Today I’d like to continue our conversation about “a new kind of fundamentalism,” as together we seek to not only deconstruct but also reconstruct our perspectives on Christian faith. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I spend more time talking about what my faith is not than I spend talking about what my faith is! For me, trying to identify and focus in on what is truly fundamental to following Jesus represents a first step in the rebuilding process after several years of doubt and deconstruction.
Some context: A few weeks ago, I wrote a post suggesting that love for God and love for people should serve as the most foundational elements of the Christian faith. Later, in a post about Jim Belcher’s Deep Church (and in response to some of your suggestions), I explored the role that traditional Christian creeds should play in defining orthodoxy.
I think I’m beginning to see that in order for Christianity to remain distinct, love must remain fundamental…but the source and model of such love should also be defined. I’ve found 1 John 4 to be particularly helpful in thinking this through. Writes John:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God…
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love…Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God…If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
This is such an interesting passage because, in responding specifically to the threat of Gnosticism, John’s rebuttal carries both confessional/belief elements and love/action elements – and both are described as vital to Christian faith. So, from John’s perspective, true Christians should be identifiable by 1) how they talk about Jesus and 2) how they love.
Most evangelical Christians I know would hold strongly to the first premise, but not the second. I suppose that describing love as fundamental sounds too much like “works-based” salvation to them. But I just don’t see a way around it – Scripturally or practically.
We’ve already discussed what it means to love God and love one’s neighbor, but we’ve only touched on what it means to “confess Jesus.” This can get a little tricky, as Christians seem to have a variety of opinions about what aspects of Jesus’ nature, life, and teachings must be accepted and confessed in order for one’s faith to be considered orthodox...and what aspects of Jesus' nature, life, and teachings are not as important.
John, obviously in response to Gnosticism, specifically emphasized the physical incarnation of Christ.
What else must be emphasized? In addition to loving God and loving others, what must one say ABOUT Jesus Christ in order for you to consider him or her a Christ follower? What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase “confess Jesus”? Might the ancient Christian creeds – particularly the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed – serve an important purpose here? Are some of you getting as uncomfortable as I am about the prospect of this turning into a “who’s in” and “who’s out” conversation? Does that make us hopeless postmoderns? :-)
(I should clarify - I’m focusing here on what is essential to Christianity, not necessarily what is essential for eternal salvation – a distinction some of you might think unnecessary, but a distinction which is probably a good topic for another post!)
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