October 24, 2020

Monday in Holy Week 2018: The Jesus Disconnect

Scenes from the Life of Christ: Entry into Jerusalem. Giotto

Note from CM: Back in 2009, Michael Spencer some posts exploring what he called, “The Jesus Disconnect.” Here is an edited version of the first post in that series. In my experience, one reason people fail to enter in to a deep appreciation of Holy Week and miss its full significance is that they have failed to see the connection of Jesus’ passion with his ministry. Michael noted this disconnect many times, and here is an example of that.

• • •

Nothing has impressed me more in my last few years of writing, reading and discussion than the disconnect the average Christian believer feels from the ministry of Jesus, specifically his miracles, exorcisms, teachings, training of disciples and encounters with individuals as described in the first half of the Gospels.

For many Christians, their view of Jesus is much like the movie Passion of the Christ. The story of Jesus begins with the suffering of Jesus, with the ministry of Jesus fading anonymously into the background, appearing occasionally in a few moralistic or sentimentally devotional flashbacks.

This disconnect leaves me with the feeling that many Jesus-followers are almost cynical regarding the relevance of the ministry of Jesus for anything other than preaching “lessons” from the example of Jesus. The actual significance of this major portion of scripture seems to be confusing to many Christians.

The disconnection from the ministry of Jesus takes several different forms.

1. At times, it is a stated preference for Jesus as presented in the Pauline epistles. This preference can be modest, defensive or hostile. In its more extreme forms, the person wanting to serious consider the place of the ministry of Jesus in an overall approach to Christianity may be accused of denying the Gospel, or of replacing a Gospel of justification with a Gospel of “the Kingdom.”

2. The disconnect may be a belief that the ministry of Jesus actually is an inspiration to liberal, socialistic misunderstandings and abuses of the Gospel.

3. The disconnect may grow out of a belief that the church Jesus founded and its current ministry in the world is the goal toward which all of Jesus’ words and actions pointed. To take Jesus’ ministry seriously is to wrongly emphasize the “seed” stage over the more mature “plant” or “tree.”

4. Others who are disconnected from the ministry of Jesus simply do not know what to do with the example, teachings and significance of Jesus’ ministry today. They are frequently quick to state that we don’t follow Jesus’ teaching literally and have no real need to do so.

5. Most evangelicals are operating off an outline of the Gospel that gives no real significance to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus death and resurrection have significance in personal evangelism, but the ministry of Jesus does not, so this part of the Biblical presentation of Jesus is easy to disconnect.

There may be other reasons for this disconnect from the ministry of Jesus, but these seem to me to be the primary responses that I hear, read and observe.

These are the questions that catch my interest as I think about “The Jesus Disconnect”:

  • First, how do we view the ministry of Jesus in an overall consideration of Jesus?
  • Second, how does the ministry of Jesus participate in the Gospel and all that the Gospel does?
  • Third, how can we access the ministry of Jesus in a Jesus shaped Christian life?
  • Finally, what are the implications for evangelicals of recovering the entirety of Jesus as presented in the scripture?


  1. Iain Lovejoy says

    If evangelicals are downgrading the ministry of Jesus and don’t see any need to follow his teachings, what does evangelical Christianity consist of, i.e. what do they think being and living as a Christian is supposed to entail? (This is not a rhetorical point, I am genuinely baffled as to what evangelical Christianity consists of.)

    • In some parts of it (the SBC in particular) it entails one thing – evangelism. Everything revolves around getting others to believe in Jesus (and say the sinner’s prayer). That the is reason for every program and every ministry. We’re just passing through and all that matters is getting more people saved. It’s the ‘wretched urgency’ of which Michael famously wrote.

      The ‘dark side’ of this is that it emphasizes pragmatism – whatever ‘works’ must be from God. Thus Billy Sunday could brag about how he was the most efficient (cost-effective) evangelist in history (claiming that he ‘won’ souls for $2 each – he also said he knew less about theology than a jackrabbit knows about ping-pong). It also explains the evangelical vote for the current president. The ends justifies the means, even if the means (and sometimes the ends) conflict with what Jesus said in the gospels.

