Posted by: gcarkner | September 27, 2017

Gallery 2.0 Dialogue

12:00 noon on Fridays

UBC Professors Answer Your Questions About Faith in a Secular Age

Question: Was Jesus just a good moral teacher? Paul’s letter to the Colossians raises serious questions about this common cultural assumption.

What are we to make of this man? The joys and hardships of two thousand years of western history have been pinned on him. Controversy has constantly surrounded his claims. Religious life in the West has been dominated by allusions to his teachings. No self-aware, intelligent person should avoid this intriguing individual and his impact on society, in fact his shaping of history and culture.

Few people doubt any more that Jesus actually existed historically (N.T. Wright). Most people also agree that he was indeed a great moral teacher. Religious and political leaders throughout the world, including many of the great opponents of Christianity, hail the moral superiority of his life. Mohandas Gandhi aspired to the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount, a monument of justice combined with mercy, a trajectory for peace. The philosopher John Stuart Mill thought Jesus a genius and probably the greatest moral reformer who ever existed. Even Napoleon Bonaparte considered him a superior leader of men (although these two men were very different in character and ambition). Islam heralds him as a prophet.

The New Testament documents record the radical servant·like attitude which lent power and credibility to Jesus’ teachings. He has truly led humanity in the expression of compassion and humility , as well as in anger against evil, corruption and hypocrisy. Jesus combined a realistic understanding of human nature with a robust vision for what human beings could become by following him. His words have tested and challenged the minds and hearts of millions for centuries. He is today an international hero, a lighthouse for the good and true.

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. When we begin to consider Jesus’ claims about his identity, the controversy opens up. This is where people (including the world’s religious and political leaders) have problems and begin to back off, or even become aggressive. This is where the label “moral teacher” is put to the test. It begins to sound inadequate and shrill, if not naive.

A thirty year old peasant carpenter turned itinerant teacher/rabbi, Jesus laid claim both by word and action to be much more than a mere man. He operated on the assumption that he was God himself, in the flesh: “Before Abraham was, I am.” How do we know this? From his explicit statements and the very way he lived. His self·disclosed identity is interwoven in the very fabric of the New Testament. He claimed equality with God. He said he had lived before Abraham. He assumed the right to forgive sins. He accepted worship from his followers. There seems to be no escaping the controversy. His claims and his life are cut from one fabric.

Jesus of Nazareth could not be simply a harmless moral teacher or philosopher. He cuts too deep and steps out too far from the crowd of moral teachers and philosophers. We can accuse him of fraud. We might even dissect his mental stability. But the tag of “mere great moral teacher” doesn’t have plausibility or coherence. It was not an option in first century Palestine. Some of his contemporaries thought him quite mad and dangerous; others loved him. He was regarded with disdain and sometimes even hatred by many authorities, or alternately with amazement and adoration. But what stands out is that he never garnered mild approval. In that sense, he was like the Hebrew prophets.

Neither it seems is it an option for today. We have to either silence him or hear him out. What are we to make of this man? What of his moral integrity? His fulfillment of centuries of aspirations? His prediction of death and resurrection? His healings and his compassion for the poor and the marginally Other? What are we to make of his claims to be the one and only God-man (God Incarnate) of history? What are we to do with this very wise moral teacher who makes such tedious, radical and impossible claims? How do we grapple with such a challenging and  unfathomable life?

Paul, in the letter to the young church in Colossae (in ancient Turkey), claims that he is both the Creator and  Apologia of God’s intention to redeem the whole world.

Further Investigation: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey; Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis; The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright (see Wright on YouTube “Search for the Historical Jesus”); John Dickson DVD “The Life of jesus”; Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way.

Jesus is the Yes and Amen to it All

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1: 3-8) Dr. Jordan Peterson, University of Toronto, Clinical Psychology, My Message to Millennials in How to Change the World, Properly.

See also the GCU blog post on how to develop a relationship with Jesus

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