Six Thoughts About Jesus

Religion — By on June 19, 2008 at 2:36 am

Over the years people have asked me why, since this is an
evangelical blog, I don’t mention Jesus more often. My usual glib
answer is that I prefer not to name-drop
just because I’m on a first name basis with the Creator of the
Universe. I also take offense at the implication my sole mission as an
evangelical blogger is to end every post with an altar call.

While it’s true that I don’t casually use the name of Jesus, I
believe that, like Flannery O’Connor’s South, this blog is
“Christ-haunted.” Still, there is a time to talk about Jesus more
directly. Since I think about him constantly, I often have questions,
concerns, surprises, opinions, and–on rarer occasions–insights, about
Christ. Here, for instance, are a few thoughts I’ve had:

Christians believe, as the Nicene Creed states, that Jesus was both
“true God” and “truly human.” We consider it axiomatic that Jesus is
the only human that can claim to be the true God. But I think it could
also be argued that Jesus is the only human that can claim to know what
it is to be truly human.

It has been said that theology became anthropology when God became
man. But I think we fail to appreciate what a significant insight into
anthropology was given to us by the incarnation. Not only did Jesus
provide us an image of God, he provided us with an image of the
pre-Fall man (and, amazingly, did so in a post-Fall context). While it
may be difficult to determine what aspects are attributable to his
humanity or to his divinity, he gives us a clear vision of what being a
human should look like. He gives us a view of what was meant to be and what those who put their trust in him will become in the future.

°°°°°°

“Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat,” said John Mark Reynolds,
“He’s probably a monarchist.” When I first heard that at GodBlogCon
several years ago I thought it was clever; now I find it to be a
profound insight. Jesus constantly talked about the Kingdom of Heaven.
So why do so few Christians talk about it? One reason, I believe, is
that we are now all republicans and democrats (small-R, small-D) and
simply don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. We may use the
term “Lord” and “King of Kings” but–unlike the vast majority of people
throughout history–we do not comprehend what it means to live under
the reign of a king. We need some remedial training on how to live as
subjects in a kingdom. We may be justified in rejecting the divine
right of kings to rule but we cannot be justified if we reject the rule
of our divine king.

°°°°°°

Whenever I hear non-Christians say that they don’t like the “Old
Testament God” but that they admire Jesus I always wonder, “Have they
ever read the Gospels?” Even if you set aside the “Lord, Liar, Lunatic”
trilemma you’re still left with the fact that Jesus considered
everything he did to be consonant with his “Father” (i.e., OTG). His
every action, as he claims, was done in submission to God’s will.

Sure, he healed people and hung out with sinners. But he also called
them to repentance. As the old cliche goes, Jesus loved the sinner but
hated the sin. In fact, Jesus hates sin more than [Fill in the name of
an intolerant Fundamentalist preacher]. And you think OTG was a
blood-thirsty war-monger? Jesus goes even further promising not only to
pit nations but families against each other. “Do not think that
I have come to bring peace on earth,” says Jesus. “I have not come to
bring peace, but a sword.” In other words, he ain’t no Jewish Ghandi.
If you don’t like Yahweh, then you shouldn’t be too fond of Yeshua
either.

°°°°°°

In 1896 a Christian socialist named Charles Sheldon wrote a book called In His Steps
which popularized the slogan “What Would Jesus Do” and inspired two of
the most well-intentioned but misguided fads of the 20th century: the
Social Gospel movement and the marketing of WWJD paraphernalia. The
problem with both is that they are based on WWJD and that is the wrong
question.

The Gospels provide us with a rather clear record of what Jesus did
— healed the sick, preached, traveled, made disciples, etc. While we
may also be expected to do these types of things, they were essential
to Christ’s earthly mission. If he were walking the streets of America
he would likely still be doing the same thing. But is this what we
should be doing? Not necessarily. We are not Jesus; we are his
disciples. Our mission is not his mission but the mission he assigns
us. The question we should keep constantly before us is “What Would
Jesus Want Me To Do.” But then WWJWMTD isn’t as easy to embroider on a bracelet or fit on a bumper sticker.

