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Recently, Loma Linda University used the slogan “Jesus. All.” to brand a series of worship services. Apparently it’s also the headline of a reform-type movement within the Seventh-Day Adventist church. It’s one of those phrases so firmly reflective of Christian tradition that, to Christians, it is incontrovertible. Upon closer, more objective examination, however, the statement falls down.
Mentioning the name of Jesus immediately excludes everyone who isn’t a “Christ-ian.” This is the basis of the whole evangelical and mission movement: converting people from other belief systems to Christianity, so that they may be saved. What’s the rationale for this? As in other faiths, the Bible, the Christian book, predictably says in John 14:6 that its hero, Jesus, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through him.
That quote sounds straightforward. Nevertheless, I believe that everything in religious texts, including the Bible, needs to be critically evaluated to see if it actually makes sense. If Jesus is indeed the only way, how exactly do we use him to get to the Father? Ask him politely? He’s not here anymore, so that’s out. Christians say that we must accept his sacrifice of death and subsequent resurrection as sufficient to pave our way to heaven. Accept Jesus and be saved!
But what comes next? This acceptance, or some other symbol of it, like baptism, is that all we need? Can I do that and go on to do whatever destructive behavior I please, secure in the knowledge that I’m already saved? The Calvinist doctrine of “once saved, always saved” claims just that, and is rejected by most other Christian sects.
No, it seems that one’s actions must factor into the equation somewhere. A belief without action is worthless, as James expounds in chapter 2 of his book. So it appears that believing in Jesus but not living in the way he instructed is no good, which brings us back to the original problem. It seems to me that what Jesus meant was that the positively interacting lifestyle he demonstrated is the way to the Father, thus, those that attempt to emulate him are living the kind of life God wants to see.
From this, it follows that belief in Jesus as a divine savior is not necessary, as one can live in the way he instructed without believing he was divine, or even knowing much about his existence. To me, this makes more sense. If God is asking who’s on the nice list for paradise, would he not chose those who have shown that they are striving to make the world a better place, flawed as they are? Presented with someone who has dedicated their life to the service of others, as Jesus himself did, will God reject them simply because their cultural background prevented them from seeing Jesus as anything particularly special? That doesn’t seem like the Just and Loving God that Christians profess to believe in.
I can see Christians jumping to their feet to claim that I am arguing for “salvation by works,” but that, too, is false. It is ridiculous to believe that one could earn their way to heaven. Honestly, what mortal could truly impress a deity? Like Kant says, what matters is the intent, that the person is trying to follow the right path, not how well they succeed. If learning about the life of Jesus helps one to live a better life, more power to them. However, they should not fall prey to the idea that following him in name is a requirement.
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