Apparently, for most Americans, Barack Obama is their hero. Obama is followed by Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Abraham Lincoln, John McCain, John F. Kennedy, Chesley Sullenberger, and Mother Teresa.
This list is based on a study done by the Harris Poll.
I have to admit that, given current events, I am not surprised that President Obama came in first place. I am more surprised that Jesus came in second. I am surprised because Jesus is such a controversial figure and so many either flat-out reject that he ever existed (or that he is the same person the Bible presents) or they totally reject his teaching. Why would he be so popular? Even if every Christian polled chose Jesus as their hero, which I doubt happened, I do not think that would give Jesus enough votes to be number two on this list. Some outside of Christianity must have voted for Jesus as well.
Which leads me to ask two questions: Does it make any sense for someone who does not believe in the Jesus of Christianity and the Bible to think highly of Jesus at all? Would it make sense for a non-believer to have Jesus as their hero?
I tend to side with C. S. Lewis on this issue when he says:
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 a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil from Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was or is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit on 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 to any patronizing nonsense about him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
You DO know that the majority of Americans are Christian of one type or another, correct? Your post is written as if Christians were a tiny minority. Which, I’m sorry to say, isn’t the case.
Well, I guess that depends on one’s definition of “Christian.” If it is simply lumping everyone who claims Christianity as their belief system when asked, you are right. However, many of those, as we all know, are Christian in name only. They do not hold to Christian beliefs and practices. If you further tighten the definition by eliminating those who do not hold to the traditional beliefs of Christianity (Jesus’ virgin birth, sinless life, deity, death and resurrection), you end up with much less than a majority of Americans. You can check the percentages that would fit into these categories at Barna.org if you want.
Those who deny the traditional, and biblical, teachings of Christianity, even while claiming Christianity as their religion would have just as difficult a time in justifying why Jesus was their hero as anyone else in my mind since they would not be able to say who Jesus really was with any certainty (since they do not take the biblical account at face value).
That’s one thing that really stuck with me from Mere Christianity. You can’t take away Jesus’ divinity without making Him seem absolutely ridiculous. If He wasn’t actually God, He was insane, and not someone to be admired.
Hmm. By your definition I’m not a Christian. Yet, I would definitely vote for Jesus as one of my top heroes. I don’t think you have to believe in the “virgin” birth, deity or resurrection to appreciate the radical ideas which Jesus taught. I admire his compassion for all people, especially the impoverished and oppressed. I also admire how he stuck firm to his ideals without resorting to violence even to the point of death.
I have to disagree with Lewis here, though. I certainly don’t see Jesus as a lunatic, but while I would certainly never exclude the possibility of his divinity, I think one could make a case for either perspective. In my mind the power of his teachings can be found in the content of what he says, not the ascribed authority by which he says them.
“You can’t take away Jesus’ divinity without making Him seem absolutely ridiculous. ”
You can’t take his divinity away AND THEN take everything else literally without making it ridiculous.
I like the idea of an itinerant rabbi named Yeshua walking through the desert and telling people to be kind to each other. Crazy things too, of course, but I’m a pick-and-chooser so I can ignore that stuff.
Is there anything that a person MUST believe concerning the person and work of Christ in order to call themselves Christian? If so, what?
I really do not have much to say to you other than if you are a “pick-and-chooser” as you say, how do you decide what to keep and what to throw away? Why bother? If you do not believe the whole story, why waste your time with any of it? There have been other good people who simply taught “be kind to each other.” Jesus is not so special if this is all he was/did.
Sorry, I should have been more clear. I’m a pick-and-chooser AND an atheist.
So I pick from all sorts of different people and ideologies. I go with what works. What creates the most benefit and eliminates the most harm.
So I take a bit from Jesus, some from Hammurabi, some from Shakespeare, some from Jefferson, some Buddha, etc. And I avoid deifying any of them, which allows me to take the good stuff and throw out all the bad or useless parts.
