How Much Can One Love Jesus and Not Be a Believer?

I have been listening to the most recent episode of the Prairie Home Companion (6 Sept 2008) where Garrison Keillor sings a gospel song that was sung by Helen Schneyer, who was ‘not a believer’ (Keillor’s words).  Then he said, ‘She didn’t believe in Jesus, but she loved him.’  I’m not sure what do with with that.  I don’t know what that is supposed to signify.  Perhaps he was trying to explain why someone would sing gospel songs, even though that person was not a Christian.

I don’t doubt that one can admire Jesus for what he preached and for his concern for those outside on the margins (assuming that they at least believe he existed and that there is some factual information in the gospels).  But why use ‘love’?  Or is love used of other great leaders (e.g., Ghandi, ML King, Jr.)?  I haven’t heard anyone say they ‘love’ them.  Or does is it meant as one does of rock bands?  Beyond the rock bands, ‘love’ affirms some type of commitment that Christianity demands (perhaps with the caveat, ‘as I have learned it’).

Faith, rather than love, is the expression more commonly used of our relationship with Jesus – at least in the New Testament.  This moves beyond intellectual assent, but describes a relationship of trust, which inevitably is intertwined with love.  Which leads back to my original question:  how can one love and not believe?  Does it mean anything?

For me, it could be a valid description of someone on the journey, but not really the desired end point (that’s a bad way of putting it).  This is sometimes where I have got into debates over ‘boundaries’ and ‘belonging’ with some of my friends.

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6 thoughts on “How Much Can One Love Jesus and Not Be a Believer?

  1. Is it a case of ‘Tell me about the Jesus you don’t believe in because I probably don’t believe in him either’?

    There was a time when I didn’t call myself Christian because I believed that God had revealed himself to me as a God who was entirely good, loving and life-giving. And I was convinced from my upbringing that Christians believed in a God who was evil as well as good, unloving as well as loving and a bringer of death as well as life-giving.

  2. True, Pam, it can be a case of which Jesus one is believing in. All the more reason to wonder why one may love him, especially if one knows a similar God to the one you had modelled for you.

    According to Wikipedia (and I realise the problems with that!), the singer Keiller mentions is Jewish. I can only imagine the Christians that modelled Jesus to her (or maybe I don’t want to imagine). Perhaps then it may have been a huge step for her to say anything about Jesus, much more sing gospel songs.

  3. I am a little intrigued by your mention of the Prairie Home Companion – could you elaborate on what this is as it strikes me it could be something interesting to me as I am a great fan of Southern Gospel music.
    I just wonder if I may be a little cynical here and suggest that there are many recording artists who will sing gospel music. It seems fairly true to me that there is a fairly large market for gospel music and certainly when I watch the Gaither homecoming series which I am a great fan of and see the auditoriums that they fill for their concerts this thought seems to ring true.
    Bill Gaither and some of his homecoming friends visited Scotland earlier this year and my wife and I went to the concert at the SECC in Glasgow where a capacity audience of 3,000 people of all ages had a thoroughly enjoyable evening – at the end of the concert there were ‘record tables’ in an area off the foyer and you could not move in there for people wanting to buy what they had heard. Some people were coming out with four or five DVD’s so it would seem that there is a market in Scotland for this product and I would have thought an even bigger one in America.
    I suppose the other observation I might make is that a lot of the country music I have heard has an experiential feel to it, and my belief is that this is also true for a lot of gospel music so there is a sort of link between the two styles that may influence a singer.
    I too find the concept of loving Jesus but not believing difficult and for me the one goes hand in hand with the other.

  4. Sorry, FP, I thought I had posted the link to PHC. I have fixed that now (see above). It is a two-hour radio programme hosted by Keillar (whose voice you may have heard because he does the voiceovers for the Honda commercials in the UK) on public radio. He covers a gamut of stuff, but his music will often run go toward the folk to southern gospel. Also amusing skits and news from his fictional hometown, Lake Wobegon in Wisconsin.

    As far as the secular singers singing gospel, you may be right, though gospel isn’t quite as popular as it once was. The song Keillar attributed her as singing was fantastic, and worth a listen on the website!

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