Why Touchstone Is Still Christian After All These Years
On a highway overpass, somewhere on a quiet stretch of road, there stand the spray-painted words "Jesus saves." That's the scenario envisioned by novelist and essayist Frederick Buechner:
Jesus saves. The effect, more or less, is that we wince. And, one way or another, we wince because we are embarrassed, and embarrassed for all kinds of reasons. Embarrassed because the words remind us of old-time religion and the sawdust trail and pulpit pounding, corn-belt parsons, evangelism in the sense of emotionalism and fundamentalism. We wince because there is something in the name "Jesus" itself that embarrasses us when it stands naked and alone like that, just Jesus with no title to soften the blow.
Now, of course, the title "Christ" was the most scandalous statement about Jesus in the Gospel accounts, so much so that Simon Peter's confession of this truth at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:16) is a defining moment in the story. But Buechner saw a different reality at work in our time.
It seems to me the words "Christ Saves" would not bother us half so much, because they have a kind of objective, theological ring to them, whereas "Jesus saves" seems cringingly, painfully personal—somebody named "Jesus" of all names, saving somebody named whatever your name happens to be. . . .
Buechner is writing of something that encompasses the potential pitfall of any kind of effort toward an ecumenical orthodoxy. We are, after all, not in search of any sort of theological or ecclesial "dialogue." At our senior editors' gatherings, we all know there's no chance that I'll be immersing Patrick Henry Reardon into a baptistry at the end of it all, and there's no chance that I'll be singing Ave Maria.
We're not together because we're drawn to some sort of unity attempt. We're together because of what one observer has called the "ecumenism of the trenches." We have common cultural concerns, and wish to join together to speak to those concerns.
It would be easy, then, for a fellowship like ours to simply retreat to those places where we have the least-common-denominator agreement, and become a merely reactive movement, standing athwart history yelling "Repent!"
The path forward, then, might cause us to embrace more and more allies, regardless of whether they share our Christology. On this trajectory, we would talk more about "values" and "principles" and less about orthodoxy (small o) at all. We would speak more of "God" and "Western civilization," and much less about "Jesus" and "the Bible."
Always Returning to Jesus
Over a quarter century in, Touchstone has been able (so far) to avoid this temptation. We are not embarrassed by Jesus. And we speak of Jesus not simply with the distance of theological abstraction but with the personal confession that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is the living Ruler of the cosmos, the kingdom of God in person.
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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