Six Thoughts About JesusReligion — By Joe Carter 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
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
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.