Tom Gilson

If Christianity Is Your Religion, Don’t Thank God for the Cross

If Christianity were my religion, I wouldn’t thank God for the Cross. But it’s not my religion, and on Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. tomorrow, I will be giving God all the thanks I can give him for the Cross of Jesus Christ.

I know I need to explain that, and I will. First I’ll need to clarify what I mean about “my religion.”

Choosing Our Religions
We live in a world of religious pluralism. A recent Gallup poll says that 70% of North Americans believe that many religious could lead you to God. The Pew Forum surveyed Americans who belong to various religions in 2008. They found that 57% of Americans who attend Bible-believing churches (evangelical or black churches, in their study) believe that many religions can lead to God.

I take it that those 57% believe their choice of Christianity is an expression of their personal preference. Maybe it has to do with their culture, upbringing, friends in church, or what they’re comfortable with. As far as spiritual life goes, though, they think they have a choice, and the choice they’ve made is evangelical Christianity. They picked it out, and it’s their religion.

For my part, I follow Jesus Christ and his teachings, to the best of my capacity in Christ. I am a Christian. I do not, however, consider Christianity my chosen religion. I didn’t choose it off some religious clothes rack; I didn’t say, “I don’t really feel like a Buddhist or a Muslim for this life; I’m a traditional American, so the Christian thing just seems to fit me better.”

No, I didn’t buy it and I’m not trying to make it my own. Christianity is too big, too grand, too filled with God for that. I am a Christian because the one God has called me to relate to him in that unique way.

So as you see, my opening statement hinges on what i mean by “my religion.” If Christianity were my choice from a list of options, if it were my religion in that sense, I wouldn’t thank God for the cross.

History’s Most Despicable Act of Injustice?
How could I? Remember how at Gethsemane Jesus prayed that this cup could pass from him? He was asking the Father (though he knew the answer already), “Couldn’t there be some other way?!” He was arrested in humiliation and betrayal. Couldn’t that have been avoided? He was humiliated in trials before the Jewish court, Pilate, and Herod. Did he really have to go through that? He was mocked, beaten, tortured. Was that really necessary? He was hung on the Cross until he screamed the agony of forsakenness; and he died. Why, God? WHY?

Why? Because he loved us and wanted to bring us to God, and because there was no other way.

What if there had been another way? What if these 57% believe correctly that Christianity is one of many true ways to God? Then it should never have happened. The cup should have passed from the hand of the Son of God. There would have been no need for his brutal passion experience. Far from being something to thank God for, the Cross would have to been the worst of all needless atrocities in history.

Do not, I repeat, do not say, “All religions lead to God, but since I’ve grown up a Christian, I’ll follow that path for myself.” Do not make Christianity your religion that way. If you do, it is as if you are glorifying history’s most despicable act of cosmic cruelty. If you think there are multiple paths to God, then for Christ’s sake (I mean that reverently and literally), don’t choose Christianity! Don’t choose the religion that includes his torture and execution!

Or History’s Most Astonishing Declaration of Love and Justice
The question hinges on whether Jesus really did die on the cross for our sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. If he did, then we can be sure he did it because it was the only way to God. He said so himself in John 14:6. I am convinced that he did; that the God who created us entered human history in the form of a child who grew to be a man; who taught, healed, and demonstrated a life given wholly to God; and who died on the Cross, was raised from the dead, and was glorified into heaven.

I am convinced he did it because it was the only way we could come to God. He did it for love; for the joy set before him, knowing the life it bring to us whom he loves. He was willing to endure it because it was necessary in order to reconcile humans to God. The Cross was good, but it was only good because it was the only good way to bring us to God.

I do not follow Christ because Christianity is my religion of choice. I have chosen to follow Christ, yes; but that doesn’t make Christianity my religion. It’s God’s. It’s his initiative, it’s his action, it’s his grace, it’s his revelation, it’s his plan; and I’m thankful he has given me grace to enter into the relationship he has called me to.

For that reason, tomorrow on Thanksgiving, as an every other day, I will humbly and heartily thank God for the Cross of Christ, where I was rescued from death. I thank God, too, that the story did not end in death, but in resurrection, glory, and a mission for us to pursue until Christ returns.

Finally: If like me you are thanking God for the Cross, but at the same time you’re trying to hold on to the impossible belief that other religions can lead to God, it’s time to make your choice.

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13 thoughts on “If Christianity Is Your Religion, Don’t Thank God for the Cross

  1. The problem I have with the poll referenced (other religions ‘can lead you to God’) is that it’s vague. For instance, William Lane Craig gives a variety of arguments – Kalam, moral, etc – which I think are fairly described as ‘meant to lead one to God’. But Craig would also say that those arguments don’t establish Christianity or the Christian God.

