“Jesus Christ is My Lord and Savior” or “Talk is Cheap”

I was asked recently why I don’t say “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” more.index

That’s a good question.

I think I don’t use that phrase much because of my experience with that phrase.  In my youth that phrase was used as a litmus test of sorts, a shibboleth for those of you familiar with that term (or familiar with West Wing).

Saying “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” was like the secret password into a club that I wasn’t so sure I wanted into.

Because usually the people that I heard using that phrase were also the people who were talking about “spiritual warfare” and being good “Christian soldiers” and “working blessings” and “praying away the pain.”

All that phraseology was just noisy gongs and clanging cymbals to my ears.

I wanted to know what they thought spiritual warfare was and if they’d be “fighting it” if they had never been introduced to the concept.  I wanted to know what they thought being a “soldier for Christ” meant in every day life.  I wanted to know what they thought they were doing when they were “working a blessing” or what conclusions we’re to draw when we pray and pray and pray and the pain remains.

I didn’t want talk to be cheap; I wanted it to mean something.  I want it to mean something.

Because, and this is the thing, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.  But that sentence needs so much explanation around it for me, that just saying it to you or anyone else will not do, I feel.

Because just saying it to myself doesn’t do it.

And no doubt people say that phrase and say it with utmost sincerity and face value; I truly believe it.  And I can speak that language, too, with much sincerity.

So, is Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior?  Yes.   Am I going to start adopting that language?  Probably not.

But I will say that my trust in God is deeply rooted in the Christ event.

And, believe it or not, I think that’s approximately the same thing.

I could say it another way, but it wouldn’t be authentic to me.

And I prefer not to.  It’s not how my spirituality is formulated.  My spirituality is formulated with deep roots in experiences and connection that don’t lend itself very well to short phrases like this, I find.

I’m much more Richard Rohr than Rick Warren.

That doesn’t mean either of those spiritual realities are “better” than the other one (how could we measure that, anyway?).  But it does mean that they present themselves differently.

And with a Christian history that needed a St. Julian as well as a Thomas Aquinas, that needed a Martin Luther as well as a Meister Eckhart, why should the fact that I don’t express my faith with these phrases, and that you do, cause us dissension?

So many churches are full of just Julians or just Luthers, just Rohrs or just Warrens.

What if we actually practiced radical community where you could lift your hands in praise while I fold mine in reverence and neither got annoyed with the other?  What if we actually practiced radical community where you could claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior and stretched my comfort with that phrase, and I encouraged you to parse that a little more to go a bit deeper than just phrases.

Because, and here’s the biggest thing, I don’t want any of our talk to be cheap…even our talk about community.

Because if we all think the same things, talk the same way, use the same phrases, and embody the same spirituality, we have less a “community” and more of a “club.”

And Lord knows we don’t need more clubs in this world.

And I’m a reluctant Christian many times because our clubs dot the streets, and our communities are few and far between.

“The Bible Is Not a Self-Help Book” or “Please Stop…”

Rob Goodman recently wrote an excellent article critiquing Rick Warren, “Smiley” Osteen, and the like for their “self-help” theology.  The main instigation for the article was Rick Warren’s new “Daniel diet” based off of the Daniel story from the Older Testament.

Yeah, that guy who fell into the lion’s den.

Warren supposedly mined the depths of scripture to come up with this plan loosely taken from the section of Daniel where the book’s title character refuses to eat the king’s food in their place of captivity (thereby avoiding the appearance of consenting to the godless ways of his captors).

It’s a good story.  And it may actually hold some diet advice…for lions.

But, as Goodman points out, it’s a story about identity and resistance and trust.  Not about dieting.

So why is Warren using it as a diet guide?

Warren plays into what I think is one of the most dangerous trends in Christianity that has still, inexplicably, continued since the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment did wonderful things for humanity in many ways.  It also has some negative consequences, one of the chief ones being that we now only see something as “truth” if it correlates to “fact.”