°°°°°°

Some people assume that Jesus was a carpenter while others (on better
evidence I believe) think he was a rabbi. Whether he worked with wood
or with words, I think it is indisputable that Jesus was a philosopher.
As philosopher Dallas Willard wrote in his essay, “Jesus the Logician”:

There is in our culture an uneasy relation between
Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to
my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by
saying that it is an oxymoron. Today we automatically position him away
from (or even in opposition to) the intellect and intellectual life.
Almost no one would consider him to be a thinker, addressing the same
issues as, say, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger or Wittgenstein, and with
the same logical method.

It truly is then, as Mark Noll once wrote, a “scandal” that
evangelicals have failed so miserably in their commanded task of
“putting on the mind of Christ.” As a group we should be fertile ground
for producing intellectuals. After all, we are disciples of the
greatest thinker in history.

°°°°°°

One of the most poignant and profound theological lessons about Jesus remains the one I first learned as a four-year-old:

Jesus loves me
This I know
For the Bible tells me so

I could strive for centuries and not be able to produce an insight so beautiful, concise, and true.



  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    As usual, a very strong post, Joe.
    Two points.
    You describe Jesus as the greatest thinker in history.
    I would say you are in very good company: My favorite politician, President Bush, got a lot of flak for stating, during the 2000 campaign, that Jesus was his favorite philosopher.
    Second point:
    As someone who does not like Yahweh, I can confirm that I do not like Yeshua any better. Although, if I had to express a preference, I would pick Yeshua over Yahweh.
    [ For those who don’t know me, I am an atheist who loves many things about Christianity, but rejects its theology and supernaturalism. ]

  • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Matt Anderson

    “We need some remedial training on how to live as subjects in a kingdom. We may be justified in rejecting the divine right of kings to rule but we cannot be justified if we reject the rule of our divine king.”
    Willard’s Divine Conspiracy is one of the most practical and readable treatments of the “Kingdom of Heaven” that I’ve ever read. If you haven’t read it, you should.

  • http://www.americancivilization.net James Atticus Bowden

    Excellent post. Have you read J.I.Packer’s “Knowing God”?

  • DaveD

    “Our mission is not his mission but the mission he assigns us. The question we should keep constantly before us is “What Would Jesus Want Me To Do.””
    I don’t know that I can agree with this statement. Jesus told his followers to “take up their cross and follow me”, go make disciples, and various other statements as to what we need to be doing.
    While I agree that the whole WWJD movement was not only patently silly, but not Biblically based. When was the last time any one answered, “Make a whip from rope and chase the people selling books and tapes in the back of the room for profit out”? It always seems to be the warm fuzzy Jesus that provides their guidance.
    However, I think the question “What Would Jesus Want Me To Do” could, and is, used as excuse to do what WE want to do and ascribe God’s will to it. All the while ignoring his commands to go and tell. Supposedly, only 2% of “believers” shared their faith within the last year.
    Is that OK since He really wants me to: make money, run for office, push for legislation, be at home for my kids or wife, hang out at the mall, go to college, etc?
    What He commanded or what we want or are good at? Not that they are always mutually exclusive, but really, which one does the American Church do more of?
    DD

  • http://www.pseudopolymath.com Mark Olson

    Reno and Hook had a book Heroism and the Christian Life in which they use the phrase, “transparent to Christ” when speaking of our will and life. That might be more catchy than WWJWMTD.
    And … I submit the Jesus Prayer is also concise, beautiful, (and true).

  • http://slothsrcool.blogspot.com/ ScottR

    Great insights in your post today Joe. Very meaningful and helpful.
    As to the WWJD section? I think Joe and DaveD both have valid points. In John 14:12 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” So we certainly need to ask ourselves what Jesus did, and therefore ‘would do’ when determining how to live. And Jesus’ pattern was to do what he saw the Father doing, see John 5:19. So, we should look to see what the Father is doing and use that to answer the question “what does God want me to do?”. We sort of have a built in check to see if we are dicerning correctly by also asking if it is something Jesus did/would do.

