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Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Minimum for Salvation

Back when I was in seminary, one of the professors asked just how many biblical people we are totally certain made it to heaven? OK, Jesus, but that's sort of cheating. Enoch and Elijah are good candidates because they were swept up without dying, but there is only one about whom we can really be certain. The thief on the cross.

He's the only one to whom Jesus said, "You will be with me in Paradise."

His theology is a bit thin. He believed that Jesus did not deserve to be executed, and he believed that somehow Jesus was moving toward his heavenly kingdom. That's it. His only request was "Remember me." (Luke 23:43)

In seminary, we used to ask, "What is the minimum one needs to believe in order to be saved." Again, it's quite minimal. When Paul and Silas answered the jailer's question, "What must I do to be saved?" the response is simple: "Believe on the Lord Jesus." (Acts 16:31)

Of course, this was all very confusing for students who were deep into systematic theology and church history and all the rest, but it's refreshing and reassuring. And it keeps the focus in the right place. Jesus.

Jesus plus

I remember reading a book about Christians and communal living. The book made the point that to be really a Christian, one must believe in Jesus and live in a household with other people. That seemed odd. Didn't ring true.

We see a lot of this. Believe in Jesus plus something else. Recycling. Gun control. Freedom to carry (and use) guns everywhere. Capitalist economy. Young-earth creationism.

Believe in Jesus PLUS this other thing and you will be saved, because a plain faith in Jesus isn't enough.

That REALLY rings hollow. Not the message of the New Testament.

Minus Jesus

One problem with "Jesus plus" faith is that Jesus often gets excluded from the equation. In our day we see that "Jesus plus anti-abortion" morphs into a faith that says the message of "Oppose abortion and you will be saved." "Jesus plus family values" morphs into "Support 19th century family structure and you will be saved." "Jesus plus patriotism" becomes "Support American exceptionalism and you will be saved."

Say it that way and the lie becomes apparent. If someone only opposes abortion or gay rights, many are willing to call that person a "good Christian" whether that person has any clue about Jesus or not. We even have the sordid example of a church leader claiming that it's God's will to bomb North Korea because, obviously, any threat against the American people is contrary to God's will.

What we're up against

"Jesus plus" theology always ends up losing Jesus along the way, and the current public conversation is hate-filled and self-centered, an ideal environment for churches and preachers to spring up claiming that the only point of the Bible is to oppose abortion or to oppose gay rights or to advance the political claims of the white middle class in America.

We're better than that.

I don't know about your Bible, but mine has 1220 pages, none of which mention American exceptionalism. Jesus didn't say anything about gay rights, one way or the other. The "Jesus plus" and "Minus Jesus" people will hate us for this, but we need to get on with the business of loving God and loving our neighbor, whether or not it's the politically correct path.

That was the answer Jesus gave to the rich young man who wanted to inherit eternal life. Provide for the poor. Follow Jesus. That's it. (Mark 10:21)

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