      • As far as Christian ethics, it really boils down to one thing – sex, and the avoidance of it (except in heterosexual marriage) and issues related to it (gay marriage, abortion, pre-marital sex, pornography, etc.).

        • flatrocker says

          Just a point of clarification – if we played the “which of these is not like the others” game, the ethics surrounding abortion reside in a different conversation than those of gay marriage, pre-marital sex and pornography. Careful we don’t simply default and conflate.

          • But abortion is really a sex issue. If it were a life issue, there would be no exceptions for rape or incest. Is not the life of the child just as valid or important if it is conceived as a result of rape or incest? To me this is the telling point – it’s really about sex.

            • Although I didn’t always believe this to be the case, I think I now agree with you. Reason: I was having a debate with an agnostic friend a couple years back and he said something that really stuck with me. He said, “I’ll get on your anti-abortion bandwagon if and when you Christians decide to take care of every baby not aborted.” In other words, if we demand that a pregnant woman must carry a fetus into this world but do nothing to help the mother and baby afterward, then we’re just hypocritical.

              Makes me think it is more about the “sex” than the “life.”

              (I’m not totally sold on this, but it’s certainly had me thinking over the years. I still think abortion is wrong from a life-taking perspective, but it’s a good counterpoint.)

              • I vividly remember an interview Bill Moyers had back in the 1990s with a woman (I don’t remember anything about her but what she said). She said the problem with the pro-choice movement is that it is really about money – a lot of people make (or did at that time) a lot of money off abortions and have a vested interest in keeping it legal. The problem with the pro-life movement, she said, was that they believe life begins at conception but ends at birth. They don’t want their tax dollars supporting welfare moms and paying for baby formula for poor kids. They are for the principle of life but not the ‘practice’ of it.

                When I served on the board of a crisis pregnancy center years ago (2 years as treasurer and 1 as VP) I used that quote a lot in fundraising. Crisis pregnancy centers are (or were in the 1990s) the exception – they actually do care about mothers and children.

                • –> “Crisis pregnancy centers are (or were in the 1990s) the exception – they actually do care about mothers and children.”

                  And I think my friend would ask, Why aren’t Christians inundating these types of centers with the presence and support? To which I think I would reply, Because we’re just as hypocritical as the ones we rail against.

                  • You’ve hit upon a pet peeve of mine. I know of several large churches in our area who could do a LOT more to support crisis pregnancy centers, but they would rather build big church buildings.

                    • Well those centers don’t service the church directly, they service the other.

                      I saw a video/news piece the other day about a church in NYC that has without failed provided 3 meals to the homeless every day for something like 75-100 years straight, no expectation of return, no forced sit through the sinner’s plan, no requirements on who is worthy of receiving the food…

                      Must be terrible ROI for them, all those awards in heaven.

              • flatrocker says

                False equivalency.
                Lack of care – by whatever metric you may devise – is not justification for elimination.
                If that were the case, we should be including the elderly and the handicapped as well.
                Think deeper.

              • Dana Ames says

                Actually, that’s one of the things Christians used to do back in the days when it was illegal. Babies rejected by their families for whatever reason were left in deserted places to die of exposure – mostly females, by the way. Christians used to visit those places regularly and retrieve the infants, care for them, and raise them if they lived. This is one aspect of Christians’ hands-on care for those not related to them, including nursing people through plagues, which, combined with their very strict sexual ethic, made the Greco-Roman society of the day consider Christians completely nuts.

                • Yes, we should not overlook the good done by some Christians, but there can be little doubt that some of those infants and children, perhaps many or most, were rescued from death to live lives of servitude to and abuse by those who had rescued them, and there can be little doubt that even some Christians misused those they rescued in this way. The picture is not all rosy.

                  • Dana Ames says


                    I’m sure some number of those babies were not treated well. However, people’s lives were much more public then, and from what we do know about why Christians were ridiculed, if such treatment were actually widespread, the detractors of Christianity would have pounced on it.: “Those Christians talk about brotherhood between slaves and free people, but they enslave those found babies – hypocrites!” Not that the ancients would have found fault with slavery; they would have called attention to the hypocrisy. As far as I know, there is no such documentation, though I may be mistaken. Also, we do know that women were attracted to Christianity, which would not make sense if many or most of those found babies – again, mostly female – were known to have been raised in servitude and been abused.

