Jesus, Am I a Christian?

| January 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

George Mitrovich

On the day before Christmas, Nicholas Kristoff’s column in The New York Times was entitled, “Cardinal, am I a Christian?”

To haters of The Times, who believe it inherently and disgustingly liberal, Mr. Kristoff’s column may seem odd, but it shouldn’t, as the question of Mr. Kristoff’s “Christian standing” is one he has addressed before.

In one column the Pulitzer Prize winner put the question to Tim Keller, the former senior minister of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, a church he founded in 1989, and whose membership grew from a few dozen to more than 5,000, and whose book, “The Reason for God and The Prodigal Son,” made The Times’ best seller list, selling more than one million copies.

Former President Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist layman and Sunday school teacher, was also asked by Mr. Kristoff if he, The Times columnist, is a Christian?

Because Kristoff denies the Virgin Birth and any physical resurrection of Jesus — and one assumes the miracles as well — Reverend Keller told him he wasn’t; President Carter said he is.

Which brings me his column, “Cardinal, Am I a Christian?”

That question and others were put to Cardinal James Tobin of the Catholic Archdioceses of Newark, New Jersey, who was named to the College of Cardinals by his Holiness, Pope Francis, and shares many of the Pope’s “progressive” views.

On the question of whether he’s a Christian? the Cardinal told Kristoff he’s “in the tent,” which is clever, but lacks the specificity of Reverend Keller’s and President Carter’s answer, but seemed to satisfy Mr. Kristoff.

I do not know Nicholas Kristoff and have had no personal contact with him, save for one brief telephone conversation. But through his writings one understands his values, so clearly reflected in the causes he has undertaken in behalf of the world’s outcasts (no hyperbole intended).

Time after time, in Africa, Asia, and Central America, he has held its governments morally accountable for their pogroms of genocide; confronting them though his columns in The Times when our own government was shamefully silent.

Men and women of like conscience and morality owe Mr. Kristoff a debt of gratitude for his courage in confronting these despotic governments; not, as it were, from some distant and airy loft in Manhattan, but up close and personal.

He has been, and remains, a force for good in our world – in ways beyond our understanding.

But my intent here is not to praise Nickolas Kristoff, he doesn’t need it and would likely reject it, but rather to answer his question – “Am I a Christian?”

When you’ve been to church 10,000 times and heard 10,000 sermons; participated in Billy Graham crusades and meetings of Youth For Christ, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Navigators; heard hundreds and hundreds of sermons on the radio and watched hundreds more on television and YouTube; when you’ve served as president of an ecumenical council of 125 Christian churches, and, finally, when you’ve preached as a layman from some of America’s leading Protestant pulpits, including Washington’s National Cathedral, it’s conceivable, conceivable, you’re qualified to answer Mr. Kristoff’s question.

When Reverend Keller told Mr. Kristoff he’s not a Christian because the columnist rejects Jesus’ Virgin Birth and Resurrection, he wasn’t wrong, but I’m certain he did it with grace and gentility.

Because the answer given by Reverend Keller is consistent with the creedal statements of virtually every Protestant communion; and, more importantly, is affirmed in the ninth verse of chapter 10 of the book Romans in the New Testament, which reads, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (The answer President Carter gave, doctrinally, is in error, but reflects the president’s generous spirit.)

In his column, Mr. Kristoff began by telling Cardinal Tobin, “I revere Jesus’ teachings, but I have trouble with the miracles — including, since this is Christmas, the virgin birth. In Jesus’ time people believed that Athena was born from Zeus’ head, so it seemed natural to accept a great man walking on water or multiplying loaves and fishes; in 2017, not so much. Can’t we take the Sermon on the Mount but leave the supernatural?”

The answer: No.

Not if one believes what St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 12-17:

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ…If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

In admiring Jesus Christ as a teacher, philosopher, and moralist, in believing he lived a wholly exemplary life, hardly makes Nicholas Kristoff unique.

Since the inception of the church and its teachings, millions have believed in the Jesus of history, while, like Mr. Kristoff, rejecting the Christ of faith.

It becomes an intellectual conundrum, recognizing and admiring the uniqueness of Jesus but restrained by reason from embracing him as the “only Begotten Son” (as the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 16, puts it).

Mr. Kristoff suffers from Thomas Jefferson’s problem. Remember, Mr. Jefferson wrote his own version of the New Testament, including everything but the miracles. The great man couldn’t get his great mind around it.

But to explain 2,000 years of church history absent belief in the Virgin Birth, in the Resurrection, in the miracles, is a test history I don’t believe anyone can pass.

In the twenty plus millenniums since his birth, hundreds of millions of people have believed that Jesus is who He said He is – the Son of God. They confessed their faith in Him, accepted Him as their savior, believed their sins were forgiven; believed, in the deepest recesses of their hearts, they’re a child of God and that God loves them as they are – and one day, some day, in God’s own time, they’ll be heaven bound.

If you think you can explain the story of the Christian faith on the basis that Jesus was a great teacher, but only that, then you err – and the measure of your intellectual hubris is monumental.

But to return to Mr. Kristoff’s question, “Am I a Christian?”

I can’t answer. I don’t get to make that determination.

Neither do I believe Reverend Keller, President Carter, Cardinal Tobin, nor any other person or authority gets to make that call. It’s God’s – and God’s alone.

But if one insist upon calling one’s self a “Christian,” I’m good with that. It can’t hurt, and it might help.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at,

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