Last week, I took exception to the assertion by my PJM colleague Rhonda Robinson that “Christians Should Agree with Jews’ Disinterest in Heaven and Hell.” I pointed out that the blessed hope of eternal life in heaven alongside our glorious Lord fulfills the purpose of our lives. We exist to bring Him glory, and will do so either as examples of his undeserved grace or convicts under his perfect justice. That is the Gospel. That is the Good News. That is Christianity. So how could we Christians ever allow ourselves to become disinterested in it?
Robinson wrapped up her consideration of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus asking “Could We Restore America If Jews and Christians Accepted a Hyphenated Jesus?” She concluded:
The author has gone to great lengths to point out that Jesus was in fact an observant Jew, one whose life of walking in righteousness (whether you believe him to be the son of God or not) is worth emulating. Jesus of Nazareth will forever bind us together.
We can spend a lot of time arguing about differences, using that hyphen to divide us. Or we can choose to embrace it, to forgive the hurts of the past and face the future united. As Americans we face real enemies, both cultural and physical.
Isn’t it time we stopped trying so hard to simply make a point, and give our lives as Jesus did, to make a difference?
I’m not even sure what that means. Clearly, the Gospel purpose of Christ’s death cannot be what Robinson here references. Aside from atoning for the sin of mankind so that believers could be credited with His righteous life and avoid the eternal judgment of Holy God, what difference did Christ’s death make worth talking about? Why would Christians want to unite in spiritual congress with those who deny the foundational tenant of Christianity? Even if such ecumenical union could somehow restore America (whatever that means), why would we sideline the truth of salvation for a temporal end?
Ecumenism, establishing or promoting unity among religions, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Yet, no objective case has been presented for why anyone should desire it. What end would sacrificing our distinct convictions serve? What true value do our beliefs hold if we prove so willing to compromise them?
I hold greater respect for an atheist or agnostic who clings to doubt regarding the existence of God than a professing follower of religion who holds a loose grip on doctrine. I just don’t see the point of the latter. Why dabble in religion? Why parse through it as if it were a brunch buffet, picking out the appealing bits to suit your taste? If your faith stands upon truth, then how could you possibly compromise it? Conversely, if no truth underlies your faith, why profess it?
With its focus upon temporal goals such as “restoring the culture,” “fostering unity,” and “making a difference,” ecumenism seems more irreligious than religious. The point of the movement emerges as minimizing differences in order to facilitate cultural and political coalition. But that doesn’t even make sense. If differences can be so easily minimized, then they aren’t really differences. And if they aren’t really differences, how do they stand in the way of cultural or political coalition? It’s all rather baffling. If you want to make the world a better place, just do it. Why do you need to cajole others into compromising their beliefs? If we want to build a school or feed the poor or flagellate ourselves in public, why do we need to hyphenate Jesus first?
If I seem a bit crass on this point, it may have something to do with the amount of prayerful consideration I put into adopting my faith. More than the luck of a cultural lottery, determined by where I was born and which religion reigned prominent, my Christian faith was chosen. It matters to me. It defines my life. It proceeds from who I am. Born to Jehovah’s Witness parents, I forsook their faith as a teenager and went about seeking truth. I had no interest in a designer faith or a social club with peculiar rituals of no genuine significance. Either God exists, or He does not. If he does not, then religion is a waste of time. If He does exist, then religion is too important to get wrong.
As a truth claim, religion ought to be divisive. Why go to a house of worship once or more per week and devote time to reading and contemplating scripture if the subject matter has no basis in truth? Believing that your faith has a basis in truth will set you apart from those who do not share that belief. Shouldn’t that go without saying?
The way Jesus bridges cultural gaps is by extending the same gracious offer to Jew and gentile alike:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. – Romans 1:16
More than “an observant Jew,” Jesus was and is the fulfillment of Judaism. He stands worthy of emulation, not because he was a swell guy who did nice things while uttering pretty words, but because he was and is God. Whether we agree on that point should not prevent us from coming together to pursue temporal values. We can fight for a better culture without hyphenating our God.