  • Elwood

    Joe,
    I like your point about Jesus being a philosopher par excellence, above others such as Aristotle.
    Here are some quotes you might like as well from the Vatican II doc Gaudium et Spes and from JPII, a philosopher in the school of Jesus Christ:
    “It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear…Christ, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals humanity to itself [emphasis added] and brings to light its very high calling” (GS, #22).
    “To follow Christ, the perfect human,” the Council states, “is to become more human oneself” (GS, #41).
    during his first trip to Poland as pope in June 1979, John Paul II gave a bold and dramatic address to Catholics gathered in Warsaw’s Victory Square where a good number of the Communist Party leaders were also in attendance. “To Poland,” the pope proclaimed, “the Church brought Christ, the key to understanding the great and fundamental reality that is man.” And because of this, the pope continued, “Christ cannot be excluded from human history in any part of the globe, from any latitude or longitude of the earth. Excluding Christ from human history is a sin against humanity.”
    Pope John Paul II brought a similar message to American youth at New York’s Madison Square Garden on October 3 of the same year: “When you wonder about the mystery of yourself, look to Christ who gives you the meaning of life. When you wonder what it means to be a mature person, look to Christ who is the fullness of humanity.”
    The above quotes are taken from:
    http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/VAT/aq0205.asp

  • http://www.earnestexpostulations.blogspot.com EE

    In regards to the WWJD line of discussion, I think you’re both right to a certain extent. Jesus came to do the will of the father (Matt 12:50, Luke 22:42). In that general sense, we are to do what Jesus would do, by seeking to know the fathers will through prayer and the scripture, and follow through with it. However, the specifics of the father’s will are not going to be identical, unless you think your eventual goal is to die on a cross for the sins of all mankind. After all, no one thinks Peter or any of the rest of us are sinful for marrying, yet that is something that Jesus himself would not have done.

  • http://www.earnestexpostulator.blogspot.com EE

    “James Atticus Bowden writes: Excellent post. Have you read J.I.Packer’s “Knowing God”?”
    Packer writes books? I thought he just did blurbs for other people’s books… =D

  • J. J.

    However, I think the question “What Would Jesus Want Me To Do” could, and is, used as excuse to do what WE want to do and ascribe God’s will to it.
    I don’t know that giving bad answers to the right question invalidates the question, so I think Joe’s right on about WWJWMTD being the right question. However, DaveD, your particular comment here is dead on… more than some people may know. I’m in a position of church leadership and I’m nearing the point where I’m going to go postal (speaking the truth in love, of course) the next time someone tries to hide behind God when making bad decisions clouded by their own emotions. It seems that 90% of the time I hear “I feel led…” or “I don’t feel led…” the person is choosing the least difficult of two paths… “and God agrees, so now there’s nothing you can say about my bad decision!”.
    It’s to the point where I may never say “I FEEL led…” again. Instead, I will say, “I’ve made this decision, in my own human imperfection, and although I did my best to pray about it and ask God for wisdom, and seek wise counsel, we see through a glass darkly. This is my decision, and I’m responsible for it”.

  • http://www.constitutionparty.com Sean

    For those who are not happy with the “what would Jesus have me do?” kind of response, I encourage you to not dismiss it out of hand. Obviously, there are abuses, but I see that more as a failure to disciple by the American church more than anything. God has a unique plan for each of us who are part of the body, not all of us are called to be missionaries, not all are called to be pastors, not all are called to be givers [in the gift of the Spirit sense] — that says pretty strongly to me that we are not all created / called to follow Jesus in the same way.
    Part of what following Jesus entails is taking up your cross and follow Him — that is not some masochistic approach to life. It is the denial of what leads you from following Him, and one of the chief things Jesus did was: Do what the Father wanted Him to do. Imagine that, so people who say I am led to do something should not be despised. Now, you can fairly say: come, let us test the spirits as we are commanded to do. Let us seek confirmation in the Bible as the Bereans did.
    For those who say it is only an excuse to do the easier route, I’m sure that it is used that way by some people. I see that as 1) a need for discipleship by more godly and mature believers 2) a natural outgrowth of pre-trib theology (e.g. we’ll escape the bad stuff).
    Consider some items from the list of things someone asserted as people illegitimately claiming the calling of God for:
    * make money
    — some people are called to give abundantly. There is even a special gift from the Spirit just for that!
    — run for office
    Why is that absurd? God brough Joseph, Samuel, David, Daniel, and Nehemiah to political positions to accomplish His purposes. Or consider Romans 13, which calls authorities “God’s servant”.
    — go to college
    Some people are called to give Glory to God in science, or perhaps as lawyers, or perhaps as pastors, or any number of vocations.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    GREAT POST JOE!!
    I like this part a lot as counsel for one-sided Christians: “As the old cliche goes, Jesus loved the sinner but hated the sin. In fact, Jesus hates sin more than Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church. And you think “Old Testament God” was a blood-thirsty war-monger? Jesus goes even further promising not only to pit nations but families against each other. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth,” says Jesus. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” In other words, he ain’t no Jewish Ghandi. If you don’t like Yahweh, then you shouldn’t be too fond of Yeshua either.”