                    I am well aware that not all of the first Christians were exemplary. There has never been a “golden age of the Church.” Not too many years after legalization, some Christians were bewailing the “lukewarmness” of the majority and thought most were Christians only because of the social advantages; a lot of these folks went into the desert to actually try to live Jesus’ admonition to follow him – as they understood what that meant – after actually selling all their stuff and giving the proceeds to the poor. They were the first monastics. They were’t trying to shut themselves off from other humans; there are lots of stories of their interactions with other people. They were struggling with what being a true follower of Jesus meant when “being a Christian” became the default – kind of like the situation in the US in our lifetime, when at least nominal Christianity was the faith of the majority.

                    All I’m saying is that what got the attention of the people around the Christians in the first few centuries was how some number of those Christians actually did care for the weakest in society, and especially because they were not kinfolk. This made no sense to the non-Christians. Just because some few Christians may have done so for less than charitable reasons doesn’t negate the impact this activity done by faithful people made on the non-Christians in the culture in which they lived.

                    I’ve noticed you often downplay the examples I give from early Christianity. What’s up with that? I don’t think I’ve ever said that any Christians have been perfect all the time, and I don’t defend nominal Orthodox, either – even those in Russia. Give me a break, please. I like you too much for us to be on the outs over this.


                    • Dana, I’m not aware of being more critical of your comments about early Christianity than any others made here. I am doubtful about all such claims; I think we have a cultural tendency to idealize the early Christian centuries. I think that came about because, when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, it reworked cultural memory and rewrote cultural history in ways that have distorted the content of our memories and histories of Christianity ever since.

                      For instance, I don’t accept the prevailing idea that for three centuries Christianity was under constant, widespread persecution by the Roman Empire. For the most part, with a few significant exceptions, the pagan Roman authorities left Christians alone. If a widespread, prolonged persecution had been undertaken across the centuries, or even if there had been many smaller episodes of widespread, systematic persecution, the Christian church would not have survived, the idea that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” notwithstanding. When we remember those early centuries as being typified by such persecution, we are taking two or three decades worth of real, systematic persecution spread over hundreds of years, and painting the whole period with them. The most educated and powerful people in Rome were already becoming Christians by the middle of the second century; again, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the poor and slaves (the largest populations of which lived in the country, and whom Christianity took centuries to reach) who were converted first, but the cosmopolitan, educated city-dwellers who latched onto the new religion, and among whom it almost became a fad to join. These were privileged people who had the protection of their pagan friends and family among the nobility and leadership.

                      I’m not picking on you in the least. I’m not sure why you would think I was. This is just the viewpoint that I’ve arrived at after reading and consideration.

                    • Regarding the point about Christianity as an urban religion: Remember that overall the Roman Empire had an average of about 10% of its population in the cities, with about 15- 20% in peninsular Italy. That means that, during the time that the power center cities were turning Christian at a very fast rate, the vast majority of inhabitants of the Empire who lived in the countryside continued in their traditional pagan religious ways. Christianity reached them late and last, and it must have been quite a shock to these people (whom the urban-dweller Christians looked on as ignorant hicks) when the Empire first made Christianity the most favored religion, and then the only permitted one. They had little choice but to hide their traditional practices under a patina of Christianity, while holding on them as best they could. Sad, really.

                    • Yes, I know the persecutions were sporadic and local, until the late 200s. That doesn’t cancel out the reality of martyrdom. And Christianity did spread outward from the cities. I don’t know enough about how much of pagan traditional practices remained “under cover” after Christianization. I do know that even though some rulers brought their whole people group into Christianity, it was not the policy in the East to force conversions. To my knowledge, we never had the “get their soul saved and don’t worry about the harm done to their bodies” mentality. Lots of cultural practices got “baptized” and brought into the celebrations of Christian feast days, without the kind of syncretism seen in parts of the Catholic Church.