    And if something like that is meant by the poll – that other religions can reasonably lead one to some knowledge of God, however inadequate – it becomes a lot less controversial. And I can’t help but suspect that’s a reasonable interpretation, though I could always be wrong.

  2. The other problem with the idea that “…many religions could lead you to God.” is an intellectual one. We have become a society that seems to have forgotten that belief in one thing necessarily involves non-belief in another, i.e. thesis/antithesis.

    Though I doubt that this is lost on the regular readers here, it seems that many don’t consider it. Belief in any religious faith entails belief in certain basic theological tenants which preclude belief in others. If you believe in the Law and the Prophets you necessarily don’t believe in writings of Mohammed. If you believe in the Trinity you necessarily don’t believe in Dharma.

    You can’t be Christian and Muslim, you can’t be Jewish and Hindu, you can’t be a theist and an atheist. Many religions cannot lead you to God.

  3. Crude –

    I caught that nuance as well – those of us who are (at least dilettante) statisticians pay attention to implications and inferences of numbers tossed to and fro.

    You may be correct – perhaps the interpretation of those responding to the poll was that “other religions can reasonably lead one to some (emphasis mine) knowledge of God.”

    However, I think we can reasonably infer from our knowledge of Tom and his faith and the context of the piece that Tom’s concern is with one being led to the knowledge of God of The Bible and saving relationship with Him, not merely some scant knowledge of Him.

    Of course, this is a side issue to Tom’s point that if there are many paths to God, it should be more attractive to pick a religion that’s less offensively brutal, especially as Jesus’ sacrifice for sins (the simultaneously most despicable act of injustice and most astonishing act of love and justice) is obviously unnecessary.

    You know all this, though, and I’d be surprised if almost every reader of this blog (who are usually sharper than I am in at least some way) and piece didn’t get the main point(s) as well — I’m just responding to your comment re: the poll, which I caught as well.

    Justaguy

  4. Tom,

    Thanks for the added detail! I actually think this just heightens the worry I have, which I’ll work out below.

    justaguy,

    However, I think we can reasonably infer from our knowledge of Tom and his faith and the context of the piece that Tom’s concern is with one being led to the knowledge of God of The Bible and saving relationship with Him, not merely some scant knowledge of Him.

    Well, then the question as I see it will be “What is necessary to have some kind of relationship with God?” The poll asks “Which religions can lead to eternal life?”, but I wonder if this is being processed by respondents as “Can members of this religion achieve eternal life?”

  5. I didn’t realize how amazing of a person my dad really was until he passed away last year.

    I realized yesterday that I don’t remember what day he died… it seems to be completely unimportant to me. I’m actually going to have to go back and check my Facebook statuses to figure out when he passed away! Hopefully that doesn’t come across to you as disrespectful to his memory, but when I think of him I think of the person that he was and the years that he enriched my life and sacrificed himself and gave to those he loved… the life that he lived in other words, not when he had a heart attack and died.

    I wonder sometimes why Christians focus so much on Jesus’ death. I intellectually understand that its a central point of Christian theology and that it means the redemption of mankind and our pathway to truth and heaven etc… but it seems that the value of His life is less important to the believer.

    My personal bias, I’m sure, not being Christian and all. Still, it does make me wonder sometimes. Just like with my dad, if I was a believer, I’d like to think that I’d rather remember how He lived than how He died.

    My two cents, anyways. Interesting post.

  6. @Sault:

    I understand your concerns, and much could be said about them, but I will content myself in pointing that you left out a crucial detail: it is the death *and* the ressurection of Jesus Christ that is at the centre of Christianity. Or as St. Paul puts it: 1 Corinthians 15:13-19. Is there anything more life-celebrating than the victory of Jesus Christ over Death itself? “Death where is thy sting?” asked St. Paul somewhere else.

  7. Good question, Sault, and good response, G. Rodrigues.

    Jesus’ life as a moral teacher and miracle worker was certainly remarkable, and he certainly intended for us to learn from his words and example. But his death and resurrection were a near-context sub-texts to his life and teachings. Mark 10:45 is one example of many.

    The book of Hebrews lays out the theology of his death as well as any source does. In short, it was necessary for the one perfect and infinite sacrifice to be made on behalf of us who had fallen short of God in sin and deserved ourselves to die (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23). His death paid the price for us.

    To follow his teachings and example is good, but it cannot be good enough to rescue us from death. We do not have it within us to work our way to life through good works. So his payment of the death “wage” on our behalf is of highest importance.

    The story doesn’t end there, though. The Resurrection was the death-conquering (1 Corinthians 15), Christ-vindicating (Romans 1:1-4) victory that gives us solid grounds for eternal hope.

    So Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are all highly significant. Of course I concentrated on his death here because it is the one aspect of Jesus’ ministry that makes the point I was trying to make.

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