Monday, July 11, 2011

Email Exchange - The Jump to Christ

Last week I had an interesting email back-and-forth with Andrea, a former member of our Core Team at St. Gertrude.  I'm going to copy and past some segments of the exchange for your reading enjoyment (and commentary if you wish):

From Andrea:

As I have encountered people both on my European trip and now here in PACT it is easy to get people to recognize that we all have the same questions and that we all seek a total answer.  I also think, and have seen for myself, that most people find that the only reasonable answer to those core questions come from Someone bigger than themselves.  This makes sense.  We did not make ourselves and by looking at the world it is hard to image that everything could come from someone that was not infinite.  Good. 

Now here is the question to ponder - how do you make what seems to be a huge leap from recognizing that there exists Someone (and who knows what this someone is called?) to the Person of Jesus Christ that loves us conditionally and died so that we may live.  How do you arrive there in a conversation?  Where does Christ fit into the picture?  I am struggling to find the right questions to ask people to get there. 

My response: 

1.  Jesus Christ presents himself as God.  This was something new.  A man, within the confines of time/history declares himself to be God.  He states that He is the Way, Truth and Life.  That nobody has life but through Him.  Jesus Christ is a historical fact.  His life really happened.  His death really happened.  His resurrection really happened.  He is as true as Kennedy, Napoleon, Francis of Assisi, Caesar, Plato, etc.  Except, he claimed to BE GOD.  This is a problem for us and for everyone.  It demands an answer...Christ demands an answer when He says, "I am the resurrection and the life.  Do you believe this?" or following the Bread of Life Discourse in Jn. 6, "Will all of you leave me also?"  He either is who he says he is, or he is a liar, or he is a lunatic, a crazy person.  Nobody else has claimed status with God.  They have claimed to be prophets, mystics, messengers, anti-God, etc.  So, within history, we have enfleshed for us, One to states that He is the answer to our deepest longings for truth, goodness and beauty.  Do we believe Him?  Can He satisfy us?

2.  This leads nicely into the second point:  Witness.  It makes sense to me that as one comes to ask the questions and understand life (your first paragraph), that someone ought to look seriously into an answer to his/her problem before life.  You and I have done this.  We know tons of other people who have done his.  We have found Christ to be who he said he is - savior, redeemer, Love itself, healer, our greatest joy, happiness, goodness, beauty, etc.  How do we get a person to "make the leap to Christ"?  By presenting the Fact of Christ (point 1), and by witnessing to your present experience of Christ - His very presence in your life, in your encounter with Him, in your experience of relationship with Him.

By getting a person open by asking existential questions (your first point), and sharing your experience in this regard, you should have common footing with which you can launch into your experience with Christ - the answer to your heart's deepest needs and desires. 

Andrea's closing thoughts:

The two points you made are powerful.  Both are entirely reasonable.  Either Christ is God or He is a lunatic.  Any other conclusion is illogical – especially the position of Him just being a great moral teacher (for what great moral teacher would constantly lie about who he is?).  However, I also know in my life that it has been the witness of so many that have shown me that not only is Christ reasonable, but perhaps more importantly, that He matters.  He means something.  Believing in Him changes everything because He changes my identity, my life, my very being.  Christ becomes relevant in the witnesses of others.

Even Lebron's witnesses left him.
But witnessing takes time.  It takes more than just a one-time conversation acknowledging that we all have the same questions.  It takes a relationship, love, and service.  We can talk about life forever but until we live it with purpose and meaning in Christ all that talk is just nice philosophy.  Ministry, education, friendship—all take patience and the humility not to be discouraged and leave it to Jesus.  It also takes a willingness to be vulnerable about our own stories and how Christ has healed the places that we are most broken and ashamed about.  This vulnerability is hard too– well at least for me.


  1. I hope you don't mind, there were a few things you said that I didn't really understand, I was hoping you could clarify.

    First, you said "Jesus Christ presents himself as God. This was something new. A man, within the confines of time/history declares himself to be God.". But haven't many different people throughout history claimed to be God? From what I've read, many people, ranging from political leaders (Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, the Egyptian pharoahs, etc.), to religious leaders (Veleda, Simon Magus, Sathya Sai Baba, etc.), and even patients in asylums have made this claim. I don't see how most non-believers are going to be any more impressed by Jesus' claim to divinity than by the claims of these others. Or is there something I'm missing?