                      I’m sorry if I misinterpreted you. It just seems like when I bring up stuff like this, and even acknowledge the problems involved, I feel like you’re negating the good I point out.


                    • Dana, I apologize for giving you the impression that I’m singling you out for criticism; to my knowledge, I’m not.

                      My understanding is that the Empire was no more than 10% Christian by the year 300 C.E., and the vast majority of those Christians were in the cities. That means there was an awful lot of paganism still left in the countryside when Diocletian’s persecution was over, and Constantine changed Christian’s disposition in relation to the Empire to tolerated, then favored religion. Only after it became most favored religion of the Empire did Christianity start to make headway into the rural regions. My understanding is that the Diocletianic Persecution did not start in the late 200s, but in 303.

                    • Dana Ames says

                      Again, no argument with you except that empire-wide persecution didn’t begin in 303; it started to heat up in 250, when Decius acceded and required an oath of loyalty to the emperor from all citizens. Valerian in 258 ordered all Christian priests and bishops to perform sacrifices to the Roman gods on pain of execution. Diocletian came to the throne in 284, started out by purging the army of Christians, and devolved from there. These orders affected the entire empire and were not the whim of local governors.


                    • The period of enforcement of Decius’ edict was eighteen months, the period of of the Valerian persecution lasted seven years. They were real persecutions creating real martyrdom (as well as self-imposed exile to the countryside where it was harder to enforce such edicts) among communities of Christians who had formerly been unmolested by the Empire for long periods of time, and no doubt their terror was intensified by the shock they caused within communities that had been living at peace for so long. I think historians disagree about how quickly the Diocletian persecution heated up; there is no question that it was terrible whenever it did. But there is also no doubt that after the persecution of Diocletian was over, the newly dominant Christian rulers exaggerated both the extent and intensity of persecution in the centuries before, with the most recent painful memory of the Diocletian persecution becoming the lens through which the vision of earlier times was distorted. We have been significantly shaped by those exaggerated memories ever since.

              • Christiane says

                Hello RICK RO.

                you wrote, this:

                “In other words, if we demand that a pregnant woman must carry a fetus into this world but do nothing to help the mother and baby afterward, then we’re just hypocritical.
                Makes me think it is more about the “sex” than the “life.”
                (I’m not totally sold on this, but it’s certainly had me thinking over the years. I still think abortion is wrong from a life-taking perspective, but it’s a good counterpoint.)”

                I hate how the political ‘conservative right’ was swallowed by evangelicals without RECOGNIZING just how brutally inhumane the collision is between the economic ‘survival of the fittest’ program of contempt for the poor PLUS an insistence that poor women be deprived of their local health care and birth control and YET ‘they better have that baby or they are murderesses and they are going to hell’ . . . talk about trapping people into a catch-22, wow

                And yet the so-called devotion to ‘the right to life’ . . . . like the hyppocracy of the Virginia governor who ran on ‘right to life’ and won; and then he cuts funding from the biggest pediatric hospital in the whole state with the largest NICU . . . . .

                I mean it does get clearer than that . . . . so I wonder if that ‘atheist’ is a Virginian who witnessed that whole show;
                and I’m thinking, maybe the atheist at least recognizes something of Christianity that the inhumane governor apparently had forgotten . . . . that ‘life’ extends after the birth of a baby and all life is sacred to God . . . .

                politics will be the undoing of fundamentalist/evangelicals, I fear . . . . unless the Holy Spirit descends and renews their hearts away from contempt for the poor . . . the conflict between the economic ‘Survival of the Fittest’ and the right wing claim to support for ‘the right to life’ is too great a leap . . . . no reasonable person can fail to see the divide or, if you will, the ‘disconnect’.

                I recently was called to account over at SBCtoday for not being open on that site about my feelings when I read a quote on one of their posts and wrote here at imonk that it sickened my stomach. It was a quote from a well-known conservative Christian leader who saw evangelicals as being strong enough to elect Trump:

                “Hey Christiane.
                Since you won’t deal directly with parts of the post that, as you said, “:turned my stomach”.

