Monday, April 13, 2009

Must One Believe Jesus is the Son of God to Follow Him?

Easter is one of the Big Two High Days in the Christian calendar. It is like the Super Bowl, the Stanly Cup & the World Series all rolled into one. It is a Big Deal. It is on Easter we celebrate the Son of God rising from the dead. Pretty simple idea but a really big deal since it is the cornerstone of our belief.

I ran across this article from The Ooze by Tim Timmons. Interesting idea that says one does not have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God to follow him. In fact, Timmons even says it is a myth that one must do that in order to be a follower.

When I first read the title, I nearly blew a gasket. My Baptist roots just about had me wanting to perform a Pentecostal healing service, complete with an open palm to the forehead. Actually it was an innate desire for the open palm & less healing service, but that is something I'm dealing with.

Then I read the article. I noticed how carefully Timmons chose his words. And I noticed how not so carefully most of the people who left comments didn't read the article.

Timmons position is that there are three stages of following Jesus:

  1. Jesus is followed because He is so flawless and attractive—unimpeachable. This is the moral follower who sees in Jesus an exemplary life & desires to emulate that.
  2. Then as you follow this attractive Jesus, you will begin to embrace His lifestyle, teachings and principles and find them to be very practical and meaningful for your life. Moving past the morality of behavior, one enters into the ethic of the internal attitude. Much harder to do as it moves past the legalist mindset.
  3. Finally, as you continue to follow this Jesus and find His teachings meaningful, you will at some point discover your Creator-God. You will experience transformation of your heart and your mind and see Jesus as the Son of God.

I found it an interesting argument, since it is quite clear from the text that were indeed many who followed Jesus at various times who never believed he was the Son of God. But let's be clear as to what Timmons
is not saying: he is not saying those who don't believe Jesus is the Son of God have had that transformation where they are New Creatures. Not at all. Timmons carefully said that many follow Jesus but never come to the realization of Who he really is. There is a morality they follow: there is an ethic they may even claim. However, it is not until they come to realize the miracle of the Incarnation, ultimately proven by the resurrection, do they enter that unique relationship of being Co-Heirs with Christ.

Maybe one of the reasons the church is lack luster in its efforts is that we have failed in emulating Jesus in the task of fishing for men. Jesus was constantly teaching, explaining, interacting with, & just generally
living among all men. He cast a wide net & worked with all regardless of their level of faith. Too often the church refuses people on Stage 1 or Stage 2 by pressing them to come immediately to Stage 3. Timmons points out that maybe Stage 3 takes more time for some than it does others. When Jesus called James & John, it had been at least a year of their listening to him, learning of him, growing to like him, before he called them to be disciples.

The lesson here is this: Stage 3 of Faith --- salvific faith --- may take time & we need to begin cultivating that growth in order to make genuine faith come to fruition. Instead of stopping these Stage 1 & Stage 2 followers from their journey, the church needs to embrace them where they are & assist them on their discipleship journey. This doesn't mean we make them church leaders or even welcome them as members of the church. It does mean we need to welcome them as learners of Christ. It means we welcome them as part of the community of faith, albeit on the fringe. It means we tenderly encourage them; gently rebuke them; & conscientiously warn them lest apostasy be their lot.

Maybe the church should learn of Jesus again. His method of discipleship turned the world upside down, after all.

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