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FIRST-PERSON: The ‘foolishness’ of the gospel after 9/11

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Sept. 11 — the day that many of us had hoped would ignite a spiritual revival in America — did not result in spiritual change for the better, it seems clear nearly one year later. Further, there’s great irony in the fact that there is a growing acceptance of Islam in America in spite of the undeniable truth that it was indeed Muhammad’s religion that was the prime motivator for the terrorists who attacked us on that terrible day.

Whether it’s the Barna Research Group, Gallup Organization, Pew Research Center or other reputable analysts of American public opinion, the findings are unavoidable: America is not better off spiritually one year after 9/11 — and in many ways, our nation’s rejection of biblical Christianity is today even more pronounced.

Many anecdotes in the last year could be cited to illustrate this statistical reality, but an Aug. 20 “Donahue” program on MSNBC perhaps most poignantly demonstrates how hostility to the gospel has not been deterred and may have been enhanced since 9/11.

Featuring its namesake, Phil Donahue (the recently resurrected dinosaur of talk show hosts), Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Michael Brown — a Messianic Jew based in Pensacola, Fla., and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., the guests debated an Aug. 12 statement from an ecumenical committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that rejected the need to evangelize Jews.

Citing the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and statements by Pope John Paul II, the bishops’ committee asserted without qualification that God’s covenant with the Jews means they do not have to express faith in Christ to be saved.

“A deepening Catholic appreciation of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, together with a recognition of a divinely given mission to Jews to witness to God’s faithful love, lead to the conclusion that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church,” the bishops said in “Reflections on Covenant and Mission.”

Now that’s the kind of teaching a backslidden Catholic like Phil Donahue can endorse! Donahue, who gave “three cheers” to the bishops’ statement, wryly declared: “Praise the lord for that, whichever lord may be your favorite.” But Donahue and Boteach heaped invective and derision on Brown and Mohler for insisting that Jews still need Jesus.

Donahue said such teaching is “arrogant,” “breeds anti-Semitism,” “reeks of prejudice and also stirs the soul to evil behavior.” Donahue said Mohler’s position was “unfair to God” and made God into an “egomaniac.” And Donahue insisted to Brown (seemingly without the slightest tinge of irony): “And you sure as h— can’t tell me there’s only one way for me to get to heaven.”

But Boteach spewed the harshest rhetoric. Accusing Brown and Mohler of “spiritual terrorism,” he said, “Now, you would think that we just would have progressed to some sort of racial harmony and tolerance, especially after Sept. 11.” Asking Mohler, “Does your religion allow for independent thought? Are you allowed to have a heart? Can you feel for people?” Boteach called Mohler’s views “repulsive,” “nauseating” and “revolting.”

Mohler, who has previously appeared with Boteach on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” and Brown handled each insult with the grace of Christian gentlemen.

The hard truth of the gospel is that Jews and Catholics (including bishops) and Baptists and Methodists and Muslims and New Agers and atheists and everyone else cannot please God and be reconciled to him apart from the grace of God in his Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10). That our culture — especially today — rejects this truth and is scandalized by it should not come as a great surprise to us.

Well before 9/11 and certainly after that tragic day, the gospel truth is still foolish to the unsaved: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” the apostle Paul told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul goes on to declare, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (vv. 22-24).

Southern Baptists and all other true followers of Christ must cling to the exclusivity of cross, recognizing that the world will find it foolish — and intolerant — but also that God will save some.

It was Jesus himself, after all, who declared: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6).
Smith is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal.

    About the Author

  • James A. Smith Sr.