Thanks. I knew you were an atheist, that is evident from the title of your blog. I was just curious why you would bother wasting your time with any of Jesus’ story if you do not believe the main things the New Testament writers were trying to say concerning him. It is obvious that you do concern yourself somewhat with Jesus though, which I find interesting. I guess in your thinking, you can take the parts that fit your ideology and throw away the rest. I think that is Lewis’ point though, that we do not have that option. He was either who the Bible claims he was, or he is a waste of our time since we have no certainty who he really was.
I understand feeling that way, but it doesn’t have to be so absolutist. Good ideas can stand on their own.
For example: With great power comes great responsibility.
That’s a great idea. A wonderful way to look at life. But I don’t have to think that Spider-man is real in order to heed it. 🙂
So do you accept everything that Jesus taught? Or, just the parts you like? Because he said some things that I do not believe you would label as “good.”
By the way, that truth from Spiderman was around long before Spiderman. Where is the responsibility if it is not ultimately to God?
“So do you accept everything that Jesus taught?”
Of course not. One that jumps to mind is, paraphrased, “leave everything and follow me,” “give no thought for the morrow”.
If I didn’t give any thought for tomorrow I’d be destitute and starving pretty quick.
“By the way, that truth from Spiderman was around long before Spiderman”
Certainly. But Spider-man is the modern source. The same is true of, for example, Jesus and the golden rule. Jesus is the modern source, but it was around long before both the New and Old Testaments.
I’ve had some difficulty answering this question (this is my third attempt). I guess the easiest way to answer this is for me to define my understanding of what a Christian is.
Starting simply, a Christian is one whose life imitates Jesus’ life.
I’m hesitant to attach requisite beliefs to that statement because I am only one person with limited time and experience from which to base my perspective. There’s no way I can consider the totality of the human experience.
However, one core theme in Jesus’ teachings which is essential my spiritual experience is the recognition of the inherent value of every human being.
I see this theme in a variety of Jesus’ teachings and actions: the Sermon on the Mount, the Woman at the Well, the Good Samaritan, his criticism of the Pharisees, dinner with Zacchaeus, the bleeding woman, etc.
Matthew 25:31-46 sums it up well: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
My “hero” list would also include such people as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Oscar Romero. What they believed about Jesus seems inconsequential to me. They imitate the life of Christ, so I would call them Christians.
Does that answer your questions?
Thank you for this conversation. I am enjoying it and I appreciate your tone even though we obviously disagree on these things.
You stated, “Certainly. But Spider-man is the modern source. The same is true of, for example, Jesus and the golden rule. Jesus is the modern source, but it was around long before both the New and Old Testaments.” – If Jesus was who he claimed to be, then his authority and relevance does not come from his ability to have a good idea, but from who he was (i.e. God incarnate). If he was God, then we do not have the authority to “pick and choose” and he was not merely a modern source, but THE source of all truth.
I understand what you are saying, but I do not think I agree with your analysis. Was Christ merely one to be imitated? Are we Christian based upon right belief or right practice? I would say that it is a combination of the two. I would even say that right belief is necessary in order to have right practice. If you look at 1 John 3:23 it states, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us.”
This verse, and others, seem to emphasize both right belief “believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ” and right practice “love one another.” Wouldn’t right belief be acceptance of the Apostolic message concerning who Christ was? What would have been a part of this message?
I would agree that practice generally follows from belief. I believe the teachings of Jesus and try to act accordingly. And if, as you say right belief is necessary in order to have right practice, then it would seem to me that Gandhi was more Christian than most Christians I know. (I would include myself in that). What I mean is, I see Christ’s life and teachings well reflected in him.
It seems to me that you connect the deity of Christ to belief. I’m not sure I understand this. I believe Jesus’ teaching and in the model that he set for us. However, I don’t see a strong case in the scripture for his deity.
He calls himself the Son of God, frequently. I don’t think that makes him God. You are the son of your mother. You obviously aren’t your mother. The Bible has accounts of him doing crazy miracles. It also has plenty of other accounts of people doing crazy miracles.
I appreciate your emphasis on living according to the teachings of Christ and I admit that far too few Christians actually do this. However, I do not agree with your assessment that Scripture does not paint a clear picture of Jesus Christ being Divine.
