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Commonsense Christianity

“If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.” (John 14:7)

The 1980s was a big time in establishment Christianity, and as college students, my husband the Norwegian Artist and I attended the closest thing to a mega-church the upper Pacific Northwest had to offer.

County Roads inspirational original watercolor painting of road going through forested meadow by Steve Henderson

He is the God of beauty, diversity, complexity, grace, and love, and He cannot be distilled into Four Spiritual Laws set in a booklet. God is bigger, and greater — and kinder — than we understand Him to be. County Roads, original watercolor painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

There were 800 members, all really cool and relaxed and into “sharing” and “relating” with one another. We sang contemporary worship choruses with the words splashed across a giant white screen, thanks to the latest technology of the overhead projector, and on a regular basis, the senior pastor brought in speakers and writers who were big in the contemporary Christian circuit of the day.

We learned about apologetics, listened to live music, and focused a whole lot on cults — some of them quite mainstream — that we were informed were masquerading as Christianity. Workbooks in hand, pencils poised, heads nodding in erudite agreement (some people, who weren’t completely nearsighted like me, removed their glasses and thoughtfully chewed on the earpieces — it increases the intelligence factor five-fold), we took notes on and bought books about the deceptively “sister” religions: they look like they teach Jesus, the cool speaker said, but when you follow their beliefs to their logical end, you run straight into absurdity.

Logic Is Not Evil

“What silly, foolish people,” we looked at one another in wonder. “Don’t they listen to what is being taught to them?”

Excellent question. It’s one that I wish church members like we were, glasses gently swaying in hand, would ask themselves today about their own beliefs, the essence of which are encapsulated thusly:

1) We are sinners who deserve eternal punishment.

2) Christ died for our sins.

3) When we believe in His name and put our trust in Him, we are saved and will not suffer eternal damnation. To fully complete this process, we must pray something helpfully labeled as “the sinner’s prayer,” in which we say something along the lines of, “Lord, I am a sinner and deserve eternal damnation. Your Son Jesus took that punishment for me, and I accept His free gift. In Jesus’s name (this is important), Amen.”

4) The logical consequence of not following through with the process of #3 is that we are damned eternally, because Christ’s entire purpose and message is encapsulated in Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Generally dropped off is the rest of the verse, “you and your household.” Apparently, this is a cultural thing, and we don’t need to pay attention to it, although verses like 1 Corinthians 14:34, admonishing women to remain silent in churches, are apparently not cultural and need to be obeyed.)

Faith Based upon a Booklet

While I didn’t set out to make four points, this message is the essence of The Four Spiritual Laws, a series of disparate verses designedly pulled out of context primarily from the Epistles of Paul and not the Gospels of Jesus Christ, upon which many Christians base their faith. (The booklet, the Four Spiritual Laws, was authored in 1952 by Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. For some reason, he was able to distill Jesus’s central message, 2,000 years later, into a 1, 2, 3, 4 process that Jesus Himself was never able to articulate.)

Child of Eden inspirational original oil painting of little girl in garden with radishes by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home decor at Amazon.com, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvas

So that God doesn’t seem like an absolute monster, some denominations, who hold fast to the necessity of saying the right words to be saved, have developed the doctrine of reason, which permits young children, under 5, to escape hell because they’re not old enough to say the words. But once they hit six, the grace ends. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, and Amazon.

This, then, is the good news: If you believe in Jesus, you go to heaven. If you do not believe in Jesus (using the proper terminology), you will go to hell.

It does not matter if you were born, and live, in a country where 98 percent of the population believes something else: if you truly had a heart for Christ, we are told, you would find him.

It also does not matter if your primary contacts with Christianity involved judgment, harshness, and verbal brutality: if you truly had a heart for Christ, you would find him despite this. And while there is no punishment for the insensitive person whose “message” turned you off (because he has prayed the sinner’s prayer is and therefore saved), there is judgment for you.

It all boils down to words, saying them or not, and, astonishingly,  the absurdity of this, taken to its logical conclusion, does not reach many, many Christians, who dispatch the dilemma of a loving God creating human beings whose destiny, from birth, is to be damned, by quoting a bastardization of Isaiah 55:8:

“Oh, well, God’s ways are not our ways you know!”

Maybe we should, as intelligent people, do what we’re taught to tell cult adherents to do, and follow our belief system to its logical conclusions, asking ourselves if this is the type of God we want to spend eternity with. (If it is, then this provides insight as to why so many people resist this version of the “good news.”)

The Four Gospels, not The Four Laws

And then, we pick up our Bible, forgetting everything we’ve been told or taught that it says, and read the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  When we feel tempted to get caught up in John 14:6 (“I am the way, the truth, and the life; No one comes to the father except through me,”) and think, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Those who don’t make a point of saying that they follow Him are damned,” let’s go back to Luke 18:18-29 and read Jesus’s answer to the rich young ruler who asked how to inherit eternal life:

Have we sold all our possessions yet? Didn’t think so. Like the women shutting up in church, that one must be a cultural thing.

In focusing solely on the four gospels (as opposed to reciting Four Laws), we encounter what Jesus said and did (much of what had to do with love, specifically the love of His Father) not what we’re told he taught (judgment, hell, damnation, and wrath), neatly summarized for us in tract form.

By the time we get to John 14:7, maybe we’ll catch on then to what Jesus means when He says that, if we know Him, we know the Father. And who is Jesus?

He’s kind, compassionate, understanding, merciful, reasonable, and non-judgmental. So is His Father.

That we don’t grasp this may be because we can’t interface a figure of unconditional love with one who destines 2/3, 4/5, 11/12, of the world to spend eternity in hell.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage believers to read the Bible with its central message in mind: God, our Father, loves us unconditionally.

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