by Craig Branch –
Introductory article for the Areopagus Journal Vol. 4 No. 6 – Who Do Men Say that I Am?”
Doesn’t everyone in the West know that Jesus is the Son of God? Atheists and hard core agnostics (functional atheists) number only about 14% of the population. So why devote an entire issue of the Areopagus Journal to the question Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?”
The fact is that most of the world’s population does not live in the West, and ours is a global mission. And with the open floodgates of immigration continuing, there is a steady flow of non-Westerners who have become our neighbors. More importantly, there are the steady attack on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the retreat and lack of evangelistic engagement of the Church, the lack of attention to apologetic ministry, and the consequent slide into postmodern relativism, which contribute to the fact that most Westerners either do not know the real Jesus Christ or have invented false ones.
For example, noted polster George Barna’s research reveals that 44% of all adult s in America believe Jesus sinned while on earth, and only 39% strongly oppose that belief. That implies that 17% are somewhat ambiguous that Jesus was sinless. It gets worse. Only 68% of “born-again” Christians believe Jesus was sinless. Roman Catholics weigh in at 38%, less than the percent age of all adults in America.1
We should not be surprised. Jesus warned us, “For many will come in My name saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many . . . .For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:5, 23-26). Paul too warns of false teachers who proclaim “another Jesus whom we have not preached” and will lead people “astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3-4).
So, in this issue of Areopagus Journal, you will find articles that describe and critique the counterfeit Jesuses of prominent pseudo-Christian cults, Islam, the New Age, and Skepticism. First, ARC’s countercult specialist, Clete Hux, exposes the deception and Scripture twisting of those cults and religions who reject the real Jesus and substitute a fraud in his article, “What Do Some Say? A Man, an Angel, an Idea, or a Prophet?”
The effect of theological liberalism, the weakening effect of the Church’s accommodation to the values of the broader culture, and the gradual disinterest in theology, have all contributed to the rise of postmodern relativism. This individualistic and relativistic atmosphere has fostered a greenhouse effect for the growth of New Age versions of Jesus. Therefore, secondly, Douglas Groothuis of Denver Seminary has contributed an article on “The New Age Jesus,” revealing and responding to the diversity of these New Age Jesuses embraced by so many.
Third, Scot McKnight traces the evolution of “The Skeptics Jesus,” the Jesus of atheists and agnostics who believe that Jesus was simply a man. In an earlier Areopagus Journal (May-June 2003), we exposed the errors of the skeptical Jesus Seminar, but McKnight addresses the larger spectrum of the skeptics quest. Such a response is need now as much as ever. The public continues to be bombarded with scholarly appearing articles in major magazines and other media. This has been especially evident in the past decade. For example, in a Time cover story,2 the writer promoted three new books on the market which ostensibly “puts forward a startlingly revisionist reply” to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” All three books conclude that Jesus never claimed to be, and was not, deity; that he did not preach salvation from sin through His sacrifice; that he never delivered the Sermon on the Mount, never multiplied loaves or fish, never raised Lazarus, never healed anyone, and certainly was never resurrected himself.
Another example is the cover story of the Atlantic Monthly titled, The Search for a No Frills Jesus.3 Therein, Jesus is reinvented into a Cynical Sage, a revolutionary who wandered without possessions, preaching a life of tolerance and self-sacrifice, but was not the Messiah.
On a side note, there were high expectations for people to be positively impacted by The Passion movie. Nearly 1/3 of Americans saw the movie (before the video came out). It was a fairly accurate and powerful depiction of the sacrificial love and resurrection of Christ for us. Yet only 16% said the movie affected their religious beliefs. Only 3% specifically responded that they gained a deeper understanding or appreciation of what Christ had done for them. Particularly significant was Barna’s findings that, “Equally surprising was the lack of impact on peoples determination to engage in evangelism. Less than fi of one percent of the audience said they were motivated to be more active in sharing their faith in Christ with others as a result of having seen the movie.” Even so, Barna concludes, “In a society that revolves on relativism, spiritual diversity, tolerance and independence, galvanizing such intense consideration of Jesus Christ is a major achievement in it self.”4
This current scenario is best depicted when Christ appeared before the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, before His crucifixion. Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” After stating that His kingdom is not of this world, Jesus responded, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this reason I have been born into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate’s response reflects the nature of man’s rebellion and rejection of the true Jesus. He said (probably sneered), “What is truth?”
One of the priorities of apologetics is to defend the truth while clarifying it. Thus the journal concludes with an article on Peter’s Jesus by ARC’s Vic Minish summarizing the orthodox doctrine of both the Person and work of Christ – that which demonstrates the absolute uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
In the remainder of this introductory article, I want to expand on the uniqueness of Christ and encourage you to meditate on and experience the inheritance of the Saints (Eph. 1:18-23). Go beyond a mere academic exposition and experience the living mediator, redeemer, advocate, example and enabler (1 Tim. 2:5; Gal. 3:13; 1 John 2:1; 1 Cor . 11:1; Phil. 4:13; Heb. 12:2-3; 1 Peter 2:21). Our Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely unique. He alone is the incarnation of God. He explicitly and uniquely claimed to be God. He declared, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. . . .The Father and I are one” (John 14:9, 10:30). Both John and Paul declared that Jesus is the unique God-Man (John 1:1, 14; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 2:9). Jesus alone of all other religious leaders was resurrected which uniquely underscores the reality of His way of salvation. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me shall live even if he dies. . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 11:25, 14:6).
Expanding on C.S. Lewis’ famous trilemma, we must conclude, in light of sayings like these, that Jesus was either the Lord (God), a liar, a lunatic or a legend. Historically, the uniqueness of Christ is found in His birth (conceived by the Holy Spirit, miraculously born of a virgin), His death and resurrection. He thereby conquered death, rules over death, and possesses universal authority. He is the Lord.
Moreover, Jesus was uniquely sinless, uniquely righteous, and therefore uniquely qualified to redeem a totally undeserving humanity. He is the Creator of all and the source of all goodness in redemption. Jesus demonstrated perfect character and virtue. He manifested perfect love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy, and no one could convict Him of sin. He displayed a perfect harmony of humility, servanthood, and authority. He upheld God s law or standard (Matt. 5:48), hated sin, while uniquely, mercifully granting salvation by grace alone (John 3:16, 5:37-38, 6:28-29). He washed His disciples feet, taught us to love our neighbor, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, be peacemakers, to give rather than to receive, and “while being reviled, did not revile in return, while suffering, offered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
Yes, Jesus Christ is unique in every way. From His complete deity to His perfect humanity, from His miraculous conception to His supernatural ascension, from His
impeccable character to His incomparable teaching. We devote and entrust our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows to the Incomparable Christ. As my favorite hymn ends, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Craig Branch is the Director of the Apologetics Resource Center, Birmingham, Alabama.
- See Barna’s data at www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic& ID=5
- Richard Ostling,”Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple,” Time (Jan. 10, 1994); 38-39.
- Charlotte Allen, “The Search for the No Frills Jesus” Atlantic Monthly (Dec. 1996): 51-68.
- George Barna, “New Survey Examines the Impact of Gibson ‘s “Passion” Movie.” Internet article found at www.barna.org/Flex-Page.aspx?Page=Barnaupdate&BarnaUpdateID=167