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FIRST-PERSON: Pick-and-choose theology remakes Jesus to fit our own prejudices

WASHINGTON (BP)–During this presidential campaign, we’ve heard all about how faithfully Sen. Joe Lieberman follows the tenets of Orthodox Judaism. If the Senate votes on the Jewish Sabbath, we’ve been told, Lieberman walks three miles to Capitol Hill instead of driving. If he takes the subway, then one of his aides will insert the fare card for him.

And yet, incredibly, Lieberman votes in favor of abortion — even partial-birth abortion. Fellow Orthodox Jews, like columnist Michael Medved, charge that Lieberman’s votes violate Orthodoxy’s uncompromising strictures against abortion.

But before we judge him too harshly, we’d better remember that some Christians engage in the same sort of pick-and-choose approach to faith. Can we really pick the teachings we’re comfortable with and ignore the rest?

The answer, of course, is no. When we take the salad bar approach to Scripture to justify our own prejudices, the result is a gospel deprived of its life-saving power.

History is full of occasions when God’s sacred Word has been bent, reshaped and used as a tool for a particular purpose — to support the Crusades, for example — or made to support erroneous theologies, like in the 19th century when many justified slavery with Bible verses taken out of context.

But while the crusades of the past were to conquer territory, today’s salad bar approach to religion tries to use Scripture to justify our own prejudices, or for our personal comfort, or for our politics.

One example is the effort to remake Jesus to fit a more modern, secular perspective. Just listen to some of the titles you’ll find in bookstores. Retired Bishop John Spong’s book, “Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus,” makes a preposterous suggestion. Spong says Mary was raped and the Virgin Birth was concocted by the church as a cover-up.

In “Jesus the Man,” theology professor Barbara Thiering writes that Jesus didn’t die on the cross; he was just poisoned. He was revived and then went on to marry and raise three children. We’ve also seen theologians claiming that the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality doesn’t apply to gays in so-called “committed relationships.”

Taken together, teachings like these can create the notion that the Bible is simply a collection of myths or textual errors. And some evangelicals may even come to accept these fraudulent ideas and start looking for ways to separate faith from facts.

But Scripture never does that. The apostle Paul explicitly argues that if Christ was not physically raised from the dead, our faith is worthless. Furthermore, Paul warns against changing the gospel to suit our own purposes.

Once you accept in principle that Scripture may be wrong, you start performing surgery on the text. You sort out certain historical details and stack them in a pile marked “believable,” and then label the rest “unbelievable” and dump them out.

But Scripture is not a beanbag chair: It cannot be reshaped to fit individual tastes. We must accept the total message. Otherwise, all we’re doing is remaking Jesus to fit our own personal prejudices. When we see public figures engaging in the salad bar approach, we need to help our children and grandchildren understand why this is so dangerous and why it is so intellectually dishonest.

Picking the contents of your salad is one thing, but picking and choosing among God’s commands is a recipe for disaster.
Charles Colson is chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries. His daily commentary can be heard on radio stations throughout the United States and at the Breakpoint website. Used by permission.

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  • Charles Colson