Here are some specific passages that state that Jesus is God (the Greek word “Theos”). This is not to be a comprehensive list of all of the passages that point to Christ’s deity, but they seem to be very clear in their presentation. John 1:1; John 1:18; John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; and an Old Testament messianic passage that points ahead to the Christ being God is Isaiah 9:6.
Are Jesus’ teachings authoritative because he said good things or because of who he was? If they are merely authoritative because we think he said good things, then they are really subjective. It is up to us to decide if they were good or not. If he was God, then we have no authority to make that decision. We can only decide if we will submit to his Lordship or not. So when I say that right practice flows out of right belief, I am saying that when we understand Christ’s authority as God, we realize the need to obey him.
I would not have listed Jesus as a hero. Jesus is not my buddy. Jesus is not my hero. Jesus is my Savior.
I haven’t read through all of the comments, because my attention span is quite short at the moment, but from my skimming I feel the need to elaborate on my comment. It was aimed at Pastor Tim, who has obviously read the book before. So here is what I was getting at:
“You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit on 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 to any patronizing nonsense about him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. ”
My focus is on “You can shut him up for a fool.” That is probably exactly what would happen to him at this point in time. He would be seen as a crazy man claiming to be God (even worse than the Christians who many say are crazy because they believe that Jesus came as God in the flesh), and, as a result, completely irrational.
Yes, there were things that were taught by Jesus that were great teachings. But if you believe Jesus is crazy, can you accept his teaching? I can already see the arguments against this point, and they have some validity. And I have no problem with people accepting the greatness of what Jesus taught. However, dismissing His divinity diminishes his credibility and makes him seem like an irrational person. So why accept a few things He said, but not accept His divinity? It doesn’t really make sense. At least not to me.
It’s great that people are getting something from Jesus. However, we cannot say that Jesus was ONLY a great teacher. He claimed to be more, and if He wasn’t, he was delusional and not someone to be admired.
Firstly, I appreciate your admission that most Christians don’t put enough emphasis on living according to Jesus’ teachings. I hope that I have made it clear in our discussions that I don’t exclude myself from that pitfall. I definitely don’t get things right a good amount of the time.
To clarify, my point was that Jesus himself never claimed to be God.
As you pointed out, other NT scriptures make this claim. However, academic study of the text reveals that the overwhelming majority of these were written by non-eyewitnesses under the pseudonyms of those who we commonly assume are the authors. Such claims about his divinity may have been a literary device used to help explain Jesus and his teachings to a Hellenistic culture.
It seems to me that you link his validity to his authority to his divinity. To remove his divinity removes his authority and makes his teachings therefore invalid. Please clarify if this is not the case.
The way I see it, the validity of Jesus came from the truth of his teachings, which were based in love. What higher authority could there be than Truth based in Love (and is that not God?)
Thanks for responding. I also admit that I all too often fall short when it comes to living according to the teachings of Christ.
You said a couple of things that I want to comment on. You state that Jesus himself never claimed to be God. While he did not make this claim very often, he did make it. One passage that shows this is John 8:53-58 where Jesus claims to be greater than Abraham and then applies the personal name for God to himself by calling himself the “I Am.” The Jews understood this as blasphemy, which is why they wanted to stone him right after this statement.
I can / will point out other passages if you would like, but will stop here for now. However, you also mention that no eye-witnesses make these claims concerning Christ. Of the passages I originally mentioned, some of them are found in books that were written by Jesus’ disciples and that conservative scholars do accept as having been written by the authors they are attributed to (John, Peter). I believe you can find evidence for either Jesus’ own claims to divinity or the author’s claims concerning Christ’s divinity in pretty much every New Testament book. Are there any that you accept as being authentically from the author it is attributed to?
What are your views concerning Scripture? Is it completely and fully the word of God? Does it contain the word of God, but also have things in it that must be sifted out? Other?
