Love Wins: A Book Excerpt

And what exactly would have had to happen in that
three-year window to change his future?

Would he have had to perform a specific rite or ritual?
Or take a class?
Or be baptized?
Or join a church?
Or have something happen somewhere in his heart?

Some believe he would have had to say a specific prayer.
Christians don't agree on exactly what this prayer is, but
for many the essential idea is that the only way to get
into heaven is to pray at some point in your life, asking
God to forgive you and telling God that you accept
Jesus, you believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the
price for your sins, and you want to go to heaven when
you die. Some call this "accepting Christ," others call
it the "sinner's prayer," and still others call it "getting
saved," being "born again," or being "converted."

That, of course, raises more questions. What about
people who have said some form of "the prayer" at some
point in their life, but it means nothing to them today?
What about those who said it in a highly emotionally
charged environment like a youth camp or church ser-
vice because it was the thing to do, but were unaware of
the significance of what they were doing? What about
people who have never said the prayer and don't claim
to be Christians, but live a more Christlike life than some

This raises even more disconcerting questions about
what the message even is. Some Christians believe and
often repeat that all that matters is whether or not a
person is going to heaven. Is that the message? Is that
what life is about? Going somewhere else? If that's the
gospel, the good news-if what Jesus does is get people
somewhere else-then the central message of the Christ-
ian faith has very little to do with this life other than
getting you what you need for the next one. Which of
course raises the question: Is that the best God can do?

Which leads to a far more disturbing question. So is it
true that the kind of person you are doesn't ultimately
matter, as long as you've said or prayed or believed
the right things? If you truly believed that, and you
were surrounded by Christians who believed that, then
you wouldn't have much motivation to do anything
about the present suffering of the world, because you
would believe you were going to leave someday and go
somewhere else to be with Jesus. If this understanding
of the good news of Jesus prevailed among Christians,
the belief that Jesus's message is about how to get
somewhere else, you could possibly end up with a world
in which millions of people were starving, thirsty, and
poor; the earth was being exploited and polluted; disease
and despair were everywhere; and Christians weren't
known for doing much about it. If it got bad enough, you
might even have people rejecting Jesus because of how
his followers lived.

That would be tragic.

One way to respond to these questions is with the clear,
helpful answer: all that matters is how you respond to
Jesus. And that answer totally resonates with me; it is
about how you respond to Jesus. But it raises another
important question: Which Jesus?

Renee Altson begins her book Stumbling Toward Faith
with these words:

I grew up in an abusive household. Much of my abuse was
spiritual-and when I say spiritual, I don't mean new age,
esoteric, random mumblings from half-Wiccan, hippie
parents. . . . I mean that my father raped me while reciting
the Lord's Prayer. I mean that my father molested me while
singing Christian hymns.

That Jesus?

When one woman in our church invited her friend to
come to one of our services, he asked her if it was a
Christian church. She said yes, it was. He then told her
about Christians in his village in eastern Europe who
rounded up the Muslims in town and herded them into
a building, where they opened fire on them with their
machine guns and killed them all. He explained to her
that he was a Muslim and had no interest in going to her
Christian church.

That Jesus?

Or think about the many who know about Christians
only from what they've seen on television and so assume
that Jesus is antiscience, antigay, standing out on the
sidewalk with his bullhorn, telling people that they're
going to burn forever?

Those Jesuses?

Do you know any individuals who grew up in a Chris-
tian church and then walked away when they got older?
Often pastors and parents and brothers and sisters
are concerned about them and their spirituality-and
often they should be. But sometimes those individuals'
rejection of church and the Christian faith they were
presented with as the only possible interpretation of what
it means to follow Jesus may in fact be a sign of spiritual
health. They may be resisting behaviors, interpretations,
and attitudes that should be rejected. Perhaps they
simply came to a point where they refused to accept the
very sorts of things that Jesus would refuse to accept.

3/16/2011 4:00:00 AM