For liberal mainline Protestant denominations there’s rarely a bottom line of faith. There’s waffling. We have intentionally moved away from creeds, which is a good thing. But there has to be some compass.
The lack of a compass is one reason why mainline Protestant denominations lose numbers yearly. For without conviction, there is little passion—sermons become dull and worship becomes a mere rallying cry to be good. Without conviction, faith is diminished. Without conviction, the affirmation and celebration of transcendence wanes.
In mainline churches many ministers go through the motions. But the deep down faith reaching into the bones and into the toes is lost. Then worship attendance declines. I believe Protestants, not to mention Orthodox and Catholics, have reached a point in history where they need to take a stand or become increasingly irrelevant. September Eleventh, the bombings in Madrid, London, Mumbai, the quagmire of Iraq, the struggle for the soul of Afghanistan, and the horrors of ISIS are signs of more religious intolerance and terrorism to come. If we take these signs seriously they’ll become an impetus to clean house and clarify our convictions. Otherwise, we shirk our responsibility at a pivotal point in the history of religions and we relinquish Jesus to fundamentalists.
As world religions collide and at times converse the question “Who is Jesus?” gets increasingly complex. Yet we can’t retreat from the question. If mainline Christians draw back from this question and continue waffling, they won’t be taken seriously and fundamentalists of various hews will fill the vacuum.
Many scholars of twenty-first century religion such as Diane Eck agree that the twenty first century is the “interfaith dialogue century.” So, in this century Christians need to clean house. We need to ascertain our core convictions in light of pluralism.
The heart of Christian theology, no matter the denomination, is “Who is Jesus?” Luke reads, “Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, Jesus asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ Jesus said to them, ‘but who do you say that I am’” (Luke 9:18-20a). As seekers and especially as twenty-first century Christians we’re each asked this question.
Where do we stand? Do we claim Jesus is God in the unqualified sense, excluding the legitimacy of other faiths? Do we claim Jesus is another wisdom teacher like many others, denying Christianity’s unique historical claim: God incarnate? Some of my peers espouse these extremes because they can’t find Christianity’s mystic core. Still others ignore the question. They may be slack. They may be overwhelmed by the endless questions religious pluralism raises.
We don’t have the luxury to loiter theologically. How we answer the question, “Who is Jesus,” matters in our post 9/11 world. Our answer will sow seeds of peace or seeds of war.