Representing our Jesus to Their Jesus, A Book Notice April 22, 2010
Todd D. Hunter, Christianity Beyond Belief:
Following Jesus for the Sake of Others. 2009: IVP Press. Author’s website: 3isenough.org.
At first I think I had Todd Hunter mixed up with Joel Hunter of Florida, but Todd Hunter is a native Californian, to which I am partial, now setting up an Anglican AMIA church that meets on the Rock Harbor campus. He bases his book and ministry on four norms:
- “Cooperative friends of Jesus” (not just the r-word – “relationship” – and not bound by Great Commission Utilitiarianism)
- “Living in creative goodness”
- “For the sake of others” (the real meaning of Agape)
- “Through the power of the Holy Spirit” (real news of sanctifying grace)
His website is named from the fact that he believes little groups of three laymen gathered are about the right number to achieve accountable change in the world.
In many ways he seems to be following Dallas Willard. Some of his chapter titles are clever, like “What would you do if you knew you were going to live tomorrow?” He does help correct the imbalances of the past that concentrated on getting people saved and then to heaven: what Dallas Willard calls “gospels of sin management.”
There is one gap that he does not seem to be able to bridge, however. There is another book out entitled They Like Jesus but Not The Church which I should probably read and dwell on this topic more when I discuss it. But I think, based on my observations of letters to the editor and comment threads, that there are two Jesuses at work in our culture. And the one thing that the two Jesuses are agreed on is that we should indeed do radical acts of kindness and mercy. So if we do what Hunter suggests, we will at least impress the devotees of the other Jesus to that degree. But beyond that the two Jesuses are radically different.
- The Jesus of the Bible is God the Son: the other Jesus may well be a Son of God, but of value mainly as a teacher and not as a Redeemer.
- The Jesus of the Bible is about forgiveness of sins, and mercy; the other Jesus is about tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion, with not forgiveness but validation of what the Bible might call sins. But when a sin absolutely cannot be validated, such as ‘political incorrectness,’ ‘racism,’ ‘sexism,’ etc., then there is unfortunately no alternative to excluding the offender.
- The Jesus of the Bible quotes the Bible as if it were authoritative. The other Jesus fundamentally came to destroy and replace the Bible; he destroys the Old Testament, and the Epistles are treasonous distortions of his teaching. Only the “words in red” are authoritative, and the emotional penumbras that emanate from them. (This may be a revenge, because for a long time evangelicals harbored a teaching called Dispensationalism in which the
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ethical teaching of the first three gospels was exported to something called the “kingdom age,” while the “church age,” which we were in, was to rely mainly on the Gospel of John and the Epistles of Paul, except for studying prophecy.)
Good works and acts of kindness and charity are certainly good things to do, and hopefully they will adorn and honor the name of our Jesus. But I think we need something else on top of this – some content – in order to win people from their Jesus, who will not redeem them but only validate them as they are, to our Jesus, who will actually save them for now and eternity.