I’ll go out on a rhetorical limb here and say that the statement, ” ‘Truth’ and ‘fact’ are always synonymous,” is simply…not true.

But, in Warren’s view the two must be the same, which means that the Bible must be “fact” and the home of all fact, or else the authority of the Bible is laid to waste.  Basically, it’s a story of the Christian who rails against the Enlightenment because of what it has done to the authority of the religious community thereby perpetuating Enlightenment thinking by buying the primary premise.

Yeah, it’s that age-old story, that old chestnut, where, as Paul rightly says, someone (in this case Warren) “does not do what (they) want, and only does what (they) do not want to do.”

And so for Warren, the Bible is not only the authority on how the world was created (Genesis 1-2), why there are different languages (Genesis 11), what you should think about social issues (scan Leviticus and the Epistles and pick one), and how you should vote (wait…that’s not in there), it also must be the authority on everything else including dieting.*

Because if the Bible is reliable, it must be infallible and inerrant and the home and locus of all that is necessary for knowledge as a primary document.

And you spent your money on those Encyclopedia Britannica books…

I’ll cut right to the chase: the Bible wasn’t written to give you a diet plan, to save your marriage, or to help you make money.  In fact, if you go to certain places of scripture you might find that you’re given permission to eat anything (Acts 10), or that you can hate your family (Luke 14), or that God intends for you to be penniless and poor (Matthew 19).

Like that advice?  It’s probably not good for the purposes that I intended to use it for.  But it has about as much merit as the basis for Warren’s diet plan.

That little move, where you take a section of Scripture and use it to proof-text a point or position is actually just taking it out of context.  It’s a popular move, to be sure.  I mean, what adds weight to a cause more than the very voice of God?!

But it’s not honest.  And, dare I say, it might be breaking the second Commandment (from the Protestant Decalogue).  “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” has little to do with cursing (although, from a previous post you’d think that that’s all it means).

It actually means that you shouldn’t take God’s name “uselessly.”  You shouldn’t associate God with things that God has no association with.  And so, if you believe that the Bible was more dictation than experiential writing, or if you think the infallibility and inerrancy of the text come from the very will of the Divine, I’d tremble in my boots before I use the Bible as back-up to most anything, let alone a diet plan.

I tremble doing it myself, and I don’t think the Bible is inerrant and infallible!

I tremble because, well, scripture is important to me.  It is sacred.  And as something sacred I hate seeing it belittled to the point of Jenny Craig and Seattle Sutton.

I do think that what we eat and how we care for our bodies is important, and Godly work, and I believe it can say something about our core convictions (hence why Chick-fil-a won’t be getting a dime from this pastor’s pocket anymore).

There are times when I can get insight into an issue from the Bible.  Many a sermon is based on this.  But that’s taking the Bible into my context.  Warren, and those who routinely do this, mistakenly assumes the Biblical context is this context.

Suffice to say, I don’t think the Bible has a diet plan for me.  And I don’t think it has a plan to get me rich.  And I don’t think it has a plan to get me buff (Sampson comes to mind here…and I can’t grow much hair on my head).  And I certainly don’t think that Solomon is a good example of a successful marriage.

The Bible doesn’t do that.

I do think it contains stories of people who have had experiences with God powerful enough to talk about them.  I think it contains glimpses of my faith heritage.  And I think it contains the best, most beautifully engaging story I’ve ever read in the person of Jesus.  I think it’s instructive for devotion and faith.

Really, the only thing close to a diet plan I hear from the scriptures is from the book of  John in chapter 6 where the Gospel writer has Jesus talking about him being the “true bread from heaven” that the world lives on.

But, as a Christian who takes Scripture seriously, I’m entreating the Christian world to stop with this nonsense of looking to the Bible like one might look to an encyclopedia.

The Bible wasn’t written to be your self-help book.

But, it does have beautiful stories, letters, poetry, and history that just may change your life.  So please, do help yourself to it.

*If, perhaps, Warren does not believe that the Bible holds dieting advice, but is just using it as a basis to help sell the product, that would be the definition of the word “despicable.”