The lesson that I relearned from reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics II/1 and IV/1 this semester is that we need to start with Jesus, because if we don’t then he might not fit.
A few weeks ago Rick Warren was on a special Thanksgiving edition of Meet the Press, and near the end of the interview David Gregory asked him to answer the question from page 35 of the Purpose-Driven Life: “What is the driving force of your life?”
Rick said that his purpose was to “know and love God, as a Christian of course, through his Son, Jesus Christ, to grow spiritually in maturity, to serve God with all my heart and to share his love with the whole world.”
Then Gregory asked about those who fail. “What if you know your purpose but are struggling to live up to that purpose? It’s one thing to say ‘this is my purpose. But are you really living up to it?’”
This seemed to be an open invitation to share how only Jesus can forgive our sin, but Rick inexplicably sidetracked himself into a pep talk about finding the right job. He said that “Studies show that 70% of Americans are in the wrong job. They’re in a job that they hate, that they’re not wired to do. We believe God actually shapes each individual for a purpose. Some are made to be oceanographers, some to be reporters, accountants, and others to teach school.” Rick then told us how to find the job that is right for us by asking the alliterated question: what do we find to be fulfilling and fruitful?
Gregory closed the interview with the obligatory Thanksgiving question, “What are you thankful for this thanksgiving?” Here Rick did much better, saying first that he was thankful for “My relationship to Christ, my salvation and forgiveness, my eternal life in heaven” (although he’s been told, he seems to have dug in his heels on heaven!).
I understand Rick’s desire not to offend his audience—something which was noticeable several times in the interview and was even mentioned by Lisa Miller in her Newsweek column this week—but I’ve learned from Barth that it’s not good enough to say that I love God through Jesus, because, of course, I’m a Christian. The average person might easily respond that is fine for you, but I happen to love God through Mohammed or whatever Richard Gere is into. And so the whole point about Jesus is lost.
Here’s my point: as you have opportunity to share the gospel this Christmas, make sure that you start and end with Jesus. Don’t begin with a generic God or meaning of life and then show how Jesus helps you to find these. Listeners may be impressed that Jesus works for you, but they might surmise that other paths work just as well. Make sure that you begin and end with Jesus. Jesus is not merely the Christian way to know God. He is God. Jesus is not merely the Christian slant on how to have a happy life. He is life. Start with Jesus, because if you start anywhere else, he might not fit.