Beside the Interstate to Nashville, a statue of Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was unveiled on July 11. It has stirred controversy. General Forrest was hero to some, archvillain to others. A fierce Confederate soldier, he embodied courage and leadership. Yet he was a slave trader before the Civil War and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan afterward. Did he have a change of heart when he freed his own slaves before the war's end, or when he resigned from the Klan, denouncing its growing violence?
Somehow this memorial to the Confederacy and to its ideals seems oddly out of place in the New South. To me it is a reminder. Class distinction, pride, and tradition are mental influences still to be addressed.
Christ Jesus faced similar entrenched opinions. The Pharisees cloaked their intolerance and racism in religious practice. Those who failed to observe certain established rituals and traditions were scorned. Jesus challenged their forms of worship. He taught that one gains the kingdom of heaven through transformation of the inward spirit rather than outward observances.
But Jesus did more than dispute ritualistic traditions. He taught that salvation was individual, not group. Inspired prophets had begun to catch glimpses of this. Ezekiel told the children of Israel: "What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel" (18:2, 3). He continued to say that each one who lived justly would surely be blessed by God.
Jesus would later fully reveal the individual, inward nature of salvation; that regardless of what others say or do, it is based on individual transformation. As he told the Pharisee Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). However, Nicodemus may have been unwilling to risk the disapproval of family and friends, choosing instead to return to familiar, comfortable forms of worship.
The disciples of Jesus, on the other hand, sought the individual spiritual transformation he taught. …