“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
~ Clive Staples Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952
It was a full 60 years ago that these words first appeared in print after a series of BBC radio talks between 1942 and 1944 by the man who would go on to write about Aslan, Lucy, and Mr. Tumnus. I believe that I still have Mere Christianity in my possession. I also believe that someone has tried to use these words against me as I argue for a Christianity or spirituality that does not lead to featuring a Jesus who claims to be Lord and Saviour of all mankind. My answer to them: Is this all you can come up with? Really? A poached egg, devil, or a lunatic? These may be the only choices that Lewis saw for Jesus, but many scholars from his time and on to today believe there are many other possibilities when it comes to identifying who and what Jesus actually was.
I don’t collect a lot of clutter, but yesterday I came upon an issue of Maclean’s magazine from March 31st, 2008, with its main cover being a face of Jesus and the title “Jesus Has An Identity Crisis.” I found it quite interesting and it only re-enforced my view that over the course of 2,000 years we have shaped Jesus – who had already been shaped by Biblical writers and church orthodoxy – into our own preferred images. For 20 some-odd years I had blindly taken what the Christian scriptures said word-for-word, with little use for historical accuracy or how the Bible was constructed. After all, I didn’t need to! As the old hymn says,
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way,
“To be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”
This is okay if blind faith works for you, but if it doesn’t, the question of who Jesus was gets a lot murkier – and more interesting. A few ideas of who Jesus might have been:
“After his death, it took more than three centuries of often violent contention, suppression, and historical contingency before answers emerged that still define mainline Christianity: Jesus was the Messiah, the son of God and the Virgin Mary, both fully divine and fully human; crucified for our sins, he rose from the dead and will come again to judge humanity. That legacy still dominates Western responses to Jesus today.”
And here we’ve just talked about Jesus; we haven’t even touched upon Christ, a whole other topic.
For a long time, a vast expanse of Christians sitting in their pews were happy to be spoon-fed what the Bible and their pastor/priest was telling them about Jesus. For many, that is simply not good enough anymore. There is a heightened curiosity – no, need – to do their homework and to answer for themselves the question that the New Testament has Jesus himself posing to us: “Who do you say that I am?” Here’s what I can come up with this afternoon off the top of my head:
Many people still find a lot of value in being followers of Jesus. I am currently on a journey to discover anew who or what I think Jesus was. But he will not again be the person that makes me acceptable to God or who saves me from a doomed eternity. There are oh so many other intriguing options than for me having to throw myself at the feet of a man who we know so verifiably little about.
Mark Andrew Alward is a former conservative, evangelical Christian who now attends Grand River Unitarian Congregation in Kitchener, Ontario. He blogs @ The Loving Room.