A post by Methodist blogger Alan Bevere has stayed with me since it was originally published back in June of this year. The post, “So, Just How Inclusive Was Jesus?” muses on the modern value of inclusion and how it does and doesn’t square with Jesus.
I agree with Tom Wright that modern notions of inclusiveness are too broad and too shallow. Of course there is an inclusive aspect of the Gospel; it is, after all, offered to everyone. But one cannot avoid that along with the inclusive nature of the Gospel in the New Testament, there is also an exclusive character as well. One simply cannot read Jesus or Paul and conclude otherwise.The fact that many Christians in the twenty-first century church do not understand this is revealed in the recent hoopla over Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. Bell rightly believes that the question “Is Gandhi in hell?” should not necessarily be answered in the affirmative, and those who confidently think otherwise need to remember that God is quite unconcerned over what they think about the eternal destiny of others. At the same time, those who have been so quick to hop on the universalism bandwagon need to remember that there is another question that should be asked as well: “Is Hitler in heaven?”But the purpose of this post is not to focus only on the hereafter, but to highlight what Bockmuehl and Michael are rightly saying about our present situation. Current accounts of inclusiveness are indebted much more to modernity than they are to the New Testament. Richard Hays words need to be heard: Jesus is not only the friend of sinners but he is the nemesis of the wicked. The issue is not the truly inclusive nature of the Gospel, but the imposition of a broad and shallow modern inclusivism that does indeed come at a high moral price. Bishop William Willimon reminds us that during his ministry Jesus drove away more people than he attracted.
Alan, thanks for the post. As usual, it was thought-provoking and something I’ve been thinking about for a while.
That said, I want to put some flesh and bone on the issue of inclusiveness.
As a gay man, I do understand and appreciate the call to be inclusive and welcoming. There are a lot of folks who have felt left out of the church because of their sexuality. But as someone who is also an ordained minister (in the Disciples of Christ), heck as a Christian, I know that we are called to be more than simply inclusive. As much as I find some parts of Christianity too quick to draw boundaries that I believe is up to God, I tend to find the drive towards inclusion at all costs kind of shallow. I mean, inclusion is a wonderful thing, but if there is no talk of the cross, or faith, or sin or forgiveness, then what you have is a very thin theology indeed.
What I long for is something you said in a previous comment, a balance between inclusion and repentance. People need to know that they are loved by God, but they also need to have room for repentance as well.