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It’s Hallowe’en 2012! How Will We Dress Jesus Up This Year?!

“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:

  1. A rabbi with a new approach to Jewish law who was hijacked and “Christified.”
  2. A teacher of great insight
  3. Someone who said less than 1/5th of what we read in Scriptures (according to The Jesus Seminar, a popular and controversial group of Jesus scholars).  Jesus did not refer to himself in an exalted way (“I am the way, the truth and the life,” for example), about the church’s hierarchy, and about an apocalyptic end to the world. Instead it was more about how to establish the kingdom of God on earth.
  4. According to author Rex Weyler, who draws on what some scholars have defined as the oldest versions of three “collections”: the Gospels of Mark and Thomas, and the Q sayings, Jesus speaks of seeking his kingdom within yourself, forgiving others, and loving your enemies.
  5. Human prophet
  6. Political revolutionary
  7. Radical feminist
  8. Radical liberator
  9. Much of the supernaturalism surrounding Jesus was fabricated. For example, modern historians sweep a lot of conservative biblical belief away: there was no virgin birth (it is only found in 2 Gospels, and St. Paul, with his earlier writings, had no time for it); There were no wise men, no choir of angels – all were retroactively applied by his followers.

“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:

  • I’m not even sure that Jesus actually lived, but I’m going to go with the belief that he did.
  • Jesus was born to two fully human Jewish parents with brothers and sisters.
  • Jesus was not perfect.
  • Titles such as The Son of God, Messiah, King of Kings, and Redeemer were placed onto Jesus by his followers either while he was still alive or well after he had died. I still find it curious that we give him theses titles even though he always seemed to deflect praise when people tried to heap it upon him.
  • Jesus did not see himself as dying for the sins of the world.
  • Jesus, I like to think, was a humble teacher who said things to groups of people that made them stand up and take notice (i.e. love your enemies).
  • Jesus was a Christ. I understand that to mean that he had the divine spark within him, just as we each can have the divine spark within us. This quality was not unique to Jesus, though it may have stood out to those around him. The language that “the kingdom of God is within you” is antiquated for us, but that may have been Jesus’ essential message.

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.

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