The Problem With Jesus

Jesus does not create much of a problem at Christmas.  There are those who object to the Christianization of culture and therefore want the greeting of this season to be “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.”  But the real rub with culture—and perhaps there are those who sense it as they try to push Christianity from the public square—is the exclusivity claims of orthodox Christianity.  This part of Christian teaching is anathema to a culture that suggests the only way to encounter God is through Jesus.  If we were to say that Jesus is one way that women and men can come to know god, or even a way that one can encounter the creator of all that is, there would not be the pushback from others in culture except for the dominant position Christianity has held in western culture and the distinctly Christian residue that helps make western culture what it is today.  If Christianity claimed that Jesus is one of the ways men and women can know God the reaction would be different.  To be sure, men and women can be spiritual without Jesus, the New Testament is very clear that there are other kinds of spirits and spirituality, often a spirituality that is inwardly focused.  But the rub is in the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to the Father is a problem in today’s world.

The problem is that Jesus doesn’t give us much wiggle room here.  He says, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”  {John 14:6} The New Testament makes it clear that the early church believed this to be true as well when we read the claim of Peter before the Sanhedrin,  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men and women by which we must be saved.” {Acts 4:12}  This claim of exclusivity becomes a stumbling block for Christian teaching. In our culture exclusive religious claims runs against the value of tolerance that is held so highly.

Is there room to look at this claim of Jesus in a different light?  I think not.  Clearly, to change this aspect of Jesus’ teaching is to change the essence of the gospel. Stephen Neill (1900-1984), in his book, Christian Faith and Other Faiths, writes,

This Christian claim [of universal validity] is naturally offensive to the adherents of every other religious system. It is almost as offensive to modern man, brought up in the atmosphere of relativism, in which tolerance is regarded almost as the highest of the virtues. But we must not suppose that this claim to universal validity is something that can quietly be removed from the Gospel without changing it into something entirely different from what it is… Jesus’ life, his method, and his message do not make sense, unless they are interpreted in the light of his own conviction that he was in fact the final and decisive word of God to men…For the human sickness there is one specific remedy, and this is it. There is no other.

To encounter the person of Jesus the way He was is to encounter one who claimed to be the only way to God.  That has some interesting consequences when we take it at face value.  Penn Gillette, a contemporary comedian, really gets it even though he is an atheist.  In a brief interview posted on YouTube he asks the question that if if we Christians really believe that faith in Jesus make an eternal difference in people’s lives then how much do we have to hate them not to share the gospel.  This is a compelling question for me.  The problem with Jesus is that if we accept His salvation, and believe in what He says, we must share that good news with others—whether it is a comfortable message or not.  An interesting thought to ponder.


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