  • DaveD

    First, I was cranky this morning so I forgot to start with : Good post Joe. It really was.
    Sean, I don’t necessarily disagree with you. Certainly, we all have different giftings both naturally and spiritually.
    If the person who is a giver is seldom or never in church because he has to work…or take Sunday morning to go play golf to unwind, that’s NOT God’s will.
    Politics is fine, unless and until it becomes an idol in one’s life. I don’t know of too many people who wield real power who live Christian lives. To get to DC, or a similar level in the corporate world, there are compromises that have to be made. Some don’t have to, most do. There’s a reason for the old saying “Power corrupts….”
    Again, if you have a mind for astrophysics, medicine, writing, so be it. Use it for the glory of God.
    My point was that every believer is called to be a missionary of some sort. Our first and highest priority is not family, is not work, is not politics; it is following Jesus and bringing others to him. Far too often in this country we choose ease over sacrifice. We trade the sacred for the mundane and stamp God’s approval on it. In many ways, that’s the entire basis of Prosperity theology.
    If it’s God’s call on your life, it won’t lead you away from God or His over-arching mission.
    DD

  • Mike Toreno

    “The problem with both is that they are based on WWJD and that is the wrong question.”
    This is the key to the failure of conservative evangelicalism. A Christian is someone who acts like a Christian; to the conservative evangelical, a Christian is someone who’s a member of the same club they belong to.
    Thus, to Joe, the fact that Jesus wouldn’t have lied in order to defend a politician who released a rapist who then went on to commit murder isn’t important. To Joe, what’s important is that that politician is a member of the same club as Joe and that by defending that politician, no matter how immoral the act or how many lies must be told to defend the act, Joe is defending his club against attack.

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    That some non-Christians might be unimpressed with the morality of Jesus Christ is true. Here’s what Soen Shaku (translated by Suzuki) said over 100 years ago (http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/zfa/zfa13.htm) :

    The beauty and the truth of many of Christ’s sayings fascinate me, but truth does not become clearer by being pronounced by a man who works miracles. You say that, “We can explain Buddha without the miracles which later legends ascribe to him, but we cannot explain Christ–either his person or his influence–without granting the truth of his own claim that he did the supernatural works of his father.” We may grant that Jesus Christ is the greatest master and teacher that appeared in the West after Buddha, but the picture of Jesus Christ as we find it in the Gospel is marred by the accounts of such miracles as the great draft of fishes, which involves a great and useless destruction of life (for we read that the fishermen followed Jesus, leaving the fish behind), and by the transformation of water into wine at the marriage-feast at Cana. Nor has Jesus Christ attained to the calmness and dignity of Buddha, for the passion of anger overtook him in the temple, when he drove out with rope in hand those that bargained in the holy place.
    How different would Buddha have behaved under similar conditions in the same place! Instead of whipping the evil-doers he would have converted them, for kind words strike deeper than the whip.

  • smmtheory

    How different would Buddha have behaved under similar conditions in the same place! Instead of whipping the evil-doers he would have converted them, for kind words strike deeper than the whip.

    And Jesus has the t-shirt that says:
    Been there…. done that….

  • George 2

    Joe — When you were four, no doubt you knew Jesus loved you because (you were told by the song and your mother) the bible told you o. But now that, as you say, you’re on a first-name basis, you know He loves you because you know Him, right?

  • Elwood

    Twice in comments above, I’ve read someone say that we must put sharing our faith over family.
    “Our first and highest priority is not family, is not work, is not politics; it is following Jesus and bringing others to him. ”
    “Supposedly, only 2% of “believers” shared their faith within the last year.
    Is that OK since He really wants me to: make money, run for office, push for legislation, be at home for my kids or wife, hang out at the mall, go to college, etc?

