Is Having the “Right” Theology the Core of Christianity?

Image by JMC Photos via Flickr

Image by JMC Photos via Flickr

Last week, we posted a piece by Greg that challenges the practice being violent “in the name of Jesus” toward others who err theologically. (Click here to read this post.) Being that this piece got a lot of attention, we thought it worthwhile to provide some further explication to this point, especially in the light of how common it is in our viral world to express ourselves violently toward others whom we see as wrong theologically. We might not burn people at the stake as Calvin and others did “in the name of Jesus” but much is written today “in the name of Jesus” that contradicts the distinguishing make of true Jesus followers.

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Someone once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus answered by giving him two, implying that it was impossible to do one without doing the other. “’You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt 22:37-39).

The implication is that it is impossible to truly ascribe worth to God while refusing to ascribe worth to those who whom the Creator ascribes worth. This I why the second command is “like” the first one; it necessarily follows from it. We love God—we affirm the unsurpassable worth of God—by obediently ascribing unsurpassable worth to those to whom he ascribes unsurpassable worth. We love those whom God loves, and we love them the way God loves them. And, God ascribes unsurpassable worth to everyone, as is evidenced by the fact that Jesus died for everyone (2 Cor 5:14; 1 Jn 2:2). We thus manifest our love for God by embracing God’s estimation of every single person we encounter. To do anything less is to fail to ascribe to God the authority, and thus the inherent worth, that he has as Creator.

Christians sometimes try to assess how they or others are doing on the basis of such things as how successfully they conquer a particular sin, how much prayer and Bible study they do, how regularly they attend and give to church, and so forth. And having the proper theology ranks as high, and for many higher, than any of these. But rarely do we honestly ask the question that Scripture places at the center of everything: Are we growing in our capacity to love all people? Even those, especially those, with whom we disagree theologically.

If there is any distinguishing mark of the true disciple from a biblical perspective, this is it! The central defining truth of the believer is that in Christ God ascribed unsurpassable worth to us, through we did not deserve it. Hence, the central defining mark of disciples of Christ is that they in turn ascribe unconditional worth to themselves and all others, knowing that Christ died for them.

This distinguishing mark of love is the central way God’s glory is extended to all the earth, including to those who don’t know Christ. God leverages the credibility of his salvation plan on Christ’s disciples loving as Christ loved! God doesn’t depend primarily on the words of his disciples, nor on their clever apologetic arguments, nor on their ability to concoct ingenious marketing techniques. God relies on his disciples participating in the love that he is and thus replicating it toward each other within the body and toward all others outside the body.

“By this,” Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Jesus prayed that his disciples would replicate the very same love that he and the Father share “so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17:23). The thing that more than anything else demonstrates the reality of the loving, triune God is that we embody the reality of the triune God in our relationships with one another and with the world. Nothing less than the credibility of the gospel, the reputation of God, and the salvation of people hangs on our fulfilling the commandment of love.

—Adapted from Repenting of Religion, pages 48-51.

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