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Monday, October 17, 2011

Being saved by Jesus vs. teaching about Jesus

I recently listened to a fascinating conversation between two Ph.D.'s -- one a Christian and one a Mormon (understanding that the labels are always difficult, but these get the idea across) -- who genuinely like each other and talked at length about how their traditions view Jesus. It was an excellent conversation that surprised me in many ways. (You can hear the conversation here -- scroll down to the bottom of the page and look for Gerald McDermott and Robert Millet.)

One of the things that took me by surprise was Millet's (he's the LDS guy, teaches at Brigham Young University) passion for Jesus. He talked about his personal faith in Jesus and I am convinced after this conversation that if I am saved by my relationship with Jesus, so is Robert Millet. He has as much passion for and trust in Jesus as I do.

It struck me then that it is totally different to know Jesus than it is to teach about him. Millet obviously knows Jesus in the sense that he has what is sometimes called a "saving faith" in Jesus. But he teaches inaccurately about him because he bases part of his teaching on sources Mormons accept but Christians do not -- the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price -- in addition to the New Testament. So while his faith in Jesus is admirable, he teaches his students things that cannot be reconciled with the biblical witness about who Jesus is.

The New Testament itself recognizes the responsibility that comes with teaching. James 3 includes the warning that not many people should become teachers, specifically because we who teach will be judged more strictly. In Matthew 18 Jesus warns that those who cause others to sin -- and I think inaccurate teaching certainly falls into this category -- will be judged severely.

The fact is, Jesus casts a pretty wide net for those he comes to save. Read the gospels, and you see Jesus dragging in everyone who doesn't out and out reject him. Tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, even a few religious professionals are welcomed into his circle. The book of Acts likewise shows people who have inaccurate knowledge about Jesus being welcomed into the fellowship of the church and gently corrected.

There is a great responsibility, though, for those who teach about Jesus to know what they are teaching, to examine their sources, and to teach the truth. There are so many errors out there today about Jesus and what it means to follow him. Many of the classic heresies have gotten all dressed up and come to the party here in the 21st century. We have also inherited some serious errors from our own Christian tradition as it has been filtered through the Enlightenment and our modern sensibilities. I am certainly not arrogant enough to think that my teaching is without error -- as one wag put it, I'm sure that one third of what I teach you is wrong. I just don't know which third that is. But we need to strive to teach in accordance with the biblical witness about Jesus without rationalizing or compromising it.

In the coming elections, it's clear that Mormonism will be a debating point for some. I am not worried about the personal faith of any candidate -- I'm more concerned about their competence to be in executive power in this country. I don't want any candidate, Christian or otherwise, to set up a religious state. God forbid. It encourages me in the discussion above to hear Millet express his passion for Jesus. That passion tells me that many within Mormonism may have a knowledge of Jesus by which they might be brought into a saving relationship with God. However, I don't want people to start thinking that Mormonism, with its dubious origins, is an orthodox form of Christianity. As teachers, we need to be clear and careful about the legitimacy of our source material.

1 comment:

  1. It can be difficult to separate the individual from the believes of their church, but I agree with your post. Lately, I have been troubled by a teaching known as Open Theism. I'd be interested in your take if you'd care to share. Thanks!