I have been thinking about a couple of the references I have made over the last few days (see my posts here and here) about the reaction to the EA meeting on 7th October to discuss Steve Chalke’s book, The Lost Message of Jesus. It’s funny how people when they went to the meeting have seen it in very different ways, according to their initial view point. Of course, this really should be no surprise to anyone. We all come to circumstances with convictions, prejudices and past experiences which colour how we accept what we see or hear, whether it is, say, hearing a debate, meeting someone for the first time, or reading the Bible.
This last one is interesting. I have noticed that the people who write or blog about the Christian faith, and who support Chalke’s views, have their own prejudices. Like Chalke, they are real ‘love of Jesus’ people. In other words, their view of Jesus is of a man who was loving in a nice way, a pacifist who would not hurt a fly, had no interest in people’s continuing sin, against ‘religion’ of any sort, a ‘people’ sort of guy. For them, this is the true view of Jesus.
Contrast this with a non-Christian like Bertrand Russell. In his famous lecture entitled, Why I am not a Christian he makes some startling statements about Jesus. For example, he says,
There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance, find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation. You probably all remember the sorts of things that Socrates was saying when he was dying, and the sort of things that he generally did say to people who did not agree with him.
You will find that in the Gospels Christ said: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell.” That was said to people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about hell. There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost: “Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world nor in the world to come.” That text has caused an unspeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of this sort into the world.
Here we find a man who looks at the gospel record and sees a completely different Jesus, a man lacking in the right moral character, a man who does not deserve to be followed. He talks about hell. He is not ‘nice’ at all!
Now, my point is not to try to highlight that fact that non-Christians like Russell misread the Bible but that Christians have their eyes opened and can see clearly. The paradox seems to be that Russell saw something in the Gospel records that many Christians don’t. That is, he saw Jesus’ teaching about hell and punishment in a way that many Christians choose to ignore or diminish. Russell may have been wrong in coming to a conclusion from the biblical data that results in him questioning Jesus’ moral character – he clearly has some other standard of perfection up his sleeve. But he is seeing biblical data that Lost Message Christians are not.