Monday, April 30, 2018

TTT #11 For Christians, Jesus Must Be Lord Of All If He Is Lord At All

Chapters nine and ten of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT) were about the lordship of Jesus, but there is one more thing to be considered about the meaning of that lordship. Christians need to know that when one confesses Jesus as Lord, he must be Lord of all aspects of their lives. Those who are not Christians need to know that about Jesus’ lordship in order to differentiate between authentic and pseudo Christianity.
Is Confessing Jesus as Lord an Enslaving Act?
When Jesus is allowed to be Lord of all, then for the individual Christian believer every area of their life—their personal actions, their family relationships, their financial decisions, their recreational activities, and every other sphere of their existence—will be surrendered to Jesus. 
There are some objections to this idea, though, the first being a push back against something that looks like a loss of freedom. Especially USAmericans have from the beginning placed great emphasis on personal freedom (“Give me liberty, or give me death!”).
Many modern people resonate with the words from “Invictus,” treasured and made popular by Nelson Mandela: “I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul.”
So how do people react to emphasis on Jesus’ total lordship? For many Christians it results in compartmentalization, allowing Jesus’ lordship to apply only to one’s religious life, not to every aspect of one’s thoughts and actions.
For some or many people who are not Christians, talk about the lordship of Jesus is off-putting. Those who pride themselves on their independence, their self-reliance, and, above all, their freedom as one who is captain of their own soul, why would they possibly want to acknowledge Jesus as Lord?
That sort of response may not often be expressed, but recognized or not, that is likely one of the most basic reasons why some people don’t want to become a Christian, a follower of Jesus.
Is Confessing Jesus as Lord an “Ensmalling” Act?
Some Christians now seem to think that they need a broader view of the world than is possible through Christianity or through Jesus Christ. Talk about the lordship of Jesus is for them a restrictive idea that they want to move beyond.
But I strongly disagree that commitment to the lordship of Jesus is an “ensmalling” act. Rather, rightly understood, it is an enlarging one.
According to an affirmation of the New Testament, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:19). If that is a correct description of the true nature of Jesus as the Christ—and that has been a central affirmation of Christianity from its beginning—how could allegiance to Jesus possibly make one’s understanding of the world narrower or more limited?
If the fullness of God dwells in Jesus, then far from causing people to have a more parochial, smaller view of the world, commitment to Jesus as Lord actually expands one’s vision, enlarges one’s viewpoint, and stretches one’s capacity to understand the world that Jesus came to save.
So, What are the Implications?
If Jesus is truly Lord of all, then those who live under that lordship live with the desire to follow Jesus and his will rather than following their own often selfish desires.
When Jesus is truly Lord of one’s life, that person’s purpose for living is focused on the kingdom of God, on doing that which is most beneficial for human society and for the world of nature.
Living with Jesus as Lord is a full commitment to the one who seeks to transform this world into a realm of peace and justice for all.

[Please click here to access the entire eleventh chapter of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now.]


  1. I highly recommend reading the entire chapter. The road of theosis is very difficult. Each morning intentionally begins with "the morning prayer" and a focus on being conform into the image of Christ. I do like that hymn (why do we no longer sing the great hymns of the faith?). But the path is not easy. "Oh wretched man that I am...", for "no one can serve two masters" - but I do every day. And so I must end each day with the "Jesus Prayer", then bow down on my knees to worship His Majesty once again.

    I do like Dorothy Day's rebuttal version of "Invictus". "...Christ is the Master of my fate, Christ is the Master of my soul." The US Church must to come to terms with both a Sovereign, and with the Master-slave relationship. Both are profound and necessary in our relationship with Almighty God, our Creator.

    1. Thanks for recommending to other blog readers that they also read the entire chapter. I hope many will respond favorably to your recommendation.

      Thanks also for the "rebuttal version" of "Invictus," which I don't remember seeing before. I like it, and it certainly speaks to the point of the blog article and chapter 11 in the book.

      I have found several references to the poem ending with the words you quoted. That poem is titled "Conquered," as "Invictus" means "unconquered." But the poem is attributed, most often, to Dorthea Day. I have not been able to confirm that that is a misspelling of the famous Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement.

