Jesus as an Exemplar Reduced to a Principle of Love: Miscellanies on Christian Social Engagement, Human Sexuality, and Holiness

I have just been having a very messy discussion on Facebook with my daughter’s former youth pastor in regard to homosexuality and how Christians ought to relate to homosexuals. His tact was to write a series of posts on Facebook affirming the homosexual community, showing pictures of his own finger nails painted, and melding the lines between how Christians should be accepting of the gay community. He has since claimed, after I pressed him, that he does believe the lifestyle is ultimately sinful, but then his social media presence on this seems to contradict his assertion (most recently he posted a bunch of pictures of him bar hopping with gay friends from gay bar to gay bar eventuating with him watching a drag-queen show with Rupaul). This he claims is Jesus’ way, and how Jesus showed his love to the world; the implication being that if Jesus had a social media account he would be posting pictures like this, without any explanation other than ‘I’m with my new family’, with the reality being that young people (in his former youth group) would be impressed with this picture of God’s love. I finally challenged this former youth pastor, and predictably received all kinds of erroneous push back; one guy even said ‘people who reject you [former youth pastor] are not even of Christ and can expect to have their flesh eaten by the gorging birds on the last day.’ Apparently, I’m on my way to hell because I’ve challenged the approach of this former youth pastor (who was ultimately fired from his position at the church my daughter attends), and his doubling down in this area.

My final response in that thread underscored the reality that we see plaguing much of North American evangelicalism; the most recent example we have is Andy Stanley. There is a Marcionite-like detachment of Jesus Christ from his Old Testament context; a context that provided for someone like John the Baptist to be the forerunner of the Prophet who Moses said would follow after him (cf. Deut. 13; 18). In another discussion, with reference to the way Jesus is conceived of in secular England, my friend Alex Irving (who lives in the UK) wrote this:

Public life needs to talk about Jesus but doesn’t quite like doing it. So, what we do is to treat Jesus as a moral exemplar rather than a representative. Then there is a clever shift where the emphasis shifts from Jesus to the moral principle being exampled (love, peace, &c.) and Jesus gets abstracted from view.[1]

This typifies, in many ways, the up-and-coming generation of evangelicals; it is an approach to Christ that reduces Jesus to an idea or principle, which then gets abstracted further into social causes and activities that ultimately have nothing to do with the living Christ who is Lord, but instead have everything to do with the way we have projected the Christ to be based upon the ‘spirit of our age’ (Ludwig Feuerbach has helpful critique here).

This I would contend is the spirit this former youth pastor and his uninformed friends work from, and it is a mind-set that I believe needs to be challenged. There is no doubt that homosexuals need to be ministered to with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the way to do that is by telling them the truth, as we tell ourselves the truth; that Jesus is Lord, and we are not. That we are all sinners every day of our lives and we need to ‘repent’ and change course in line with our participation and union with Jesus Christ (unio cum Christo). Surely this former youth pastor has many compatriots in the greater world out there, but I would contend based upon a sober exegesis of Holy Scripture that he has no basis for what he is engaging in as that is related to heavenly reality grounded in its human reality in Jesus Christ. God loves us, indeed, the incarnation makes this more than clear. The love of God in the Incarnation also constrains us to recognize that the very virtue of his assumption of flesh confronts us in our sins, and then offers a new way of life in his recreated humanity accomplished in the resurrection and the ongoing priestly session he works for us at the Right Hand of the Father. The bottom line is that Jesus is not a community’s principle, but he is Lord; and in the ultimate and the proximate he tells us to ‘repent, for today is the day of salvation.’

 

[1] Alex Irving, Facebook, accessed 05-22-2018.

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