Jesus is popular. Everyone has an opinion about Jesus, it seems. This is not a new phenomenon; it has in fact always been the case. In the first century people formed more than a few groups around their opinions of Jesus of Nazareth. Many believed he was God in the flesh; others believed he was a mere wise man; still others believed him to be some sort of Gnostic incarnation of some sort of secret knowledge. Jesus is a historical figure who naturally brings out the strongest opinions in people. This reaction is especially complicated in this postmodern setting we are all living in presently. Jesus merely offers one of many potential ways to be saved in an age wherein meta-narrative has been deemed less than reliable, as far as expansive Truth building is concerned, and personal opinion, in some sort of strange philosophical twist, has been promoted to Truth. Today, perhaps more than ever before, followers of Jesus need to be able to properly differentiate between opinion and the basic truths of the Biblical story.
The problem isn’t postmodernism, or the philosophical idea that an expansive meta-narrative is impossible, or the religious idea that there are in fact many, many paths, by which Jesus’ way stands as an alternative. These concepts are all very realistic. They are as realistic as the idea that an identifiable and relative set of consistent questions remain with us, in spite of the varied contexts of our historic settings, as we universally journey within and through our own contextually-bound and historically evolving communities. I would suggest that such concepts are also beneficial to Christianity in that they celebrate inherent uniqueness and consequently substantiate the basic claims of the Christian faith. No, the problem isn’t postmodernism, pluralism, or the basic Christian message. The problem is that Christians don’t really know their own story well enough to establish themselves as a unique way within this postmodern mixer of daily life and living. We have been knocked off-kilter by a punch powered by our own lack of understanding of our present setting and our inability to discern the times. When one is wobbling off-kilter it is impossible to properly differentiate between opinion and the basic truths of the Christian story.
So, where do we begin the necessary quest to regain our balance? Why not start at the basics? Christology - or the Study of Who Jesus is - would be a fine starting point.
Many people today have deemed Jesus to be nothing more than a social revolutionary or one of many in a long line of special spiritual gurus. He is both, of course! And he is so much more! A concentration on Jesus’ social and economic message of justice is absolutely necessary, but not at the expense of his message of personal salvation and heart transformation. Jesus holistically preached and pointed towards a way of life that divinely addresses and non-violently subverts the normative social, religious, and political spheres of life and living in this world. Followers of Jesus must proclaim this holistic Gospel of social justice and personal salvation. Jesus is the social prophet and the redeemer of the world. This basic truth of the Christian story elevates Jesus well above and beyond the world’s collection of spiritual gurus and/or teachers.
A soft humanism has found its way into many, many churches and it has resulted in the demotion of Jesus to a supporting role in the world’s religious drama. Jesus, according to many expressions today, is not the only way to God, but one of many ways. Yes, Christianity is one of many ways in this world, but it is the only way that describes its founder/god in such terms. It is a unique expression living in a world laden with many, many expressions; its uniqueness is directly sourced from its basic story. A humanistic expression of Christianity is only Christian in that it makes liberal use of familiar vocabulary and theological concepts inherent to the basic Jesus story and its context. It also minimizes the incredible uniqueness of Jesus Christ in its vain attempt to cite the impossibility of meta-narrative while simultaneously trying to create one by recklessly smashing all expressions together in the name of pluralism. The Christian embrace of this sort of humanism is as unnecessary as it is unfortunate. A basic understanding of the Jesus story would relieve the seeming need to trek in such a confused direction.
Jesus is so much more than just a wise spiritual teacher. He is the Savior of the world. This truth is made known to all by the Holy Spirit and a perusing of the Jesus story, in its most simple and basic form.