Jesus ... Who?
As part of its first Theology Weekend earlier this year, Karis Community Church gave three panelists the chance to present and defend diverse viewpoints of who Jesus is. Answers to questions such as whether Jesus claimed to be the son of God define the boundaries between Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other major religions. The panelists’ conversation is not the only discourse on this subject happening in America. A recent survey on the U.S. religious landscape found that nine in 10 Americans believe in God, but there is debate about whether God is a person or an impersonal force.
The Rev. Bill Haney, a Unitarian Universalist pastor
Who was Jesus? A good man: “The gospels are the biography of Jesus, a man.”
Way to heaven? A mystery: “If God is good, why would God condemn anyone?”
“The UU tradition stems from the questioning side of the Christian experience. To question, to doubt, are essential to my exploration of faith.”
“Being a Christian is how one acts, not necessarily what one believes.”
“I’m more interested in the religion of Jesus than a religion about Jesus.”
“I worship God and not the Bible.”
“You could say that I am not a Christian because I don’t believe in vicarious atonement, that another’s death can make me right with God.”
Deepak Chopra believes in “a cosmic Christ,” which has helped this physician mix spirituality with health, as he explains in his latest book, “The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore.” An April 5 article by The Associated Press about “The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore” states that Chopra “controversially” looks at Jesus not as the son of God or as the historical rabbi, but as a state of mind. Many of Chopra’s ideas about Jesus fit well with a Unitarian Universalist perspective, including an emphasis on questioning convention, on action versus mere belief in Jesus’ principles and on Jesus’ universal acceptance of believers. Chopra told the AP: “The third perspective looks at Jesus as a spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name.”
Dr. Shakir Al-Ani, an Islamic speaker
Who was Jesus? A prophet: “Jesus was a human messenger from God to teach people where they went astray and to bring them back.”
Way to heaven? Through both faith and works: “Just believing in Jesus, peace be upon him, will not usher you into heaven.”
“Jesus did not come to be sacrificed because we are each responsible for our sins. Individual responsibility is the way to get to heaven.”
“Why would God sacrifice one person for another’s sins? An attribute of God is forgiver because he is all-powerful and has no limits, so why does he need a price to be paid for sin?”
“Jesus never claimed to be the son of God. It was said over him by others, including the writer of John, but never professed by himself.”
“Jesus was not with God in the beginning. God is independent of his creation and does not need a son.”
“Jesus was not crucified. God gave a look-alike to die on the cross and Jesus was raised to heaven.”
“Jesus came with a spiritual message to affirm the Torah and to correct the deficiencies in Jews’ lives.”
Ahmad Soleimani-Nia has been the picture of Jesus for Iranian film director Nader Talebzadeh for the past seven years as Talebzadeh has been filming “Jesus, the Spirit of God,” which is gaining international attention. The Los Angeles Times reported on April 29 that the new film was “depicting the man Christians believe to be the messiah and son of God as a tormented Judean prophet foretelling the coming of Muhammad, the founder of the Muslim faith.” Echoing Islamic beliefs that Al-Ani expressed at the forum, the film is said to express the view that Jesus was compassionate and performed miracles, but was not crucified or resurrected from the dead.
Dr. Tom Schreiner, a Baptist pastor and New Testament theologian
Who was Jesus? Son of God: “Jesus did claim to be the son of God; in the Gospel of John, Jesus said, ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’”
Way to heaven? Trust in Jesus: “I think Jesus’ central message was that God’s kingdom was coming — in other words, the day of judgment and salvation. Therefore, all human beings must repent and believe in him in order to be spared on the day of judgment.”
“People need a savior because there is something dramatically wrong with human beings.”
“Universalism trivializes sin because it says that at the end of the day, all will be saved.”
“We’ve strayed from God and followed the creature rather than the creator. People have trusted themselves rather than God.”
“Jesus was crucified, according to the best historical evidence available, and rose from the dead.”
“One cannot claim to honor Jesus, I would argue, and reject what is said of him in the Scriptures.”
“Jesus came so that we would be entranced by God and fall in love with him.”
“God cannot just forgive because an essential part of his nature is justice and holiness. Sin must be paid for.”
Franklin Graham, following in the steps of his father, evangelist Billy Graham, leads festivals to present his message that Jesus came to die for humankind and to offer eternal life. According to an April 26 article in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Franklin Graham told the crowd, “You need to admit you are a sinner and come to Jesus.” The evangelical Christian viewpoint is that all people have sinned and broken God’s laws and that Jesus came to earth as the son of God to pay the penalty of humankind’s sins: death. Graham stressed a personal relationship with God and told the crowd that belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven. “Muhammad didn’t die for our sins. Buddha didn’t die for our sins. Jesus did,” Graham said.