Jesus is the center of the universe—the center of meaning, the center of time and space, the center of history. His story is THE story, and everything that exists in time and space and history finds its true meaning in the light of the Lord. I believe that. I believe He is the way, the truth, and the life, just as He said. I believe that other religions are true only to the extent that they reflect the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Believing this can lead on the one hand to arrogance or, on the other, being terrified at the enormity of it all. I live as closely as I can to an in-between place, where I am sure of some things—e.g., His love, the efficacy of His sacrifice of the cross on my behalf, that He is who He said He is—and I realize at the same time that He and Truth are so amazing, so profound, so beyond full comprehension that I will never be able to understand all the wonders of His love, nor will I as a human being ever be able to contain or express the full breadth of who He is. I get that.
But I don’t want either my certainty or my inability to express His fullness to pull me to extremes. By His grace, I can be sure of some things without being prideful, and I can be aware of my the limitations of my sex, age, personality, background, spiritual history, and current spiritual expression without a false humility that denies the Lord’s ability to be known by a weak, semi-dysfunctional American male born in the second half of the twentieth century. I think there are things of which I can be sure, and I can rest.
With both understandings pulled close to the heart, I have no problem seeing how easy it is to enact with Jesus without actually connecting with Him. The story of God-come-to-earth-to-redeem is our story as a (human) race, and nothing comes in a close second. So while the prideful “I can’t know much of anything” approaches are certainly dangerous, so is the danger of thinking that referring to Jesus and/or bouncing a mental or verbal ball off His wall is being Christian. Calling something Christian doesn’t make it so. Calling something Christianity doesn’t make it so. Trying to reconstitute Christianity is as futile a pursuit as the crazy attempts to make God “after our own image.” But that doesn’t stop people from trying, and doesn’t stop others from believing them. It only stands to reason that something as monumental as Jesus and the Gospel are going to be claimed by anyone wanting to take its power for himself (kind of like a virus trying to invade a healthy body and use its systems against it) or folks attempting to appropriate its centrality in the human experience for whatever purposes. But putting graffiti on the Gospel wall doesn’t make it a painting, and throwing the paint doesn’t make me a painter.
My much loved and wonderful first son once jokingly mentioned to me that, unlike the Northeast, where he was raised, “everyone in the South” where he has since moved, is a Christian. He meant it both tongue-in-cheek and a little critically, regretting that some in his neck of the woods perceived that a relatively Christian culture (compared, to say, the Northeast) actually produces Christians, instead of the more traditional spiritual route of conviction, repentance and faith. It’s funny and sad at the same time.
Jesus, really, is the handiest excuse ever. For the unteachable, it’s the ultimate conversation-stopper: How dare you go against Jesus? For the self-deceived, it’s the ultimate think-stopper: If I really think that what I want is coated in the name of Jesus, then I don’t have to think any more about it.