It is difficult to argue with someone who will not come to terms with you. You may have information they do not, or they may have some fact of which you are not aware, but until the two of you can understand the meaning of each important word in conversation, you are simply talking past one another. Traditionally, if you do not understand what someone else means, you simply look to what you do understand in what they are saying, using context to help frame the terms you do not understand so that you can find their meaning. I call this traditional because it is ancient. It is the type of learning and reading that is reflected in Aristotle as much as Aquinas, and in Martin Luther as much as Mortimer Adler.
So what do you do with an author who would rather remain ambiguous than define his terms? That is the problem that arises in many postmodern circles, and particularly in my encounters, it arises in “emergent church” literature. Folks like Rob Bell write entire books wherein every term is hidden and any reader might draw any number of conclusions. This ambiguity is entirely opposite from the clear and concise writings from almost any other point in history, where the author acts as teacher to the reader and tries to aid in understanding. I suspect the change towards obfuscated wording is to prevent the author from having to defend himself. This suspicion is reinforced frequently.
I recently came upon a rapidly spreading series of “15 Things Jesus Didn’t Say”. As with Rob Bell and other emergent church authors, the phrases are up to interpretation and are framed to be difficult to argue with; how can you argue with something Jesus never said? It is the implications of these statements, when taken as accurate as they can be considering the limited and unhelpful context, that must be disagreed with.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #1:
“For God was so disgusted with the world and you that he gave his one and only Son.”
This isn’t what John 3:16 says, but the following verses read something like this:
“19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
Clearly, God didn’t send His Son because He loved a perfect world. Disgust may be too docile a term, in fact. But what is this quote suggesting? We have to take our best guess, because the author has been as unhelpful as can be and has left us with no context or reason as to why he would suggest Jesus would not say this. In order to agree or disagree, we must make assumptions.
Let us assume the author means to say that God was not disgusted with the world. It leads us to ask the further question of why God would send Jesus at all. Clearly, there is something terribly wrong with the world and with humanity in general. In that case, we must disagree with the author, for the whole crux of Jesus’ ministry on Earth rests upon God’s utter contempt for sin; sin that saturates our world.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #2:
“I have come to bring you a new religion.”
I will never understand the modern Christian contempt for religion, a term that accurately describes what Christianity is. Religion, as defined, means:
“A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”
‘Religio’ itself is a Latin root meaning reverence for the gods or the divine. The term has been used to describe Christianity for nearly 2000 years.
So back to our original quote. It is true that Jesus never said “I have come to bring you a new religion”. But that is precisely what He did do. He brought us a “set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe”. Once again, we must say that if our assumptions are correct, the author must be incorrect.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #3:
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have correct theology.”
By way of assumption once more, it appears that the author doesn’t believe Jesus considers correct theology to be a hallmark of his followers. This is curious, considering Paul later says in 2nd Peter 2:1:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
Humorously, the word ‘Theology’ literally means ‘The Study of God’. If we don’t value correctly understanding God, how can we be said to be disciples of God?
What Jesus Didn’t Say #4:
“If anyone would come after me, let him disparage all other religions and their followers.”
We make assumptions once more, as we must. What the author appears to be saying by way of inversion is that Jesus would not want us to disparage other religions and their followers. Disparage literally means “Regard or represent as being of little worth.” So how did Jesus regard other religions? Well, Paul had this to say about other belief systems in 1st Timothy 6:
“3If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”
Sounds like disparaging remarks to me and these are simply towards people who call themselves Christians. Jesus, by claiming to be God and also the only way to God, is disparaging all other religions as damnably false. The author of the comment may protest. After all, Jesus and Paul are not the same person. But since we are trying to figure out what Jesus meant, context is certainly our ally, and we shouldn’t avoid context just because the author refuses to give us any.
Keep in mind that the author is disparaging people indirectly, using a passive aggressive tactic, by writing all of these statements that Jesus didn’t literally say.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #5:
“If you love me, you will regularly attend a church of your choice… within reason.”