I do believe that who Christ was makes his words authoritative. I believ that we can find things that are authoritative in what Ghandi and Martin Luther King said as well, but it is not because they said them. It is because what they said agrees with God’s word. Ghandi and MLK both also said many things that are not in agreement with God’s word. Everything that Christ said is authoritative because he is God and does not need another to back his authority. Even the hearers in the NT realized this when they commented that he spoke on his own authority, unlike any of their other teachers or prophets. This is significant since he seems to change things from the Old Testament Law like declaring all foods OK to eat. How could he change what God had said based on his own authority?
You say that Truth based in Love is God. I disagree. It is true that God is Truth in that God is characterized by truthfulness and all truth comes from God. It is also true that God is love in that God is characterized by love. However, God is more than either of these two things in isolation or together. God is also just, righteous, etc. Plus, and very importantly, God is an ontological being. He is not an idea or ethical/moral category. He is a person. So Truth and Love are not God. They are part of God’s character.
Was there any part of Christ’s death that was necessary for our salvation or was his purpose solely to teach us how to live? More simply, do you believe in the substitutionary atonement of Christ?
This doesn’t necessarily have to do with the topic… just something I noticed as I was reading.
I find it interesting to read through these comments, both for content and rhetoric. Reading through how each person presents their opinion has made me think of how I present my opinion to others. So this blog is not only a theological discussion, but also an opportunity to see how to best interact with people.
Pretty much inspired by Tim clarifying shared beliefs and disagreements. It’s helpful to find where each person is coming from…
Sorry it’s been a few days. Busy with work and such…
You asked if there were any books for which I accept the authenticity of the attributed author. There seems to be strong evidence that the early Pauline epistles (Romans – Philippians ish) were likely written predominantly by Paul. There seems to be a reasonable doubt for the remaining Pauline, pastoral and Johannine epistles in the NT. That’s not to say that I know for sure that they weren’t written by the attributed authors, but there’s reasonable cause for doubt, and I don’t think we can say that we know for sure one way or another.
In regards to the synoptic gospels, I think that one could legitimately question the attributed authorship of each of them. There are legitimate arguments for both sides. In regards to John, refer to my above comment on Johannine literature.
What is scripture? I believe scripture is divinely inspired, canonical literature. It documents a legitimate spiritual encounter and tries to make sense of that encounter. It further holds a different level of legitimacy than literature that, say, you or I produce, because it has been confirmed and canonized through history and tradition.
I think you pointed out one area where differ in our understandings of God. I don’t understand God as an ontological entity. I feel like I explain my understanding pretty well in this post: Faith and God’s negative outline.
In regards to the purpose of Jesus’ death, I would say that it certainly illustrates what the cultural reaction will be to a life devoted to his teachings. In regards to your specific question of substitutionary atonement, I would first have to say, I don’t know. I haven’t died. I’ve never dialogued with anyone after they died. So anything I would say is conjecture.
I don’t find much Biblical basis for the contemporary constructions of Heaven and Hell. Nor do I see a single, clear-cut path described Biblically to ensure one’s hypothetical place in either destination. This is why I try and focus on what it means to live like Jesus. Ultimately, we can’t be certain of the existence of Heaven or Hell or the criteria for admission to either; however, I can be certain about the way I live my life and my choices to love (or not love) my neighbor and myself.
I also really appreciate Tim (and everyone’s) respectful, assertive conversation skills. I sincerely appreciate good conversation and am glad to have found this forum.
No problem concerning your delay in responding. We all get busy. I want to ask you to clarify something you said. You wrote: “What is scripture? I believe scripture is divinely inspired, canonical literature. It documents a legitimate spiritual encounter and tries to make sense of that encounter. It further holds a different level of legitimacy than literature that, say, you or I produce, because it has been confirmed and canonized through history and tradition.”
Does this mean that you believe Scripture, as found in the Bible, is inspired and therefore authoritative? I know you stated that we cannot always be sure of who the original author was, but what do you believe about the content of each book? Can we trust the content since it was divinely inspired and “legitimate”?
If so, wouldn’t the claims for Christ’s deity in the NT epistles be inspired as well?
