When I see professing Christians, indeed professing preachers, go goofy over Gandhi, I think of the amateur motorcycle enthusiasts enjoying the frisson of their first rides. Despite generous biblical warning, they jump on the Gandhi machine and roar down the road toward pluralism. I have no doubt it makes them feel good and the waves and cheers from the sidewalks can be intoxicating. But the cost is dreadful.
Which brings us to Rob Bell, author of the hot-seller, "Love Wins."
He begins his book with an anecdote and some "penetrating" questions. His church held a "peacemaking" art show, and one of the pieces featured a quote from Gandhi. When someone attached a piece of paper saying, "Reality check: He's in hell," Bell headed to the Harley dealership:
"Really? Gandhi's in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt? And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?" (page 7)
First, it's important to note what he doesn't say. He might have attempted a conciliatory defense, something like this: "Granted that Gandhi needed to accept Jesus as his Savior and that, without Christ, he did, indeed, face hell, we can still appreciate some of his words. And though this is a Church-sponsored show, it doesn't hurt to draw from outside sources for wisdom. Indeed, all truth is God's truth. Besides, the Mahatma might have privately turned to the Lord for salvation in the days or moments before his death. We'll never know this side of the grave. We can only pray that he had a heart change which he didn't have time to express."
Of course, Bell has no taste for this. He's saying something else -- that such a great, sensitive guy as Gandhi may well have gotten into heaven on some sort of great-sensitive-guy track.
Actually, he doesn't quite have the oomph to say this, so he goes the haughty-question route, which protects the "inquirer" from heresy charges, even elevating him above the merely orthodox to the higher plane of disinterested, non-parochial reflection. This approach is akin to that taken by those who want to slam something but they prefer to test the waters before they commit, as in "What did you think of today's chapel speaker?" A bit less than manly, I would say.
I suggest that Bell catch up on his reading. He might start with Richard Grenier's 1983 book, "The Gandhi Nobody Knows," a reaction to adulation generated by Richard Attenborough's worshipful and Oscar-winning film, "Gandhi." Or Andrew Roberts' "Among the Hagiographers" in The Wall Street Journal. Roberts' review of the new Gandhi bio, "Great Soul" by Joseph Lelyveld, picks up on the book's evidences that Gandhi was in no more position to stand in the judgment on his own merits than anyone else.
Check out these sources and you'll find that Gandhi was callous toward his wife and kids. He was contemptuous of God's good gift of sexual intimacy within marriage while, at the same time, taking grotesque liberties in intimacy. Though he softened his stance toward "untouchables," renaming them "children of God," he never rejected the Hindu classification system. He urged the English to surrender to Hitler, while he, himself, refused to surrender to Christ. And you can read the rest.
Of course, Gandhi was fortunate that he took on the British. His efforts would not have gone down so well had the colonialists been Muslim, Shinto or Stalinist. And he's been very fortunate to enjoy the adulation of those inclined to declare him spiritually acceptable if not transcendent. But it's time for a reality check. As Jesus said, in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." That's true for Gandhi as well as for you and me.
Mark Coppenger is professor of Christian Apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and director of the seminary's Nashville extension. This column first appeared at the blog of BibleMesh.com, a Christian website with the goal of helping "people learn the comprehensive story of Scripture" and applying "it to all aspects of life."
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