Truthfully, I cannot tell if the author is attempting attempting to fight with people who value church attendance or those who do not. Jesus did tell us that if we love Him, we will keep His commands, and that includes fellowship, worship, and learning more about Him.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #6:
“Blessed are the tithers for they shall be called the children of God.”
Is tithing bad? Is it over-rated? Like the previous quote, despite my best efforts, I cannot glean a single coherent argument from this inverse claim.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #7:
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in Heaven after the earth goes up in flames and destroyed.”
We see the emergent church coming through vividly here, in the ‘doctrine’ that Christians are to establish Heaven on Earth. This only tears down Heaven while trying to build up our fallen world. Much of Revelation is filled with destructive language, and Revelation is, as any reader of Scripture would know, claimed to be a vision given by Jesus Himself. In this case, it appears Jesus said just this.
An argument could be made that this is a misreading or false assumption (again, all we have our assumptions with these quotes). The only alternative interpretation I can find is against people who think God’s Will is not done on Earth but is reserved for heaven. In that case, it simply speaks against a non-existent opponent. No Christian supposes that God doesn’t do His Will on Earth.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #8:
“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ which means the people with whom you attend church and relate to in your Christian sub-culture.”
I’m surprised this argues against our definition of “neighbor”. Had the author just finished the real quote, which ends with an admonition to “love your enemy”, he would have gotten to the meat of the passage. I suppose as it stands, what he passively argues against is something most Christians would agree with.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #9:
“In my Father’s house there are a limited number of rooms. But no worries, there is plenty of room in Hell.”
No, but He did say this:
Matthew 7:14 “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Clearly, if the road is narrow and few find it, hell must have quite the capacity.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #10:
“The kingdom of God has come!… Well, not exactly. I mean, not completely. Let’s face it, the really-real kingdom comes after we die. Hang in there. It won’t be long.”
This goes back to #7, and it is why I interpret it as I do. My argument above applies to this equally.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #11:
“And you will know the truth and the truth will make you superior to all the other simpletons who never learned Greek or Hebrew.”
Little more than a jab against people who are full of themselves. I’m unaware of anyone who thinks learning Greek and Hebrew is equivalent to knowing the Truth, though, in the context of this verse.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #12:
“You are the light of the world… well… in a sinful-filthy-scum kind of way.”
All our righteousness is as filthy rags to a Holy and Perfect God, so the statement is accurate, despite Him having said it in a different (and harsher) way.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #13:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you a checklist of things to do and not do in order to remain in God’s favor.”
The protest I assume is against people who think God has a checklist of things He’d like us to do. Now while it is true that God’s favor is decided by our belief in Christ, it is also true that “If you love [Christ] you will keep [His] commands”. Reminds me of a Rich Mullins song about faith and works.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #14:
“For God so loved the world… you know like theoretically… as in, God loves the big ‘W’-world. But when it come to you specifically, that are quite a few things that would need to change for God to actually and specifically love… or even like… YOU.”
It appears the author has run out of verses to hijack with things Jesus never said, since this is the same verse he used in #1. The problem here is that while God loves us even before we love Him, there is no indication that the author sees any responsibility on our part to live as Christians. This despite the fact that most of these verses are attempts to criticize or guilt Christians who aren’t following the author’s interpretation of Christianity.
What Jesus Didn’t Say #15:
“He appeared to his disciples over a period of 40 days and spoke about how to incorporate his life and teaching as a 501(c)3, and go into all the earth to build mega-churches in his name.”
We end on a low note. No one would argue that Jesus didn’t reference modern government identification numbers, any more than that He would reference following building codes for churches. And considering early Christianized cities typically had one church, “Mega” might not be a big enough term. I’m opposed to watered down theology to attract large numbers of people, and I prefer smaller congregations, but the Bible doesn’t give any indication that one size of church is immoral and another more spiritual.