Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Saved by doctrine or saved by Jesus?

My article "Can Muslims follow the Biblical Christ and still be Muslim?" created a firestorm on God's Politics last week. In the article I suggest that we don’t see a very high Christology in Peter and Paul’s sermons in the Book of Acts, and yet we're explicitly told in Scripture that those who heard their message were genuinely saved. I suggested that just because Muslims can’t bring themselves to say, “Jesus is God”, we shouldn’t write them off so quickly as heretics. The thread of the comments has been pretty explosive, many suggesting that I’ve given up Biblical faith in the name of political correctness—even though I explicitly say in the article that I’m NOT denying the deity of Christ.

I think there’s a much, much deeper issue in play here, and since I’m on a journey here, understand that I may not be able to communicate my thoughts very well, so a little grace would be welcome. What’s starting to come into focus for me is the revelation that it’s not up to Aaron Taylor to decide who’s “in” and who’s “out.” What if following Jesus has very little to do with “in” verses “out” and “us” verses “them”? What if following Jesus means simply that? To follow Jesus? I’m not saying that doctrine isn’t important. I’m just wondering how we arrived at the place where we think that we’re saved through doctrine and not saved through Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus? If we look in the New Testament there seems to be a wide range of what that means. For the thief on the cross, it meant a simple request for Jesus to “remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” For the woman at the well, Jesus seemed to be content with letting her know that He is the Messiah. For a group of curious onlookers it meant simply to “believe in the one whom He sent.” For the rich man it meant to “sell all of his possessions and give to the poor.” Some followed Jesus out of curiosity. Some followed him because they wanted social status—like James and John—Jesus’ closest disciples. And some doubted even after the resurrection as Jesus was giving them the Great Commission!

Combine all this with the curious habit of Jesus of constantly ticking off the religious people of His day by eating and drinking with those perceived to be outsiders. One of the primary points of the parable of the Good Samaritan was to challenge religious prejudice. By making the perceived heretic the hero of the story, Jesus was pointing to the central issue of what constitutes true religion. Love of God and loving your neighbor as yourself.

So in my Q&A sessions when people ask me what do I think about all the people in the world that follow other religions—whether they’re “in” or “out”—I answer honestly. I say something like this:

“Jesus said ‘I am the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.’ At the same time He also told the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story where He made the perceived heretic the hero, challenging the religious prejudice of His day. I’m learning to live with the tension of these two truths.”

I’d love for everyone to believe that Jesus is God (though I’m quite aware that the statement needs a lot of explaining, especially in the light of Eastern and Western philosophical assumptions). At the same time it’s not my job description to determine who is “in” the kingdom and who is “out.” My job is to lift up Jesus and let Him run His Kingdom. If we start with Jesus, we can eventually arrive at correct doctrine, but if we start with doctrine, we may lose Jesus in the process.

7 comments:

Nick said...

Spot on!

The disciples followed Jesus and argued about him along the way; Jesus didn't give them a theological quiz upfront. Consequently, the disciples' Christological arguments were family arguments between people already committed to a practical ethic of loving one another. Doctrine is too precious - and dangerous - to be handled outside of that context.

It seems to me that to insist on a certain level of doctrinal orthodoxy before we can accept someone as a follower of Christ is to appoint ourselves Jesus' bodyguards. 'Whoever is thirsty, let him come,' says Jesus - and we wrestle his hearers to the ground before they can get near him.

Brilliant blog, Aaron - best wishes from across the pond.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Very well said Nick. Thank you.

Donald "Bud" Stark said...

Aaron,
I'm impressed with your journey. I find myself tagging along. I came in when I saw something about Muslims and Christians in Sojourners. It seems to me that before the apostles were dead, already Christians were in danger of being concerned more about orthodoxy than about following Jesus. Because they could not agree on whose orthodoxy was the real orthodoxy, they were destined to be torn apart. I can understand and even sympathize with them because I was raised in the Church of Christ and have seen split upon split because there is no end to trying to get it all just right. Complicate that with Constantin's need to arrive at a state (militarily) mandated religion and on and on...
Anyway, great blog.

Cammie Novara said...

"I suggested that just because Muslims can’t bring themselves to say, “Jesus is God”, we shouldn’t write them off so quickly as heretics." I agree fully. There's a really fascinating debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design going on at http://www.intelligentdesignfacts.com

Aaron Taylor said...

Thank you Cammie. I checked out the site. Very interesting!

Bishop elect Andrew Gentry said...

I always tell my "fundamentalist" friends who are actually literalists that if you want to know the essence of the Gospel read the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. If you want to know the essence of Pauline theology read St. Paul's hymn to love. The Incarnation and the Crucifixion culminating in the Resurrection is an ongoing cosmic event which defies our language and our logic. God calls whom he wills and how he wills through the life of and priestly ministry of Christ Jesus who is indeed Lord and Saviour. We are but sheep dogs for he is the Shepherd and many who may not yet call him shepherd will in his own good time and in his own good way.

Denise said...

Great article!!

I just watched the documentary "Holy Wars". My oldest son Jason, who is a Vineyard Pastor and some friends are putting on our second annual Micah Film Festival in Oceanside, Ca.this coming November. We show three films, one for each category of Justice, Mercy and Humility based on the bible verse Micah 6:8. We are considering showing "Holy Wars" under the category "Humility".

I wanted you to know that I was so moved by your transformation in the film after your meeting with Khalid that I cried as I listened to you preach in the documentary.

I'm so glad I have found your blog and plan on reading your book. We need more Christians like you in this world:)

You can check out my sons blog at www.pastoralia.org and our web site for the film festival is www.micahfilmfest.org

Keep up the good work Aaron and God bless you!!!