Our friend Max returns with a series of questions. Those, plus my responses, seemed to merit a separate post.
What does it mean to be ‘Christian’?
Being nice? Being a generally forgiving person?
Handling people with care and love despite the way they treat you? Being compassionate?
Being a Christian means living as the gamut of Christian phases. We start as seekers. And to a degree, good Christians maintain that mode of seeking all through their life. We are curious, we explore, we are dissatisfied with things as they are and look for answers to difficult questions.
We continue as believers. What that means should be obvious, but on the whole that we accept Christ and a relationship with him.
We eventually come to being disciples: that is, we live our lives in imitation of Christ.
Max’s questions are peripheral. The good qualities he posts are not the ends, or even the means to the end. In particular circumstances, being forgiving, loving, and compassionate are qualities of a Christian. But I don’t think they define a Christian, especially since non-Christians can also express these.
Does it matter that Jesus EXPLICITLY says his commands matter?
Jesus says a lot of things matter. In the Gospels, he says them in a particular context. Sometimes he addresses a person. Sometimes he speaks to his disciples. Sometimes to the crowd. Sometimes to his enemies.
For a person being rejected, “shake the dust” might be more important than “love your neighbor.” Especially if the disciple has mastered somewhat love for neighbor, but remains a doormat for her or his opponents.
Are people ‘saved’ for doing these things? or is there no salvation if you do not believe?
As an ex-Christian, Max knows the answer to this. People are not saved for doing anything. They are saved by Christ’s doing. Good behavior, including the imitation of Christ, might be evidence of salvation. But it is not a sure thing, to consider this evidence.
How do you construct a Jesus without using the text to prove who Jesus is – and who he isn’t?
Because a disciple’s relationship with Jesus goes beyond the text.
And how do you protect yourself from the charge that you are being solipsistic?
I don’t. I have no interest in defending myself at all. I attempt to live a Christian life as a disciple as best I can. That’s all I have to offer. If people don’t like it, or me, they can find another Christian disciple (or blog) or try an alternative to Christianity.
If a person’s personal Jesus tells him he should Kill Homosexuals, how do you argue against that understanding of Jesus when you have refused to use the text as a proof?
I argue–persuade would be my choice of term–through life’s example and personal witness.
Are you just very comfortable with the unknown? Letting God settle these matters?
Then why not be comfortable with the unknown in other ways, as in….maybe there is no god?
Because I haven’t found that to be true.
I cannot understand how you get to create for yourself a Jesus of your own who does not live on the pages of the Bible. And I don’t understand …
I’m not a biblical fundamentalist.
And this gets directly to your statement.. you said, “I don’t see anything Christian in those philosophies”
For goodness sake, why not?
Because they fly in the face of the law of love and self-sacrifice. The example of Jesus, at its core, is the Paschal Mystery.
If you have granted yourself permission to accept a Jesus of your own, unconnected to biblical text, why are you saying other philosophies are not “Christian” when those preachers are only doing the exact same thing YOU are doing? they are only making up a Jesus they like instead of adhering to the one described in the text.
I cannot fathom how you can claim them to be wrong? What are they doing different from you?
Well, I can claim a lot of positions are wrong for a few reasons. One, I believe them to be in conflict with basic Christian principles, especially the greatest commandment. Max should realize that Jesus himself set priorities.
Maybe the reason that most resonates with me today is that I like being contrary. I say a lot of things critical of other Christians’ views, including bishops. Even my friends. I say and write a lot of things that are audacious, even disrespectful. But my good mood is not dependent on people agreeing with me. Or being persuaded.
Max has told me he was a Christian for many years, and now he is not. I hope he switches back, but I don’t see it as my responsibility to lasso him up and hog-tie him to belief. He can visit and comment however much he likes here. I’m not sure I will be as satisfying a foil as he hopes.