For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek — Romans 1:16 RSV.
Something truly amazing happened yesterday morning on the Fox News Sunday show hosted by Chris Wallace. In the roundtable discussion at the end of the show, each panelist was asked to make a sports prediction for 2010. Brit Hume forecast that Tiger Woods will get his golf game back on track, but then went on to say:
Whether he can recover as a person [...] it seems to me, depends on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, “Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”
It was really a rather stunning moment. Brit managed in just a couple of sentences to lovingly proclaim the gospel to a notorious sinner and to do so succinctly and courageously and with an intellectually unassailable argument. Naturally, some people are apoplectic over this.
Brit is in for it with bloggers and commentators. He’s being called “arrogant’ — how dare he judge that one faith is better than another? He is being called “rude” — faith is a “private matter.” His reason is being questioned — one blogger sarcastically asked why the Christian God had let that Buddhist win so many golf games against Christians. More than one person feels compelled to point out that some high-profile Christians have been involved in major sex scandals within the living memory of us all. Others cannot understand why Hume “dismissed Buddhism” as “inadequate for those with family problems.”
What’s going on here? To some extent this is just the normal resistance of the unwashed and wayward to the message of salvation. It’s “la, la, la, I can’t hear you” when it comes to the subject of Christ as anything other than a social justice do-gooder (conveniently forgetting that Jesus kept annoyingly advising people to “repent” — what’s up with that?). But there is more at work when the narrative of Christianity and how that differs from the reality account of other faiths is so unfamiliar to so many.
All religions see the human world as broken in some way. Buddhism and Christianity both offer an account of this brokenness and a way for it to be healed. In Christianity the problem is sin, the solution is forgiveness, and what you are aiming for is eternal personal life in heaven. In Buddhism the problem is suffering, the solution is to stop being attached to desires, and the aim is to get off the wheel of reincarnation and enter Nirvana, a state of personal non-existence. This is an objective and simple set of facts. it is a sad commentary on on the state of our educational system, at least, that every educated adult does not know this.
When Brit Hume said that Buddhism doesn’t offer “the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith,” he wasn’t saying anything insulting about Buddhism. If a Buddhist said that Christianity does not have Nirvana as a goal, he would also be speaking the non-insulting truth. They are different religions. Hume’s very simple and straightforward assertion of that fact shocks the happily indifferent who love to indulge in the pseudo-intellectual trope that all religions are different paths up the same mountain. They aren’t. They offer different — and what is more, mutually incompatible — accounts of reality, the human condition, and what is necessary to fix it. Logically, Buddhism and Christianity could both be false, but they cannot both be true. If one is true, the other is not.
Now Buddhism sees the kind of sensual lust that has destroyed Tiger Woods’s marriage as a serious hindrance to following the noble eight-fold path that leads to Nirvana. Although in Buddhism there is no personal God who can grant forgiveness, Buddhism does offer very concrete practices to help a person overcome lust and other deleterious habits of thought and behavior. And Brit Hume did not deny any of this. He did not suggest that Woods’s destructive behavior was the result of his Buddhism. He did not assert that Christians are incapable of the same depravity that has come to light in Woods’s life. He just pointed out that, in his opinion, what Tiger Woods really needed was forgiveness and that forgiveness was not a feature of Buddhism, as it is of the Christian faith.
And on that Hume was right. He was right about the difference between the two faiths and he was right about Tiger. Tiger Woods, like every other sinner — like every one of us — does need forgiveness. He needs Jesus. And that’s why, in the Christian account of things, no matter how politically incorrect it may be, no matter how much the world writhes upon hearing it — religion is never a mere private affair. It is a public — publicized, proclaimed, heralded, shouted from the rooftops — account of reality, belief in which is confessed publicly. In fact, it is the account of reality that is the basis of our entire civilization, and what could be more public than that?
It is the job of serious Christians to make the world acquainted with the Gospel, with the Good News that here there is forgiveness. But Brit Hume said something more — something very interesting: that not only is forgiveness available, but so is recovery.
Grace is power. It is the power to overcome evil with good, to be freed from the control of lust, greed, anger, and other sins. It is a power that we don’t just have to work hard enough or practice enough to possess, but instead it is given to us by a personal God who made us and loves us all. He loves all human beings, Christian and non-Christian, and just as he makes the rain fall upon the righteous and the ungodly, so He bestows such gifts as athletic talent and intelligence upon Christians and non-Christians with great liberality. And anyway, what would the world say if God only let Christians win at sports?
God bless Brit Hume for not being ashamed of the Gospel, for loving Tiger Woods enough to point him to Christ, for not being cowed by political correctness into hiding his faith. I don’t know what 2010 has in store for Tiger Woods — or any of us — but if Brit Hume’s example encourages other Christians to speak out boldly and offer Christ to everyone, it will be a great year!