Two opposite summaries of Christian faith

Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

Yesterday I have been talking with several Christians about why it is so difficult to find friends of Jesus in Estonia, and especially among young Estonians. And I feel an answer to that question: it’s because Estonians are reasonable people and because so many Christians aren’t.

Or more generally: Why is it difficult to cultivate Christianity in a modern civilized society? Because some Christians summarize the Good News as follows:

(a) God created a perfect world. But humans did the unfortunate wrong choice of not wanting that world. Despite our disobedience, God chose to love us anyway. He sent prophets to teach us about himself. But we didn’t manage to do what God wants. So God finally sent his own son to help us. We just need to turn away from our sins and believe in Jesus. This is the one and only way to get saved.

I think that this summary is (1) a weird and distorted view of reality and (2) leads to the opposite of what Jesus actually tells us. If this is the essence of the Gospel, then I am not a Christian. Here is my own attempt at summarizing the Good News:

(b) Our world is not a paradise; it contains both good and evil things. We cannot change this, we need to accept it. But there is hope; life on Earth is not meaningless. The visible world is part of a bigger invisible world that lies beyond any human science. Jesus called this invisible world the Kingdom of God. He told us to see God as a father and ourselves as his beloved children. Every human can communicate with God directly. We cannot fully grasp God’s plan with this world, but we can trust that he will lead it to a good end. This vision, also called the Good News, has fundamental consequences for our daily social life. We just need to love God and those who live with us on this planet.

I wrote these two opposing summaries of the Gospel already last Saturday, but I felt urged to publish them here after reading Keith Giles’ blog post Why Is Jesus A Minor Character In The Religion Named After Him?. Keith is author of several books, the latest being Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment.

Feedback

  • Aare and Samuel pointed out that the two views are not opposite to each other but complementary. Things are not as easy as I thought this morning. Needs more meditation.

  • Stiiv commented “Estonians aren’t naturally narcissistic: they don’t think that the world is all about us human beings, so any account of faith that places human beings centre-stage seems to be unnecessarily anxious.” Interesting.

  • Stiiv commented “The world is so much more interesting than a perfect world–it is an evolving experimental world: so the world’s Creator doesn’t need to be defended for the supposed ‘mistake’ of allowing the world to have flaws and imperfections.” I fully agree. Living in paradise would be boring.

Meditation

My problem with summary (a) is that it excludes from salvation those who don’t use the Bible as their Holy Scripture. It leads to Bible idolatry. It is in contradiction with what we know about the visible world. It assumes that outside our church there is no salvation1. It puts a judgment on religious teachings that use other theological concepts than Jesus. Such a judgment is beyond our competence. God doesn’t need no policemen.

What I wanted to say is that using summary (a) is, in a certain way, even against Jesus’s teachings because he wants us to explain his teachings to all people, including those who follow other teachers (Luke 9:49-50). Christianity has no chance to become universally accepted as long as we use this summary to describe our faith.

TODO

The opinion I describe here is a dilemma for me. I guess that “summary (a)” largely corresponds to evangelicalism. If I leave my opinion as it is, it sounds as if I “declared war” to a lot of people who feel themselves as Christians. This makes no sense. Be reassured: I won’t make war with you just because you don’t agree with me. Something must be wrong. I guess that the mistake is on my side since I am just an analyst/programmer, I lack serious education in theology, psychology and sociology. But where is my thinking mistake? Waiting for feedback on this.

Footnote

1

The “our” is what disturbs me. I do believe that “outside the Church there is no salvation” (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus), with the important addition that Church means much more than any human organization can fully represent. No religious institution can claim authority over the Good News.