Learning about Christ from an Unlikely Source

One of the glorious things about studying philosophy and theology is that sometimes you find allies in unlikely places. Lately, the “antichrist” himself – Friedrich Nietzsche has become a bit of a refuge with an interpretation of certain aspects of the Gospels.

As I’ve been re-reading through Miroslav Volf’s marvelous text Exclusion & Embrace as I further prepare to talk and write on exclusionary actions of the evangelical church, I find that Volf too finds some solitude in Nietzsche. In a particular passage that has likewise struck me as profound, Volf discusses Nietzsche’s interpretation of Jesus and his “enemies” – the Pharisees & other religious leaders.

In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche rightly points out that in the context of the Gospels the Pharisees are the high and mighty, the virtuous of society. The Pharisees, as the religious leaders, had the certain knowledge that they were correct in their interpretations of law and what makes one holy. It is for this reason that the Pharisees cannot understand why Jesus would break the law in order to heal a sick man. Adherence to the law – the law that the Pharisees themselves regulated – is what makes one good.

Yet Jesus proposed a different theory of virtue. Jesus proposed a life that lives out virtue and goodness. It’s a mission of embrace.

This is precisely why Jesus had to die.

The Pharisees, in their vast wisdom of truth and goodness missed the point of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ life and acts of love were contrary to that of the Pharisees. His Love was a threat to the religious status quo. The Pharisees, seeing their power slipping away from them, had to act. Jesus had to die.

Nietzsche’s commentary offers us quite a bit to chew on. His nuggets of wisdom can help us in a time where so many Christians battle over words like truth and goodness. Nietzsche, I think, offers a unique perspective on an individual like Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue state marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Some hail Kim as a hero of religious liberty in America and someone who has been persecuted for her faith. Others, like myself, deem her a danger to religious liberty itself by imposing her religious views on others from her public position.

Many conservative Christians were quick to support Davis’ actions and beliefs. As a “crusader for truth” Davis became a spokesperson for the conservatives who see a threat to their religious freedom in light of the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage in June. I know of pastors who support Davis’ actions and who are “doubling down” on their position on homosexuality, thereby further excluding LGBT people from active church involvement.

From the perspective of Nietzsche’s commentary, this should not at all be surprising. Those, like myself, who are working to bridge the wide gap between the Church and LGBT community are not met a large positive response from those who disagree. In an effort to be inclusive and live the Gospel for the “other”, many are often ostracized and excluded from service. Those in power – be it pastors, college presidents, boards, et al – see a diversion away from “truth.” They will stand on “truth” because that is what they believe the Bible says, all the while completely ignoring the fact their actions of exclusion are contrary to the embodied truth of Christ. This is, in fact, because many Christian leaders seem to fit the model of the Pharisee rather than the model of Christ. Stuck on their own interpretations of truth they cannot see past their own structures that have been established and reinforced that can so easily make Christianity a model of exclusionary power rather than inclusionary Love.

We seem to be in a time of 21st Phariseeism. I do not mean to communicate that Christian leaders are purposely being like the Pharisees. Quite the contrary. I think they are striving to be like Christ but are so often off target given because their understanding of Christianity is a set of beliefs to be right about. I actually have quite a bit of empathy toward the Pharisees. I think they were trying to do what they think is right given their constructed understanding of goodness. It seems to me that many Christian leaders today are at the same juncture when it comes to the LGBT community. They operate out of their idea of goodness and in fear of treading outside, even a bit, the lines of their understanding. Yet that’s precisely what Christ did. It’s why Christ’s example is so revolutionary. He not only left the constructed lines of the religious leaders but radicalized it in a manner where the essence of Law was made to go out to reach those who had been ignored.

Christ was a person who lived and thrived in the wilderness. I find myself there now. I’m happy to have good company. Oddly, it was the antichrist who helped me understand this.

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