                Posted by Christiane at “The Internet Monk” Sunday, March 17, 8:25pm:
                (The Internet Monk has a much more liberal audience)

                “I kid you not, this phrase was in a post over on SBCtoday, and it left me speechless and it turned my stomach:
                ” Tony Perkins, writing for the Family Research Council, stated,
                “For Nashville, who’s always counted the God-loving, gun-clinging ‘deplorables’ as its strongest base, this is a defining moment.
                Anyone who underestimates the buying power of patriotic America, especially after the last year-and-a-half, isn’t paying attention.
                If country music joins Hollywood in its open attack on faithful America – a faithful America mighty enough to send Donald Trump to the White House – they’re sealing their own fate.”
                well, I don’t think it was a ‘faithful’ American that sent Trump to the White House, no. It is SO nice to disagree with the likes of Tony Perkins. I must be one of them ‘liberals’. (?) No, I’m just me. Just me. No label fits quite right on me these days anymore. Just being ‘human’ takes all my strength.”

                The person who was calling me to account was a ‘KEN P.’
                and you will not that he calls Imonk a much more liberal readership than SBCtoday . . .

                Well, I responded. But my response to KEN P. went into ‘moderation’ and then disappeared.

                So I promised him another response, and I will send this comment over to SBCtoday and perhaps the admin. will find it worth printing . . . . or not . . . I am at peace, having tried in good faith in any case. 🙂

                ‘Disconnect’ is a good word. This post really nails a lot of my own thoughts on why the Holy Gospels of Our Lord in sacred Scripture are not more celebrated among evangelical people, when those Gospels are so shining and filled with reasons to honor Our Risen Lord. (?)

            • flatrocker says

              No, contraception is really the sex issue.
              Ethically, abortion involves something different.
              Again, conflation is not appropriate here.

              • I’ve heard a lot of people say over the years, ‘she got pregnant, she should carry that baby.’ It’s the scarlet letter.

                • One tweak: “She got pregnant, she should carry that baby… and I’m not going to lift a finger to help once it comes into the world.”

              • –> “Ethically, abortion involves something different.”

                And flatrocker… I get that, too. Trust me, this isn’t an easy issue in my mind. That’s why I have difficulty with the black-and-white opinions on both sides.

            • To bring this segue of abortion back to the topic at hand, i.e. the disconnect the average Christian believer feels from the ministry of Jesus…

              Jesus preached for us to take care of the widows and orphans. Does that mean we get to ignore unwed mothers and their children? Does that mean we get to focus solely on the horror of fetal killings while walking over to the other side of the street once those mothers give birth?

              • Dana Ames says

                “Widows and orphans” in Jesus’ day were those without obvious social support from families; they could end up begging on the street or in prostitution. Unwed mothers and their children in our day often are also without that kind of social support, and some end up in prostitution or being trafficked. Check the statistics on sex trafficking – upwards of 90% are women and minor children.

                The answer to your question, is no, we don’t get to walk to the other side of the street. And what the Government does provide is barely enough for people to eat, let alone help them find work, as we insist they should do.

                In my experience, crisis pregnancy centers and Catholic Charities (and probably the Salvation Army as well) do the best work among Christians in terms of caring for women and children in these circumstances. Christians could do so much better, and even more so with the elderly, at least providing finances for the people who have the heart to give good care. A Romanian woman in my parish is one of those who has the heart. She runs a small care home for the elderly, and she has a stellar reputation – openings get filled immediately, by word of mouth. We need many, many more like her.


                • flatrocker says

                  Thank you for the real life reminder. It’s interesting how quick we are to play the good that is being done against the good that should be done. And how, consequently, the “what is” never stacks up against the “what should.”

                  The lack of one doesn’t justify the wholesale irrelevance of the other.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Christians are just as screwed-up sexually as everyone else, just in a different (and usually opposite) direction.

      • $2 cost per acquisition? Billy Sunday was pretty good. And if those were qualified leads, those new customers could probably be counted on to spend at least $2-5 a week themselves, $20 a month, $120 a year…and assume he converted at least 50-100 people per crowd he spoke at, something like an average 5-10% of the total…

        That’s some good gospel.

