Saved by doctrine or saved by Jesus?
My article “Can Muslims follow the Biblical Christ and still be Muslim?” created a firestorm on God’s Politics last week. In the article I suggest that we don’t see a very high Christology in Peter and Paul’s sermons in the Book of Acts, and yet we’re explicitly told in Scripture that those who heard their message were genuinely saved. I suggested that just because Muslims can’t bring themselves to say, “Jesus is God”, we shouldn’t write them off so quickly as heretics. The thread of the comments has been pretty explosive, many suggesting that I’ve given up Biblical faith in the name of political correctness—even though I explicitly say in the article that I’m NOT denying the deity of Christ.
I think there’s a much, much deeper issue in play here, and since I’m on a journey here, understand that I may not be able to communicate my thoughts very well, so a little grace would be welcome. What’s starting to come into focus for me is the revelation that it’s not up to Aaron Taylor to decide who’s “in” and who’s “out.” What if following Jesus has very little to do with “in” verses “out” and “us” verses “them”? What if following Jesus means simply that? To follow Jesus? I’m not saying that doctrine isn’t important. I’m just wondering how we arrived at the place where we think that we’re saved through doctrine and not saved through Jesus?
What does it mean to follow Jesus? If we look in the New Testament there seems to be a wide range of what that means. For the thief on the cross, it meant a simple request for Jesus to “remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” For the woman at the well, Jesus seemed to be content with letting her know that He is the Messiah. For a group of curious onlookers it meant simply to “believe in the one whom He sent.” For the rich man it meant to “sell all of his possessions and give to the poor.” Some followed Jesus out of curiosity. Some followed him because they wanted social status—like James and John—Jesus’ closest disciples. And some doubted even after the resurrection as Jesus was giving them the Great Commission!
Combine all this with the curious habit of Jesus of constantly ticking off the religious people of His day by eating and drinking with those perceived to be outsiders. One of the primary points of the parable of the Good Samaritan was to challenge religious prejudice. By making the perceived heretic the hero of the story, Jesus was pointing to the central issue of what constitutes true religion. Love of God and loving your neighbor as yourself.
So in my Q&A sessions when people ask me what do I think about all the people in the world that follow other religions—whether they’re “in” or “out”—I answer honestly. I say something like this:
“Jesus said ‘I am the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.’ At the same time He also told the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story where He made the perceived heretic the hero, challenging the religious prejudice of His day. I’m learning to live with the tension of these two truths.”
I’d love for everyone to believe that Jesus is God (though I’m quite aware that the statement needs a lot of explaining, especially in the light of Eastern and Western philosophical assumptions). At the same time it’s not my job description to determine who is “in” the kingdom and who is “out.” My job is to lift up Jesus and let Him run His Kingdom. If we start with Jesus, we can eventually arrive at correct doctrine, but if we start with doctrine, we may lose Jesus in the process.