Monday, January 17, 2011

Is Christianity Worth Saving?

I suspect that if we had the opportunity to view the real life and teachings of Jesus, we'd all be pretty disappointed.

The Gospels that record his life and teachings were written a few generations after his death, likely based largely on oral tradition.  The Gospel of Mark was written first, and it appears likely that at least Matthew and Luke were written after Mark and used it as a source.  Each Gospel presents a different theme and understanding of the significance of Jesus.  These themes can perhaps even be contradictory, for example concerning whether Jesus claimed divinity, and what exactly he taught about the Kingdom of God.  Other Gospels of Jesus exist but are not included in the canon, which was debated and chosen by early Christians centuries after Jesus died.

My conclusion in all of this is that the teachings we have "from" Jesus tell us more about the religious views of the people propagating those teachings than about what Jesus actually taught.  The story is of a man who teaches about the nature of God and how we may enter into His Kingdom and who is put to death after a mockery of a trial.  Such a story leaves itself open to insert our religious understanding to make sense of it.  Perhaps it even demands it.

The Tolstoy interpretation of the Jesus incident is that the Kingdom of God can be entered into each present moment by doing good for others.  The good done for others can only be based on love and cannot include the use of force. 

I like the Tolstoy interpretation.  Tolstoy had no use for any claims of miracles, special divinity, after-life, or a "coming" Kingdom of God.  He had use only for what he took were fairly literal moral and spiritual teachings that can help guide how man is to live life now. 

The problem is that Tolstoy's interpretation is an extreme minority one.  The best we can say for it is that it is vaguely echoed in the pacifist-minded Mennonite churches with their literal interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount.  If you were to list widely accepted core beliefs of Christians, you'd probably list items that Tolstoy thought were either non-essential or contradictory to the message of Jesus.  Yet Tolstoy thought of himself as a Christian, perhaps even a "true" Christian versus the majority of hypocritical false Christians.

I have two questions then as I consider whether I should enter a church:

1. Is the Tolstoy interpretation compatible with Christianity?  That is, can a personal of peculiar religious beliefs that do not include belief in the divinity of Jesus, or of Heaven or Hell, or in pretty much any of the Old Testament, rightly call himself a Christian?

2. If the life of Jesus is so unknown and we are basically filling in the blanks with our own widely varying religious beliefs, why even bother with Jesus?  Why not have religious discussion in terms that do not rely upon trying to claim the "true" meaning of Jesus? 

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I randomly came across this post while surfing the web. I have to ask you a direct question. Have you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? If you have, have you researched the dating of these documents? Regardless if you believe Jesus says who He said He was (and is) the one thing no one can argue against is that these writings are historical documents.

    Since they are in fact historical documents and we can date them very closely (within a decade) regarding the political, economic, and personal issues of the people of the time, we find that these documents were actually written no more than 30-40 years after Jesus' death and resurrection.

    As far as "contradictions" go, if you actually read the gospels and research them, you find there are no contradictions As journalists write about a specific topic, no one will have the exact same wording - each person will see it from their perspective. Looking at the gospels (or letters) in this way shows they are in face accurate recordings of the same events - there are no contradictions.

    The "other" documents you refer to that people wrote about Jesus' life were written hundreds of years after the death and resurrection of Jesus - there were no longer any eye witness accounts; they merely took or copied their own interpretation from the original gospels, which again were written by those who actually were with Jesus during His life (except Luke, who through extensive interviews by those who did follow Christ during His earthly life, wrote the book or letter we call Luke).

    I'm not writing this to insight an argument or call you out. If anything I am more guilty of sin than anyone. It is only through Christ and His love for me (for us) that I (we) can be saved. Please, I implore you to take a chance on Jesus - If I am wrong, what harm will there be? Please, there are many false "Christians" out there. I am not one for labels either - I am simply a follower of Christ. God has given us a free gift of salvation from ourselves. Please take time read and think about things.

    I suggest a book (besides the Bible) called "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel. In this book he has done a lot of research into the "historical Jesus".

    May God be with you always.