      If you, or any other reader, can provide me with a trustworthy source confirming that the author of the poem is really Dorthy Day (1897-1980), whom my March 30, 2010, blog article was about, I would much appreciate it.

    2. I also want to say that while, in general, I don't like the implication of the poem "Invictus," especially for Christians, I do not criticize Mandela for his appreciation for and use of it. Given his dire circumstances, he needed great internal fortitude, and I am happy he found strength from Henley's poem.

  2. A Thinking Friend in Kentucky wrote saying he was forwarding my blog to two people who, he says, "are seeing a need to emphasize the significance of Jesus in current theological reflections.

    The TF went on to say, "I'm uneasy with the lack of such in CBF [Cooperative Baptist Fellowship] life and events--certainly not meant as a put down of individuals nor its efforts."

    1. I, too, am uneasy with the current lack of emphasis on the significance of Jesus and his lordship. In some ways, when I was reading over, and slightly revising, the chapter in the book, I wondered if it was a little "out-of-date"--and then I thought that maybe it is in some circles, including those I have the most contact with now--but it shouldn't be.

  3. I just now received this brief email from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "Wonderful thought! Probably one of the most neglected lessons among Christians today."

  4. Yesterday I also received the following comments from Thinking Friend Andrew Bolton, who is back in his native England for a while.

    "This is a helpful treatment of the Lordship of Jesus. In your article I have discovered a new word, 'ensmalling.' You argue well that taking Jesus as Lord is not ensmalling but enlarging.

    "Also I like your advocacy that to make Jesus Lord is to make him Lord of every aspect of our life. Eberhard Arnold in his book ‘Innerland’ said something that has stuck with me. It goes like this, 'All of Jesus for all of our life. Anything less is a lie and a delusion.'”

  5. Having grown up in a community deeply influence by American revivalism, I got a lot of teaching about "all for Jesus". The very phrase makes me shrink because I was targeted by so much psychological manipulation dressed up as Gospel outreach by people who used it.

    We know and see every day that human beings bend our narratives about what happened and about what is true and right. We know that the religious communities we are a part of have done this and continue to do it. There is no convincing reason to believe that every single text, doctrine, credo, etc., that might be referred to as revelatory is immune to the warping effect of the human beings who set it down on paper and who propagate it.

    This is not an argument against God or religion or the possibility of revelation, it is a sober and I believe necessary and honest assessment of human limitations.

    To me, one of the implications of it is that we have to stop using absolute concepts that foster the setting aside of doubt and skepticism. We have to include them, actively and systematically, in our deliberations, in order to save us from ourselves.

    I felt weary and wary the whole way through your blog post until I came to the last two paragraphs: "When Jesus is truly Lord of one’s life, that person’s purpose for living is focused on the kingdom of God, on doing that which is most beneficial for human society and for the world of nature. Living with Jesus as Lord is a full commitment to the one who seeks to transform this world into a realm of peace and justice for all."

    Only when I came to these words did I begin to feel a glimmer of inner responsiveness. At last you took this broad and easily-manipulated appeal, "all for Jesus", to a level of real life practicality that I can see and trust. We know too much about the evil and manipulation that is regularly done in the name of religion to justify continuing use of handles for easy manipulation. Why not drop them and talk about the more specific commitments that you finally came to?

    1. Ron, thank you for your thoughtful and challenging comments.

      My early religious views and experiences were, no doubt, similar in many ways to yours. And perhaps you remember that I wrote a book titled "Fed Up with Fundamentalism" (2007). So I understand, and am in sympathy with, the use/misuse of "all for Jesus" emphases.

      At the same time, I don't know that I would ever have come to write the last two paragraphs, which I truly believe, if it had not been for the earlier and ongoing commitment to Jesus as Lord. If as a high school boy I had gone the way of my non-Christian friends, I could have spent my life as some of them have: living for pleasure, possessions, and power. I don't know of any friends who didn't become Jesus followers who have lived their lives focussed on peace and justice for all.

      I realize that my experience is limited, and I am sure there are some people who live and work for peace and justice who have not had a prior commitment to the Lordship of Jesus. But I also know that Christians groups such as the Quakers and the various ones rooted in Anabaptism were also in the beginning committed to the idea of Jesus as Lord--and, again, I am not sure they would have ever gotten to the place of emphasizing peace and justice had there not been that original commitment to Jesus Christ.

