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Monday, April 16, 2012

Was Jesus a fundamentalist?

By Aaron D. Taylor

When I was in my early 20’s, a Bible teacher by the name of Dianne Kannady posed a rhetorical question that continues to haunt me to this day: “If Jesus was your only source of information about what Christianity should look like, how would you live your life?”

That question has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years.

Consider the three things that instantly come to mind.

1. Jesus preached nonviolence.

2. Jesus was a faith healer

3. Jesus challenged the religious fundamentalists of his day

Take any of these three statements, declare that followers of Jesus should do the same thing today, and somebody’s going to get pissed.

Preaching nonviolence may win you accolades in certain circles, but there are an equal number of people that will hate you for it. And who in their right mind would want to attempt a ministry that revolves around the miraculous today? With the exception of people that watch TBN, everybody despises faith-healers—at least here in America.

It’s rare enough to find a person that embodies the values of 1 (preaching nonviolence) and 2 (faith-healing) simultaneously, but the real contradiction seems to be between 2 (faith-healing) and 3 (challenging religious fundamentalism), because the kind of certainty that it takes to say to a crippled man “rise up and walk” doesn’t lend itself to the kind of nuance that it takes to challenge religious fundamentalism.

Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did…

Take this story for example:

When Jesus was about to be received up (into heaven), he set out for Jerusalem, bound and determined to get there. So he sent some messengers before him, and the messengers entered a Samaritan village to make things ready for him. But the Samaritans did not receive Jesus, because Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. And when his disciples, James and John, saw what the Samaritans had done, they said to Jesus,

“Lord, would you like us to call down fire from heaven and consume them, like Elijah did?”

But Jesus turned to them and rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of. The Son of Man didn’t come to destroy people’s lives. He came to save them!” (Luke 9:51-56, rephrased from the King James Version)

Some background information is in order.

Jews and Samaritans despised each other in Jesus’ day. Jews said that the proper place to worship was in Jerusalem. Samaritans disagreed. Which is why they weren’t jumping for joy at the opportunity of hosting a Jewish rabbi on his way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans had a fundamentalism of their own, which said that if you don’t worship at the right holy place, you can’t be a true messenger of God.

So they rejected Jesus.

Then there’s James and John. Not only were the Samaritans of the wrong people (strike one), and the wrong religion (strike two), they had flat-out rejected Jesus (major strike three). James and John knew that rejecting Jesus is a big no-no, so they must have assumed that Jesus felt the same way about the Samaritans as they did, otherwise why would they imagine that Jesus might go along with their plan to call down fire from heaven and incinerate them?

And notice the way they asked the question, “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven….As Elijah did?”

In the Bible that they read—what Jews today call the Hebrew Scriptures, and what Christians call the Old Testament—Elijah really did call fire down from heaven to consume his enemies.They weren't making that up. The Bible really does say that! (For the curious, the story is found in 2 Kings Chapter 1). But the disciples took the story literally, meaning they believed that the story applied to them in their day in the same way that it applied to another people at another time and place.

And Jesus nailed them for it.

Jesus said, “You don’t know what kind of spirit you are of.”

We see many rejections in this story. The Samaritans rejected Jesus because he worshiped in the “wrong” holy place. The disciples rejected the Samaritans because they rejected Jesus. And Jesus rejected the way his disciples used the Bible to shore up their rejection of the Samaritans.

The disciples read the Bible accurately, but with the wrong spirit. As Jesus said, “The Son of man didn’t come to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.” Is it possible to read the Bible accurately, but with the wrong spirit?

How might people do that today?


Anonymous said...

The Pharisees used religion over the heads of people, you are assuming a fundamentalist has a negative stereotypical personality flaw of using scripture negativesly . It would be saying like He challenged Emergent Christians of the day who chose to pick and choose which scriptures they needed to obey and which ones they chose to ignore . Thus they used the power of the roman government to get what they wanted ,
The Samaritans were an example of the divide and prejudice of that day , why are you not seeking it to learn from it, you attemt to promote it still . Christ reached out and loved the Samaritans , depite their flaws . Some were saved , as the women from the Well . Historically Christian churches came into being after the Resurrection in the Samaritan towns . Rome of course was part of the worlds system , the Christian Faith increased despite it , not because of the power the Fundamentalist or Emergents gave to Rome .

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Hi Mick,

Thank you for your comment. If you've read my writings for a while, you'd see that I've also been critical of the way Emergent-types sometimes use Scripture, emphasizing the social dimension of the gospel at the expense of emphasizing the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. I'm an equal opportunity offender!

As far as "picking and choosing" as you say, the problem with your response is that you seem to imply that it's only Emergent-type Christians who "pick and choose." I would argue that EVERYBODY reads the Bible selectively---whether Emergent or Fundamentalist. I would even argue that reading the Bible selectively isn't always a bad thing (though, obviously, it can be some times). The real question is: what is the criteria for picking and choosing.

Jesus also did some "picking and choosing" of his own, sometimes even omitting key phrases in a passage to reflect his agenda......but that's a whole other discussion for another day.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if you got that understanding of only Emergent picking and choosing. The lesson of the Pharisees I believe is for ALL of us. Denominations pick and choose often what their pet sins are and what their main focus is also . Religion is often what is left after the Holy Spirit has left the Building .

Ever debate a theological disagreement with another , all of a sudden the very belief in that theology you hold that you believe help you Know the Living Christ tter has become a weapon to prove another wrong . The same belief you normally would use to uplift a Brother , your using the knowledge of it to win an argument .

My point is your speaking to a left of center audience , especially at Sojo , and your critical of a group they identify with as being selfish , greedy , against womens health care , etc .

When I am challenged in my church , our Pastor will use elements of the Sermon that directly challenges me , not critize another group of believers . The message of Christ is dying to one self , and living through Him . Its not pointing out the sins and short comings of others ,epecially those who politically disagree with us , so we can say how great ourselves are .

Your belief that I was implying in fact shows this , we all fall short . perhaps that is a Fundamentalist belief ? ;0)
But your belief I was implying also shows perhaps what I am finding disagreement with your understanding here. Your perspective , mine , is based on what Our life experiences, the teachers we have had , our success and failure. Our Bibical undersdtanding is based on the reformation , in fact being an Evangelical perhaps its why we have so many denominations , we started by protesting the Catholics . We protested our way to thousands of denominations .

The message of the Pharisees was not against Fundamentalist , it was using God to achive our own personal agenda . This could be politics, this could be self glory , their are many things we sometimes use God for . At least i have . And I don;t think I want to , Because God has Given me so much !! He loved Me first .


Aaron D. Taylor said...

Hi Mick,

Thank you for your clarifications. It sounds like we mostly agree, and are maybe talking past each other a little. Like I said, I've been very critical of a lot of what comes out under "emergent" theology, and I've voiced some of those criticisms on Sojourners!

Also, with this article being on my blog and all, almost everyone of my actual flesh and blood friends and family are of the "fundamentalist" type, so me putting this blog out here, and on Face Book, I'm also speaking to that side as well.

Having said that, I totally agree with what you said about when people debate theological positions, it's often more about being right than edifying a brother or sister in Christ. But that goes back to a question I raise in my article, doesn't it? Reading the Bible accurately, but with the wrong spirit?

I think that everyone, to some degree or another, reads the Bible selectively to suit their own agendas. Anyone that thinks they don't is (mostly) delusional.

Sometimes reading the Bible selectively can be a good thing. I would even would argue that Jesus read the Bible selectively.

Sometimes it can be a negative thing.

Thank you for the discussion!