What's the Point of Being a Christian?

I'm reading a chapter titled "The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness" in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope where the author, Samir Selmanovic, expresses his disapproval of the exclusive claims Christians make about Jesus:

Christianity's idea that other religions cannot be God's carriers of grace and truth casts a large shadow over our Christian experience. Does grace, the central teaching of Christianity, permeate all of reality...? Is the revelation that we have received through Jesus Christ an expression of what is everywhere at all times, or has the Christ Event emptied most of the world and time of saving grace and deposited it in one religion, namely ours?  (p. 191)

For Selmanovic, religions other than Christianity can be "carriers of grace." This is because forgiveness and loving actions toward others are most important to him; these things are bigger than our understanding of the person of Christ, and they aren't necessarily tied to knowledge of Christ. It's His instructions about living in the Kingdom, not Jesus Himself, that really matter, and goodness can be discovered by people outside Christianity. Exclusive truth claims, therefore, make no sense to Selmanovic:

In the Scripture God has established a criteria of truth, and it has to do with the fruits of a gracious life....  This is unnerving for many of us who have based our identity on a notion of possessing the truth in an abstract form.  (p. 195)

Somewhere along the way, many people began dividing Christians into two camps: those who value possessing abstract truths and those who live out Christlike lives. But the point of being a Christian, though it involves both abstract truth and good behavior, holds neither of these things at its core. The point of being a Christian is to be reconciled to the true, real, existing God of the universe through our relationship with the person of Jesus. We are after God, not a better world or an intellectual exercise. We desire Him, we love Him, we commit our hearts, minds, and wills to Him. To do this, we need true knowledge of Him, and out of this flow good works, but in the center of all is Jesus.

Selmanovic speaks of a different center:

When I put myself in the moccasins of chief Chomina [who did not want to accept Christ lest he be separated in the afterlife from his family], I feel God's Spirit asking me, "What would you choose, eternal life without your loved ones or eternal death with them?" Chomina knew his answer. He would rather die than live without his beloved. Moved by the Holy Spirit, people like Chomina reject the idea of allegiance to the name of Christ and, instead, want to be like him and thus accept him at a deeper level.  (p. 191)

For Selmanovic, the goal of religion is to be "Christlike" (loving people well just as Christ loved us), and those who do so at the expense of the name of Jesus are more closely following in His footsteps than those who find themselves separated from others for the sake of His name. But is it more Christlike to reject Christ's name in order to "love" people? Or should Christ Himself be the purpose of all that we do? We are to rather die than live without our beloved, yes. But our beloved is to be Christ above all else. There is no deeper level than this. As Jesus said:

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.  (Luke 14:26)

Selmanovic has embraced the behavioral teachings of Christ, but he has missed the whole point of being a Christian.

blog post |
Amy K. Hall

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