Three men explain the “Doctrine of Imputation” on the DVD entitled the “Biggest Question.” They tell viewers that the infinite debt each of us owes before becoming a Christian is eliminated once we receive God’s gift of Jesus. In fact, not only is the debt paid, but lots of extra credit is deposited into our accounts.
However, to receive the bonus of endless funds, an actual transaction must take place. If this transaction is not performed “rightly,” they tell viewers, we won’t get “Jesus goodness.” It’s quite likely, they explain, that we’ve been taught the wrong way. For example, people might have encouraged us to “ask Jesus into your heart.” They tell us we cannot “ask” Jesus or “make” him our “lord and savior.” Jesus already is these things. The idea of “accepting” this fact is nearer to the proper characterization of the transaction, but even this is not accurate because we don’t accept Jesus so much as he accepts us.
To help us understand, the hosts provide an analogy. Imagine you want to belong to a country club. You don’t just walk up to the front doors and announce: “I accept you as my country club!” You don’t call up the management and ask meekly, “Will you be my country club?” No, you fill out the application and provide the proper information. You submit a request for admittance. You let the country club review the materials and accept you.
After you’ve been accepted, you can then “come to Jesus.” But even this must be done “rightly.” Your motivation should never be gifts. You must seek the giver of the gifts. If the country club analogy was still in play, I suppose this would mean your request to join would not be accompanied by an expectation of access to the amenities the club offers. Golf? Tennis? Bonus!
As the instructions grow more complicated, I question my ability to pull off this transaction. I picture the distance between Jesus and me as a field scattered with land mines. I don’t know what’s less reliable: the map I’m being offered or my ability to read it. Either way, I’m anticipating flying shrapnel.
Thankfully, according to this thesis, there’s reason for hope. In a sense, the more I screw up, the better off I am—as long as I recognize my own ineptitude. The men assure me that what the divine has to offer is not something I can earn; nor is it something I can fail to earn. They assure me that believing I have anything to do with the acquisition of “Jesus goodness” is self-righteous, as is feeling superior. Apparently, the absolute worst thing I can do is believe I’m even just a tiny bit less wretched than anyone else. How this works with their assurance that once I embrace the Doctrine of Imputation, I no longer have to feel “lacking in goodness,” I’m not sure. To embrace my badness or not to embrace my badness—that is the question.
I watch the DVD twice. The first time I’m wide-eyed at all the fancy terms and the nuanced explanations and the banking metaphors. My second viewing, I struggle to grasp the meaning behind what they tell me, especially since all three of them seem confident in their interpretation. That’s when something troubling occurs to me: isn’t such certainty a form of superiority? If you think you know the right way of forming a relationship with Jesus, doesn’t that implicitly give you an edge, however slight, over the rest of wretched humanity?