Tom Gilson

From “Jesus Saves” to “Jesus Approves”

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Jesus Saves

There was a time when people knew what it meant that “Jesus saves.” The punsters’ follow-up, “at First National Bank” degraded the concept when the concept was still known widely enough for the pun to work. In most of Western culture now, though, neither the biblical phrase nor the pun is heard anymore. The concept now (if not the wording) is Jesus approves.

As one who still honors the idea that Jesus saves, I know the idea needs explanation in our day, but I also know that it’s a much more interesting idea than its 21st century replacement. It’s strong enough to explain the world’s fascination with Jesus lasting through all these millennia and spreading to every part of the world. An historical figure who merely approved could never have gained such a compelling hold upon humanity.

My explanation for this is going to take more than one post to draw out. I’ll begin for now with a smattering of quotes from people who think Jesus approves of gay marriage.

I. Former President Jimmy Carter (source):

“I believe Jesus would approve gay marriage, but that’s just my own personal belief,” the Democrat said in an interview on HuffPost Live.

“I think Jesus would encourage any love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don’t see that gay marriage damages anyone else,” he added.

II. Steve Siebold, Huffington Post:

While he [Jesus] might not necessarily agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize gay marriage, and while he might not agree with the LGBT lifestyle, ultimately he would still extend his hand in friendship to his fellow man. That is the point that so many Christians are missing. Feel free to disagree all you want, but stop putting people down and spewing your homophobia.

III. Julie LaBrecque, commenter at

“Who am I to judge?” If Christianity is valid, don’t you think Jesus would advocate inclusiveness, diversity, tolerance and love and respect for our fellow humans? Jesus in the Gospels says nothing about homosexuality. It is the hypermoralist, St. Paul, who mucked things up and turned the simple teachings of Jesus into some intolerant and cruel [un-Christian] judgmentalism. I prefer Jesus to Paul and science to fantasy.

IV. Layne Taylor, Natchez, LA Theater artistic and executive director (source):

There are always going to be unhappy people who distort the teachings of Christ and twist them into something hateful. Christians should be living in the New Testament, and it seems if it was a big deal, Jesus would have said something about it, but he never did. The Ten Commandments are pretty powerful, and they didn’t address gay marriage. I really don’t think it even registers on God’s radar.

V. Art Gordon, Minister at Twelfth Baptist Church, Boston, who may “some day… perform a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple (source):

“In Christ’s day, he disagreed with others but knew he had to look past and love regardless,” Gordon said. “We have to love others whether they’re gay or straight.”

VI. A.J Walton, the self-styled “Idealist, Advocate, Hopeful Urban Sophisticate” at Huffington Post, quoting a gay pride poster (source): “God Thinks You’re Absolutely Fabulous,” and his own response,

That’s what made my first Pride March so holy. There I stood, a​ young LGBT ​man​ and student of theology whose task was to convey God’s love and affirmation of same-sex​ ​love to people of faith and no faith.

There’s considerable variety here, to be sure. One of them mentions God but not Jesus, though (in the original) in the context of an encounter with a church that’s historically been associated with Christ. Some are about refusing to judge, others are about a conviction that Jesus was for inclusiveness and tolerance. One is about loving others whether gay or straight, and apparently holding that love entails performaing gay marriages.

All the major religions seem to want to claim Jesus as their own, and the gay rights movement does too. (I haven’t even mentioned Matthew Vines and the school ot thought he represents.)

I’ll have much to say about this, but I’ll close this post with a question. How likely is it that Jesus would have so captured the world that Christianity is the dominant global relgion two thousand years later if he merely approved of our preferences? Doesn’t it seem it would have taken a stronger character than that?

Here’s the beginning of my answer to that question: Jesus stands as a towering figure in history because all across time, he has forced history’s view of true character to bend to his own character rather than vice versa. He showed how love could be far more just, true, sacrificial, and by the way more interesting and complex than mere approval. It took a God-man to be able to do that.

