Christians and politics – a deep devastation or glorious triumph?

Just over a week ago was election day in Australia. After being behind in the polls for years, the Government was returned with a small majority.

This was seen by most pundits as an important election, charting a course for Australia’s future. Christians seemed to be more active than in any previous election that I can recall. For some christians, the return of the Government was an unexpected triumph and even a miracle. For others, it was a defeat for their hopes, leading to despair.

The stark differences raise important issues.

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Can I say anything new about the resurrection of Jesus?

I have been re-reading NT Wright’s chapter on the “The Surprise of Resurrection” in Jesus: the final days, where he corrects some doubtful christian ideas about the resurrection, and offers reasons why we should regard the gospel accounts as basically historical.

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Jesus: wise teacher, apocalyptic prophet, son of God?

How much do you and I know about Jesus? How much of it is really the truth about him?

The obvious answer is that we know more about him than most ancient figures, because we have quite a few accounts of his life and teachings. But everyone seems to read them differently.

In my previous post, Which Jesus did you worship this Christmas? I outlined a number of alternative depictions of Jesus common today, and suggested we should be wary of fully embracing any of these pictures of Jesus, for they all seem to be slanted in some way.

So can we know the real Jesus?

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Which Jesus did you worship this Christmas?

Jesus is such an important and admired character in world history and western culture that everyone seems to want to claim him for their tribe. So there are many different versions of Jesus for us to believe in.

Shopping mall Jesus

This is the most obvious Jesus, and the easiest to see through. Two months before Christmas, supermarkets and shopping malls began stocking Christmas goods and playing the infernal muzak Christmas carols, and it isn’t long before nativity scenes begin to appear. A cute baby, a beautiful madonna mother who can’t find a room at the inn, lots of fluffy animals and a cast of rich kings and poor shepherds – what’s not to like?

This Jesus wouldn’t say anything against the commercialisation of his fake birthday, and he is apparently happy to help move product off shelves and maximise end-of-year profits.

Most of us buy into this monetary worship by spending up big buying presents which are generally in excess of needs, but while we like the story, we know the real story in the gospels has nothing to do with profit. This Jesus is only a faint shadow of the real person.

Cosmic sacred Jesus

The carpenter Jesus of the gospels becomes in Revelation a cosmic Jesus to be worshiped. This Jesus is perhaps best “seen” in grand Medieval cathedrals, with their soaring spires emphasising how far God is above us mere mortals. Inside, the same point is made with the cathedral clearly divided into “God’s end”, where only the priests can minister, and the people’s end.

This Jesus has risen far above his humble earthly beginnings among farm animals, and is now so distant that many Catholics seem to think that his mother is more likely to hear them, and some Protestant televangelists and megachurch pastors seem to think he isn’t watching their sleazy and materialistic behaviour.

This Jesus certainly reflects some important Biblical teachings, but he’s a long way from the Jesus of the gospels.

Cosmic hippy Jesus aka progressive Jesus

Cosmic hippy Jesus used to be popular, and he still puts in an appearance sometimes today in a new guise as progressive Jesus. This Jesus is all about love, though not always the sort of love described in the Bible; he accepts everyone and condemns no-one. He’s definitely left wing politically, caring for all the alienated and repressed people, such as refugees, the LGBTQI community, oppressed indigenous communities and victims of war and violence. He is much admired by people who are spiritual but not religious. In fact, he never enters a modern western church, and if he did, they wouldn’t recognise him.

The new progressive Jesus is not as extreme as cosmic hippy Jesus, and built on a better understanding of the New Testament. But he still definitely emphasises love and acceptance over judgment.

I have a lot of affection for this Jesus. I share a lot of his values, including most of the ones I’ve just mentioned. And this Jesus can be found in the pages of the gospels. Sort of. But the Jesus of the gospels did judge and criticise, and his love was often a tougher love than cosmic hippy Jesus ever exhibits.

Reformed evangelical doctrinal Jesus

This Jesus is almost the opposite of cosmic hippy Jesus. Sure he loves everyone, but he sends many of them to hell. Yes he loves everyone, but good doctrine matters, and he’s not going to accept any sloppy doctrinal thinking.

This Jesus came for just one thing – to die on the cross to divert God’s righteous wrath from our sinful rebellious selves onto himself, and you might well wonder what the rest of his life was all about – why did he bother with all that teaching about the kingdom of God? He’s a stern and serious Jesus and you’d better get on the right side of him if you want to go to heaven. And it would probably help if you were politically conservative and ignored all that historical Jesus talk against materialism and about non-violence and caring for the poor.