      • Iain Lovejoy says

        I have, even in the UK, come across that kind of church (and ran off PDQ). It was in university, and some friends who went there invited me. (I was and am a Christian but hadn’t yet found a church.) I found it weird. My recollection (it was a while ago) was that nothing but evangelism was taught. I hadn’t actually joined yet and was sitting listening to some play / sketch about how to recruit people to the xhurch.
        The whole thing came across as a sort of pyramid / Ponzi scheme: there was no actual product, just selling, with the whole thing a piece of pointless wheel-spinning fueled by constantly adding new recruits.

        • What is the purpose of Christianity?
          To convert people to Christianity.

          Shades of ‘Wretched Urgency’

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And pyramid schemes.

            With such “Multiplying Ministries”, Jesus becomes nothing more than the ultimate Upline.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      If evangelicals are downgrading the ministry of Jesus and don’t see any need to follow his teachings, what does evangelical Christianity consist of, i.e. what do they think being and living as a Christian is supposed to entail?

      Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

      Say the Magic Words then keep your nose Squeeky-Clean so you won’t be Left Behind in The Rapture.

    • In Lutheran terms, it’s “Law-Gospel-Law” for the most part. Evangelism consists of explaining how God is mad at you for winning (Law) and wants to save you from His wrath by Jesus’s death on the cross (Gospel). Once you’re saved, you basically obey the Ten Commandments, as interpreted by evangelicalism (Law). Which, as has been already beaten to death in the prior comments, focuses pretty heavily on the “thou shalt not commit adultery” bit.

  2. When I was a Southern Baptist (for 25+ years) I used to say that the only things more neglected in a Baptist church than the third verse of a hymn were Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We liked John (the divine Jesus, and ‘examples’ of ‘personal evangelism’), and of course Paul (our ‘theologian’), but the ministry of Jesus didn’t seem to matter much at all. It was usually relegated to examples (as Michael noted) showing how far short we fell (thus needing a Savior), or simply the backstory to the important stuff (Romans and Galatians). This is the answer to Michael’s first question. Part and parcel of a stunted soterial gospel. Unfortunately, when I occasionally visit an SBC church (baby dedications and what not) I still see the same thing.

    I think the reasons for this are three-fold.

    First, Paul and his ‘bullet-point theology’ (or rather, a misunderstood Paul) are more easily grasped (or so it seems) than Jesus and his middle-eastern story-telling. Western Christians just have a hard time knowing what to do with narrative literature (and how ‘theology’ is conveyed through it).

    Second, it is easier to read Paul like he was writing to us (he wasn’t) than it is to wrestle with Jesus and his strange world (other than a few parables with ‘obvious’ meaning). The cultural gap between us and Jesus is just too great. In reality that cultural gap between us and Paul is just as great, though most are oblivious to it (and thus read Paul like we WAS writing to us, thus misunderstanding Paul too).

    Third, dispensationalism’s influence tends to relegate Jesus’ teaching (in particular) to either the ‘Old Covenant’ (‘Law’) or the future millennial kingdom – e.g. the note on the Sermon on the Mount in the 1917 Scofield Bible – ‘For these reasons, the Sermon on the Mount in its primary application gives neither the privilege nor the duty of the Church. These are found in the Epistles.’ Thus, we can use it to show sinner’s their sin, or we can see it as an unattainable goal and ignore it.

    Unfortunately I don’t have much hope that evangelism (or at least the SBC part) will ever provide good answers to Michael’s second, third, and fourth questions. It would require a new ‘Reformation’ and that would just be too big a leap for most.

    • Ronald Avra says

      Very good, Greg.

      • John barry says

        I think the description and critique of the “evangelicals” is to broad brush painted and does not reflect the broad spectrum that does exist .

        Yes, evangelicals do take the death and resurrection of Jesus to the very heart and shall I say soul of their belief. They believe , like I that without the resurrection , Jesus would be just another great teacher, man or whatever but not their Savior. Christmas would mean nothing without Easter. Yes, they take the great commission to heart.

