Here’s what I’m talking about. Today in our Kansas City paper, a prominent mega-church pastor wrote a little column answering the question, “How far should Christian tolerance of other faiths go?” Of course, he was set up, really. Using the red-flag-raising word “tolerance” isn’t really fair, since the word begs definition and clarifying before anyone can talk about it. Plus they only have him a few inches of newspaper space to answer, and I’m sure that if had been given sufficient room, he would have said more.
He first makes a helpful if unnecessary distinction between “tolerance” and “love” – meaning that while we love everyone, we don’t necessarily need to tolerate them. With this distinction, we can already see where he is headed. He writes, “We know that the God’s Word is true [sic]. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the bedrock of the Christian faith. Anything more, anything less, any alternative religious system cannot also be true.”
(Wait, “anything more?” Huh?)
He goes on to say that although we Christians love everyone, “it is not our place” to “choose which things are true or false.” And that (here it comes … are you ready?) since “Jesus himself” says he is the truth (quoting John 14:6), “who are we to say differently?”
Here is a strictly hypothetical conversation:
Me: You are a Christian, huh?
Mega-Church Pastor: Yes, sir!
Me: Hey, me too! That’s great. So that means you believe Jesus is the truth, right?
MCP: Yes, absolutely.
Me: Hey that’s cool. Can I ask how you know that?
MCP: Because he says he is.
Me: (awkward pause to consider the logical flow of the conversation) But how do you KNOW that what he is saying is true?
MCP: Because he is the truth.
Me: And … let’s see…how do you know he’s the truth? Oh yeah, you know that because he says he is, right?
MCP: That’s what I wrote in my column, and I’m sticking to it!
My point is not so much that this one pastor might have said more about Jesus-as-truth had he been given sufficient time and space to do so. (Not to mention what exactly he meant by “anything more” than the Gospel – like, God?) My point is that people read this column and think, “What in the world? Why would I ever want to be a part of something so irrelevant to my life? I am seeking purpose, meaning, I want something to live for, I want something that will make sense! I had better look somewhere other than the church to find that, I guess.”
And thus there is all the more work to do for people of faith who want to share the Gospel of Christ with our neighbors in a way that doesn’t resort to self-referential jargon to accomplish that mission.
In the meantime, I found this while preparing tomorrow’s sermon:
“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19, emphasis added)
There we go! Maybe Christian epistemology is a worthless endeavor after all, Tim Sisk! That which we are seeking to know surpasses knowledge itself. Reminds me of something Brian McClaren wrote, “One doesn’t learn what God is like in a library or pew and then begin to love God in real life. One begins to love God and others in real life. In the process one learns what God is like – and one might be driven to the library and pew to learn more. Anyone who doesn’t embark on the adventure of love doesn’t know God at all, whatever he can say or define or delineate, for God is love” (Generous Orthodoxy, 207). I marked that one in my margin!
Or something Linus said to Charlie Brown once, "To know me is to love me!" But maybe when God says it it is, "To love me is to know me."