Who Is Jesus of Nazareth? (Chapter 9)
If we don’t say that Jesus is divine, how do we explain his central importance for us as Christians?
Most of the traditional titles for Jesus do not work for many of us today:
- “Savior” is too tied to the theory of divine blood satisfaction.
- “Lord and Master” belong to a different age, and they also encourage “triumphalism,” not Christian servanthood.
- The “Messiah” was to be a conquering warrior-king — which Jesus was not.
- “Son of God” means too many different things to different people.
But if I cannot ascribe to these traditional titles, who do I say that Jesus is?
I proclaim Jesus of Nazareth as “the Christ.” Because we mostly just think of this as his second name, it is less burdened with traditional meanings.
By calling Jesus “the Christ,” I don’t mean that he is divine, or that has a special “being” or “nature.”
Rather, I mean that he fulfills the role for us of focus and guide to our understanding of God, and of reality, and how we should live.
Thus, I proclaim Jesus as the “functional Christ.” (See the next chapter.)
Jesus as the (Functional) Christ: Indisputable, Sufficient, and Sacred (Chapter 10)
If we consciously make Jesus of Nazareth the focal point of our life, the source of our deepest values, then he functions as the Christ for us in this manner. This does not depend on his having a divine nature.
To claim him as our focus, and to form our lives accordingly, indisputably gives him this function for us.
To claim that Jesus was right, to say that he provides the answers to our deepest questions and the focus of our faith, is sufficient because it is the most that can possibly be claimed for another. (It is not claiming more for Jesus to describe him in a way that uses high-sounding language but makes no sense and has no meaning.)
And Jesus as the functional Christ fulfills a sacred role for us, as the focus through which we form our relationship with God.
Why Jesus of Nazareth? (Chapter 13)
To recognize Jesus’ authority in our own lives, we have to take three steps:
First, we must seriously confront his teaching. We are called to love God and love our neighbor.
Second, we must decide that Jesus was right — this love of God and neighbor really is the most important thing.
Then, third, we have to decide that we will try to live that way ourselves — with Jesus as our focus, our compass. This is what makes us Christians — the decision to follow him, to make him function as the Christ in our lives.
But if Jesus of Nazareth is not divine but human like us — then why should we try to follow his teachings? Why should we recognize his “authority” as the Christ?
There are several logical and circumstantial reasons of historical accident — but in the end, it depends on the response of our hearts. Our claim is that — partly because of these circumstances – Jesus can function as the Christ for us, and does function this way for those who choose him.
So why Jesus of Nazareth? Because his example and his teachings first grab us and then prove themselves over time. Because we find that the attitude, the faith, embodied in him leads to right relationship.
And because we know, in our deepest heart of hearts, that his call to love and service is the call to that which is right and true in a way that transcends all other rights and all other truths. This is why we confess Jesus as the Christ.