining faith; the degree to which members of the congregation believe in God and Christ in traditional terms varies widely. Many do, some don’t, and a whole lot of folks seem to be searching. St. Andrew’s offers a safe space and an exciting atmosphere for that search. in collaboration with others.

St. Andrews might be commended for its evangelistic focus. However, we cannot commend it for its liberal view of the church and the equal theological ignorance it shares with Robert Jensen.

Such expansiveness raises questions about the definition of Christian. Many no doubt would reject the idea that such a church is truly Christian and would argue that a belief in the existence of God and the divinity of Christ are minimal requirements for claiming to be a person of Christian faith.

1. Jensen states, “Such expansiveness raises questions about the definition of Christian.” In other words, his present experience is what causes him to question the teaching of Scripture. Because, to Jensen, Scripture is not the infallible Word of God given by divine inspiration, we can mold it or dismiss it based upon our own present cultural needs. The focus, therefore, is “How can I make Scripture apply to me now?” rather than “What is God actually telling us through Scripture?” You see, contrary to Jensen’s theologically misinformed mentality, the Bible is not an “Encyclopedia on All Things Spiritual.” It isn’t a “Where can I find information on this…” type of deal. Rather, the purpose of Scripture is to tell the story of redemption. It is to tell the story of the gospel, and to make sure that the gospel is being applied to our lives daily. If we approach the Bible with a “How can I make this relevant to me” mentality rather than a “I want to know what God is seeking to communicate” mentality, we have completely abandoned the purpose of special revelation.

2. Jensen seeks to divorce the teaching of Christ from the person of Christ. This is nothing new. But the problem is that the very teaching of Christ always pointed us back to himself: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Jesus never tells us to embrace a certain set of ideas as the solution to our problems. He always pointed to himself as the solution. Without Christ, you have no Christians; for, without Christ, you have no Christianity. Christianity is not a “Confucius say…” type of a religion. It is not a “4 Pillars to Heaven” or a “3 Steps to Enlightenment” type of deal. If that were the case, then it might be possible to take the ideas of Christ without accepting the person of Christ. But Christ didn’t simply offer ideas; he offered himself: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Has this philosophical age already forgotten the philosophical age of C. S. Lewis? Remember the “Three L’s” (Liar, Lunatic, Lord)? Jesus claimed to be God. Since Jensen recognizes that, I’m not going to show it here. C. S. Lewis tells us that the only options for someone who claims to be God is that he is a liar, in which case his teachings have no warrant; he is a lunatic, in which case his teachings have no warrant; or he is the Lord he said he was, in which case his teachings do have warrant. But there is no possibility that Christ was some good teacher with good principles; if he wasn’t the Lord of Glory, he was a liar or a lunatic:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher; he’d either be a lunatic–on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg–or else he’d 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. …But don’t let us come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn’t left that open for us. He didn’t intend to.” (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Such a claim implies that an interpretation of the Bible can be cordoned off as truth-beyond-challenge. But what if the Bible is more realistically read symbolically and not literally? What if that’s the case even to the point of seeing Christ’s claim to being the son of God as simply a way of conveying fundamental moral principles? What if the resurrection is metaphor? What if “God” is just the name we give to the mystery that is beyond our ability to comprehend through reason?

1. Again, Robert Jensen transforms the Bible into a free-range of ideas. Religious relativity abounds, and Jensen hopes to force that relativity into a Bible that promotes the exclusivity of its claims. By the way, nothing is more arrogant than relativism. Indeed, nothing is more ironic. In the relativist principle that it is arrogant to claim to possess the singular, exclusive, absolute truth is the attempt to negate all truths. It calls the Bible wrong for calling something else wrong! Inclusivism is more arrogant than exclusivism; inclusivism claims deeper knowledge than all exclusive religions.

2. Jensen continues to attempt to apply the Bible as he sees fit, rather than applying the Bible as the Bible sees fit. In the end, Robert Jensen is the only Bible for Robert Jensen.

3. Jensen continues to divorce the principles of Christ from the person of Christ. We have already shown that this is impossible. Without Christ, there is no Christianity. Without Christianity, there are no Christians.

