In modern politics, the talking point has become ingrained in the way political parties, governmental groups, and the media deal with news. A talking point is a leadership position on an issue distributed to members of a group. If reporters confront a member of the group, he or she will respond by stating the talking point, making it appear as if the group is united on the issue. If you watch the network news, you will frequently be presented with sound bites from different people saying essentially the same thing. Jon Stewart on The Daily Show has sometimes shown these clips in rapid succession making the speakers seem like puppets.
However, the talking point is only the name of the process as it appears in today’s media. The concept is much older.
If you attend only one church, when you listen to the preaching about salvation, you may be unaware that preachers in other churches are making very similar statements.
These are not the day-to-day responses to current issues as much as patterned responses that have become rote statements for the preachers.
If this were just preachers agreeing amongst themselves, it would be one thing. Unfortunately, most Christian preachers have accepted these talking points as truth even when the talking point contradicts some deeply held and important ideas about Christianity.
In the November 23, 2013 Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Kermit Rye, a visitation pastor at East Side Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, gets into one of those Christian talking points for his From the Pulpit article. The point is spelled out in large letters in the title of the article: Jesus’ death on the cross proves his love for all sinners.
The first thing that strikes me is that Jesus may love ALL sinners, but salvation is restricted to some; the others are going to hell. I will address this later.
To prove his point, Pastor Rye paraphrases the story of the crucified Jesus having a conversation with two criminals who are also being crucified.
The four Gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, agree on the idea that Jesus was crucified along with two other people. Mark and Matthew say the others, called rebels in the NIV Bible, “heap insults on Him” and there was no salvation extended to either of the rebels.
Only Luke has Jesus talking with the two criminals. One criminal insults Jesus. Then the second criminal rebukes the first and asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes “into your kingdom”. Jesus tells the criminal, “… today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 NIV
By alluding to the story in Luke, Pastor Rye trying to prove that even criminals can go to heaven if they believe in Jesus. Does this mean that Jeffery Dalmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Adolph Hitler are in heaven, if they believed in Jesus?
Aside: Although all four Gospels mention the two people executed with Jesus, only Luke includes the conversation and the salvation of one criminal. Why wouldn’t Mark and Matthew have included something this momentous? John mentions the others, but he doesn’t classify them as criminals or rebels. Although John is the most Christian of the four Gospels, John has no reference to Jesus extending salvation to one of the sinners. It’s not clear why John even mentioned the others who were also crucified.
Back to the topic of talking points. This is the capsule version of the talking point Pastor Rye uses: God, loving the world so much, sends his only son Jesus to be crucified as a sacrifice, atoning for all the world’s sins so that sinners can go to heaven.
If you are a sinner, all you need to do to go to heaven is to believe in Jesus. To be fair, some churches state this differently. For example, some Baptists say the process has four steps: Confess your sins, believe Jesus died for you, repent your past sinful life, receive Jesus as your savior.
Clearly, this talking point is designed to help the preachers convert non-Christians from their heathenism. It seems so simple. Listen while the preacher/missionary tells you about Jesus and what His death means to you. Then believe in Jesus. Hocus-pocus, ala-kazam, you have a golden ticket for admission to heaven.
I have long list of problems with this talking point.
First, most Christians will profess a belief that God is all-powerful and can do anything. If God loves the world so much, why didn’t he just forgive all sins and take everyone into heaven? God could have forgiven Adam and everyone who would come after him with a finger-snap, but He didn’t.
Second, the talking point says the Jesus died for the sins of the world. If this is true, why does anyone have to do anything relating to religion? Why do people need to go to church and follow the rules of religion? If our sins, past, present, and future, have been forgiven, why do people have to believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven? Instead, for some reason, the gift from Jesus/God is conditional. Those that believe in Jesus go to heaven. Those who don’t, like me, or can’t, like those who have never learned about Jesus, go to hell.
Third, why did Jesus have to die? Why did God send Jesus to live as a human, knowing what Jesus would have to experience? Some Christian apologists argue that a blood sacrifice was necessary to appease God’s anger with people being sinners. (One might think that God would have known how people would behave, since He knows everything, past, present and future, but He is still angry.) However, if Jesus is God, and God can do anything, why did Jesus have to die and die in such a cruel manner?
The story of Abraham and Isaac illustrates that an animal can be substituted for a human sacrifice. Would God have accepted a ram or a bull as a substitute for Jesus? Is God so bloodthirsty that He demands the sacrifice of His own child?
Fourth, if sin is so terrible, why did God wait from the time of Adam, circa 4000 BCE, to the time of Moses, circa 1300 BCE to tell people what to do to live without sin? Did the people who lived and died before Moses go to hell for committing acts they did not know were sins, such as eating pork, wearing mixed fibers, or working on Sunday? If God knows everything, including the future, why did He mess with Moses knowing that it wouldn’t work and that He would have to send Jesus in another millennium to make it right? Why did God give Moses 613 rules and 10 Commandments to live by knowing that Jesus (and Paul) were going to make those rules obsolete?
Fifth, if Jesus died for everybody’s sins and we can all go to heaven, why are we still here, suffering through this world of pain and evil? Why didn’t we all go to heaven with Jesus when He ascended? Again, Jesus/God has the power to do this, but, clearly, it did not happen.
Sometimes, inconsistencies within Christian talking points make them seem like the compromises worked out by committees. Oh, wait, Christianity is a compromise worked out over the hundreds of years following Jesus and has little relation to what Jesus was trying to do with his preaching.
There are so many problems with the talking point about Jesus’ death. The preachers use the talking point as a club. You will hear it nearly every Sunday in nearly every sermon. They cry out to their congregations, “Jesus loves you! He loves you so much, He died for your sins!” and the congregation yells, “Amen,” without thinking. Perhaps, the people in the church should take a moment to reflect on all the inconsistencies before dumping their hard-earned cash into the collection plate?
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