On March 27, 2000, Jesus was once again the coverboy on Newsweek magazine - this time in response to the Pope's visit to Jerusalem. It was an odd, eclectic Newsweek, faced with reporting the news in a non-news week. But if life was dull that week, U.S.A. Christology was even more so. The Christ who once ruled the classic center of the faith is now pictured as the gelatinous Jesus of interfaith compromise.
Cutting and pasting from Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism, the Newsweek Jesus didn't look so much like the Christ of the Gospels anymore. John Paul II declared, "Christ is absolutely original, and absolutely unique. If he were only a wise man like Socrates, if he were a prophet like Muhammad, if he were enlightenment like the Buddha, without doubt, he would not be what he is."
But, in spite of the Pope's strong affirmation, this "very-God of very God" Jesus is now seen as the gray ecumenical icon of many world religions.
To the Jew's, Jesus appears a Jewish teacher and reformer "whom we accept as one of us (p.52)," said one Jewish ecumenist.
The Dalai Lama insists that Jesus is a figure of great compassion much like Buddha (p. 52).
To the Buddhists, Christ is a bodhisattva enlightened like Buddha. After all both Buddha and Jesus were born to chaste women and both challenged established religions. In one very famous Eastern painting, Jesus appears garbed as a Buddhist Monk in a saffron robe (p. 53).
The Hindus say, "There is a strong tradition that as an infant Jesus and Mary traveled across India where Jesus learned yogic meditation (p.58).
The Muslims, since Mohammed, have regarded Jesus as one of Allah's prophets (p. 52).
I'm forced to set all of this ecumenical Christology alongside a single Greek adjective monogenes. In the King James it is translated as "only begotten," in the NIV as the "one and only," and in still other versions as the "unique."
I want to risk my reputation as a politically correct person and remind all who stand with me that the West was born out of the Judeo-Christian heritage. Some will of course object that this is giving far too much credit to Jesus and far too little to other cultures. Yet, with the beginning of the modern missions movement, Christian missionaries spanned the globe taking education, medicine, and altruism with them.
Today, Jesus still stands at the center of the missionary calling. There remains only one way to the Father. Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, and ordinary Western sinners must be remade in Christ, as creatures whose diverse backgrounds are lost in the common wonder of the one-and-only Christ.
I have great fear for missions in the West. This fear is born out of an all-approving tolerance rooted in multi-culturalism. It is considered evil by secularists to try and change people from one religion to another. Evangelism, when referred to at all by the media, is seen as an intolerant beast that roars over loudly against the sincere followers of other world religions.
Evangelism and missions is so often seen as a form of repression and the seed bed of inter-ethnic discrimination. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Good News," is being reinterpreted, "stay home and let the world be."
This view is becoming so popular that it seems the end of the aggressive missions movement may be close. And what will be the end of it all?
Since missions has always provided the vitality of the church, the church without it will become a cobwebbed museum of dreamless Christians. Missions is the outward business of the church. Without it she will die of suffocating introspection. Missions is how the church meets a godless world. When she quits meeting that world her future is in doubt. Martin Buber said that "all living is meeting." When we're missionaries no longer "meeting people" we will be alive no longer, and when we are no longer meeting the lost world, the light of the world will be extinguished by the new celebrants of tolerance.
Calvin Miller is professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.