Friday, February 20, 2015

Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine

A friend of mine reminded me of this hymn recently. Although not one of my favorites it is one that I like. But I have a problem with it. 

Jesus is not mine and the idea that he might be possessed by anyone is not only bad theology but dangerous. That be a redundant statement. Bad theology is always dangerous, but this piece of bad theology is very dangerous. 

Believing that Jesus is somehow my possession leads very quickly to the belief that I have the whole truth, that I am right and everyone else is wrong. If I am relatively powerless this delusion may only make my friends uncomfortable. If I have power, especially military power, this delusion can be deadly.
It is this delusion that has become deadly with the so-called Islamic State. But it is also this delusion we encounter among some Christians who not only claim that they know Jesus but act like they know him perfectly. When you put it that way it's obvious that they are deluded. We can never know another human person perfectly, so how can we know Jesus perfectly? How can we claim to know, with no possibility of error, the answer to WWJD? (What would Jesus do?)
Recognizing that we are not infallible, that our understanding of the truth is always gong to be in some measure wrong, is an important virtue for Christians - and everyone else - in this age. What if the church, as the Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall wrote thirty years ago, "began to understand that it really does not possess any truth? What if it began on earnest to think of itself as being possessed by a truth that forever eludes it?" (Has the Church a Future? p. 106) If, as we Christians confess, Jesus is the Truth, then Hall is right in asserting that our "ideas and doctrines and theological explanations" of Jesus are not the truth. They are, at best, glimpses of the truth, like things seen through a glass darkly, and they are, at worst, self-serving attempts to hijack Jesus, to claim divine sanction for our own desires.
The kind of humility which I think we need does not mean that we have to stop bearing witness to the Gospel, to stop speaking and acting as Christians. Far from it. It is arrogance and not boldness that we need to avoid. The awareness that we may well be wrong should not stop us from acting or speaking boldly. It should, however, compel us to listen after we speak, to reflect after we act, and to stand ready to change. We need to trust the promise that we find in John 16:13. "When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." Trust it as a promise, as something that is already happening, but is not completed.  


Robert Stuhlmann said...

Hi Dan, The writer of that hymn isFanny Cosby, of NYC and Bridgeport, CT. She was blind from her youth and became a respected and popular Methodist Evangelist at the turn of the last Century.

We recognize her in our
Calendar. I suspect that for Fanny and for many who listened to her, it was that prime and personal relationship that was a source of her rock bottom faith and creativity.

I agree that we can turn anything around and forge it into a bad theology. Except maybe the real love of God and our neighbors.

Thanks for thinking about these things for me. Blessings my friend. Bob Stuhlmann

Chris H. said...

I agree that bad theology is easy to create and it can be hard to undo. I'm not sure that Episcopalians are less inclined to "possess" Christ. They just use a different form and language to do it. In TEC's case I think it's in the Baptismal Rite. Go through the ceremony and Christ is yours. He's then obligated to save you, take you to heaven, etc.(if you're naïve enough to believe in that stuff). No matter what you believe or do, as long as the ceremony is done, you're all good. That's a form of possession, isn't it? Same thing with ordination, it's indelible, whether the priest believes in traditional points of Christianity or not. Problem is, I don't see that in Christ's teachings/parables--there were a lot of people and things that died or got turned away after starting well.