Sunday, April 29, 2012

Landon Whitsitt, Open Source Christianity and the sovereignty of God

The Rev. Landon Whitsitt who is the Vice Moderator of the PC (USA) and author of the kindle book, Open Source Church the Wisdom of All, has for some time been visiting presbyteries and giving lectures on his ideas about an open source church. Recently I found a series of videos with his presentation.

Some of his thoughts are interesting, engaging and helpful but I was troubled by his universalism that seems to deny the unique saving grace of Jesus and is probably connected to his views on the authority of Scripture. I found that some of his statements,which were meant to uphold the sovereignty of God, in fact, find him contending with that sovereignty.

Whitsitt uses the criteria for the definition of open source use via computers as a way of defining what he calls open source Christianity. There are six videos that can be watched to understand what Whitsitt means by open source Christianity. My biggest concern is in the sixth video under the principle, “Thou shall not deny the truth and benefits of other religious traditions," which sounds innocuous enough. However for Whitsitt not denying the truth or benefits of other religions includes them finding a relationship with God unconnected to Jesus Christ.

Whitsitt states:
Just because God has called you into relationship through the work and person of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean everybody has to be in relationship with God through the work and person of Jesus Christ.
Attempting to show how God uses context, Whitsitt asks several questions about presenting the gospel in Japan. He states, “Did you know that in Japan sheep are not indigenousness or native? If you were to go to a Japanese person and you were to say “Lamb of God,” they would look at you and go “what “? It makes no sense because that is not a part of their context. It makes no sense; so just on the bases of context alone we cannot assume or require that God is supposed to deal with everyone in the same way.” I am not sure why we can’t explain to the Japanese what sheep are but that is not what I want to write about here.[1]

Whitsitt further states:
But further let’s take a higher tack on it if I believe that to proclaim Jesus Christ is from my freedom and my freedom is to proclaim Jesus Christ I have to believe that this God of sovereign grace alone who acts in freedom can do what ever God wants to do. I have to believe that God is more smarter and faithful than I am and that God is drawing all people into relationship. Who am I to dictate how that relationship works?
This is where the authority of Scripture, God’s word, comes in. Whitsitt is right, God can do whatever he wants to do; however, God has already spoken allowing us to know what he wants to do. To reject his will is to reject his sovereignty. God in his word explains that those who believe in Jesus have eternal life but those who do not have already been judged because of their disbelief. (John 3:16-21) And Jesus in John 14:6 insists “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no ones comes to the Father but through me.”

Jesus is the unique and ultimate Lord—we dare not ignore his life, death and resurrection—he was lifted up for our salvation. To reject the words of Jesus is to try and control God, not honor his sovereignty. It is important to take up the Scripture and listen to what God says.

[1] The truth is there are some, though few, sheep in Japan and Japan's zodiac which is divided into years contains the year of the sheep. All that is need is an explanation of sacrifice. See http://japanese.about.com/library/weekly/aa012903a.htm 



13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Viola.

I find myself in perfect agreement with Whitsitt when he writes: "I have to believe that God is more smarter ... than I am." And more better, too.

In a shallow and vain attempt to be gracious and open, Whitsitt is being obtuse and disrespectful. Why would Jesus have to be incarnated and give his life as a ransom if there were any "other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”(Acts 4:12)?

This is one more case of someone foolishly trying to be more gooder than God. Whitsitt apparently doesn't understand that he cannot be more perfecter than God. More or less.

Jim Berkley
Roslyn, WA

desperatedisciple said...

Whitsitt's comment about the Japanese and the "Lamb of God" comment shows the lack of research he's done and the insufficiency of his missiology. I preached on the second section of John 1 this last week, and what I learned from my research is that the phrase "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" was foreign to the Jews as well. Yes, they had lambs, but sacrifices for the propitiation of sins were bulls, not lambs. Sacrifices of lambs were substitutionary in cases like Abraham/Isaac and the Passover, but they were not for sins proper. When thinking through the "Lamb of God" phrase, the Jewish people had to understand Jesus in a way that was foreign to their thinking about what animals were sacrificed for what purposes. It simply goes to show that it is God that enlightens in all scenarios in all cultures.

Whitsitt also seems to be missing the fact that cross-cultural translation often includes translating concepts into local idioms. This should be obvious simply from the translation of the Greek and Hebrew into English -- often times, ancient idioms don't make literal sense and a paraphrase is common. (An easy example is Jesus' reply to his mother in John 2 when she wants him to provide wine for the wedding party in Cana.)

I could go on in this vein, but Whitsitt is using a very poor argument to try and bolster his claim that belief in Christ is not a worldwide necessity for salvation. Not only does it ignore clear concepts of cross-cultural evangelism, it also betrays an ignorance about other religions and what they teach that are in direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus. There is no problem in seeing that there is some truth of God in world religions, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Instead of praising the clock for its two minutes of correctness each day, why not change the batteries?

