Was the Norway shooter a Christian?

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Feisal Abdul Rauf (of Cordoba Initiative fame) begins his column “A Call to All Religion Moderates” by writing:

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was right when he insisted that Abders Behring Breivik [sic], who committed mass murders in Norway in July, is not a Christian. Even though Breivik referred to himself often as a Christian, Mr. O’Reilly noted, no one who slaughters innocents can be a follower of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. (emphasis added)

First of all, you should never get theological opinions from Bill O’Reilly.

Second, I agree that Breivik was not a Christian, but it has nothing to do with the murders he committed. It has everything to do with how he defined his own identity. Here’s how Breivik himself described his “Christianity”:

A majority of so called agnostics and atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians without even knowing it. So what is the difference between cultural Christians and religious Christians? If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian. (emphases added; via GetReligion)

Christianity as a “cultural, social, identity and moral platform” is meaningless without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In fact, I would argue that “Christianity” as a “cultural, social, identity and moral platform” – without the accompanying relationship with Jesus – is responsible for many of the greatest crimes against humanity of the past two thousand years. Christianity is, first and foremost, about the person of Jesus Christ. If you exclude him, then all you have left is one more godless ideology.

Rauf goes on to say that no murderer can be a “true Christian” (or a “true Muslim,” for that matter). I disagree strongly with this idea. As I wrote above, Christianity is, first and foremost, about the person of Jesus Christ. It’s not about how righteous, holy, or moral we can be, or whether we can simply avoid (through care or luck) making terrible decisions.

Could someone have a personal relationship with Jesus and still commit horrific crimes? Tragically, I believe the answer is yes.

I see two important implications of this sobering idea:

1) We should not be quick to reject someone as a brother or sister in Christ. Whether a historical figure or one of our contemporaries, we shouldn’t base our opinion of them or their faith on their misdeeds.

2) We should never assume that our own actions are right, simply because we’re Christians. Perhaps our descendants will judge us as harshly as we judge our misguided ancestors, for some blind spot or crime that never even occurred to us to be wrong.

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