"GOD IS NOT A CHRISTIAN"
by Telford Work
05 Nov 2005
[shown is the lattermost part of the article; please click on title's link for complete version --- teci]
What broke my heart came at the conclusion of the evening, when Tutu took questions from the audience. One asked, "What can other religions teach Christians? What can Christians teach other religions?"
To the first part, Tutu responded with a stock answer – and to thunderous applause – "They can teach Christians that God is not a Christian."
Christians get angry when he says that, he then said; but who can look at the Dalai Lama and say his prayer and his holiness is something God will reject?
Now Tutu is right that the godliness and holiness of people like the Dalai Lama is real godliness and holiness. Christians need not belittle it. Tutu is also right that God's reception of these people into his kingdom is his prerogative. That future is not ours to deny just because these people do not call upon Jesus as Lord. Nor are we to force the label of "Christians" upon people like these if they do not embrace the label themselves. Jesus is not a coercive Lord.
Tutu is dead right that God does not belong to us who are called "Christians." But let's accept, for the sake of argument, a standard definition of a Christian as a follower of Jesus as Christ (meaning Messiah: "the Anointed One"). Is the God who is the Father of the Son, who loves and anoints him with his Spirit and exalts him with all things, not the Son's best follower? Is the Spirit who conceives him, who leads him along the Father's mission and indwells his body, calling upon him to Come and confessing him as Lord, not the Son's best follower? When it takes the Spirit to provoke our own confessions, how can we arrogate the title "Christian" to ourselves as a possession, as something our own? The term "Christian" was coined only in Antioch after Jesus ascended; but it belongs to God in the story of Jesus Christ, not to us. Tutu made the word our possession. But we take it on only with fear and trembling, knowing that the Messiah judges whether or not we know him and serve him and prove faithful to his office.
Tutu turned two different things into a false dichotomy: he left us with the choice of either making God the possession of Christians or acknowledging that good people are truly good. The Archbishop Emeritus left us with that agonizing choice because he chose not to tell us the story of Jesus Christ, a story that points somewhere else than those two horrible options. In fact, by winsomely forcing them on us he told us a different story, the story of pluralism, in which God floats free from his own beloved Church.
He gut-punched every Christian in that room with that throwaway line, and left a lot of us walking out at the end in stunned, devastated silence.
Even worse, Tutu did not answer the second part of the question, about what Christians might teach others. He went on to the next – to more applause from the delighted audience, and more devastation in me.
Why? Because we do have something to teach the world's other communities of conviction.
We Christians don't need to teach them our culture, our history, our apologies, or even our religion. We bear only one thing. It is not something we created or own. We are merely entrusted with it for a time and held accountable for its fruitfulness when that time is over.
That thing is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is his story and his name above all names that we offer the world with joy and expectation. It is through him that South Africa's and America's and the world's forgiveness and reconciliation come.
Thanks be to God for Desmond Tutu and the mighty works done through him in South Africa. My life will never remotely compare to his. But if he thinks the godliness of a Dalai Lama or a Desmond Tutu or (God forbid) a Telford Work will justify any of us, if he thinks the prayers or spirituality or deep thoughts of even the holiest of us will be acceptable to God on their own, if he thinks that Jesus' good news doesn't need to be taught because all these other good things are already all around us – then the Archbishop Emeritus is teaching another gospel. He is a prophet of justification by works. He has forgotten the one thing that matters most. Moreover, this man entrusted with the highest teaching office in his Church has invited us to do the same.
I decline that invitation.
I refuse to forget. I refuse to go home and sleep peacefully after even as godly a man as Desmond Tutu takes such a generous question and, when asked what might be worth teaching, shrinks back from naming the name of Jesus. I refuse to be complicit in the massive apostasy underway in this culture and even in our churches that would put any other story – or no story at all! – before our Lord's good news.
Jesus gets the glory. Jesus, not "Transcendence," is the name above every name. Someday every tongue will confess, "Jesus, Christ, Lord" to the Father's glory. South Africa's freedom from its demonic past is a sign of that Father's kingdom. It accrues to his glory. Desmond Tutu's vision has been a big part of that. But Christians don't own our name, our glories, or even our sins. The Dalai Lama doesn't own his spirituality or prayers. Progressives and conservatives don't own their Goodness. I don't even own this lousy blog. And none of us owns our futures. Jesus' blood got him the deed to them all.
If you learn anything from us "Christians," whether we are godly, enthralling Nobel Peace Prize laureates or intolerant, weak, arrogant, hypocritical bloggers, for God's sake learn that.