Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Using biblical texts to "trump Jesus"

As a liberal Christian, I've long focused on Jesus' life and teachings rather than his barbaric crucifixion by the Romans. I suspect that theologically I'm within a very small minority of Christians, but thanks to Drew G.I. Hart's recent post at the Christian Century, I don't feel quite so alone and outnumbered this morning. Hart describes how those afflicted by "Jesus allergies" cherry pick biblical texts to "trump" the teachings of Jesus.

Hart writes:

Most American Christians would probably say that at the center of the Christian life is the Bible, and being biblical. Most are convinced that being biblical separates the sheep from the goats, but this is not so. The problem with this framing is not that a ‘biblical orientation’ demands too much but that in reality it demands too little. It is too vague rather than too specific. It still remains a wide path rather than the narrow one. Merely using the term biblical does not necessarily call one to the concrete and particular life set free by our Creator. In fact, people have used the Bible to justify almost every way of life. Rarely in the Church in the West has what has been considered ‘biblical’ aligned very well with a life formed after the birth, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Too often, claims of living biblically has left those unwilling to accept the costs of following Jesus with creative theological justifications for having discipleship to Jesus allergies.

Hart continues (emphasis in bold is mine):

So in that way the term Biblical has the potential to mask all sorts of behaviors that don’t look anything like Jesus, but claim them to somehow to be “Christian”. Truth is we all have those particular areas in our lives that we are more than willing to deny Jesus’ lordship while looking for some kind of biblical faith as an avoidance technique to Christ who holds all things together in himself. In our country, the easiest example is the 250 years of formal and legalized slavery. At the time, Christians were divided. The Disciples of Christ that argued for the abolition of slavery, among other ways, did so by appealing to Jesus’ life and teachings. On the other hand, those that wanted to uphold slavery went searching for biblical texts they could use to trump Jesus so that he would not have the last word on the subject. They, strangely enough, put the Old Testament and Paul’s letters against Jesus rather than understanding Jesus as the fulfillment of them all.

How do we compare? Unfortunately, while almost everyone would disdain the practice of slavery now in the Church, very few have questioned this approach of marginalizing Jesus when convenient, so that being Christian (which means being like Christ) very rarely looks much like Christ anymore. We still have refused to take seriously Jesus’ engagement with the people in his society. His prophetic stance in relationship to the sociopolitical and religious establishment, his identification with the most vulnerable, his refusal to engage in retaliatory violence but instead pursuing peace and people’s restoration through deliverance or repentance. Certainly our understanding today around what God is up to today is shaped more by conservative or liberal ideologies that white dominant culture norms than by the kind of life Jesus embodies in our holy scripture.

Read Hart's post in its entirety here:

Drew G. I. Hart is a Ph.D. candidate in theology and ethics. His blog Taking Jesus Seriously is hosted by the Century.

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