Jesus is the Reason: Part 2, On Being a Good Person

Before getting to some examples that might be new to readers of this blog, I have to at least name check an example of warrant theology I've written about in Hunting Magic Eels and quite extensively on this blog. In fact, I've written about this issue so much you may be wearying of my beating this drum. 

Recall, warrant theology is an instance when we use Jesus as a means to an end, as a reason for a course of action. And perhaps the biggest example of warrant theology, as I describe in Hunting Magic Eels, is using Jesus as political or ethical warrant.

As I described in the last post, the issue here is subtle and tricky. It is absolutely true that we pursue love, peace and justice because we are seeking to imitate and follow Jesus. The example of Jesus sits before us and we pursue him. Jesus here is the goal, telos, and end of our striving.

By contrast, the pernicious temptation of warrant theology is to posit some ethical and political good and then claim Jesus as the reason for pursuing this good. To be clear, I don't think this is a huge tragedy. If people are doing good things in the world I really don't care all that much about what motivates them to do those good things. 

And yet, as I describe in Hunting Magic Eels, warrant theology does undermine the witness of the church. If the goal of faith is to be a good person, and Jesus is used as the warrant for being that good person, then being a good person becomes the goal, end, and telos. Jesus is just the means to reach that goal. And if you're a good person already, then Jesus becomes irrelevant. As I argue in Hunting Magic Eels, this "moralization" of faith, Jesus as moral and political warrant, is the biggest threat to the church in the modern world. As I've said numerous times, you don't need Jesus to be a social justice warrior. You can reach that goal by many other pathways. And I say this as a huge fan of social justice warriors.

Given this now familiar complaint of mine, what might be a remedy for this problem?

What I've attempted in my speaking and writing is to work very hard at keeping any moral and ethical goal deeply Christological and cruciform. Work to keep Jesus as target rather than warrant. The temptation of warrant theology is to use Jesus to legitimize our preferred politics. We can resist this temptation by inviting Jesus to trouble and criticize our preferred politics. You see this move deployed in almost all my books, from Stranger God to Hunting Magic Eels. We don't use Jesus to legitimize where we're already standing. Jesus pulls me into places where I'd rather not go. 

This is an insight that goes way back to my first book, Unclean. Jesus dismantles the affectional walls I've erected in my heart. Crossing those boundaries is hard, and can even feel wrong. Just like how the Pharisees recoil when Jesus touches a leper. When you're pursuing your lepers you're pursuing Jesus. When you chase Jesus "being a good person" becomes challenging, hard, difficult, and transgressive. This is because we're no longer using Jesus to justify where we currently stand in the virtue signaling game of "being a good person," but are being dragged into places where we'd rather not go.

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