Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Christianity without Jesus: writing about an article in Hungryhearts

As I began to read several articles in the Fall/Winter 2009 Hungryhearts Journal of Reformed Spirituality, published by the Office of Theology and Worship, PC (USA), I found some contradiction. This particular issue is entitled “An Elephant in the Room” and is about interfaith dialogue. But for the most part it is about more than dialogue. It is about letting go of the view that people of other faiths need Jesus.

And yet the introduction by the Editor, Tammy Wiens, is different. There is an expressed concern for the uniqueness of Jesus.

In the introduction Wiens writes about praying in Jesus’ name. She suggests that prayer in Jesus name is more than simply a formula, “there is a long tradition in the church to suggest it should be otherwise.” Quoting from the book Christian Prayer for Today she writes, “To pray in Jesus’ name is no small thing! ‘The name of Jesus is not just a required tagline,’ writes Moore-Keish, ‘but is the foundation, goal, and resting place in which we offer our prayers.’”

Wiens goes on to point to the Westminster Confession writing:

“Christians believe that apart from Christ we would have no access to God. We pray in Jesus name to gain access to the throne of God’s grace. (Heb. 4:16)"

Then after quoting Westminster (7.290) she commends the other articles as a means to strengthen our own spiritual practices. This is a contradiction that I do not understand.

Several days ago I wrote on the article,
“Blessed by an Elephant? Why Not?”. The article I am troubled with tonight is “Contemplative Interfaith” by Ben Campbell Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Columbia Theological Seminary.

Johnson writes about being called to a contemplative life and then a ministry of interfaith work between Christians and Muslims. The writings he began reading as he entered the first part of his contemplative journey were by Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and
Willigis Jäger. For those unfamiliar with Jäger (I was not) he is a Priest and a Zen Master who has been censored by the Roman Catholic Church. He advocates a global spirituality founded on the Zen of the Soto tradition.

Johnson explains that as he went further into the contemplative life he found that “Theological issues like the incarnation and the Trinity did not seem as pressing as at other times in [his] life.” Stating that he did not let go of the articles of faith he nonetheless writes “The longer I followed this passage way, the more rigid, doctrinal statements began to melt.”

Johnson moved on to the interfaith ministry, reading books on Islam for two years and then meeting a Muslim woman. After several meetings he writes:

“As she was speaking about her love for God and her devotion to God’s will, a beautiful smile covered her face and a twinkling light shone from her eyes. In that moment I realized I could no longer look upon other faiths as inferior to my own. I no longer felt that I had to convert everyone who did not possess the same truth that I held. That day Aisha became my sister.”

He does not write about his or her thoughts on Jesus, except that he now saw that aspect of his faith as not so important. But in this video they both speak of Jesus Christ.

Notice at the end she is talking about sharing the same values while he is talking about sharing prayer and worship. Aisha has far more integrity in her faith then Johnson has in his.

Oh please tell Aisha the good news:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the word might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not judged.; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-19)"

That is good news to those who are told and believe.


Thelema said...
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Pastor Bob said...

Very interesting. Ben produced some very good materials for new members classes and evangelism back in the 1980s. This is a change.

Viola Larson said...

Reading the article I can see a progression away from a position of believing that others need Jesus to where he is today. I always wonder just what it is that leads others a different direction. It seems clearly to have something to do with his contemplative journey. When you read about the mystics it seems if any get involved in heretical views it is usually those who take the apophatic way or as Johnson puts it quoting Merton, “the dark path of contemplation. That means you cannot say anything about the experience. While I like reading Teresa of Avila, she is not apophatic, I am bothered by some of the others. But only God knows why a Christian who wants to lead others to Christ moves away from that position.