NYT's Stupid Questions Edition: What Religion Would Jesus Be?

In what should be a question with the most obvious answer in the history of questions, the New York Times recently queried, “What religion would Jesus be?” According to columnist Nicholas Kristof, “One puzzle of the world is that religions often don’t resemble their founders.” Comparing Christianity’s long-held beliefs about sexuality to apartheid and hacking off the genitals of girls, Kristof complains that religions have turned their collective backs on the liberal agendas of their collective founders.

Leaving Islam and Buddhism behind, Kristof focuses his ire on Christianity as practiced by almost every single Christian in the history of Christendom because, “Jesus was a radical who challenged the establishment.” Kristof is right, of course. Jesus was radical, but in the exact opposite way that Kristof believes.

Jesus was a radical because he surrendered his rights as God, took on the form and frailty of human flesh, and came to earth to die. And he did that because no human is capable of having a right relationship with God. Sin had to be dealt with. Jesus didn’t come to earth to relieve poverty and suffering on this earth; he came to provide a way of salvation in order that those who place their faith in him will escape God’s coming wrathful judgment and instead be ushered into the new heaven and new earth where there will be no poverty and suffering. That’s what the Church calls “the gospel.”

Kristof flips the gospel completely over, emptying it of all its goodness and effectiveness. He attempts to rescue Jesus from the Bible by turning Jesus into a leftist hippy who just wants everyone to love themselves and each other exactly as they are. The only sin that Kristof’s Jesus recognizes is the sin of not embracing leftist ideology. That ideology includes the rejection of the belief that humans stand guilty before God and are in need of a divine Savior. For leftists, salvation is accomplished by humans for other humans. In other words, a man-centered religion.

To be fair, perverting Jesus into a leftist demands Kristof’s question, I guess. However, that doesn’t make the question any more honest. Forming a god into the graven image that liberals deem worthy of worship demands a bit of rhetorical chicanery, and the Gray Lady proved this past Sunday that integrity is subservient to their god of progressivism.

Directly answering the Times’ question requires a mere ten words: “Jesus would be the religion that bears his name – CHRISTianity.” Expounding on what that means, however, demands that Nicholas Kristof’s errors and deceptions be revealed. To begin with, I wish that when the New York Times writes about Christianity, they’d interview an actual Christian. Instead, the Times’ “Christian” source for the article, Brian McLaren, is a noted heretic, apostate, and enemy of Jesus.

McLaren first rose to prominence in the late ’90s and early 2000s as a leader in the emerging church movement. Along with pastors and writers like Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, and Tony Jones, McLaren helped create a publishing cottage industry that is dedicated to upending evangelicalism. In doing so, McLaren has systematically rejected long-held orthodox doctrines like the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Bible, the doctrine of God’s wrath that will be ultimately realized by casting sinners into hell and, maybe most damning, the Bible’s teaching that Jesus’ death on the cross was a substitutionary death for the punishment of the sins of humans. According to McLaren, Jesus’ death on the cross is merely an example of forgiveness while being unjustly tortured and killed. If humans will simply emulate Jesus, salvation will be achieved for all. Unfortunately, Jesus has been hijacked by the God of the Bible. McLaren actually believes that the Church’s doctrine of God has been perverted by a highly flawed book and then further interpreted through a Hellenistic lens. Instead, we should interpret God by cherry-picking the things about Jesus that fit nicely within the leftist agenda.

It’s interesting that those like McLaren who reject the orthodox belief in the divine inspiration of Scriptures as well as the full divinity of Jesus as defined by the whole Bible still manage to make absolute claims about a person whom they otherwise call into question whenever his teachings conflict with their pet social justice issues. Fair is fair, right? So, why should we accept McLaren’s claim that Jesus wants us to feed the poor if McLaren is telling us to reject Jesus’ teaching on sexuality? Paraphrasing the famous C.S. Lewis quip, Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord; it’s all or nothing. Thankfully, we have a religion that embraces Jesus and his teaching in totality. And that religion, as mentioned above, is Christianity.