In such a conception of faith, an atheist can be a Christian. A Hindu can be a Christian. Anyone can be a Christian, and a Christian can find a connection to other perspectives and be part of other faiths. With such a conception of faith, a real ecumenical spirit and practice is possible. Identification with a religious tradition can become a way to lower barriers between people, not raise them ever higher.

1. One begins to wonder why it is Christianity which must become the free-for-all inclusive religion. Why is it that Hindus, remaining Hindus, can become Christians? Why is it the case that atheists, remaining atheists, can become Christians? Why has Jensen chosen the word “Christian” as the victim for his linguistic terrorism? Why has Christianity become the object of his theological ignorance?

2. Given the atheistic worldview, why is ecumenism the goal? Why is religion a goal at all? Why is Jensen-the-atheist so desperate to cling to the word “Christian” that he is willing to radically redefine its historical definition?

We can ground this process in the ethical principles common to almost all religious and secular philosophical systems, one of which is the assertion that we should treat others as we would like to be treated.

When you have an agenda such as Robert Jensen’s, it is inevitable that you’ll miss the entire point of Christ’s ministry. Christ didn’t come here to give us a morality lesson. He came here to tell us that we have failed the morality test, that we need him to be the propitiation for the wrath of God in our place, that we need the imputation of his righteousness to us that is received by faith, and that then do we receive the benefit and joy of fulfilling the “morality lessons” as a response to who Christ is and what he has done. But of course, this is all beside the point to Jensen. He couldn’t care less about all this. He is blinded by his own humanistic agenda, and this agenda causes him to miss the entire point of Christ’s ministry.

For example:

–None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself (Islam).

–Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Christianity).

–Act only on that maxim that you can will a universal law (Kant).

– “Follow the Five Pillars of Islam” (Mohammed)

– “Follow the Seven Steps to Nirvana” (Buddhism)

– “Follow me” (Jesus Christ).

The contrast speaks volumes.

There is an important struggle going on for the soul of Christianity, which should be of concern to everyone, Christian or not. The debate is not just at the level of arguments over whether, for example, certain Old Testament passages should be interpreted to condemn homosexuality. The deeper struggle is over whether Christianity is to be understood as a closed set of answers that leads to the intensification of these boundaries, or as an invitation to explore questions that help people transcend boundaries. Such a struggle is going on not only within Christianity, but in all the major world religions.

Ok, whatever. What about Jesus Christ? That’s what Christianity is about.

…In other words, the task of Christians — and, I would argue, all religions — is to make themselves more relevant in the short term by being a site of such political and moral engagement, with the goal of ensuring their ultimate irrelevance.

I’m not exactly sure why Robert Jensen believes he has become the spokesman for Christianity. Why has he come imposing his own agenda upon the Christian worldview? And why has he chosen Christianity as the victim for this agenda? Why not Islam? I mean, just a couple of paragraphs above he was pointing out the supposed similarities between these two worldviews. So why has he chosen to hijack the word Christian? Why should Christians accept his agenda?

That is why I am a Christian.

Robert Jensen has not even begun to understand the meaning of that word.

Evan May.

[HT: BF from ProTheism]


  1. Evan, thanks for responding to my email.

    In think Spurgeon said it best in “Holding Fast The Faith” when he wrote:

    "One of the main points of a Christian—without which the rest of his life will not be acceptable with God—is that Jesus shall be to him “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” The practical, the doctrinal, the experimental must all be found by us in Jesus Christ our Lord or else we have not placed Him in His right position. And we cannot be right anywhere unless the center is right and unless Jesus is that center. God grant that we may never turn aside from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. But may we resist all false philosophies—steadfast and immovable!"

    By removing Christ, one removes truth. Like you stated, it’s not about Jesus taught this, or Jesus taught that, it’s about His Person—who He is. Jesus is the center of our Faith; remove Him and it’s not Christianity, it just someone’s flavor of “religion.”

  2. I did a search for Jensen's church website, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. I found a link to the following website there. I had never heard of "The Center for Progressive Christianity".

  3. It's not unusual for antichrist(s) to be found within the church. This person thinks he's being 'progressive' and creative when he's really doing something as old as the hills...

  4. Thanks for the link, Craig. I'll check it out.