A post by Methodist blogger Alan Bevere has stayed with me since it was originally published back in June of this year. The post, “So, Just How Inclusive Was Jesus?” muses on the modern value of inclusion and how it does and doesn’t square with Jesus.
I agree with Tom Wright that modern notions of inclusiveness are too broad and too shallow. Of course there is an inclusive aspect of the Gospel; it is, after all, offered to everyone. But one cannot avoid that along with the inclusive nature of the Gospel in the New Testament, there is also an exclusive character as well. One simply cannot read Jesus or Paul and conclude otherwise.The fact that many Christians in the twenty-first century church do not understand this is revealed in the recent hoopla over Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. Bell rightly believes that the question “Is Gandhi in hell?” should not necessarily be answered in the affirmative, and those who confidently think otherwise need to remember that God is quite unconcerned over what they think about the eternal destiny of others. At the same time, those who have been so quick to hop on the universalism bandwagon need to remember that there is another question that should be asked as well: “Is Hitler in heaven?”But the purpose of this post is not to focus only on the hereafter, but to highlight what Bockmuehl and Michael are rightly saying about our present situation. Current accounts of inclusiveness are indebted much more to modernity than they are to the New Testament. Richard Hays words need to be heard: Jesus is not only the friend of sinners but he is the nemesis of the wicked. The issue is not the truly inclusive nature of the Gospel, but the imposition of a broad and shallow modern inclusivism that does indeed come at a high moral price. Bishop William Willimon reminds us that during his ministry Jesus drove away more people than he attracted.
The issue of inclusiveness is one that is near and dear to my heart. As a gay man, I know that the church has at times been too exclusive, keeping folks like myself out of the church. I’ve worked towards helping churches become more welcoming of LGBT persons.
But I wonder at times is if being welcoming is enough for Christians. Yes, it’s good to be inclusive, but as Bevere notes, Jesus also tended to drive people away from him as much as he drew people to him. Jesus called people to a life of discipleship, which is not always well recieved by people.
My fear more often than not is that our talk of inclusion is as Alan says, too shallow. It’s an inclusion that doesn’t talk about sin or confession, let alone discipleship. When it comes to the inclusion of LGBT persons, the talk is one of grace, a message that we need to hear. But a grace that doesn’t change the person or asks nothing of that person is a cheap grace indeed. Here’s what I wrote in response to Alan’s post:
Alan, thanks for the post. As usual, it was thought-provoking and something I’ve been thinking about for a while. That said, I want to put some flesh and bone on the issue of inclusiveness. As a gay man, I do understand and appreciate the call to be inclusive and welcoming. There are a lot of folks who have felt left out of the church because of their sexuality. But as someone who is also an ordained minister (in the Disciples of Christ), heck as a Christian, I know that we are called to be more than simply inclusive. As much as I find some parts of Christianity too quick to draw boundaries that I believe is up to God, I tend to find the drive towards inclusion at all costs kind of shallow. I mean, inclusion is a wonderful thing, but if there is no talk of the cross, or faith, or sin or forgiveness, then what you have is a very thin theology indeed. What I long for is something you said in a previous comment, a balance between inclusion and repentance. People need to know that they are loved by God, but they also need to have room for repentance as well.
Inclusion alone works in the wider society. It’s valuable and needed. But in the life of the church, we are also called to repentance. I know that’s a scary word for LGBT folks because it’s been used to call our sexuality sin. But even though it has been used in less than ideal ways, the message is still there: we are called to repent. Not of being gay, but of the ways we hurt each other, the whole of creation and God. If all we have is just inclusion, what we have done is nothing more than bolster someone’s self esteem. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not what following Jesus is all about.