For McLaren and other heretics, sowing the seeds of confusion begins with questioning the notion of orthodoxy in relation to Christianity. This confusion saw its modern flowering in the writings of Walter Bauer, a twentieth century German theologian (many people are familiar with Bauer’s teachings through the pop-writings of noted antichrist Bart Ehrman). According to Bauer, the beliefs and statements that the Church considers heresies actually predate the supposed orthodox beliefs of Christianity. Bauer taught that prior to the third century, Christianity was a mish-mash of beliefs, at times competing beliefs, that were born out of regional concerns and interpretations. Based in the most powerful city in the Empire, the church in Rome’s set of constructed beliefs ultimately won out and those beliefs became codified, including the formation of the canon of Scriptures. Revisionist history, Bauer believed, created the false concept of Christian orthodoxy. In other words, Jesus did not create the Church as we know it and the Bible is a man-made book.

This rhetorical rebuilding of the Tower of Babel is present throughout the NYT’s article. Setting the parameters for the article’s agenda, McLaren asserts, “Our religions often stand for the very opposite of what their founders stood for.”

As far as the religion of Christianity goes, the common denominators across denominational lines are consistent and most definitely adhere to what the founder taught. My claim, of course, flies directly in the face of McLaren’s apostasy. His apostasy, however, flies in the face of scholarship and the Bible.

The origins of Christian orthodoxy are complex. To be honest, distilling the counter-evidence and arguments in support of the Church’s claims is a task worthy of a PhD thesis. That being said, the scholarly evidence against those who believe Bauer’s thesis, including McLaren, is weighty. In their excellent book The Heresy of Orthodoxy, theologians Andreas J. Kostenberger and Michael J. Kruger wrote that in the seventy-five years since Bauer proposed his thesis, scholars have

lodged weighty criticisms against the theory. They persuasively argued that legitimate elements of diversity in the New Testament did not negate its underlying doctrinal unity … and that historical continuity existed between the theologies of first century Christians and the church of subsequent centuries…They also demonstrated the weaknesses of Bauer’s thesis by challenging his methodology and by subjecting his views to concrete – and damaging – examination in individual cases … and by investigating his thesis in light of the New Testament data and finding it wanting.

As opposed to those who like to proselytize the notion that there was no orthodox Christianity early on and that centuries later powerful Church leaders manipulated the Bible and the doctrines of the Church, the data support the claims that the Christianity of today was yesterday’s Christianity, too. Orthodoxy, as we know it, was present throughout the Roman empire going back as far as the first century. Those who claim otherwise have an agenda that has little, if anything, to do with Jesus.

I can make that bold claim because the Bible attests to the Christianity outlined in the orthodox teachings of the Church. Contrary to the claims of Kristof and his anti-Christian henchman McLaren, Christianity has not been co-opted by greedy opportunists. The story of the Bible is very clear that humanity’s problem is their ethical separation from God. One of God’s character traits, so to speak, that the Bible reveals is His holiness. That means that God cannot allow sin to be in His presence. The story of the Bible also plainly teaches that humans, all humans, are sinners (common sense reveals that, too). Contrary to McLaren, who believes that salvation is found in acts of mercy (social justice), the Bible teaches us that what separates humans from God isn’t that they are hungry, or physically sick, or oppressed, but that they are sinners — every human has personally rebelled against God. Even if we were to eradicate poverty, humans would still be ethically separated from God. That’s why Jesus needed to come to earth.

Someone had to completely obey God’s law. Someone had to take on God’s just wrath for sin. That someone was Jesus.  And Jesus is revealed throughout the entire Bible, not just the red-letter words. Claiming that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, as McLaren claims, for example, is flat-out rejecting the fact that the entire Bible is the word of God — the word of Jesus.

Kristof ends his article with the breathless assertion that social justice work is true religion. By all means, I believe that Christians should demonstrate love to their neighbors by feeding the poor and visiting “orphans and widows in their affliction.” I don’t believe less than that; in fact, I believe more. Because James 1:27 concludes its definition of true religion with “and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Thankfully, the entire Bible tells us what being unstained by the world looks like. Unfortunately, for those like Kristof and McLaren who continue to rebel against their Creator, being unstained from the world includes, among other things, submitting to God’s parameters for sexuality and recognizing that the only way to restore a relationship with Him is through faith in the literal life, literal death, and literal resurrection of Jesus.

Any purported religion that denies the need for individual salvation from personal sins and that rejects the solution found through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a religion that Jesus wouldn’t have anything to do with.