  6. Today I received the following email from a local Thinking Friend.

    “'Lordship' is an ideal like truth and beauty, so it cannot be measured. How am I to know if Jesus is Lord of my life? What if Pro Life and Pro Choice persons claim that their positions come are true to the Lordship of Jesus? What if a person that claims that one has to tithe to make Jesus Lord, while a non-tither doesn’t? What if a thinks that because Jesus is Lord, I can justify getting or not getting a divorce? What if Lordship is extended to beliefs such as whether Jesus is divine or human? More seriously, what if a Christian minister internalizes Lordship and uses that to justify being a domineering pastor?
    . . . .
    "Seems to me that Lordship is more of a lifelong process."

    1. These are challenging questions, but the concluding comment is, I think, unquestionably true.

      Just as there are in interreligious contacts conflicting truth claims that have to be dealt with in a rigorous and rational manner, so in intrareligious relations there are conflicting truth and/or ethical claims. Just as various theological questions merit discussion/debate, so do questions about the practical implications of Jesus' lordship. And, sadly, some ministers can and do use the idea of lordship to justify their own bent toward lording it over other people. On this, and many other issues, self-reflection and dialogue in a faith community are of great importance.

  7. Paul gave us a powerful guide to faith in his epistle to the Romans. We have, however, seized on some parts of it much more firmly than others. In particular, Chapter 14 is usually passed over in silence. This is the chapter where Paul contrasts the weak in faith with the strong, and calls on us to united in love, rather than divided in arguments. That sounds easy until you stop to consider his examples. Paul says the strong in faith can eat meat dedicated to idols, and treat all days of the week as the same. This is what he tells us not to argue about! Idolatry and the Sabbath are his examples! Some of the issues are rather modern sounding, such as whether one should be a vegetarian. Interestingly, he is particularly warning the strong in faith not to dispute with the weak in faith. Of course, rather famously, when the argument went in the other direction, he was all over Peter, who wanted the Gentile converts to be circumcised. Perhaps Peter was a different kind of "strong." At least the early church appears to never have worried about abortion, which is never mentioned directly anywhere in the Bible.

    My Sunday school class happens to be finishing Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship," which ends with a flurry of exposition on justification and sanctification. Written during the dark days leading up to World War II, Bonhoeffer was in Germany, confronting the existential crisis of Hitler and the Nazis. (The book was first published in 1937.) Based on Paul's definition of strong and weak faith, Bonhoeffer ironically seems to writing a very powerful proclamation of "weak" faith. Much of it fairly obvious, but something about it was bothering me. Then last night, attending an awards ceremony by a local teaching artists organization I found a solid place I could not agree with him. On page 299 Bonhoeffer writes "Even in the first century we find that certain professions were regarded as incompatible with membership in the Christian church." He then goes on to list actors, teachers, gladiators, soldiers, policemen and judges as people who "had to renounce their heathen professions if they wanted to be baptized." So I gather a teaching artist (actor) such as my wife would have been in double trouble. Indeed, the whole list is filled today with many professing, practicing Christians. Indeed, one of my wife's programs uses Aesop's Fables to teach character traits to school children. This all may have been a valid part of early church history, but the list makes no sense once we look at what Paul means by strong in faith. Even our gladiators, now appearing in professional sports arenas, are frequently noisily Christian.

    For some Christians the Lordship of Jesus Christ means withdrawing from the world, to avoid all possible contamination. For others, to be Lord of all, Jesus must be found in all. This does not mean that bad aspects of "the world" do not continue. Pretty much everyone agrees that something is profoundly wrong with the world today, even if we have trouble on agreeing what that something is. Love is the way forward.

  8. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments, Craig.

    It has been a long time since I read "The Cost of Discipleship" in its entirety, although I have through the years quoted selected sentences from it from time to time.

    As I allude to in the last two paragraphs of my article, and develop a little more fully in the book chapter, surrending to the lordship of Jesus Christ is, I believe, primarily submitting to his teaching/practice of love and that is, certainly, the most promising "way forward."