Greg Scandlen said...

What drivel. Here in the United States we don't have Kingdoms, yet we know what Christ was talking about. I don't think I've ever seen a lamb (or anything else) sacrificed in my life (seen a few dear hit by cars, does that count?) but somehow I grasped the concept of Christ's atoning death.

And, by golly, I do believe that more than a few Japanese (and Koreans and Chinese) have been able to grasp the message of Jesus. Shall we discuss the problem of Whitsitt's racial stereotyping?

And this is what passes for intellectual leadership in the good ol' PCUSA?!?! Good grief!

Greg Scandlen
Waynesboro, PA

Greg Scandlen said...

Ooops. Haven't actually seen any "dear" struck by cars, but a deer or ten.

Jodie said...

Why drivel, Greg?

He had a lot of good important things to say. I fail to see how a rock throwing contest is an improvement on any of it.

I have worked in Japan, and I have worked with the Japanese. The Jesuits made a lot of inroads in Japan until the end of the 16th Century, when the Samurai War Lords killed them all off. Ever since then, Christianity has not made any significant inroads in Japan.

Even after WWII, when the Japanese adopted everything American that defeated them in the war, technology, clothing, industrial processes, sky scrapers, nuclear power(!), even food, they did not give an inch of their religion.

(It probably didn't help that we nuked one of the few cathedrals in Japan)

My own experience is that throwing rocks at each other in public not only does not promote the Gospel, it literally shuts down the Holy Spirit. Nobody can hear the Gospel through that kind of noise.

Whitsitt is thinking about what will translate the Gospel to the next generation. And translate it every generation must. I give him full credit for that. Is anybody here doing any better? If so, I'd love to hear about it. The generation gap today has never been wider.

Obviously if we can't even explain it to our children and Grandchildren, explaining it to the Japanese is going to be a bit out of our league.

Viola Larson said...

Jodie,
I don't know if you noticed or not but my posting was about universalism. The idea that Jesus is not the only way to the father.

Viola Larson said...

And as an aside as you must know the author who wrote the most about the devastation of the church under the Sumari war lords was Shusako Endo who was a Christian. I think he died just a few years ago. There are Christians in Japan although I have read that it is a hard field. But the important thought here is that while one may contextualize the gospel one does not change it to no gospel.

Anonymous said...

Viola et al,

As an aside, I always wonder why Christianity took so well in Korea (at least South Korea) and not in Japan. Both were devastated by war and dominated for a time by the US after the war. But what happened with faith was so different.

Bless you,

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

john,
I have often thought about that also. I think as a Reformed Christian we must simply see it as God's timing. Perhaps God still has a time of revival for Japan.

Greg Scandlen said...

Let me see, Jodie, so you are arguing that certain ethnic/racial groups are unable to receive Christ's message? Do I have that right? I will stand by my drivel comment.

pastor thalos said...

Mr. Whitsitt's comments fit very nicely in a Unitarian Universalist setting. Are there any charges of heresy forthcoming?

If not, why not?

Why aren't these heresies and the heretics that espouse them being put forth for disciplinary purposes?

We are referring to an influential spokesman and leader in the denomination, and yet no one is calling this person to account for their clear and blatant heresies?

Is not one of the pillars of a true church, proper church discipline? Why is there not even an attempt?

Why has all the attempted discipline been in the direction of ethical sins?

What does this say about the standing of the denomination as even a partial representative of the "true church"?

Jodie said...

Greg,

Of course I argue no such thing. But the scriptures are full of metaphorical reasoning. And metaphors can be culturally specific and culturally misunderstood.

Probably the most classic misunderstanding we are familiar with happened when the Greco Romans, who were much more literal than the Hebrews, read the metaphor of the Lords supper and concluded that the bread and wine of communion magically transubstantiated into the blood and flesh of Christ once in the stomach. Of course that is not what Jesus was saying, but that teaching is Roman Catholic Doctrine even to this day.

One of the most fun things to do in Bible study is to unravel its metaphors. And, as desparatedisciple pointed out, some biblical authors went one more layer of sophistication and intentionally mixed metaphors together to make up new ones. John mixed the passover lamb, with the goat that was saddled with the sins of the people and sent away, and came up with a lamb that takes away the sin of the world. What was THAT all about? And then he goes further and turns Jesus into the Passover Lamb when he is killed. Layer upon layer of life imitiating metaphor imitiating life.

I have no idea why the Japanese culture rejects Christianity and its values. I just know that it does. Could be lots or reasons. But that is not what Whitsitt was talking about. He was just making an illustration in passing.

Viola Larson said...

Okay, I am putting a hold on the conversation which should be directly about the unique redemption provided by Jesus Christ.

But first just to clarify Jodie the Catholics do not believe that the bread and wine is transformed in the stomach but in the rite of the mass-that is why the wine and the bread must all be eaten it is considered holy. But please back to the original subject.