        However, to take the leap that the life, teaching, sayings and minister of Jesus is ignored or downplayed is not my experience. The miracles, parables, sayings and story of Jesus is told from Sunday School on. Being that works and good thoughts will not save you is part of the belief and thus the concentration on the sacrifice to pay for our sins. This is just too simplistic of an overview in my opinion .

        I think the evangelicals say what would Jesus do also.

        • Exactly – the miracles are relegated to Sunday School and the Easter sermon. The parables are tied to apologetics. The sayings of Jesus are *selectively* appropriated (or explained away ala “He didn’t REALLY mean ‘sell ALL you have'”). It’s a VERY rare sermon indeed where I hear that, to know who and what God is, you look at the life and works of Jesus.

          • Uh, mainline churches pretty much neglect to “sell ALL you have” as much as evangelical ones do; although they (the mainlines) talk a lot more about the teachings of Jesus being important, they find their own theological strategies for avoiding a non-negotiable prescriptive reading of them. The RC Church traditionally dealt with the radical character of the teachings by limiting their application to a small number of monastics (although even there they were never obeyed in all their stringency), and letting the laity skate by appealing to the supererogatory merits of the Saints. But that has become a disused strategy in the last century, since it is seen as establishing two separate classes of Christians, which is rightly thought by both Protestants and Catholics nowadays to be theologically untenable.

            • Iain Lovejoy says

              The most convincing response I have seen to “sell all you have” was by George MacDonald, a 19th Century Scottish theologian. He pointed out that Jesus’s instruction to the rich young man was supposed to be a reward, not a penalty: Jesus saw something in the man snd was inviting the man to follow him on the road as an apostle, and the man turned him down because he couldn’t bear to be parted from his possessions. The contrast (which is the point of the story) is with Peter, James & John, to whom Jesus can just say “follow me” because they didn’t have anything to sell. Few of us, however, are called to such exclusive, privileged service.

              • It sounds like a reasonable interpretation, and maybe it’s correct. But it also may be an explaining away, similar to the RC interpretation that it is among the counsels of perfection, meant for only a few souls who have a calling to monastic vows, those who desire to become “perfect”.

                But let’s put that one aside for a moment. What of, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back”, which does not seem to be limited to any one or few persons, and which would quickly, if obeyed, leads to the same state as “sell all you have”?

                • Christiane says

                  I remember the story of a young beautiful actress in Hollywood who had starred with Elvis Presley . . . . . after making ten films in five years, she chose to enter a convent and few could understand ‘why?’, but she stayed and did not regret her decision.

                  • I don’t question the validity or value of monastic life, or someone’s calling to it, but I do reject the idea that there are two classes of Christians, a few called to the counsels of perfection, and all the others not. I don’t think the idea of separate classes of Christians is accepted in contemporary Roman Catholic theology any longer.

                    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                      But it sure is in a LOT of Evangelicalism.

                      Just they call the counsels of perfection “Full Time Christian Work” (pastor, missionary, kickin P&W rocker) instead of Monastics.

          • Nobody really know quite what to do with Jesus’ teachings, Protestant (evangelical included there), Roman Catholic, or EO. Ways are always found to let most people off the hook, while in some cases requiring a few with special status to obey a watered-down version of them. “Sell ALL you have”: no one, but no one does this. A few have been stripped of everything they had, like Jesus, and hung naked on a cross (of one kind or another); but those are very few indeed.

          • Did Jesus “sell ALL” he had? He certainly was stripped of all he had; but did he sell it? We immediately fall into the problem of taking things in a wooden, literal sense, because they actually require interpretation to make sense. But once we start interpreting, which we must, there is necessarily no end to it, and we wind up all over the theological map, and going over terrain that looks very dissimilar indeed from the path that Jesus seemed to want us to walk. Woe is us.

      • +1. Thanks for sharing your story, Greg!

    • Excellent points all.

  3. I can’t wait for Jordan Peterson to hit the NT (though at his current pace, that will probably be in 20 years!)

    It’s just refreshing to follow someone who has nothing to ‘prove’ in terms of being a ‘good Christian’ and saying the right things. He gets more out of the biblical stories than most preachers I’ve ever listened to.

    I’d love some discussion here on people’s thoughts about his Bible series.