I’ve had conversations with people over the years who take issue with where the church is, ideologically, today. My first response to that tends to not be in defense of any bad behavior in “the church” but rather a reminder to consider the good that comes from the church, or body of believers. Like any group, business, or government, there will always be good and bad. And focusing on the bad often causes people to want to toss the good out with the bad. I am concerned with how people want to claim a relationship with, or a love for Jesus outside of a Biblical worldview. Said another way, they feel they love Jesus, but they don’t really like the church or the Bible.
I understand that some might read what I am about to write, and choose to fall further away from the faith. I would propose that I am not creating opportunity to help people move to a bad place but rather bringing more clarity to the lines already drawn on the ground where people are already standing but maybe don't realize.
First, is it Biblical to draw lines?
I would say, yes, but it depends on the line you are attempting to draw. The whole idea here is that we are observing lines, and hopefully nobody is trying to draw new lines. We just might disagree where those delineations are, actually. Joshua 24:14-15 gives us part of the answer to the question. Joshua poses the statement to his group, “It’s time to choose who you will serve” in verse 15. That is a proverbial line. More importantly he qualifies what it means to “serve” in verse 14. So, in identifying that drawn line he points out that the "act of serving" is not subjective. The choice is personal, but not subjective. Which leads me to the point of this post. Is the character and personality of Jesus up for subjective interpretation outside of a Biblical understanding of Jesus? Said another way, can a description of Jesus that contradicts the Bible be the Christian/historical Jesus? And on the other side of that relationship, if there is a Biblical view of Jesus, is there a Biblical view of what it means to “love Jesus” in terms of similar qualifying nonsubjective descriptives?
Let’s start with a philosophical analogy: could you love the “real Abraham Lincoln” while rejecting the bulk of historical work about who Abraham Lincoln is and what he said or believed? This is a tricky question. There will be plenty of people in the world who hate God because of a negative childhood experience they attributed to God. But most adults would say you need to reexamine that child’s world view through adult glasses now and see if the accusation leveraged against God lines up with the Biblical and true experience of the character of God. So, said another way, people will always put characteristics on other people based on their experience, but that doesn’t mean those characteristics are true. You can look at a comedian and assume they are happy all of time, but you would likely be wrong. To get a better picture you might want to consult their close family, or things they have written about themself. The same is true of Jesus. You may have a subjective view of the character of Jesus, but the only authoritative record we have of the character of Jesus was recorded by the early church. At the minimum, that record is either correct and we have a measure by which to judge our experience of or desire for who Jesus is, or it is incorrect at which point we have no measure by which to measure or view the attributes of Jesus.
Here is where, philosophically, we get really serious, so let’s take a look at the first drawn line:
If we believe in and search to understand the Biblical Jesus, then we align with the Christian Jesus. If we do not wrestle with and desire to understand the Biblical Jesus, then we are not aligning with the Christian Jesus.
What does it mean to not align with the Christian Jesus?
Consider that a number of other world religions have written about Jesus. All of these worldviews were written hundreds of years after Jesus ascended to be with the Father in heaven, but they exist nonetheless. For example you can find Jesus written about in the Koran of the Islamic faith. You can find a worldview of Jesus in the Ahmadiyya movement. The Bahai faith movement writes about Jesus as well. Early jewish historians also wrote about Jesus. And none of those views on Jesus agree with the Christian view or each other.
So what is different between a modern non-Biblical Jesus versus another faith’s view of Jesus?
If people read the Bible and reject the statements made about Jesus in order to paint a different worldview of Jesus, then there is no difference. That is exactly what these other religions have done. It is one thing to disagree with an interpretation of a Biblical view of some attribute of Jesus and provide another respected interpretation of those same scriptures. It is an entirely different case to simply leave out or reject Biblical text in order to embrace a view not supported by some reasonable interpretation of a Biblical view of Jesus. If someone is doing that, they are aligning more with a new world religion than they are wrestling with reasonable Biblical interpretations of who Jesus is. Said another way, that Jesus wouldn’t be considered a Christian Biblical Jesus.
What about alternate Biblical interpretations that paints a different view of Jesus?
