Last week we finished our study in the second of the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 121. A lot of discussion surrounded the question of where we look for solutions to the inevitable discomforts of trying to live as 21st Century pilgrims following God. Apparently, the pilgrims of this psalm, journeying to Jerusalem, were confronted with a number of options to trusting only in God for their help. The “hills” along the way were filled with the “high places”– altars and shrines to other gods- where they could offer sacrifices or buy charms ‘just in case’ Yahweh didn’t come through. Quick to re-direct the focus, the psalmist says ‘No thanks!” “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”(v.2)
Our theology makes it a horror to us that people in other cultures may merely add Jesus into their faith system, alongside of the pantheon of Hindu deities as an example, and think nothing of it. The singularity of Jesus as “the” Way is at stake! We also are very careful to make certain that anyone beginning their life in Christ knows that it is by grace alone and through Jesus alone that we are saved…not Jesus and the law or Jesus and good works, etc. Nevertheless, what we are so determined to stress at the point of justification seems to get lost once we are on our way in The Way. We would never think of adding another “god” to our faith; that would be unconscionable. However, the temptation to look to “the hills” for alternative or additional help as we go through this life is just as real for us as it was for those earlier pilgrims. When the journey gets tough, up the hill we go; looking for relief, protection, security, safety, a solution to our difficulties – just in case. This is the ‘Jesus Plus’ factor; Jesus plus our hard work, plus a “conservative” government, plus my 401K, plus my “stuff”. We find a way to make the journey that is difficult and uncomfortable more palatable. (“Jesus Plus my 401K” took a big hit last week as Wall Street went on a roller coaster ride due to the uncertainties in the world economic scene.)
I wonder if Paul didn’t have this temptation in mind when he wrote to the believers in Galatia, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”(Galatians 3:3)
In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis uses the advice of the senior devil Screwtape to his apprentice Wormwood to bring this issue to light. “What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know-Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order…Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring(italics added). Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.”
“..Fashion with a Christian colouring” is similar to what Ken Meyers, formerly of NPR and now the host of Mars Hill Audio, talks about as an “Adverbial Christianity”. In this version of “Jesus plus” we accept the secular view of reality and merely add the mood brightening modifiers like “joyfully” or “lovingly”. The underlying principles that we build our lives on go unexamined or challenged; principles that stem from a deeply distorted understanding of reality. For instance, can we discern the difference between “Christian” business and someone who thinks christianly about his or her business?
Even in our church thinking, it can be Jesus plus our programs, or our music or our sanctuary or our theology…whatever we think will help us feel a sense of security or rightness.
“Jesus plus nothing” is simple and easy to understand, however living this kind of lifestyle is not so simple and easy…”Jesus plus nothing” is not a system of do’s and don’ts-a system of beliefs or a checklist. It’s a relationship-a day-in-day-out relationship with Jesus.(Posted by Tim Timmons on THE EMBERS-Advancing the conversation of Jesus in the marketplace.)