    I disagree.
    It is true, we must put God at the top, over family, and not make family a false idol. However, some can fall off the other side of that cliff and neglect their God-given calling to rear their family in the name of doing “churchy” stuff. I once met a woman whose dad had abandoned his family because God was “calling” him to the mission field. Obviously, that’s an extreme case. But, I imagine the temptation is largest for pastors, especially the ones we’ve all heard of and admire because we’ve read their books or been to one of their conferences.
    A family should be Gospel/mission-focused as well and look outside itself, but just making quality time to go on vacation with your family is not the same as being there, day after day, even during those unpleasant times we’d rather be at work (if you are in full-time Christian work), or sharing our faith, or anything else.
    I have a friend who laments that his church almost seeks to usurp the role of the family in forming the kids’ characters – program, program, program, and would like to see more of the church leading the entire family unit as a whole, allowing the parents to assume their rightful role. It’s ironic then, that often times, the PK’s end up not having enough of their dad’s time because he’s so busy with the church (or, if he’s a big-name guy, probably traveling a lot.)
    I don’t know which big name evangelical leaders who go on the speaker’s circuit, or travel overseas a lot for ministry have kids still at home. Many of them probably have kids that are already grown. And, others probably do keep a balance and make sure they make up for time away from home with extra time around the house (not just “quality time” but quantity. And, it’s a problem even lay people who are volunteers in ministry have to deal with.
    My only point is that as a father, I believe we should put God first, as our Lord… but I believe God’s directive to us is to make our family our highest priority. Forming your kids IS sharing the Gospel. It IS discipleship.
    Yes, God is first. But family should not take a back seat to anything else.

  • ZZ

    Matthew Goggins,
    “I am an atheist who loves many things about Christianity,”
    Wow, I probably care less about that than any other thing in the universe. Thanks for setting my new floor.

  • ucfengr

    Here’s what Soen Shaku (translated by Suzuki) said over 100 years ago
    Is that the same Soen Shaku who said “Even though the Buddha forbade the taking of life, he also taught that until all sentient beings are united together through the exercise of infinite compassion, there will never be peace. Therefore, as a means of bringing into harmony those things which are incompatible, killing and war are necessary.”?

  • http://www.constitutionparty.com Sean

    DaveD, I agree. I would only contend that just as politics can be a person’s idol or god, as can money, sex, etc…, so can something good be turned into an idol — even sharing the gospel. I go to a church where that is such a large focus, that I sometimes go why? Why should a person want to be saved? Yes, Jesus died, but tell them how great the person of Jesus is. Tell them about heaven, tell them about the wonders of creation.
    And I often think the church would have people beating down the door to demand christians tell them about salvation, if it did its job in discipleship — people would be of such godly standing and good repute that people would say: ah, there is something special about them. I want their peace, I want their hope…. Or they would be convicted of their life since the Christians around them were not hypocrites! Or they might advocate the principles even while being an unbeliever, and eventually find that the Lord snared them (as He did me!).
    Yes, people told me about the gospel (I dismissed it), they told me Bible verses (but what does that matter to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible is true) .. it was quiet dedication and study of rational Christians that appealed to this former unbeliever. Certainly I was looking for God, felt the emptyiness, the guilt, but I wasn’t going to trust my life to someone who gave me drive-by religion (as most sharers of the gospel have seemed to me).

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    Ucfengr,
    Is that the same Soen Shaku who said …
    Nice quote, o Ucf-sensei!
    Buddhism develops a core set of very interesting observations and beliefs about human nature into a comprehensive cosmology and way-of-life. But it’s a cosmology and way-of-life marked by some remarkable shortcomings.
    Buddhism has made valuable contributions to the cultures and history of mankind, but it’s not the answer to everything, doesn’t even come close.
    Z.Z.,
    Wow, I probably care less about that than any other thing in the universe. Thanks for setting my new floor.
    You’re welcome.
    If you’re curious as to why you should care, well then you probably shouldn’t care.
    I was just providing Joe with what I hoped would be some useful atheist feedback. I don’t expect he has a lot of atheist buddies that he goes around showing his blog-posts to.
    I guess I deserve some sarcasm for tagging a religious post with a non-religious perspective. But on the other hand, if you really are in possession of the love that passes all understanding, I think I could expect a little bit less of a snarky tone, mate.

  • http://webpaulo.com/pedro/erotik/ erotik

    Dies ist ein gro

  • http://webpaulo.com/pedro/erotik/ erotik

    Dies ist ein gro

  • coffee84

    amen.. yes i know for sure that jesus love me so .. much more than i know