This post is actually inspired by a post over at Pomomusings discussing where to draw the line in dialogue with Christians who disagree with you. Adam references homosexuality and female leadership specifically, but uses it to springboard into the broader question of when to call it quits when dialogue is not working. These 2 blogs, and many others in the emergent church movement, frequently make use of the term "radically inclusive" in a description of Jesus or their church. "Jesus was radically inclusive" or "we're doing radically inclusive ministry." Some have even gone so far as to formulate "radically inclusive" theology. Those employing this term are clearly using it in opposition to what they perceive to be the historic stance of Christianity and the church, which one can assume was exclusive, if not radically so. The question, of course, is their understanding of both Christ and the church accurate?
First, was Jesus radically inclusive? I must admit that when I first heard this term in reference to Jesus, I didn't think twice about it. I mean, Jesus didn't spend too much time with the religious leaders and focused most of His ministry on the down-and-outs, the little guys and gals that were mostly on the fringes of society. So from that perspective, yes, Jesus was inclusive but I think you would be hard-pressed to say it was "radical." Jesus clearly excluded a fairly large segment of Jewish society when He condemned the legalism of the Pharisees. There are those who would then take this and twist it to mean that Jesus was against institutionalized religion, and since he was most open to those on the margins of society, we should adopt the same stance. There are problems with this idea, but let's assume the premise is at least partially correct. Jesus was indeed open & inclusive of those who were largely regarded as social inferiors, but they were regarded in this way not because the mainstream of society did not understand or accept them based on blind prejudice. No, they were on the outside because they were sinners. They had violated the norms and legal requirements of Jewish law and in so doing, had pushed themselves to the outside. I'm not saying there weren't problems in the application of the law or corruption in the Jewish leadership at that time because the Gospels are clear that there was. But that does not change 3 facts - 1) these people had by and large violated Jewish law and were regarded as sinners, 2) Jesus accepted them as they were AND 3) Jesus placed a moral impetus on them to change. He charged them to stop sinning and to seek holiness. Jesus clearly states he came to call sinners to repentance, not acceptance. He didn't talk about "faith journeys," "dialoguing" or "becoming fully human." He talked about seeking hard and fast after God and denying the self in the process. So was Jesus radically inclusive? I would say yes, but not in the way it is frequently used today. Jesus may have dined with sinners, but He had dessert with saints.