Beliefnet
God's Politics

Jim WallisIn the continuing The Washington Post/Newsweek online discussion “On Faith,” I was asked: Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God? If so, what exactly does that mean? If not, who was he? My response follows:

Yes, as a historically orthodox Christian, I believe that Jesus was the Son of God. But the second part of the question is more interesting to me. “What, exactly, does that mean?” I’m going to even add to it a bit, “And what does it not mean.”

I believe the things that Jesus says about himself in the New Testament, and affirm what the later Scriptures and church creeds say about Jesus being the Son of God. But, that doesn’t mean many of the things that Christians have too often concluded, or how we have acted on the basis of our belief.

Jesus being the Son of God does NOT mean that Christians are better, more right, more righteous, more moral, more blessed, more destined to win battles, or more suited to govern and decide political matters than non-Christians. Instead, believing that Jesus was the Son of God would better mean that people who claim to believe it ought to then live the way Jesus did and taught. And on that one, many of us Christians (who believe the right way) are in serious trouble when it comes to the way we live. Those who believe that Jesus was the Son of God should be the most loving, compassionate, forgiving, welcoming, peaceful, and hungry for justice people around—just like Jesus, right? Well, it’s not always exactly so.

I’ll never forget hearing Billy Graham, the world’s greatest evangelist, the last time he spoke at Harvard. He preached at Harvard’s Memorial Church (to a huge crowd of students who had slept out all night just to get a seat), and then to the prestigious JFK Forum at the Kennedy School of Government the next night. After giving a statesmanlike address at the Kennedy School, he turned to the audience for questions. All the Christian triumphalists had shown up for their man and their night at Harvard. One young believer stood up and asked Dr. Graham, “Since Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man cometh to the Father but by me,’ doesn’t that mean people from other religions—Jews and the rest- are going to hell?” Billy replied, “I’m sure glad that God is the judge of people’s hearts and not me! And I trust God to decide those questions justly and mercifully.” The student was disappointed and pressed further, “Well, what do you think God will decide?” Graham demurred, “Well, God doesn’t really ask my advice on those matters.” Another questioner started again, “Well, what about those who aren’t even monotheists—like the Buddhists?” Graham, replied, “You know, I’ve been to some Buddhist countries, and so many of the people I met seem to live more like Jesus than too many Christians I’ve seen.”

Now Billy Graham would clearly answer the question this week, “Is Jesus the Son of God,” in the strong affirmative. But the man who has arguably brought more people to Christ than any other person of our time refused to join in Christian triumphalism. To answer yes to the question is to, at the same time, admit our human failings, stand under judgment ourselves, and humbly seek to follow the one we say we believe in. And that might open up a wonderful dialogue with those who believe other things.

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