I once heard a story attributed to the famous theologian Karl Barth.
He was asked, “What does Satan look like?” So the story goes.
Barth’s response was: Satan looks like Warner Sallman’s famous portrait of Jesus.
Even if you’ve never set foot inside a church, you’ve probably seen the familiar portrait of the Aryan-looking Jesus — fair skinned, almond brown hair, greenish eyes. Perfectly European.
Some who heard Barth tell that story were offended that a theologian would dare to suggest anything evil about our Lord and Savior.
But that’s missing the point.
Instead, Barth suggested that molding Christ to fit our own ideas — to make him more comfortable and tolerable — was to begin down the path of evil.
The end result of such thinking concludes: We begin to believe God is on our side — no matter what the issue. And if God is on our side, he must be against whomever we dis-like.
On Tuesday, several different news outlets ran a national story about a rising Pentecostal and Evangelical Christian belief that God gave followers of his son a mandate to rule the world.
Think of it as a Christ carte blanche.
For me, that comes perilously close to evil, and more than a little hypocritical.
I find the notion of any particular group being chosen to lead the world scary. If democracy has taught us anything, it’s the strength that can come
from a multitude of voices and opinions, as well as shared power.
You see, buying into the notion that God values any group more than another leads to a dangerous ends-justifies-the-means mentality. If God wants Christian Evangelicals to rule the world, then achieving that — so long as God’s chosen ones end up victorious — is acceptable.
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And how many despots have used the same God-on-our-side rationale for brutal acts of genocide?
It would be funny if not so ironic: The same kind of zealotry that causes some evangelicals to dream of domination in the name of the Lord isn’t so different than the radicals who want to usher in a Muslim-ruled world.
The theology isn’t much different, just change a few Gods to Allah, and voila — you have the same narrow world view which has caused so many in the Western Hemisphere to flinch any time they see Arabic writing or someone with a turban.
So, it’s radical Christians versus radical Islam.
But Christianity, like so many world religions practiced devoutly, is radical, and Barth knew it. In fact, it may be the very reason why Sallman painted the portrait the Euro-Christ in the first place.
Sallman’s image looks familiar to us, something most of us — white folks in particular — can relate to.
But Barth knew better.
He knew how radical the gospel of Jesus was.
What a crazy idea it was to sell every possession you had and give the money to the poor. What would it mean to leave your family for a religion? To hang out with lepers? To ransack a corrupt house of worship even if that meant death?
Radical. That’s the only word for the gospel.
And Barth knew the message of Jesus had nothing to do with ruling the world. It had more to do with saving it.
Evangelicals and pentecostal Christians are right. There is a God-given mandate.
It just doesn’t have anything to do with political power.
Ehrlick is the editor of the Winona Daily News and can be reached by calling 507-453-3507 or by emailing email@example.com