The other day I was stopped behind this car at a traffic light near home, and noticed a bumper sticker on it that I had never seen before. It had Jesus’ face on it along with symbols from 15 different religions, and it read, “Practice what he preached.” I was so intrigued I snapped this photo with my phone.
Here’s a close-up from Amazon, in case it’s hard to read.
The message is a restatement of the more familiar “Coexist,” which this car was also displaying, except for the twist about its being what Jesus preached. That part in particular astonishing in multiple ways—and yet some good may come out of it anyway, as I reflect on my own reaction to it.
It is quite clear that Jesus did not preach anything like “coexist” with respect to other religions. He warned his followers they would be hated for for following him (Luke 6:22, John 15:18-25). When religious leaders had him killed it was not because of some grand inclusiveness on his part. It was because he kept insisting they were wrong, both in doctrine and in deed.
He did not say, “Have no enemies.” He said, “love your enemy.” If that kind of love is what one means by “coexist,” Jesus could agree. But he would insist that there is only one way, one truth, one life, and that he himself (and he only) is all of these (John 14:6).
Jesus was exclusivist to the point of paying the ultimate price. His death wasn’t just about his relationship with religious leaders. It was what he came to do. In Gethsemane he prayed, “Is there any other way?” (Matthew 26:30-39). He knew the answer. He died for us precisely because there was no other way. All other religions are ways of deceit and death. There is life in Christ, and only in him.
This is the Jesus of whom we have an historical record; it is the only Jesus of whom we have any record. Whence, then, comes a message like the one on this bumper sticker, so out of touch with evidence and reality? I can think of two possible sources: ignorance or deception.
It might be that whoever made up this message really thought this was what Jesus was all about. It’s not hard: if you want to think of Jesus as history’s grand teacher of tolerance, all you have to do is listen to popular misconceptions and never bother to check the facts. That’s not just ordinary everyday ignorance, mind you; it is ignorance with respect to the obvious. It’s easy to find out what the historical record has to say about Jesus. To be this ignorant, a person would have to refuse to look.
Or it might be that the message is pure deception, sprung out of the lying heart of some religious inclusivist who wanted to co-opt Jesus to his or her cause. (I suppose it’s even possible a person could do that out of self-deception.) If so, then why Jesus? Is the idea to poke at Christians, to provoke us to be more inclusivist like the Jesus we claim to follow? But that’s counting on us being ignorant. Any good liar ought to know better than that. It’s a lousy deception in every way.
The message is product either of willful ignorance or deception. Obviously so.
So obviously so, in fact, that I must ask myself, how can I really practice what Jesus preached at this point? What if I were to see this car at the grocery store this week, and have a chance to talk with the driver? What would I say? Should I pounce on her error? (I think it was a woman at the wheel.) No; I would want her to understand her error, but to experience that understanding through an encounter of love.
I would want to affirm her for putting Jesus at the center of the question. I would ask, “What do you think Jesus actually preached?” If she was willing to answer, I would listen. I would ask how she came to that conclusion. (Readers of Greg Koukl’s Tactics will recognize the questions.) I would ask her if she’d like to know more about what Jesus preached—in hopes she would come to know his truth and his life.
Final point, a question for myself: Am I that committed to genuine encounters of love with everyone on this blog? I’m a little worried about myself on that score. I have no love for deadly, deceptive error. Jesus didn’t either. He opposed it forcefully enough to get himself killed over it. Still—what a great God we have!—he loved men, women, and children, including his enemies.
He never compromised. Still he loved.
Practice what he preached? I like that idea.