Nicholas Kristof asked a provocative question in the New York Times on Saturday, September 3, 2016 “What Religion Would Jesus Belong to?”
His point, supplemented by an intertwined interview with theologian Brian McLaren, is that he believes Christianity has strayed so far from the original message of Jesus Christ that perhaps Jesus would not even identify with the movement He began. He makes the same claim about other religions as well to be fair, but he spends most of the article focusing on Christianity.
He makes the argument that it is clear that young people are leaving the church and becoming religious “nones.” He then moves on to say that in this seems to be “accompanied by a decline in public interest in doctrine.”
Therefore, the way to solve the problem according to McLaren is to modify what Christianity fundamentally is.
“Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?”
Christians ought to be loving people, so he has no argument from me on that point. We ought to follow the teachings of Jesus that tell us to love our neighbors and care for those who need it.
In that case, it is not really a question of whether or not Christianity or any religion has a system of beliefs but rather what that system of beliefs is based upon. How firm a foundation does that worldview have, and does it hold up to scrutiny?
Clearly, through this article, McLaren and by extension Kristof don’t believe that the historically accepted doctrines of Christianity hold up to that scrutiny.
“McLaren advises worrying less about whether biblical miracles are literally true and thinking more about their meaning.”
Turning the Bible into a metaphor has incredibly dangerous consequences, and the apostle Paul realized that within a few years of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He understood that Christianity relies on the literal reality of at least one miracle, and he wrote about that in his first letter to the Corinthians.
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15-12:14, ESV).
I wrote the other day about what I termed “quirky Christianity.” Christianity undoubtedly challenges modern sensibilities. In a world full of anti-supernatural biases, the existence of even one miracle is incomprehensible. In a system without the supernatural, there necessarily cannot be any type of miraculous intervention.
However, that in and of itself is a presupposition. Therefore, Christianity is not going to be saved by stripping away its system of beliefs. No worldview can exist without a system of beliefs because they all have them by definition.
Rather, we need to evaluate how solid the foundation is. Did Jesus Christ literally die and literally rise from the dead? If that actually did happen, Christianity has a solid foundation, and the advice given by Kristof and McLaren is misplaced. Rather than abandon Christianity’s set of beliefs, the truth of the resurrection should cause us to embrace it.
If Jesus Christ did not die and rise again, then I don’t know that I would follow the advice of Kristof and McLaren either. Christianity has no use without the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is no better than a fairytale in that case. Rather than modify a false belief system, we might as well move on to find out that which is true.
Let’s never settle for a watered-down Christianity out of convenience. We either believe it, or we do not.