Nice Idolatry (2)

american idolIn part 1 we looked at some comments forwarded to the HB by Dave. His correspondent wrote, “I have a personal relationship with Christ but my Christ is not an ass and He wants everyone to do what makes them happy including gays being allowed to marry.” In part 1 we considered how our correspondent seeks to leverage objective reality with her subjective experience. We focused on the problems inherent in the expression, “my Christ.” In part 2 we want to consider the ethical consequences of beginning with experience and imagination instead of revelation as the basis for making decisions. I think that there is an logical relationship between her “personal relationship&38221; with a Christ she has modeled after her own imagination, as distinct from the Christ revealed in Scripture, and her ethical conclusions. Before we go there, however, we should think about her implied view of Scripture because it too is a great indicator of where we are as a culture when it comes to texts.

When she says “my Christ” she has created a disjunction between the Christ of Scripture and the Christ of personal experience. How can that be? Isn’t there only one Jesus? As we saw last time, it is true that we do experience Christ personally but if that experience is to have any meaning it must be of something or someone that is objective to us. Consider the lowly stoplight. Imagine the social consequences of drivers at an intersection making the same distinction between the objective stoplight that we’re all experiencing in roughly the same way and “my stoplight.” What if everyone said, “my stoplight is green”? Chaos and perhaps worse. Of course it is silly to speak of “my stoplight.” Our personal experience of the stoplight does not create a unique stoplight.

So too it is with Christ. There is no “Christ of faith.” There is only the Christ who is. There are some extra-biblical references to him but there is not much detail in those references and certainly not enough to create anything like a competing picture so we are left to Holy Scripture to get to know Jesus. This is a really important point. The Jesus we know is the same Jesus who existed in history and who is described for us and whose words are recorded for us in Scripture. We can know him and about him. He is not a gnostic secret known only to the illuminati. Our correspondent implies that we don’t really know what Jesus actually said so we can essentially make up things about him but that’s just not so.

The OT scriptures are fairly plain about the biblical attitude toward sexual sin (e.g., Lev 20:13, 15). Homosexual behavior was a capital crime under Moses. Jesus said that he came not to overturn the law but to uphold and and fulfill it (Matt 5). Yes, he fellowshipped with sinners (Matt 9) because he came to heal and save them. Notice, however, that he did not say that they weren’t sinners! To do that is to make a mistake that is as great as that of the pharisees, who imagined that they did not need a Savior, because those who do are not sinners do not need a Savior.

This is the problem that our correspondent has created. She’s not only redefined Jesus, she’s redefined sin. She knows that he’s not an “ass” as she puts it, because the Jesus of her imagination would never be so uncouth as to call sin what it is. Except he did, constantly. “If your right eye causes you to sin, cut it out” Oops, I think Jesus just failed her test. That was just rude. It wasn’t open-minded and tolerant of all. Not cool, not in the least. Even in that textually dubious passage (the longer ending of John 7:53–8:12, the woman taken in adultery, which is almost certainly not original and is usually so marked in most English Bibles) Jesus is supposed to have said, “Go and sin no more.” He certainly said the same thing in John 5:14. In fact, the Jesus of Scripture was constantly condemning sin and telling people to stop it. He was a law preacher as well as a gospel preacher.

There are ethical consequences to re-imagining Jesus in our late modern, laissez-faire image. According to our correspondent, “He wants everyone to do what makes them happy.” Once again, we are in the driver’s seat. Whatever makes us subjectively happy. To a certain degree we might not blame our writer. One translation (Good News Translation) of the beatitudes reads, “Happy is the man…” The Greek adjective is better translated “blessed.” When our our Lord says, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4) he was not speaking about a subjective emotional experience. He’s speaking about an objective state of affairs. The mourner is blessed by God, not subjectively happy. Mourners are not subjectively happy. Indeed, using “happy” instead of “blessed” makes nonsense of the beatitudes.

Is there any evidence whatever that Jesus wants people to be subjectively “happy” such that they should be allowed to do whatever they will to achieve that state? No. He was not a therapist. He was not a drug pusher. He was and is God the Son incarnate who came to reveal the Father, the save the lost, and to inaugurate his kingdom. A good bit of what Jesus did during his ministry was to cause heartbreak and suffering interrupted by occasional joy. He deliberately allowed Lazarus to die, in order to demonstrate the power of the kingdom (John 11). Even though he knew that Lazarus would die and that he would raise him from the dead, nevertheless, Jesus wept for the bitterness of sin and death. Jesus deliberately provoked the authorities to arrest, torture, and crucify him. This is not the Jesus our correspondent has fabricated.

Just as she has fabricated a Jesus so she has fabricated an ethic. Her Jesus is false and her ethic is false and she is not alone. We are all idolaters by nature. We all do what she does. The difference is most of us keep it to ourselves but underneath the pious exterior we make up fictions and act upon them regularly. Repentance is coming to grips with objective reality, recognizing it, repenting of our transgression of God’s law, embracing his free favor in the Christ who is, and going forward.

The great problem with a made up Christ is that he cannot save and our sins are real. We pray and hope that our friend whose brief note we’ve analyzed in these posts is not trusting in the Christ she has described but rather is trusting in the flesh and blood Jesus who was in the virgin’s womb, who died on a real cross, and who was raised and ascended to the Father in a real body. Because he will return in that body and we shall all have to give account to him. In that day our imagination will do us no good. Only real righteousness before God, received by his free favor alone, through trusting in him alone, will be of any use at all.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Dr. Clark,
    I hope this point is not too picky for you but saying that she has made a disjunction between her Christ and the Christ of the Bible is not exactly correct. Rather, she has created an exclusive-or between her Christ and the Christ of the Bible. I’m sorry about the distinction but is my discrete math background that makes me write this.

  2. Curt, I am not sure I understand your post. Bear in mind my only relationship to math is the two classes I had to take in undergrad and the fact that my wife is currently working towards a BA in Math. If I understand the inclusive or and exclusive or correctly, exclusive or is one or the other can be true, but not both, while inclusive or (disjunction) allows for each and both to be true.

    Wouldn’t it be fair to say that both can be true? “My (experiential) Christ” may be “the (revelatory) Christ.” I suspect, to be charitable, the gal who made that remark believes her subjective Christ to comport with the objective Christ. I can but should not speak for Dr. RSC. I do, however, think a case might be made for the way Dr. RSC used the phrase, though I would guess he was using “disjunction” in terms of “difference” and “separation,” not logical or mathematical categories of possibility.

    The post seems more intent on showing the danger of allowing your subjective Christ dictate your views apart from what the revealed Christ has said and done. That Christ doesn’t help anybody.

    • Ryan,
      You are right about the distinction between the two ors. But as to whether the Christ I experience is the Christ of the Scriptures depends solely on whether I let the Scriptures dictate who Christ is whom I experience.

      If I understand Dr. Clark correctly, then the Christ this person believes in is a product of projection rather than reading the Bible.

  3. As a reader with a PhD in discrete math, I feel compelled to point out that the distinction between exclusive/inclusive disjunctions is probably not what RSC was getting at. In my reading, RSC only meant disjunction in the sense of disconnection, separation, cleaving, etc. See the first definition here.

    And surely the point is not that this unfortunate person looked at the Christ of Scripture on the one hand, and the Christ of her own imagination on the other, and in the face of an exclusive disjunction, consciously chose B. Rather, she(?) has no conception that an external Christ, objectively and infallibly defined by special revelation, is imposed on all of us, but believes that the only (relevant) Christ(s) is(are) the ones we all make up in our heads. (While self-contradictingly seeking to impose her head-Christ as superior to others)

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