If not, why would we rule out the claims for Christ’s deity as being inspired, but accept other things as inspired? It seems like Christ’s deity is a major theme throughout the NT. Wouldn’t it make sense to believe this is part of the inspired text (if we are making distinctions between inspired / not inspired)?
You also state that the majority of Paul’s letters, especially the early ones, are considered authentically from Paul. What are the implications of this? If Paul’s letters say that Christ is God, would that carry authority?
What about the Old Testament reference that I gave that seems to say the coming Messiah is God (Isaiah 9:6)? Can we trust the OT?
If Jesus is God, wouldn’t that make God an ontological being rather than just an ethical / moral category? Could God exist before all things if He was not an ontological being? If He were only an idea it would require something to be around to have the idea, therefore God’s existence would be dependent upon another / others.
I just read your your post “Faith and God’s negative outline.” I am not sure I agree with your definition of “faith.” Is faith simply believing something we do not or can not know? If that is true and God is experienced through faith, we would ruin our experience of God by learning more about Him.
I believe faith is more accurately understood as “trust.” I place my trust in God based upon what He has revealed (and therefore what is known about Him). As I learn more about Him, I am able to trust Him more, so therefore I have greater faith. I will always need to place my faith in God, even when I am able to look upon Him. Then my faith will be complete, meaning it will be sure, not that it will no longer be necessary.
I believe the Bible is true. It may not always be factual. The Bible was not written with the intention of being a history or science book. Much of its text was passed down as oral tradition before it was actually recorded on paper. I question the accuracy of oral tradition and therefore question the historicity of the Bible. (You seem to be well educated, so I doubt any of this is new to you). However, just because the Bible isn’t factual, doesn’t mean it’s untrue. The “moral of the story,” if you will, is true. The deeper meaning beneath the stories is true.
Briefly for now, because I need to go home, but if “faith” more accurately means “trust,” why have two different words? We’re getting into heavy semantics here, but if the two are synonymous, why should both exist.
Furthermore, isn’t trust dependent on our lack of knowledge about God? If we knew that we could get a certain result or reaction from God, and there were not uncertainty in our minds, would that really be trust?
Ah, more to say, but I need to go home. Peace for now.
I agree that the Bible was not written with the intent of being a science book and it is not primarily about history. I do believe that its primary purpose is to teach us about God, which means it is primarily concerned with theology. However, the Bible is a history book in a sense because it does tell us about God’s actions in the world and with people throughout time, which is historical. It is impossible to separate the two. While the Bible is not primarily concerned with science or history, when it does address these things, it does so accurately. When we examine the historicity of the Bible and find that it agrees with archaeological / historical evidence, does this not help us trust it more? If we found that it failed the historicity test, would it not cast doubt on everything else it said as well? So, I believe the Bible is primarily concerned with theology, but it is also accurate in all other matters it addresses (i.e. people, places, dates, etc).
You ask, why two different words for trust? Do we not have multiple words meaning the same thing in our language? How about “big” and “large”? Why both? I really do not see the validity in this argument. What is “faith” if it is not “belief in” or “trust in” something? If I say I have faith that God exists, is that not the same as saying that I “believe in” God? Or that I “trust” that God exists? I just think that the word “trust” helps us realize that the Bible is not talking about faith as if it has to be uninformed or blind.
If I say that I have faith that my wife will not have an affair, does that require me to not know my wife? The more I get to know her, the greater my faith will become that she will not have an affair either because I witness her not having one over and over again over time or because I learn more and more about her character over time, which shows me my faith (or trust) is well-placed, which increases my faith / trust. The same goes with God. We have faith in His existence based upon certain evidence (his word, or his creation, etc.). As we learn more, it does not serve to reduce our faith (because faith requires lack of knowledge), but it serves to strenghten our faith because we realize our faith is well-placed.
You say, “If we knew that we could get a certain result or reaction from God, and there were not uncertainty in our minds, would that really be trust?” I would say two things. First, can you have any level of faith / trust in someone or something you know nothing about? Secondly, is it possible to “know” we can get a certain result from another person / thing, or do we just develop a very high amount of faith / trust in that person or thing?