There was a rather atrocious discussion about Jesus on Melbourne’s ABC radio on March 9, 2007. Of course silly discussions about Jesus take place all the time, but as I happened to be listening to this particular one, it is worth assessing. It is representative of our secular intelligentsia and the way in which they absolutely mangle the Christian story.
Four so-called experts were involved in this discussion. There was ABC radio host Jon Faine, an atheist, and columnist Jill Singer, also a card-carrying atheist. The two guests were Sister Deirdre Mullan, a Catholic nun from Northern Ireland, and sociologist John Carroll of La Trobe University, who has penned a new book entitled The Existential Jesus.
Sr. Mullan offered a somewhat confused version of the Christian faith in her contribution. And Carroll, a nominal Presbyterian, presented an understanding of Biblical Christianity that appeared to be as poor as that of the two atheists.
The sad truth is, if you selected any four ten-year-olds, and combined them with the four eggheads, and told them to read the Gospel of Mark and explain what Jesus was on about, the four children would easily give a more coherent, more rational and more Biblical understanding of who Jesus was and what he said and did, than our four intellectuals.
Consider just a few comments by each of these experts. Faine, who said “Jesus is a historical curiosity,” waffled on about how similar all the world religions are: “I am fascinated at the universality of religions’ common themes. No matter what religion you look at, the same themes come up.” He did go on to say that the Jesus story “is by far the most diverse” whatever that means, but he seemed to promote the standard confused line that all religions, at bottom, are more or less alike.
The truth is, however, quite the opposite, and the people who make such claims are usually those who appear to know the least about these religions. Anyone who has actually studied them carefully will find there are many insurmountable differences.
The different religious traditions make mutually incompatible claims about the nature of ultimate reality, about God, about man’s predicament, and the solution to it, and so on. For example, Christianity claims that Jesus died on a cross and rose again. Islam denies this. Both religions cannot be true, at least in this regard.
Singer kept a somewhat low profile in this discussion, although she couldn’t help take a dig at Jesus. She cited a 1932 book by a Rev. William Bottomley entitled, The Man the Church Has Hidden. The Unitarian minister claims in this book that Jesus was a mere man, and a mortal, and the Church invented the idea that he was divine. Par for the course for atheist Singer to drag up such discredited and reckless claims.
Of course one would expect such foolishness from a pair of atheists (both of whom rejected an earlier religious upbringing). What is of real concern is when two people, who both claim to be Christians – of sorts – make inane comments about the Christian faith.
Consider the words of Sister Mullan. To her credit, she was the most “Christian” of the two guests on the show. She did say that “Jesus is very, very important in my life”. And she did reject some of Carroll’s silly notions about the existential Jesus.
But she too ended up sounding more like Faine than the Bible, when she made statements such as this: “We find God whatever way that has meaning and has values and can make a difference in this world”. She also cited liberation theology as a way the real Jesus can be found.
And she concluded by saying that “no matter what way you try to find your god, it’s about respecting the belief of the other as well”. Nothing here about the uniqueness of Jesus and the fact that he came to this world with a specific mission in mind: to die for our sins and to point fallen man back to God through repentance and faith. Instead we get the same mushy understanding of religion that Faine was offering.
But Carroll was clearly the most embarrassing speaker on the show, given that he is supposed to be representing Protestant Christianity. He obviously has no real biblical understanding of the Christian faith. He certainly has distorted big time the mission and message of Jesus.
Despite the clear claims of the Gospel accounts that Jesus recognised he was on a divine rescue mission, and that saving the lost was at the heart of the rationale for the Incarnation, Carroll completely dismissed such ideas about Jesus and his identity.
For example, he raises the question asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am” (Mark 8:29). Peter of course correctly answers, “You are the Christ [the Messiah]”. Carroll claims Jesus rebuked Peter for that answer, saying the devil was in him. But this is just plain wrong. It was only when Jesus spoke about the suffering and death he must go through, and Peter rebuked him for saying this, that Jesus then rebukes Peter. Peter, like most Jews of his day, has an idea of a Messiah who would come as a conquering king, who would kick Roman butt, and liberate the Jews from political captivity.
Jesus however is presenting a very different view of the Messiah: that of a suffering servant, as hinted at in places like Isaiah 53. What Jesus is therefore rebuking Peter about is not his correct response as to his divine identity, but his misunderstanding of the messianic mission.
Peter wanted Jesus to avoid suffering and death, to bypass the cross, to instead bring in the kingdom with power and glory. Jesus says instead that there is no glory without suffering, no crown without a cross. It was this misunderstanding of the mission of Jesus that got Peter into trouble.
Thus the very heart of the work of Christ is completely misunderstood by Professor Carroll. He goes on to say, “If you clutch on to doctrine, for example, ‘I believe in God the father…,’ you are actually putting a barrier between yourself and the truth of the core of your own existence. That is not the path to go on.” While I suspect most people wouldn’t have a clue as to what Carroll is going on about here, he is certainly wrong to suggest, as he does in the program, that “Jesus is against doctrine”.
This is the classic liberal ploy to seek to separate the teachings of Jesus from the ethics of Jesus. But of course this cannot be done. The horizontal relationships enjoined by Jesus (love your neighbour, etc.) presuppose a vertical relationship (getting right with God, loving him and keeping his commandments, etc). The only way one gets right with God is to accept his Son and the claims he makes about himself (“I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me,” etc.)
The unique claims of deity and the special mission of Jesus are what makes his ethics work. Reject his teachings about who he is and why he came, and his ethical pleas make no sense and are unable to be followed. But since Carroll informs us that “Jesus opens himself to be interpreted in hundreds and hundreds of different ways,” then I guess any spin on Jesus is as good as another. For Carroll, there is no objective Jesus who made clear claims about where he came from, what his mission was, or the fate of those who reject his claims about himself.
Indeed, Carroll seems to have lost the plot here big time. He can’t even seem to affirm the most basic of biblical doctrines. When Singer asks him if he believes that Jesus actually existed, Carroll cannot even directly answer the question. And when asked about what happens to us after we die, all Carroll can say is that “we humans have souls,” but “when we die, I don’t know where it goes”.
Of course all of this is most typical for “our ABC”. The ABC is seldom interested in serious debate about the most pressing questions of life. When discussing the most important person in human history, the folk at the ABC are quite happy to bring in intellectualoids who have so far abandoned any semblance of biblical knowledge and understanding, that a so-called debate just ends up being a load of watered-down nonsense.
More sense and sensibility would come from the first four persons found in the white pages than in this group of eggheads who know so little about Jesus and the Gospel accounts. But Jesus himself predicted that plenty of false prophets would arise to mangle the message of Jesus. Here we find a very good example of this.