Beyond Mere Christianity


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  • Beyond Mere Christianity








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    Seven:

    What about Paul?

     

    ‘For
    all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by
    His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’

    The Apostle Paul (Romans 4:23-24)

    ‘Giving thanks
    unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of
    the saints in light, who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath
    translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son, in whom we have redemption
    through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.’

    The Apostle Paul (Colossians 1:12-14)

    When I discuss
    Jesus with mainstream Christians, some questions tend to come up again and
    again. The most common questions sound something like this: ‘What about St.
    Paul? What about all the other great Christian thinkers and theologians and
    scholars who have labored down the centuries and developed great systems of
    thought and great systems of philosophy around accepted Christian theology?
    Doesn’t their work revolve around the idea of Jesus being the only begotten Son
    of God and the sacrifice for mankind? Aren’t you ignoring them?’

    Not at all. It
    is quite impossible to ignore Paul, because he is a gifted rhetorician and a
    theologian of extraordinary and enduring influence. It is equally impossible, however, for a thoughtful Christian to obey
    Paul if Paul is at odds with Jesus.

    Mainstream
    Christianity, following Paul, does in fact tell us that there is a Natural Law
    (also known as a Moral Law)
    an inherent law of wrong and right that
    the vast majority of human beings can perceive plainly, and that they want,
    deep down, to follow. Mainstream Christianity tells us that there is a Law
    reflecting the Divine, a Law that humans cannot possibly expect to obey
    properly without the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. It is because we are sinful, because
    we cannot expect to fulfill the demands upon us, we are told, that we come
    short of the glory of God. This is Paul’s position, and the position at which
    mainstream Christian theology begins.

    Yet even though
    we understand what Paul is saying, we must also understand what Jesus is
    saying.

    Jesus has, as
    we have seen in Chapter Three, a much deeper and richer conception of human
    moral perception than Paul and the other Christian theologians do.

    Jesus
    explicitly rejects, as we have seen in Chapter Five, his own claims on
    divinity. He is clearly a prophet (that is, a messenger from God); he is not himself
    God, and he says so.

    Jesus maintains, as we have seen in
    Chapter Six, that complete submission to the will of God, before death overtakes
    us and we are held accountable for our sins, is the criterion for salvation.

    And we may rest assured that whether we
    are ready now or not to admit this fact to ourselves, or discuss it with
    others, we will ultimately be held accountable for what we know, and what we
    choose to ignore, about the teachings of Jesus.

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    So let us suppose that Paul tells usjust
    as C.S. Lewis and a thousand other great Christian thinkers tell us
    that
    you and I can never, no matter how hard we may try, live up to the demands of
    the Natural Law that God has placed within our hearts.

    Let us suppose that Paul and a thousand
    other great thinkers tell us that God Himself became a human being in order to
    make it possible for us to have those demands met on our behalf.

    Even if Paul and a thousand other great
    thinkers warn us that we are lost if we do not conform our minds to their
    notions of salvation …

    Even if Paul and the others insist on all
    of this, we are bound to listen to Jesus.

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    Jesus overrules Paul, and there simply cannot be any dispute
    on this point … except from people who reject Jesus. This fact has been
    systematically ignored
    and/or purposefully obscuredfor
    two thousand years. So I hope you will forgive me for repeating it here.

    What Paul and
    the others say to us is intriguing and (potentially) very important. However,
    if we do not grant Jesus Christ the final word on matters of ultimate importance,
    we must take a moment to ask ourselves exactly what kind of Christians we are.
    Do we follow men? Or do we follow Christ?

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    It is imperative that we make a conscious effort to compare
    the world view that Jesus presents with the world view that Paul and the others
    present. We cannot assume that the two world views are identical simply because
    we have been raised to believe they are identical. In fact, they are not identical.

    The mere fact that our fathers, mothers,
    grandmothers, and grandfathers (and anyone else who came before them) believed
    something to be the case does not make it so. Jesus and Paul do in fact offer
    very different world views, even if our parents and grandparents did not notice
    this.

    And if the
    world view of Paul is in conflict with the world view of Jesus … then Jesus
    must be granted priority, whether or not that priority is popular.

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    ‘(Jesus)
    said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answering
    said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your
    soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as
    yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly: do this, and you
    shall live.’
    (Luke 10:26-28)

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    Imagine Paul to be correct. Suppose the love of God, love so
    strong that it amounts to complete submission, is not enough to secure
    salvation. Suppose there were another
    requirement for spiritual success than the one mentioned in the Gospel passage
    above.

    Imagine that salvation did demand ‘the redemption that is in
    Christ Jesus’
    (Romans 4:24), ‘redemption
    through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.’
    (Colossians 1:14)

    Imagine salvation did require God Himself to take human form and shed His blood in
    order to forgive our sins and make eternal life possible for us.

    Why
    in the world would Jesus, when answering his questioner in the passage above,
    fail to mention this fact?

    Jesus makes it
    abundantly clear: the young man has answered correctly!

    If the young man
    had not answered correctly, and had
    left out the part about the blood and the sacrifice and God taking human form …
    would Jesus have said, ‘You have answered correctly: do this and you shall live’?

    Ó
    Ó Ó

    So. What about Paul?

    The problem is not, cannot be, that Jesus
    is not listening closely enough to Paul.

    The problem must therefore be that Paul
    is not listening closely enough to Jesus.

     

    The more research I put into the subject of the
    early history of the Gospels, the more I found myself thinking of that
    conversation about the Gospel
    of John with my priest. I realized that what he had
    been unwilling or unable to tell me was that
    the author(s) of the Gospel of John had been lying.
    This was manifestly not an eyewitness account,
    though it claimed to be.

    I was in a strange situation. I was certainly
    enjoying the fellowship of the Christians at my church, who were all committed
    and prayerful people.
    Being part of a religious community was important
    to me. Yet I had deep intellectual misgivings
    about the supposed historicity of the Gospel narratives.
    What’s more, I was, more and more undeniably,
    getting a starkly different message from the Gospel
    sayings of Jesus than that which my fellow
    Christians were apparently getting.

    There came a point at which I was fascinated by the
    apparent intersection of the Christian mystic tradition and that of the Sufis
    and the Zen Buddhists. And I had even written on such matters. But there seemed
    to be no one at my church who shared my zeal for these issues.

    In particular, I was interested in the research
    being done that indicated that the oldest strata of the
    Gospels reflected an extremely early source known
    as Q, and that each of the individual sayings of Jesus within it needed to be
    evaluated on its own merits,
    and not as part of the narrative material that
    surrounded it. The narrative material, I learned
    material accounted for, among other
    things,
    the crucifixion narratives that form the core of
    conventional Christian theology
    was in fact added
    many years later. I started focusing much more
    closely on these verses, and using them as a
    criterion by which to evaluate those parts of the
    New Testament that had for years seemed cold
    and foreign to me.

     

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