I’ll have much more to say about that in subsequent posts, beginning next time with how it matters to you and me that Jesus saves: what does he save us from, and for what?

Series Navigation (Jesus Saves):Why “Jesus Saves” Is So Much Better Than “Jesus Approves” >>>
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6 thoughts on “From “Jesus Saves” to “Jesus Approves”

  1. Jesus would not have approved of same-sex marriage not that it matters. Jesus taught the world would end in the lifetime of his disciples. Paul taught that the End was so close that virgins shouldn’t bother getting married. The writer of Mark thought the destruction of Jerusalem was a sign the End had arrived. John Nelson Darby thought the invention of the telegraph proved the End had come. The Roman critics of Christianity, on the other hand, knew there would be no End and no Rapture 18 centuries ago.

  2. Robert, your whole post is off topic, but I’ll respond briefly anyway. I started to read your scribd document, and I found at least five clearly identifiable errors in your first 550 words. You conclude near the end,

    In short, the claims of Christianity’s Roman critics would appear to be valid:

    But your bibliography includes almost nothing but critics! (That, plus a smattering of general references.) What else could you conclude from such prejudiciously selected information?!

    So thank you for visiting, but let me remind you that the comment policy here requires that discussions be on topic. Your comment wasn’t so far out of the guidelines for me to even think of deleting it, so I let it stand, but I wasn’t going to let your highly prejudicial and misinformed book stand as a reference anyone should trust.

    So now let’s all return to the topic of the original post. You can expect me to enforce the comment guidelines to keep it in track.

  3. It’s probably worth mentioning here that the character in the Bible who talks about Hell the most is… Jesus. I’d be interested to see how the writers Tom quoted would try and explain away this fact.

  4. Jesus saves: what does he save us from, and for what?

    Well, the typical answer is that Jesus saves us from our sins, but that brings up the question, what is sin? If you read the gospels you’ll see that Jesus defines sin as self-centeredness and self-righteousness. For example, in The Gospel of Matthew Jesus condemns the self-righteousness of the religious leaders of his day.

    25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

    27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:25-28)

    I think the condemnation of organized religion by Jesus is as valid today as it was in the first century. I think his condemnation applies equally to conservative “biblical” Christianity as it does to liberal Christianity.

    The difference is in Jesus’ time the religious leaders were co-opting Moses; now everyone is co-opting Jesus—even some non-Christians are! By why does anyone need to co-opt him at all? Why isn’t their personal self-righteousness alone enough to ground morality and ethics for everyone else?

    Look at jimmy Carter, a former president and a Novel peace prize winner. Why does he need refer to, or defer to, Jesus at all? Shouldn’t his credentials be enough? Why doesn’t he simply say, “I approve of gay marriage, and you should to because I am an important, historical person. Look at all the good things I’ve done.” Why all the modesty and pseudo-humility, Mr. President? Why don’t you just honestly tell us all what to believe and think?

    For some reason that just doesn’t seem to work, does it? Why is that?

  5. Jesus’ character is unique, I like the description in John’s gospel: “he was full of grace and truth”
    Someone who was full of grace but had little to no truth may resonate with the “Jesus approves” crowd for a time. but won’t have a lasting impact because there will be no substance to their message or character.

  6. Another question that needs to be asked: Why the preference in our day and culture of “Jesus approves” over “Jesus saves”? My theory is that it is a way to escape feelings of guilt—what I refer to as existential guilt. I wrote about this recently on another thread:

    I think the church (by that I mean the biblical Christian church) has dropped the ball here. We don’t preach against sin the way we should. Instead we have accepted a wimpy-nice approach to love. The love that Jesus preached wasn’t wimpy and nice. Yes, there are times when Jesus was gentle, kind and compassionate, but there were also times when he was tough. When people are experiencing guilt, it is not the time to wimp out. Rather, it is time to be firm—even tough. They need to understand they need salvation, not approval.

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