A Profane Paradox

    An atheist named Ken Schei runs a website called "Atheists for Jesus." His goal? To promote the "love and kindness" taught by Jesus while rejecting a Church responsible for, as he claims, "Some of the most brutal . . . atrocities known to man." It's a harsh charge, and yet, sooner or later, we must confront this apparent paradox: A religion that teaches love and compassion is the same religion that gave us the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Salem witch trials. So, are these tragedies historical anomalies -- or are they, as Ken Schei charges, part of the DNA of our faith? Former journalist Lee Strobel pursued this question the way he used to go after any story: He went to an expert -- on Church history, in this case -- with a notebook full of questions. In his new book, The Case for Faith, Strobel relates his conversation with my good friend and theologian John Woodbridge. Yes, Woodbridge acknowledged, great evil has been perpetrated in the name of Christ. But with regard to atrocities, he said, we have to differentiate between authentic Christians and cultural Christians -- those who belong to churches, but may not follow Christ closely, or at all. Come on, Strobel retorted. It's a little too convenient to blame these things on people who claimed they were Christians, but really weren't. Not really, Woodbridge replied. Jesus himself made this distinction. He said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven . . . I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you'" [Matthew 7:21-23]. Throughout the centuries, you see, much has been done in Jesus' name that does not reflect his teachings. And as Woodbridge noted, even as these abuses took place, authentic Christians spoke out against them. For instance, the Puritan leader Increase Mather condemned the Salem witch trials. In Germany in the 1930s, true Christians, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the confessing church, spoke out against both Hitler and the churches that gave in to his demands. Of course, Christians aren't perfect, and we have to accept blame when we fail. But we're sometimes blamed for things we have nothing to do with. For example, in the sixteenth century, Spain sent explorers to the Americas to seek gold, and missionaries to save souls. Unfortunately, Woodbridge said, the missionaries have been blamed for all the terrible things the explorers did -- abuses the missionaries had no part in. Woodbridge is right in his conclusion. Abuses in the name of Jesus are the exception, not the norm. And when people throw atrocities like the Inquisition in our faces, we must remind them that, while the Inquisition was bad, far worse things have been perpetrated in name of secular ambition: Hitler murdered 6 million Jews. Stalin slaughtered 50 million Russians. Both of them hated the Christian God. Christians have never perfectly followed the commands of Christ, that's true. But our attempts to follow him have inspired the best in Western civilization for two millennia. Imperfect Christians have built schools and hospitals. We've rescued children left to die, and visited prisoners. We've made the world, not perfect, but far better than it would have been without our influence. We do these things, not because we admire Ken Schei's namby-pamby, powerless Jesus, but because we worship the risen, living Christ. For further reference: Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.


Chuck Colson


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