Is Christ God or merely a good guy?
Although Christianity suffers from many deep divisions and numerous denominations, the Faith is really separated into only two camps. Christians within these camps do not agree on who the founder of the faith – Jesus, the Christ – really is. One camp believes he is God; the other argues that he is godlike.An angel announced to Mary and Joseph the birth of their son, “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). For many evangelical Christians with whom I identify, this stunning angelic declaration cinches the case. Baby Jesus is God, showing God’s human face and heart to the world. Only God, the scriptures reveal, saves us from our worst selves by rescuing us from sin’s pit. The angel called Jesus “Savior,” so here’s a straight-line identification between him and God. “Christ” is not another name for Jesus. It is a title derived from the Hebrew word “Messiah.” The Torah shows ancient Jews longing for God’s unique messenger, coming to free God’s people from tyranny. Here’s another match between God and Jesus.Moreover, an angel instructed Mary and Joseph to call their son “Lord.” Who is the biblical Lord of the universe? God is. So, Lord Jesus must be, also. The New Testament describes disciples who regarded Jesus as more than a moral example to follow. He functioned as the object of faith for biblical Christians. Christ did more than offer a godly ethical way. He claimed he is God’s Way. When the Bible teaches that Christ served as the “object of the disciples’ faith,” what does this mean? Believing in Jesus by confessing him as “the Christ” for New Testament Christians involved more than learning interesting facts about him. Their trust in Jesus involved explanations of those events. Christian tradition calls these explanations of Jesus, the Christ, doctrines. Believing in Jesus, the Christ, meant for disciples more than revering his life and living morally by it. Faith embraced more than caressing mystical feelings within that spurred on good behavior. Following Christ meant that the Christmas fact was reborn every day for Jesus’ disciples. Christmas reminds us that Jesus is God who has broken into history to fix what’s sordid and out-of-sorts.Contemporary evangelical Christians join the glad angelic chorus by singing, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The second stanza confesses that Jesus is God.Christ, by highest heaven adored,Christ, the everlasting Lord!Late in time behold Him come,Offspring of the virgin’s womb,Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;Hail the incarnate Deity,Pleased in flesh with us to dwell,Jesus, our Emmanuel (God with us).Progressive Christians, as they like to be called, debunk this notion that Jesus is God. They revere Jesus as godlike, showing us how to live virtuous lives. Claims of Christ’s deity, argue these Christians, are not rooted in fact but in religious fantasies held by early believers enthralled with Jesus. The Bible for progressive Christians is an anthology of inspirational writings not holding authoritative doctrine regarding Christ’s divinity. According to Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong, Jesus being God incarnate is an invention of the Early Church, delirious in praise for him. What’s important is to treat the Bible as a record of genuine religious experiences that we must replicate as disciples of Jesus, advise progressive Christians. Shailer Mathews, once dean of the divinity school at the University of Chicago, wrote Faith in Modernism. In this book he sharply delineated between faith that claims Jesus as God, and his progressive belief that Jesus is godlike. “Christianity,” claims Mathews, “is not a hard and fast system of philosophy or orthodoxy” but rather “the attempt of men (sic) to rely upon Christian principles in meeting the needs of their actual life-situations.” Jesus becomes a master teacher for progressive Christians. He helps us live quality lives. There’s no need to conjure up a divine Christ when all that’s needed is an ethical Jesus who inspires us to nobly live.A prime reason why I dramatically portray Thomas Jefferson and Jonathan Edwards on stage is because I listen in on their conversation about Jesus. Their take on Christmas is radically different. Edwards enhanced the Age of Faith by swearing loyalty to Jesus, the Christ, as God. Jefferson, a product of an enlightened Age of Reason, saw Jesus as the quintessential moral paragon, who inspires us to lead decent lives and participate in democracy. Our first five presidents sided with Jefferson, regarding faith in a divine Jesus as naïve. These presidents practiced Deism, believing in God and Jesus as godlike.Jefferson, when he read his abbreviated Bible he concocted with passages of a divine Jesus cut out, trusted in an alert mind more than a sincere religious heart. He replaced revelation with reason. He substituted biblical morals for miracles actually occurring. The Sage of Monticello regarded Jesus as the premier exemplar of public virtue rather than a Savior who offers personal salvation. Jesus was a good guy, not God, for Jefferson.In 1787 Jefferson described Jesus as “a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished for sedition.” Even Jesus was duped into thinking he was divine.Christians flock to Christmas Eve worship, charmed by a myriad of lit sanctuary candles. Do these lights glow with adoration for Jesus who is God, or do these bright lights illumine a path toward God, led by Jesus who reflects a god-like way? The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens heads the non-profit, tax exempt Creative Growth Inc., enhancing Christian worship through lively storytelling and memorable drama. Van Ens leads worship as Jonathan Edwards on Jan. 15 at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the Dillon Community Church. He portrays Thomas Jefferson and Edwards at 6 p.m. Sunday evening at the church as they debate who Jesus, the Christ, really is. Vail, Colorado