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.
- 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.’
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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 Times, pp. 53-55
Contrasting the sober culture change realists James Davison Hunter and Andy Crouch, Os Guinness’ new book Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times refreshingly reminds us of the Gospel’s life and culture-changing power and hope.
I intend on writing a review of Renaissance soon, but from what I’ve read it’s a timely and necessary book given our present cultural moment. Reading Guinness’ Renaissance in one hand while holding a Guinness in the other hand seems most fitting. (Os is a great-great-great grandson of Dublin brewer Arthur Guinness.)
Most websites provide a brief sample of Renaissance, but you can read the entire first chapter here.
For the past two years Guinness has been making the rounds speaking on what it means to have a Gospel renaissance. The most recent talk was at a recent Anglican conference in June 2014, beginning at the 37th minute:
As C.S. Lewis pointed out, “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.’ The alternative is the real disaster. “The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop.”
Only when we respond to Christ and follow his call do we become our real selves and come to have personalities of our own. So when it comes to identity, modern people have things completely back to front: Professing to be unsure of God, they pretend to be sure of themselves. Followers of Christ put things the other way around: Unsure of ourselves, we are sure of God.
—The Call, p. 25
…the idolatry in question is the idolatry of good and useful things from our modern world that, in the form of powerful modern myths, have been allowed to become distortions of the gospel and substitutes for faith in God. For, contrary to popular misconceptions, the idols against which the Bible warns are not simply the concerns of others (those ‘pagans’) and the obvious crudity of their objects of worship (their ‘gods of wood and stone’).
In the biblical view, anything created–anything at all that is less than God, and most especially the gifts of God–can become idolatrous if it is relied upon inordinately until it becomes a full-blown substitute for God and, thus, an idol. The first duty of believers is to say yes to God; the second is to say no to idols.
—Os Guinness and John Seel, No God But God: Breaking with the Idols of our Age, p. 16 (Moody Publishers, OOP). Line break and emphases mine.