A trendy distinction among some religious bloggers is the difference of being a fan of Jesus, as opposed to a follower of Jesus. Here’s one of many recent examples:
Being a follower of Jesus, clearly superior to being a mere ‘fan,’ is generally defined in terms of certain behaviors. And the cited article does not disappoint, described as “helping those who wish to follow Jesus to do it in an authentic way and making a difference in the lives of those in need.”
Of course, we all agree that merely agreeing with Jesus, or admiring his theology, is not what it means to be a Christian. “Christian” is at its root an adjective. The suffix “ian” means, “of, related to, sharing the same characteristics as.” To be Christ-ian is to share the same characteristics as Christ.
This all sounds good, and it relieves one of the burden of defending every action by persons calling themselves Christians. Much preferable to call oneself a “Christ-follower.” And this idea is gaining ground, especially among younger members. Many pastors have embraced this as well.
What attracts people is what this means in terms of helping the needy, emphasizing grace, and so on. Certainly I feel the same attraction, and agree with such emphases. Our little church has an ongoing ‘kindness ministries’ in which we make hundreds of contacts for Christ–simple blessings for people in need–every year. Our focus in both theology and practice is on relationships. And we regard the Bible in general more as a case book than a rule book. So in many ways we are attuned to the Christ-follower side of the discussion.
Where we differ, however, is on our view of the Scriptures. Jesus said that the scriptures–by which he referred to what we call the Old Testament–testified of him. But Sandlin–who wrote the piece cited earlier– also wrote this concerning a portion of Leviticus often referred to as “The Purity Code:”
“Purity” was mostly about two things. First, it was about keeping things the way they “should” be. “Should” is in quotes because the guidelines they used for what should and shouldn’t be were mostly made up. Said differently, they arrived at their conclusions in a time that didn’t have any science or at least not science like we have today. Which is to say, they didn’t have any science.
What they had was mostly superstition based on observation.
. . . .When things didn’t adhere to this particular three-thousand year old way of understanding the world, they were considered an abomination or more precisely impure.
– See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/clobbering-biblical-gay-bashing#sthash.VVJKOF35.dpuf(emphasis mine)
Now, one does not have to believe in the inerrancy of scripture–I do not, the SDA church officially does not–to find this a rather cavalier approach to scripture. In fact, if you read the whole thing, I think you will agree the attitude expressed toward Leviticus in general, and the Purity Code in particular, is one of scorn. Decide for yourself if that attitude toward scripture is “Christ-following.” I cannot reconcile the two.
I confess there are passages in the Old Testament that comprise “hard sayings,” some are very difficult to understand and reconcile with what we think we know about God. But I do not find anything in scripture that gives me permission to simple dispose of these difficult passages. On the contrary, Jesus said “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matt. 5:18.
Of course, the real problem is that Sandlin–like many others of like mind–does not derive his notion of Christ from the scriptures, but imposes an incomplete idea of Jesus on the scriptures. If part of scripture appears contrary to his understanding of Jesus, that portion of the Word simply has to go. Which is why he describes portions of scripture as “mostly superstitious” and the distinctions in the text as “mostly made up.” And those who insist on taking the offending text seriously merit description as being rigidly literalistic, poorly read, close minded, insecure in their own sexuality, or ‘haters.’So we confront a serious irony. Some who warn us against being mere fans of Jesus turn out not to be fans at all of the Old Testament, the very scriptures that testify of who Jesus is. That’s a basic and perilous error. We are not supposed to evaluate the scriptures by our idea of who Jesus is, but rather we must continually reevaluate our idea of Jesus by what the scriptures tell us. As C. S. Lewis wrote: “God must continually work as the iconoclast. Every idea of Him we form He must in mercy shatter.”
And that is a warning to all of us. We are all in danger of making our own idols, our own misleading, incomplete graven images of Jesus. The scriptures are our only safeguard against that. Sandlin is right, being a fan of Jesus is not enough. We need to follow Jesus, but the real one, not one of our own devising. And to do that, we must continue to wrestle with the Word, not simply prune away the difficult portions.