A few days back I was thinking about how great Jesus is. There is a translation that says that Jesus is the “desire of the nations.” That is, that all people find in Jesus the highest, best, and most valuable. I started thinking along these lines:
For the nature lover, Jesus as the creator, is responsible for natural beauty
For the nerds, Jesus as sustainer of the universe, is keeper of quarks, bosons, and the atomic forces
For the emotionally mature, Jesus is lover of our souls and forever faithful
For the busy, Jesus accomplishes all that he intends to do
For the environmentalist, Jesus is the redeemer of creation
For the elitist, Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords
For the socialist, Jesus is the son of a working-class family
For the artist-writer-musician, Jesus is the theme of the greatest creative efforts our culture
… and so forth. You get the idea: Jesus is example, guide, teacher, and hero. Jesus is frequently treated in this way - which is right - but Jesus is more than just a hero. We properly admire a hero but realize that 'veneration' or 'worship' of a hero is wrong. When we make Jesus into just a hero, we rob him of his rightful place and role as person worthy of real worship.
Some years back I realized that I’d come to view Jesus merely as a hero. Sure, Jesus was really smart, all “together,” insightful, courageous, compelling, the kind of guy people liked to be around, etc. But then I was confronted by my low view of Jesus. This is devastating for someone who calls themselves a “Christian.”
You see, everybody likes Jesus. Buddhists, Muslims, pagans, intellectuals, and even Jews admire Jesus. Why? Because they see Jesus as a "hero." But that picture – while certainly accurate – is not complete. Those very people – very much – want to ignore all the things that Jesus said and did that they don’t like. This is weird but it has come up often. Thomas Jefferson, who was not a Christian, liked many of the things that Jesus said. But the things that Jefferson didn’t like? Well, Jefferson didn’t merely ignore those things, or even just cross out those parts from his Bible; Jefferson physically cut those passages out of his personal bible.
For a couple of hundred years now, so-called ‘scholars’ (with increasingly less actual evidence to support this), have claimed that the un-popular bits of what Jesus said were just made up by his followers to advance their own agenda. This is very postmodern as it feeds into the ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ that helps define postmodern thought. Think of “The DaVinci Code” and you’ve got the picture. More recently, a group of Christian scholars assembled and voted as to which of Jesus’ sayings in the New Testament were truly authentic to Jesus. I believe the current count, according to this group, is only 18% that is “really” Jesus. Bizarrely, they began with the assumption that what’s recorded in Jesus’ biographies is inherently unreliable. What is not widely known is that while this project, called the “Jesus Seminar,” was initially represented by reputable scholars, those people rather quickly abandoned the ship and the project has become the laughing-stock of even scholars hostile to Christianity. Basically, Jesus Seminar people are just making it all up as they go along.
The point of all this is to show that the “Jesus As Merely Hero” movement has been quite popular to the ‘chattering classes’ for a while now.
Here’s the thing: Christians don’t think of Jesus as their hero. That is, while he is their hero, he is so very much more. Jesus is God. As God, Jesus should be worshipped. Jesus should be venerated. But even more, Jesus should be loved and obeyed.
Now lots of people “love” Jesus, but they suddenly get cold feet when it comes to actually obeying him. And, for their excuse, they will frequently claim that Jesus is “misunderstood.” Again: Wow. The moment that their hero actually makes a claim on their lives – to live differently, think differently, relate to people differently – well, their story changes.
So, as a Christian, when I reduced Jesus to mere hero I was also reducing his claim to my life. I was removing his right to judge me and expect me to live the way he wants me to. That isn’t Christian – that’s pagan. When I realized that I my functional theology about Jesus was becoming rather pagan-like, I realized that I had a choice: What do I really believe about Jesus?
As a complete geek-analytical type and a lawyer, I reviewed the evidence. It came out even more compelling for me: Jesus’ rightful place is as boss of my life. And that recommitment to the supremacy of Jesus has significantly fueled my spiritual growth for the last several years.
So should you, as a non-Christian – but especially if a Christian - have thought that Jesus was merely a hero; then I would challenge you to examine that conclusion even more. A really bright man who died when I was a 'wee tyke' said something to this effect: “Let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
(for a detailed review of the ‘trilemma’ argument, I found this to be interesting: http://www.tektonics.org/jesusclaims/trilemma.html)