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Here’s Stuart Murray treating that same “domestication” problem.**
Obviously their founder could not be airbrushed out of the story altogether. But the life and teaching of Jesus could be reappraised, neutered, and domesticated.
Ah, that word, “domesticated.” Does it mean we don’t believe? Stuart lists 5 “ingenious ways of evading”, for example, the challenge of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5,6,7). (I have added summary “titles” for each of Murray’s five strategies.)
“Some insisted it was mandatory for the clergy and the monks but beyond the reach of most Christians.”
“Others said it did not refer to the present age but described life in the coming kingdom of God.”
“Many suggested it applied only to the private sphere, not to public life in the empire.”
“Another interpretation offered reassurance that it was not meant to be obeyed but to show the impossibility of obedience and so throw you back on the grace of God.”
“Or perhaps it applied only to interior attitudes, not to outward behavior, so that it was possible to love the enemies into whom yo were thrusting your sword.”
Of course these excuses are used broadly, not just for the Sermon on the Mount. Have you ever used one of those avoidance techniques, either for yourself or as a guide for someone else? Hmm. Maybe not a good idea. Oh, and I’d add another.
6. Just Ignore It!
Of course! The easiest and most common method. Just completely ignore his teaching as wild-eyed, idealistic, impractical, hurts-your-head stuff, not worth getting into or worrying about. Or at least just way over your head. He “died for our sins” and that’s all we need to know. Right? Right?
Easy application! Preach in a way that requires people to “receive” Jesus into their life, or hearts, or somewhere – BUT don’t worry about him bringing with himself his crazy ideas! “Lord, you’re nice and all, and I really appreciate your sacrifice for me. But PLEASE stop talking! That is SO irrelevant.”
Would that, if someone talked to you that way, feel to you like love, or respect, or worship, or obedience, or following? I doubt it. Why do we suppose Jesus would see it as the love, believing-in, faith, trust, we imagine we are bringing to him?
Instead we preach a message that requires people to “receive” Jesus while evacuating the word “receive” of meaning! What does “receive” actually mean the way we practice it in this context? It means say a few nice, somewhat humbling words. It does not mean to bring his radical ideas and his radical love into our lives, worlds, and thoughts. Sometimes it means to offer that cooperative respect to some current self-proclaimed “Church” or “preacher of the Gospel”. Such reconfigurations have to be misleading, don’t you think?
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do WHAT I SAY?” The one who LISTENS is like a wise man building his house on a rock. Jesus said it clearly, precisely in the context of his teaching. But, as with “receive,” we evacuate “listen” of meaning. It functionally means listen only to the wild over-simplification we have fabricated of his life and teaching – all people have to do is “believe” – no following, respect, or listening required.
Can one claim to have faith in a Personality of such magnitude without respecting him, his thoughts, his priorities?
It is so Blatant!
I bring it up because it is so BLATANT! “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say,” and “the wise man builds his house upon the rock” (of his teaching) – these are Jesus’ application sections of the “Sermon on the Plain” (Luke 6) and the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 7). Suppose he actually meant to say those things? Perhaps he meant that “the Gospel” is wrapped up in those sometimes enigmatic or indirect – but sometimes very clear and direct – sayings of his. Maybe to “believe in Him” includes respecting his thinking?!
If we claim to have a reliable Scripture (“inerrant”!!), perhaps we should rely on some of it a bit more.
(See “Jefferson’s Holy Scissors” on how his respect for Christ surpasses that of many self-styled Christians today.)
**My notes say this 5-point list is from Stuart Murray, but I can’t find it. In his Post-Christendom, though, there are some valuable thoughts on “Christendom’s” need for “marginalising Jesus” (p121ff).