One of the greatest temptations for a pastor, or theologian, or professional student of theology, or theological professor, or really just about any follower of Jesus is the temptation to come up with the latest and greatest theological insight or idea. More often these attempts at “wisdom and wit” do nothing to give encouragement or strength to those on their journey with Jesus. Instead they become (sometimes well-meaning but no less destructive) traps and snares to the orthodox (true) faith that has been passed down since the time of the Apostles.
Below are a few of the more shocking and in your face examples (reader beware)
1. Was Jesus Intersex? – The author makes the argument that we can’t really know whether or not Jesus was a man physically speaking.
2. Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness? – This author asserts that sin is not in the world as a result of Adam and Eve’s original act of defiance and disobedience, but that it is a natural result of our evolution over time.
3. Did Jesus Physically Rise from the Dead? – This author claims that there was no physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but that he was “experienced” in some way by his followers after his death.
All three articles above were written by people claiming to be true followers of Jesus. And they aren’t alone. When it comes to “new” ideas like these you don’t need a degree in Biblical studies to see the devil in them from a mile away. You simply need to know the Bible. If the Jesus portrayed in these “new” ideas is different than the Jesus revealed in the Gospels and letters of the Apostles then don’t give them a second’s thought. Unfortunately, the temptation to innovate and to “help” God out has always existed, and will continue to exist until Jesus comes again.
C.S. Lewis masterfully captured the spirit of this age in his book The Great Divorce. This chasing after the newest idea shines through in a conversation between a soul in heaven and a soul in hell. Both of these men in their former lives had been theologians and had strayed from the faith that they had been taught in their endless quest for the latest and greatest new theological idea. One of those souls repented, while the other did not.
The conversation begins with the soul in hell not even aware that he had been in hell.
“Excuse me. Where do you imagine you’ve been?”
“Ah, I see. You mean that the grey town with its continual hope of morning (we must all live by hope, must we not?), with its field for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it? That is a beautiful idea.”
“I didn’t mean that at all. Is it possible you don’t know where you’ve been?”
“Now that you mention it, I don’t think we ever do give it a name. What do you call it?”
“We call it Hell.”
“There is no need to be profane, my dear boy. I may not be very orthodox, in your sense of that word, but I do feel that these matters ought to be discussed simply, and seriously, and reverently.”
“Discuss Hell reverently? I meant what I said. You have been in Hell.”
Then, after a short back and forth about whether God actually punishes people for their honest opinions, their dialogue continues:
“Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?”
“There are indeed, Dick. There is hidebound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed-they are not sins.”
“I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions.”
“Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk.”
“What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came-popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?”
Even after denying Jesus’ resurrection the soul in hell refuses to see how far astray he has gone.
“Will you, even now, repent and believe?”
“Well, that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances… I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness-and scope for the talents that God has given me-and an atmosphere of free inquiry-in short, all that one means by civilisation and-er-the spiritual life.”
“No,” said the other. “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.”
“Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? ‘Prove all things’ . . . to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.”
“If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for…You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.”
“If we cannot be reverent, there is at least no need to be obscene. The suggestion that I should return at my age to the mere factual inquisitiveness of boyhood strikes me as preposterous. In any case, that question-and-answer conception of thought only applies to matters of fact. Religious and speculative questions are surely on a different level.”
“We know nothing of religion here: we think only of Christ. We know nothing of speculation. Come and see. I will bring you to Eternal Fact, the Father of all other fact-hood.”
At the end of their talk the soul from hell interrupts his friend with the latest and greatest new theological insight he has had;
“Which reminds me. . . . Bless my soul, I’d nearly forgotten. Of course I can’t come with you. I have to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little Theological Society down there. Oh yes! there is plenty of intellectual life…But you’ve never asked me what my paper is about! I’m taking the text about growing up to the measure of the stature of Christ and working out an idea which I feel sure you’ll be interested in. I’m going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he’d lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste … so much promise cut short.“
At the end of the day, the job that all followers of Jesus have is simple. We are sent into this world full of hurting people, trapped in their sin, with the good news that in Jesus, God has come down. His death on the cross paid the penalty of our sin and the brokenness that it wrought in our lives and the world around us. We confess that, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” We confess that this forgiveness through Jesus comes freely as a gift of God, not as a result of any action or desire on our part.
Innovation isn’t required. Repeating the good news in Jesus that never grows old, which has been handed down in the two thousand years since His death and resurrection, that is what you and I as followers of Jesus are called to do. God’s many blessings as you live as His ambassador. And in the meantime please continue to as the apostle John reminds us, “test the spirits.”
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done.’ and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'”
– C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce