Does “Jesus Plus Nothing” Mean “Jesus Minus Something?”

Product DetailsEvangelicalism abounds with catchy phrases and statements that come and go.  Some of them are clearly unbiblical, while others seem OK at first glance.  One current phrase is “Jesus plus nothing.”  While it sounds good on the surface, there are quite a few good reasons why we should avoid this phrase (or explain it well when using it).  Os Guinness does a great job exposing the weaknesses of the phrase “Jesus plus nothing.”  He argues that this phrase actually dishonors Jesus and should not be used.  Here are his six reasons why this phrase is lacking and unhelpful.  (I’ve edited them slightly for the sake of space.)

First, a literal interpretation of the maxim is overly simplistic.  John Owen gave an equally faithful though less wooden interpretation.  He quoted Paul’s words, ‘I have determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.’  But then he added: ‘At least with nothing that could divert my attention  from that subject.’  Paul himself went on to speak of other things he also knew, such as the details of divisions in the Corinthian church and the facts of their sexual promiscuity (just to name a few).

Second, we could not know who Jesus is without going beyond Jesus.  For a start, we would not understand who Jesus is without the Old Testament, nor would we understand him without the rest of the New Testament that followed him.

Third, the fact is that many who brandish this formula tend to teach only those parts of the teaching of Jesus that fit in with their own ideas.  Like the many faulty ‘Jesuses’ of Protestant liberalism, their teaching is a reflection of their own prejudices.  Today’s ‘Jesus plus nothing’ had its forerunners in such maxims as ‘the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.’  While sounding good, these formulae were not biblical and their effect was baneful.

Fourth, genuine seekers who are not simplistic and are searching for adequate answers will often conclude that those who have no interest in wider questions will have no answers to the meaning of life.  They therefore will walk away from the presumed childishness of the Christian faith.  [In other words, this phrase might be a hindrance in evangelism.]

Fifth, it was Jesus who was concerned with far more than himself, so to be faithful to him is to scrap the slogan, however well meaning.  Jesus raised questions of the Christian relationship to culture (e.g. ‘render to Caesar what is Caesar’s’; or when he prays for his followers to remain ‘in’ the world but not ‘of ‘ it).  As his full teaching makes clear and the rest of the New Testament amplifies, ‘worldliness’ and its opposite, ‘otherworldliness,’ are the two extremes that Christians are called to avoid, and the challenge is to follow him in the more faithful and far more demanding position in between.

Finally, the sad fact is that talk of ‘Jesus plus nothing’ usually ends in holding to a form of Christian faith that is ‘Jesus minus something.’  Most often it represents a faith with an inadequate grasp of truth or too little theology and thought, or a faith that is ‘all Jesus’ but no God the Father and no proper place for the Holy Spirit.  With some who espouse this maxim, it has become a significant source of syncretism and unfaithfulness in the wider church.

I think Guinness makes some great points – points which could be applied to other such phrases and slogans.  These are good reminders for us to be careful when using Christian cliches and slogans.

The above quotes are found in the beginning of chapter three in Guinness’ book, Renaissance.

Shane Lems

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10 comments on “Does “Jesus Plus Nothing” Mean “Jesus Minus Something?”

  1. Chaiway says:

    Great points in your post. However using the complete phrase “Jesus + Nothing =Everything” is G-d’s full gospel message. Jesus did it all. I contribute nothing to being saved. When I was spiritually dead, G-d in His sovereign grace saved me. I said “yes” but even that is a work of G-d. His grace stirred me and drew me. No one seeks G-d on their own. Once saved, G-d brings us deeper into His gospel message. At the moment of salvation I am given a brand new identity. We all walk out what we believe we are. At the moment of salvation we are holy, righteous, forgiven, sanctified, sealed with G-d’s Holy Spirit … transferred from darkness to light….positionally. (Romans 3:21-25; Colossians 1:10-14, 1:21-23; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Colossians 2: 6-15; Romans 1:6-11; Ezekiel 36:26-29). Our life is walking out that new identity here on earth, experientially. Our progressive sanctification flows, the working out our salvation with fear and trembling (reverent fear/awe, worship and gratitude) with an ever deepening realization of G-d’s perfect holiness and what G-d did for us. It is G-d who works in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). G-d’s gospel is not about our performance, it is about Jesus and His identity that has been credited to our account. Then Romans 6 comes reminding us what that experiental progressive sanctification looms like, from the exterior, and more critically, from the interior. Thank you for the privilege of responding to your post. G-d bless you.

    • Chaiway – thanks for the comments, appreciate the tone. I don’t disagree with what you said, but I think your comments proved the point that a slogan by itself isn’t helpful. To understand the slogan, you had to take a paragraph to rightly explain it. You had to explain that God the Father and the Holy Spirit also are also at work in our salvation. So the phrase “Jesus plus nothing” is a bit misleading, because God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are also involved.

      Does this make sense? A slogan just can’t capture the depth of your paragraph; it will necessarily fall short.

      Again, thanks for the comment.
      shane

      • Chaiway says:

        Your response to mine clarifies a terrific point. Thank you. I never really thought of it that way because I don’t use it to introduce the gospel to not yet saved people. The only people I have ever used that sentence with (“Jesus plus nothing equals everything”) were already born again believers who fully grasped the triune nature of G-d. They however were trapped in the self focused mindset of the Christian “to do” list, the imperatives divorced from the indicatives. I use that “Jesus plus nothing equals everything” expression as the “launching pad” to teach the fullness of the gospel message which is completely Jesus centered as compared to man centered. Again, a launching pad, and then also a “reminder”. It is powerful in toggling the memory because we all tend to forget and slip into default mode which is self centered and focused, not Jesus centered and focused. What Jesus did on the cross, and the result of Jesus’ work of expiation (taking the penalty away from us) is propitiation, G-d’s wrath is turned away. Jesus is the final atonement. However while all the sacrifices in Leviticus and the annual Yom Kippur holiday merely cover sin, Jesus expiates it, completely removes it. This leads into the glorious double imputation. Without a full grasp on that not only are our sins removed (not merely forgiven, removed) we are also given a brand new identity, in Jesus. And then we delve into just what that is. Critical because as scripture attests to, we walk out what we think. That understanding of double imputation is so important and the life changer. And as we walk through our life here on earth, G-d continues to bring us deeper into His gospel. The focus remains on what Jesus has done, and our sanctification progressively flows from that. When we slip from eyes on Jesus to eyes on self, our behavior reflects that, and that is when we stumble. Thank you for the dialog. You are making me think, analyze and dissect, and all that is so valuable. Iron sharpening iron.

  2. Chaiway says:

    *looks* like, not looms like :)

  3. […] Presbyterian Church and services as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  4. NJ says:

    I’ve read and heard enough of Tullian Tchivijian in the past to know you just knocked down one giant straw man here. Chaiway pretty much nailed it.

    • NJ, thanks for the note. I’m not following how this was a straw man or caricature. I thought Guinness’ observations were quite insightful and gave details on the actual phrase, not a straw man. Also see my response to Chaiway.
      Thanks,
      shane

  5. Chaiway says:

    I do see how this expression can be misunderstood as possibly teaching modalism as the Jesus only or Oneness Pentecostals teach. But I have never heard the expression “Jesus + Nothing = Everything” used by those groups to promote their non biblical beliefs. I have only heard it used in the context of the biblical complete gospel message to emphasize that Jesus did it all, paid it all, gave it all. The gospel is not about us, it is about Jesus. All one liners beg explanation, regardless of topic. However as I mentioned in my last post, one liners are wonderful topic introducers and reminders/memory aids.

  6. […] Presbyterian Church and services as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

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