Jesus is Weird
Have you ever thought about how utterly weird the Christian message about Jesus is?
The hope of the world, Christians claim, is a crucified Jew who was born of a virgin over two thousand years ago, lived a very peculiar and provocative life, taught and modeled a bizarre mixture of love, compassion, and peace alongside jarring and bewildering words of judgment and warning, was executed by a predictable combination of religious and imperial power while simultaneously paying the price for human sin and absorbing the evil of the whole world, cheated death (so his followers say) by rising from the dead, and claimed, in this whole package, to be the fulfillment of the very old, strange story about a very strange group of people whose mode of relating to God scarcely resembles anything we would recognize or welcome today.
On top of all this, his rag-tag band of followers subsequently tramped all over the known world proclaiming that this Jesus was (presently) alive and well, thank you very much, that his kingdom was at hand, that his church was called to invite all people to follow him, and that he would one day return to as the judge and Lord of history with the keys to eternal life.
Each year, a church in our city hosts a series of lectures called the “C.S. Lewis Christian Thought Series.” This year’s lecturer was philosopher C. Stephen Evans of Baylor University. Evans has done a lot of work on Søren Kierkegaard, but his topic a few weeks ago was more apologetic in nature (how do we respond to the new atheists, what is the role of natural theology, etc). For a variety of reasons, I was unable to attend the lectures this year, but I listened to them on CD during my travels last week. It was kind of nice to spend a bit of time back in philosophy-land (it’s been a while since I visited!) and his lectures certainly gave some good handles on how to respond to the challenge of atheism and provoked some stimulating questions.
As a philosopher, of course, Evans is very interested in arguing for the reasonableness of Christianity. At various points, he referred to the familiar arguments for God’s existence, appealing to the wonder of creation, the objectivity of morality, the human propensity for teleology, and other “signs” as pointing, if not directly to the existence of God, then at least to the limits of naturalism. It was, as I said, interesting and all well and good. I have spent a lot of time in my own life studying philosophy and arguing for the rationality of faith, after all (not least on this blog!) and I can certainly appreciate Evans’ passion for integrating faith and philosophy, reason and revelation, etc.
As I listened to these lectures though, it struck me how these categories don’t seem to be instinctive to me the way they once were. To put it bluntly, I’m not as excited about philosophy as I once was. At least not this week. Philosophy certainly has its merits, of course, and I am very glad for Christian philosophers who can wrestle with deep issues of truth and meaning and consistency and coherence—often in contexts that are overwhelmingly hostile to faith (an academic philosophy department can be a pretty lonely place for a Christian!). But philosophy only gets you so far.
During his last lecture, Evans used the analogy of a key fitting into a lock to describe how the Christian worldview “fits” with human desire and hope and intuition. I wonder about this way of framing things, about the idea of the Christian message as a good “fit.” Is Christianity the option at the worldview smorgasbord that meets all (or at least most) of our needs and wants and desires and intellectual holes that require filling? Do we bring our worldview demands to the table and simply select the option that fits best? To be sure, Evans didn’t frame things nearly this simplistically and he talked a bit about how part of coming to Jesus is having our needs modified and recalibrated, but the metaphor still struck me as an odd choice given, well, the weirdness of Jesus and the Christian message.
Jesus was, to put it bluntly, a confrontational irritant to many in the first century world. To others, he was just plain confusing. Of course, he was also compassionate and kind and loving and a brilliant teacher and a miracle-worker and all that, but on the whole, Jesus’ message was a very strange, unexpected, and, often, unwelcome one—to the Jewish worldview, the Roman worldview, and everything in between. Far from being the key that magically fit the lock, he often seemed like the anvil upon which expectations and hopes were shattered and recalibrated. Or like a stumbling block. Or a stone the builders rejected. Or something like that.
And yet… We really do want to claim that Jesus is the answer to the deepest questions we can ask, right? We really do want to claim that Jesus represents the fulfillment of our deepest hopes and longings… Don’t we? Somehow, we have to hold together these two apparently contradictory truths about the message of Christ: 1) Jesus is the answer to the questions that we are already asking (like a key and a lock); and, 2) There is a radical strangeness to the claim that the career of Jesus of Nazareth is God’s way of reconciling all things to himself. Jesus makes us squirm, and leads us into a new, often unnatural ways of looking at and living in the world. To borrow a phrase from Canadian author Mark Buchanan, Jesus “mends us in places we didn’t know we were broken and breaks us in places where, before his advent, we were utterly content.”
It is a weird hope that we are called to, after all… A strange Saviour who beckons us, and a strange salvation that we need and are offered.