    Next, you said that "Jesus Christ is a historical fact. His life really happened. His death really happened. His resurrection really happened." If by this, you mean the Jesus really existed, then yes, I think most historians would back you up there. But when you say that Jesus' resurrection really happened, I think most non-believers are going to take issue with that. Why should they take the claim that Jesus came back from the dead more seriously then they take the miracle claims of other religions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., all of which claim to have equally impressive miracles themselves?

    Next, you invoke C.S. Lewis' "lunatic, liar, or lord trilemmna", when you said "He either is who he says he is, or he is a liar, or his is a lunatic, a crazy person.". But it seems to me that he could also have simply been genuinely mistaken. He may have truly considered himself to be God, while still being an impressive moral teacher, and simply been mistaken abut his own divinity, so this trilemmna doesn't seem to me to have much effectiveness.

    Finally, I have one question about your section 2. It seems like you're arguing that if we apply Jesus' teachings in our own lives, and find that they work for us, this means that we should take seriously his claims of divinity. Yet, it seems to me that most non-believers would find this unconvincing. After all, the teachings of Buddha, and Epicurus, and Aristotle all contain great wisdom as well, and can dramatically improve the lives of those who embrace their teachings, but that does not compel us to consider these teachers divine beings, nor to take their claims about the supernatural seriously. Could a non-believer not simply acknowledge the wisdom of Jesus' teachings without necessarily considering him a divine being? Or have I misunderstood the point you were trying to make?

    Thanks in advance,
    Alec Green

  2. Alec,

    I think you are right in saying that a non-believer is not going to be any more impressed by Jesus’ claim to divinity than any of the others you listed. I was a little rash in declaring the originality of the claim. I have read a bit on some of the people you list here, and their claims to divinity. That being said, I think it is important to note that within the Jewish context, the claim was fairly substantial (and unique). But, I think the claim is only one piece of the puzzle (and, definitely not the most impressive).

    In my opinion, what sets Jesus’ claim apart, is that He existed and died, but did not remain dead (bodily). Here, he is different from Caesar, Pharoah, Sathya Sai Baba, etc.). If God is who we believe God is – Infinite, All-Powerful, Immutable, Omnipotent (many ideas about an eternal Being that even the pagan philosophers came to realize through reason alone), and we hold that Jesus is God, then Jesus cannot be subject to the finality of death. I am familiar with some of the miracle accounts in the other traditions, but would like to learn more specifically which ones you are referring to. With Christ, even His body is raised from the dead, that seems to be at least impressive enough to take a closer look at.

    Regarding the C.S. Lewis argument, it has been debated over the years. Peter Kreeft, a popular apologist from Boston College, does some work in defense of it here ( Jesus’ divinity is a topic He brings up often. For an impressive moral teacher to be mistaken about something so central to his message would cause him to lose a lot of moral credibility (this is hypocrisy, a lie, etc. – which would be the same way people felt when the priest scandal happened – “you priests profess yourselves to be doing God’s work, and living a particular moral life, while in fact you were not essentially what you said you were”).

    Your final paragraph is the one I’m most interested in. What I was trying to get at (rather succinctly) in my second point was the unity of faith and reason, of mind and heart, of reasonable explanation and an encounter with the Person of Christ. The teachings of philosophers you mention do indeed contain great wisdom – much of which we regularly apply to our lives (in terms of growing in virtue, self-mastery, knowledge, etc.), but Christ claims to be more than a philosophy or moral teaching. To see Jesus as morals/philosophy is to not see the full picture – not to see all that he claimed He was.

    Jesus turns the table on philosophies and morals. He doesn’t come and say that he has a new philosophy that will change your life. Instead, He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He doesn’t say I have a way for you to live a better, and truer life. He doesn’t claim to have a new covenant of the Law with additional cleanliness rules laid out. He declares that He is these things. He is the way to the Father. He is the Truth of all existence. He is Life itself – the Everlasting Being, and source of Life.

    My 2nd point is trying to move us beyond the reasonableness (or logic behind the divinity of Christ/Christology), and into the necessity of relationship with Him (I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly. Jn. 10:10). This is a matter of the heart, of my freely choosing to abandon myself to Life itself, and casting aside my vain attempts to provide my own happiness, which leave me feeling unsatisfied. It is necessary that Christ become (or begin to become…because it is a lifelong process) everything for me. If I am to have a life of abundance, I must enter into a relationship with the only One capable of conquering my sin, hurt, and even death – on account of the fact that He already did, and still lives.

    I see my first two points as going hand-in-hand – as I enter into relationship with Christ, I know Him more, and as I come to know Him more, I enter deeper into relationship with Him.