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Jesus or ’empathy and courtesy’?

Channel 4 screened the first of Make Me a Christian last night.  Haven't seen it yet.  But here's one reviewer's reaction:

The infuriating thing will be if some of the group think happier lives can only be achieved through Jesus, rather than, say, empathy and courtesy and not being fat / crying / shagging all the time.

btw I'll give you one guess which newspaper!

Anyway, here's the gist of their gripe: 'You Christians can have your Jesus, I'll stick with my empathy and courtesy.' 

First notice what diminished values they are.  Not love and sacrifice - empathy and courtesy.  (Reminds me of a parishioner telling me we need to preach more 'tolerance' from the pulpit. I told him we'd do no such thing.  We would preach what Jesus preached - to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  How ridiculous is the virtue of 'tolerance'!)

But notice most of all the self-righteousness.  They haven't rejected Jesus in favour of license.  They've rejected Him in favour of law.  Their own law to be sure, but law nonetheless. 

Even the most 'lawless' can actually be seen seeking their own righteousness by their own power according to their own law.  Hitler was a non-smoking, vegetarian, tee-totaller. He had his own struggle with his own rules by which he would be righteous.

In this sense the vast majority of people are legalists.  Only the truly despairing, depressed and suicidal have actually given off the quest for a righteousness of their own.  And note too that such people have also given off their quest for freedom and happiness.  I'm just not sure that there is a category of licentious people who are not also legalists.  Am I wrong on this?

If not, what would this mean?  Well it should remove from us any desire to give people God's law as the proper guide for their self-righteous instincts!  The problem is not merely and not mainly that the law by which they are seeking to justify themselves is faulty.  To justify themselves by the right law is even worse!  The Jew who sought to justify themselves by God's law is not less but more culpable in His sight (Romans 2-3). 

The gospel must be the answer.  The gospel is not, 'Try doing things this way'.  The gospel is 'It is finished!'  Now that will humble.  That will drive the world down to contrition and brokenness because our real drive is not an abstract lawlessness but a craving to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, to make a name.  Jesus, in being our righteousness, strips us of our fig leaves of empathy and courtesy.  Our deepest social, ethical and environmental concerns are filthy rags.  He calls us to renounce this 'righteousness' and be clothed only in Him. 

That's far more offensive than telling people the right laws by which to self-justify.  I wonder which route the Channel 4 team will take?  I think I can guess.

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UPDATE: Read Marcus' blog here or Daniel Blanche - seems like my fears are founded!

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0 thoughts on “Jesus or ’empathy and courtesy’?

  1. Missy

    Response under no law reveals the heart - not to God, He knew all along - but to ourselves.

    If I were in the UK, you would be my pastor. :)

  2. timothycairns

    The only thing I would say is that Christians often see emotion and part of our sinful self. I sat through a sermon a few Sundays back where the preacher stated that emotions were part of our sinful self. I think in evangelicalism we have distrusted emotion and viewed it as evil. I wish I had spoken to the preacher after the service, I didn't! I wanted to tell him that emotions are not evil, they are part of our image bearing humanity, its just they start to make sense (as does our humanity) in light of Jesus. Emapthy and courtesy only make sense in and through Jesus.

    The reviewer in the newspaper quoted (and the preacher I listened to perhaps!) needs to understand that nothing makes sense apart from Christ

  3. Steve

    Really interesting post Glen, thanks. The reviewers response strikes me as a clash of values/priorities and the increased authority that they place on their own values/priorities, rather than on following Jesus. Notably, they haven't explained why their goal of seeking empathy and sympathy is more valuable than following Jesus, there is just an underlining assumption that it is better.

  4. glenscriv

    Hi Steve,
    Just realized I went off on holiday and never responded to your comment. How rude! So anyway - welcome to the comments!!

    And yes, doesn't that assumption that ''morality'' is better than Jesus just make your skin crawl!!!

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