Reformed evangelical doctrinal Jesus is closer to the Jesus of Paul than to the historical Jesus of the gospels. Somehow, this Jesus seems true up to a point, but very truncated and missing so much.

Jesus the apocalyptic prophet

This Jesus is the one believed by many New Testament scholars. He’s based on historical study and is right at home in first century Jewish religion and culture. He fanned the hopes of many repressed Jews that God was finally going to remove the yoke of the hated Romans and bring in his kingdom on earth. And of course this meant the king would be a Jew and rule in Jerusalem, and the Jews would be top nation.

This Jesus envisaged this massive reversal of fortunes happening very soon, within the lifetime of his followers. But it didn’t happen – he failed – and his followers had to invent a new story of atoning death, resurrection and a spiritual kingdom to make sense of this failure.

This Jesus is built on historical facts and makes sense of much of the gospels, but it misses some key gospel hints and is built on naturalistic assumptions – understandable for secular historians but surely an unsafe basis for understanding someone like Jesus. When a man establishes a religious community that goes on to cover a third of the world, you’d want to think twice before you call him a failure – perhaps it is your understanding that has failed.

Will the real Jesus please stand up!

Which of these, if any, is the “real” Jesus?

I want to suggest that all of them contain some truth, but all miss some very important things.

I want to suggest we need to go back to the historical Jesus and understand why so many scholars see him as an apocalyptic prophet, and to find that there is good reason to think he was all that … and much more.

I suggest we all need to see whether the Jesus we worship, or reject, is consistent with the historical Jesus of the gospels, or lacks that fundamental foundation.

Next post I’ll suggest some things we should learn from the scholars, and a few places where we can legitimately and truthfully go beyond their somewhat limited and careful picture of Jesus. And learn why we should be wary of fully embracing any of the pictures of Jesus I’ve outlined here. And hopefully also see a few ways we can each have a more accurate picture of who Jesus is, and can be for us today.

May you ponder these things and grow in understanding this Christmas, so that we may all “see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly”.

Graphic: Wallpaper cave

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26)

Did Jesus mean it to come to this?

It is too easy to put words into Jesus’ mouth and say what he would or wouldn’t approve of. I won’t fall into that trap, but I will ask some pointed questions.

If Jesus could have foreseen twenty-first century western christianity, what would he think? For instance, what would he think of some of the buildings we construct for churches?

What would he think of the money spent on large ornamental gardens, lakes and fountains?

Would he think large megachurches become impersonal and dehumanise ordinary people while raising up the megapastors until they become greater than their master?

I can’t answer those questions, but I can say that these church edifices make me feel uneasy. I can’t help feeling leaders who are servants should also feel uneasy about them.

Photos mostly taken from the video Underground People, which I will be reviewing next post.

Mission vs maintenance

Did Jesus mean it to come to this?

How much does modern western christianity come from Jesus, and how much comes from somewhere else?

A few weeks back I introduced the theme of Did Jesus mean it to come to this?, in which I want to examine the modern western church, and muse on how much it may, or may not, have departed from the teachings and pattern of life left to us by Jesus.

In this post, the mission of the church vs maintaining the organisation.

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Did Jesus mean it to come to this?

More than two billion people in the world today identify as followers of Jesus. This includes a fair percentage of inhabitants of the USA, currently the world’s most powerful nation, its most influential via film, TV, social media and popular music, and home of some of the world’s richest people.

My country, Australia, still has a significant christian presence (maybe 10%), and you’ll find followers of Jesus in every first world country, as well as all over the rest of the world.

It is a long way from rural Galilee, a small backwater of the ancient Roman Empire, to some of the richest and busiest cities in the world. How have the teachings of Jesus survived the journey?

I wonder if Jesus came back whether he would be surprised and pleased at how his followers are doing? Or not?

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Jesus the social and religious radical – 5 lessons from a dishonourable encounter

The facts about Jesus are clearly stated in the gospels, and they don’t change, but people have so many different understandings of him. The Catholic Jesus or Orthodox Jesus is not the same as the evangelical Protestant Jesus, or the Jesus of liberal Protestant theologians.

I think there is probably some truth in all portraits, including that Jesus was a prophet, and a social and religious radical. Nothing shows this more than his treatment of women and social outcasts.

As Simon the Pharisee discovered when he invited Jesus to a banquet and discussion …..

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