During Monday's Da Vinci Code three person panel debate in New York City, sponsored by Chosen People Ministries, the question was asked why the book strikes such a resonate chord with people.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (pictured with cigar)--a brash and loud public speaker who'd fit in perfectly as a spiritual guide on World Wrestling Entertainment--proposed that the book is appealing because people are sick of divisive religion that isn't inclusive of all people. Particularly, evangelical Christianity that--in his words--says, "If you don't believe in Jesus as your personal Savior, you're going to burn in hell." Boteach went on to say that anyone who lives a good and moral life will go to heaven.
Dr. Michael Brown (pictured with mustache), who has known Boteach for many years, challenged the Rabbi on this point, saying that God not only knows what we say, but our motivations as well. Even the Old Testament, refutes the idea that personal righteous obligates God to grant eternal life.
What I thought was interesting about Boteach's theology was how much it seems to have in common with the theology of liberal mainline Christianity. For example, many ministers in the United Church of Christ (my denomination) despise the idea that Jesus' cross is an atoning blood sacrifice that takes aways sin. In my mind, such belief: a) Denies Jesus' very own words in Mark 10:45, where he says "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many;" b) Creates discontinuity with the Old Testament and the regular offering of blood offerings at the Tabernacle and Temple (The New Testament epistle Hebrews addresses these issues in large measure); c) Denies the testimony of the Apostle John in his first letter, where he says of Jesus, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
But Christians should take to heart Boteach's criticism--people are turned off by religion that is divisive and non-inclusive. It doesn't mean we should change our theology. Rather, it means that we should learn to skillfully speak the truth in love.
Dr. Darrell Bock (pictured with beard) did about as good a job as anyone on this point. When Boteach challenged Bock to, "Just say it. Say, I'm going to hell because I don't believe in Jesus," Bock wouldn't take the bait. Instead, Bock said, "God has enough respect for his creation to let you make your choice."
After this exchange, Brown jokingly said, "I'll say it Shmuley, you're going to hell." But I think one reason Bock didn't say it was to show that God doesn't indiscriminately toss people into hell, depending on his mood at the moment you happen to be standing before God; hell is something people willingly choose because people choose to live independent of Him.