I hear people discuss what Jesus meant when he said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” in Matthew 22:20-21. To embrace that teaching means embracing a value that Jesus wanted us to embrace. This scripture is interpreted in one of two ways:
The government is due our taxes. They deserve them. God is validating the good that comes from government taxation and oversight.
Jesus was looking at the face on the coin, which was caesar’s face and saying if caesar claims this coin, then sure, give it to him. The rest belongs to God. That scripture is more about giving God priority than making “respecting world governments or serving and honoring God” a zerosum game.
At the same time, if someone started claiming Jesus is achieving his love in the earth through government entitlement programs and so we should “give caesar what is caesar’s” I would say that doesn’t line up with that scripture. Now that is a pretty benign example of warping a scripture. But at other times, and using other scriptures to create arbitrary value-conflicts actually attempts to devalue a Biblical worldview rather than wrestle with understanding how it all fits together. For example permitting all behavior subjectively acceptable to the speaker because “God is love and would a loving Jesus care about issue X really?” might specifically defy scriptures where Jesus often addressed sin head on and told people to “go and sin no more”.
A Biblical worldview tries to understand how it fits together rather than pitting it against itself by applying postmodern values.
What if it really conflicts?
People often quote the “God is love” scripture to justify all kinds of human behavior. At the same time the Bible rejects certain behavior the modern world chooses to call “love”. So the real conflict is between a Biblical view of “love” versus a postmodern definition of “love”. So when they say “But God is love. How could love be wrong?” what is really being said (manifestly or accidentally) is “My definition of love is right, and the Bible is wrong, and I want you to agree with me.” All of that to say, I think the definitions are more often what conflict, as opposed to the scriptures.
Finally, what if people “love Jesus” but not the Biblical Jesus?
I think this is where everything comes together in an albeit challenging way to the human soul. The Jesus of the Bible makes things fairly clear by giving us a definition for the act of loving Jesus in John 14:23...
The one who has/keeps Jesus commandments/precepts is the one who loves Jesus.
So, Biblical love for Jesus is exemplified by action and that action is “following Jesus directions” (translation from the greek word Tereo [Strong's 5083] ). And we get those directions from the Bible. But there is also a huge blessing in this scenario. Jesus goes on to say that those who express this love will also be loved by the Father, and Jesus will express an equally invested love back to that individual and manifestly bring a greater revelation of Himself. Think about that for a moment. The more you invest in actively loving Jesus by honoring the revelations he brought us in the Bible (Jesus called this the lightest burden we could ever figuratively carry) the more he will reveal Himself to that person. This is what is meant by having a “personal relationship with Jesus” in the Christian sense within the context of the Bible.
Throughout scripture we see people relating to God on their own terms outside of a faith relationship to God and imagining it working out. I am referring to Cain in Genesis 4:5 where it explicitly says that God did not prefer the offering Cain brought and so Cain got selfrighteous and arrogant about his preferences. Then in Matthew 7:21-23 it says that many people will someday do various things that seem like they are taking care of God’s business, but Jesus says to those people, “I never knew you.” The important Greek word here is Ginosko [Strong's 1097] which conceptually means “I don’t have the continuity of a long direct personal relationship with you.” Jesus goes on to say, “Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness”. The phrase “practice [Strong's 2038] lawlessness [Strong's 458]” from the Greek means “people generating unrighteousness” which basically theologically means “not doing the right way Jesus commanded”. So Jesus basically says here, “You, like cain, did what you wanted and not what I asked, and you didn’t even check with me because we aren’t close. So, no you can’t join me. You are busying not doing what I instructed you to do.” All of this to say, if what he instructs us to do is a light burden (Matthew 11:30) and paying attention and investing in what Jesus said as recorded in the Bible is important to you, then I believe the blessings of embracing the Biblical Jesus outweighs whatever other benefits might exist in crafting another worldview of Jesus.
POST NOTE: For those who feel i am venturing dangerously close to a "works justifcation" gospel, I am not. God provides, through Jesus, the righteousness. We are saved by grace, through faith. But I do not believe the result is subjective chaos and values, especially in the context of other scriptures to do with the commands of Jesus. Pursuing the commands of Christ does not violate the need for righteousness through faith. And righteousness through faith does not violate the request to do the commandments.