5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (Joh 15:-10 ESV)
In an article in the Washington Post entitled “ When Christianity Becomes Lethal,” Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, professor of Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, contends that the Christian faith has elements within it which are conducive to abuse and misuse, hence lending itself to potential violence or at least suggestive of violence. This is in light of a bombing that took place in Norway, perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik. She goes on and writes:
“It is absolutely critical that Christians not turn away from the Christian theological elements in such religiously inspired terrorism. We must acknowledge these elements in Christianity and forthrightly reject these extremist interpretations of our religion. How can we ask Muslims to do the same with Islam, if we won’t confront extremists distorting Christianity?”
She also quotes Stephen Prothero who says:
“When I was a professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, I required my students to read Nazi theology. I wanted them to understand how some Christians bent the words of the Bible into weapons aimed at Jews and how these weapons found their mark at Auschwitz and Dachau. My Christian students responded to these disturbing readings with one disturbing voice: the Nazis were not real Christians, they informed me, since real Christians would never kill Jews in crematories.”
Prof. Thistlethwaite agrees with Prothero when he confesses that he found their response “terrifying.” Question!!—why would these Professors find such a response “terrifying” from their students? What is so terrifying to assert that the Nazis were not “real Christians,” because real Christians would not employ the beastly and wicked act of genocide? The only thing that makes sense out of their odd sentiment is that either both Thistlethwaite and Prothero do not believe that the Nazis were (and other ideologues who justify violence in the name of the Christian faith are) bending the words of Scripture—meaning that there are elements true to the Christian faith that can, at the same time, also truly justify violence without much bending, on the one hand— or, on the other hand, they either do not understand what “bend[ing] the words of the Bible into weapons aimed at Jew” really means. In regards to the latter, by definition bending or abusing or misusing anyone, or something is not an indictment upon the object that has been bent or abused or misused (in this case the Bible), but a condemnation of the abuser (in our case the Norway Bomber). St. Augustine once opined, “Do not judge a world-view based upon its abuse or misuse.” Ravi Zacharias then added that, “…instead one must judge a world-view upon the teaching and example of its founder.” The author of this article does not seem to notice that this “right-wing” Christian ideologue (not theologian) is not following the words or actions of Jesus. So by definition he cannot be “Christian,” if one means by Christian a true disciple of Jesus who “abides” and follows the “way of Christ.” I am sure the day before he murdered those 76 victims by virtue of his madness, he did not ask, “WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?” The same goes for the Nazis!
It is a ridiculous assertion and question to ask (as Prof. Thistlethwaite does) that:
“We must acknowledge these elements in Christianity and forthrightly reject these extremist interpretations of our religion. How can we ask Muslims to do the same with Islam, if we won’t confront extremists distorting Christianity?”
I say it’s ridiculous because (again) a misuse of Christianity to justify violence is not and cannot besmirch the Christian faith, because our founder (Jesus) never justified violence. In fact Jesus prepared “real Christians” to expect that violence will be done to us if we hold to the faith…because violence was done to Him, Jesus. Jesus asks rhetorically “is a slave greater than his or her master?” If Jesus being our master endured violence then why should we expect any less?
My hope is that Islam will move beyond its founder. The recent carnage in Paris was done by radicals who find justification for their actions in the life and times of Muhammad. Unlike the 16th century Reformation (where Christians went back to our founding and founder via Scripture) Islam needs to not look back as the modern Jihadist have, but progress forward. Moving beyond via cultural routinization and institutionalization will soften the contours and ideological rough edges of Islam.
However, Christianity is the only religion that cannot (and ought not) move beyond its founder. Simply put Jesus was perfect in all ways, including His humanity. The saying, “To err is human” though applying to everyone (including every religious founder of every religion from the past to present and future) never applied to Jesus. When we move beyond Jesus (the cornerstone of our faith) we are the ones who err. When we err we stray into violence and justify it in untold ways, including religious ways, e.g., the Crusades, the 17th century Wars of Religion,…etc. Even Jesus Himself said that if we are to be “real Christians” we must not move beyond Him, but toward him. Jesus says it this way in John 15: “ 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
In conclusion, may we keep our eyes and hearts and minds fixed upon Jesus alone. May we not move beyond, but toward Jesus by abiding in him. We abide in Jesus by obeying God’s Word. The greatest commandment is to love God and only then can we love our neighbor. Jesus tells us that the only way we can know that we are saved (making him both Lord and Savior) is by our fruit. Fruit (good works) does not save, but it’s evidence of our salvation. “Real Christians” do in fact bear good fruit! It’s the opposite that is so “terrifying”.