Is God a Christian?
The timing was good—around the anniversary of 9/11—to read R. Kirby Godsey's new book, Is God a Christian? (Mercer Univ. Press, 2011). It's a great question, requiring us all—Christian, Jewish, Muslim—to ask some important questions about identity, otherness, and theology (a subject of interest to me for a number of reasons, including the fact that I'm writing on the subject as well).
Because Godsey is a Christian, he says that God isn't.
Godsey understands that Christian identity, when best understood, involves the realization that God is bigger than any single religion, and that Jesus' core mission involved helping people understand that. Here's how he says it:
... we Christians have to come to grips with the reality that there is not much that appears exclusive about the mind or the actions of Christ. Beggars, lepers, adulterers, and Samaritans were all welcome. Jesus broadened the circle of God's embrace. Insofar as the Christian religion has come to offer itself as the exclusive bag of answers to life's most difficult questions or a proprietary window through which the light of God shines on the human race, Christianity has simply become one more world religion competing for center stage.
When Godsey speaks against Christian exclusivity—which he does passionately and often, he doesn't mean that Christians should love Jesus less. He isn't arguing that Christians should dump Jesus as their exclusive commitment and "date around."
He's saying that to truly and deeply love Jesus, to be rightly and fully committed to his message and mission, Christians must resist the temptation to let the boundaries of their own religion define the circle of God's embrace. Christians must do this, not as an act of compromise with pluralism, but as an act of faithfulness to Jesus, who proclaimed in word and deed that God's love does not push anyone outside its infinite circumference.
As someone born and raised in a conservative Evangelical/Fundamentalist context, I know how scary and offensive Godsey's proposals will sound to many. Their great concern is that anyone who relaxes claims to absolute exclusivity takes one giant step down a slippery slope, leading toward an abyss of compromised, lukewarm, lackadaisical relativism. That's why I'm glad Godsey addressed relativism in statements like these:
We cannot create constructive avenues for authentic conversation when we simply adopt a relativist point of view.
Choosing between exclusiveness and relativism is a false choice.... Neither of these alternatives offers a foundation for relating to other faiths in a fashion that offers a hopeful way forward.
Instead of exclusivism or relativism, Godsey argues for "covenantal commitment." When people enter such commitments, he says, "the meaning of their presence on earth" is transformed. To relativize such commitments—to suggest that one is as good as another—is something a person who makes such a commitment with appropriate depth and passion would never do.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. Among McLaren's more prominent writings are A New Kind of Christian (2001), A Generous Orthodoxy (2006), Everything Must Change (2009), and A New Kind of Christianity (2010). His lastest book, Naked Spirituality, offers "simple, doable, and durable" practices to help people deepen their life with God.