Six Reasons Why “Jesus + Nothing” = Bad Math

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Os Guinness, in his recent book Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Times, takes the popular phrase “Jesus plus nothing” to task:

…such piety is too pious by half. The intended compliment actually dishonors Jesus, and its advocates need to think more deeply.

Guinness provides six reasons why “Jesus plus nothing” is problematic.

  1. Too Simplistic: “A literal interpretation of the maxim is overly simplistic. John Owen, the great seventeenth century theologian of the cross, showed an equally faithful though less wooden interpretation. He quoted the apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians: ‘I have determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ But he then added: ‘At least with nothing that could divert my attention from the subject.’
  2. More Than Jesus: “We could not know who Jesus was without going beyond Jesus. For a start, we would not understand Jesus and his life work without the entire Old Testament that preceded him.”
  3. Self-Serving: “The fact is that many who brandish this formula tend to teach only those parts of the teachings of Jesus that fit in with their own ideas. Like the many faulty ‘Jesuses’ of Protestant liberalism, their teaching is merely a reflection of their own prejudices.”
  4. Effect on Seekers: “Genuine seekers who are not simplistic and are searching for adequate answers will often conclude that those who have no interest in wider questions will have no answers to the meaning of life. They therefore walk away from the childishness of the Christian faith.”
  5. Beyond Jesus: “It was Jesus who was concerned with far more than just himself, so to be faithful to him is to scrap the slogan, however well meaning….’worldliness’ and its opposite, ‘otherworldliness,’ are the two extremes that Christians are called to avoid, and the challenge is to follow him in the more faithful and far more demanding position in between. Far from being faithful, as we shall see, this creative engagement with the world is a key source of the power of the gospel in the church and of Christians in the world.”
  6. Jesus Minus Something: “‘Jesus plus nothing’ usually ends in holding to a form of Christian faith that is ‘Jesus minus something.’ More often it represents a faith with an inadequate grasp of truth or too little theology and thought, or a faith that is ‘all Jesus’ and no God the Father and no proper place for the Holy Spirit. With some who espouse this maxim, it has become a significant source of syncretism and unfaithfulness in the wider church.”

      —Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Timespp. 53-55

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