The title of this weeks blog might surprise you.
Since when is the love of Jesus “not enough”?
Haven’t I consistently written that the love of God is the theme and song of all of scripture? Have I suddenly changed my mind?
The answer is no. I have not changed my mind. I wholeheartedly believe the foundational point of all of scripture is to bring us face to face with the unending and life-transforming love of God. Jesus is the centre and aim of every theme, prophecy and doctrine. It’s all about him, plain and simple.
However, here is my point. In an increasingly secular and post-Christian society where emerging generations are exposed to worldviews, philosophies and ideologies that impact the way they understand the nature of being, the meaning of life and the destiny of the human story you and I had better be able to say something more than, “Jesus loves me.”
Allow me to explain. Just a few months ago I read an article (can’t remember what it was called) about a conversation between an atheist and a Christian. The atheist was well schooled and a student of minds such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Friedrich Nietzsche. The Christian was a member of a church where it appeared the only thing anyone ever really talked about was “Jesus loves you.” As she sat face to face with profound existential questions related to suffering, injustice and ethics she found herself unable to say anything beyond, “Jesus loves me.” The atheist walked away underwhelmed by the exchange. The girl walked away flustered by the plethora of questions she was incapable of answering. It was an interactional train wreck.
With that foundation in place, let me now explain the 3 reasons why I believe that “Jesus loves me” is not enough.
1. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology is Weak.
I can’t stand churches obsessed with doctrine. Particularly when doctrine is elevated above Jesus and relationships. However, I have an equal aversion for churches who reject doctrine in the name of “all that matters is Jesus.” Both of these camps are fuelled by people who clearly have no intimate contact with contemporary society.
If you are obsessed with doctrine, with rules and regulations and with unbending theological formulas then I invite you to hang out with some real people outside of your echo chamber. I guarantee, the stuff you think is so clear and important will start to fall apart rather quickly.
And if you are one of these, “just focus on Jesus’ love” people, I invite you to do the same. Explain to an atheist the dichotomy between the love of God and the injustice of the historical and modern church without resorting to cheesy one liners. Explore the nature of being with a postmodern, questions of origin, destiny and identity with an agnostic. See how far a shallow, “all that matters is Jesus love” theology gets you when you look into the eye of a self-proclaimed meta-modernist who wants to understand the logic of your faith but rejects the popular Christian tag lines of the day as reductionist and idealist foundations that function more as escapism than robust ideas capable of speaking life into societies crushing problems. I guarantee you, your “forget doctrine, Jesus love is all that matters” formula wont be able to handle the pressure.
So reason number one is that a “Jesus loves me” theology is simply too weak to interact with the complexity and agony of the human experience.
2. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology Misses the Love of God
The love of God is the central theme of all of scripture. But that theme isn’t revealed in romanticised poetry. It’s revealed through profound metaphors, archetypes, and narratives arc’s known as doctrine. Thus, while the central theme remains the love of God, the doctrines enable us to explore that love in technicolor. A doctrinal system that overlooks God’s love totally misses this. But a focus on God’s love that rejects doctrine is doomed to forever remain shallow and consequently, it misses the very thing it claims to celebrate.
3. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology is Corny
Doctrinal systems that ignore the love of God tend to be self-focused. Churches in this mindset are all about “right teaching” but often ignore “right action”. The end result is churches that will rush to condemn someone who steps out of their theological box, but that remain silent in the face of issues like discrimination against women, racism and the systemic suffering of the poor and marginalised in their communities.
However, a reductionist “Jesus loves me and that’s all that matters” worldview is just as incapable of fuelling individual and social transformation. As a result, we end up with churches filled with young people whose theology doesn’t go much further than the latest “Jesus loves me” worship song. This is not only a denial of discipleship in which Jesus instructs us to teach “everything” (as in, you know, ‘everything’) but a recipe for a corny faith that is incapable of sustaining our youth as they grow and encounter challenges, disappointments and attacks against their faith. In light of this, I am not surprised when Barna Research reports one of the reasons why young people leave church is that “[t]eens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.”
So then, what solution is there? I propose two things. First, we need to develop a simpler, more relevant understanding of our own faith that is likewise profound. This can only be accomplished by revisiting our theological narrative with the goal of re-experiencing it and contextualising its depth and beauty to the questions and needs to modern generations. Second, our churches need to develop discipleship strategies where our members, youth and guests can grow deeper in their experience with God in a step by step fashion that includes theology, service and missional living.
To help with this journey, I have written three books for church leaders and members. The first one, “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns” is free and will give you insight into living missionally in our secular society. The second is “Weirdvolution: Adventism for a Post-Church Generation”. This book explores Adventist theology in depth but also in simple language. The objective of this book is to help you redesign your personal faith and also your church’s culture from either doctrine or non-doctrine focused to a truly Jesus centred expression of faith that has explanatory and applicatory power in post-church culture. The third is titled “The Hole in Adventism: Making Total Sense of the Old & New Covenant”. This book also explores Adventist theology in depth with a focus on Jesus and how the tension between the Old and New Covenant can bring our churches a renewed passion for the story we have been called to tell the world.
Regardless of whether any of the above resources work for you or not, here is my invitation - don’t settle for a cheesy expression of faith when there is so much beauty we can rediscover and offer to our broken culture. Search for that beauty. Equip your young people to search for it as well. And lets work together to bring Christ to a culture increasingly isolated from the profound story of his love.
 Barna Group. “Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow,” [Web: https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/]