Sorry Evangelicals, You Don’t Get to Own Jesus

Sorry Evangelicals, You Don’t Get to Own Jesus April 27, 2023

No photo description available.Who Owns Jesus?

I recently wrote an article called “Evangelicals Are Still Missing the Point,” in which I said that I have rejected Evangelical Christianity, partially because it has been politicized by the religious right since the 1980’s. By the 2000’s I’d had enough and left it behind. However, I mentioned in this article that I hadn’t left Jesus behind because Evangelical Christianity cannot own Jesus. No one can.

Someone I know challenged my statement and indicated to me that you have to accept the orthodox doctrines and teachings about the divinity of Jesus and you can’t just have Jesus without the orthodoxy. What this well-intentioned friend of mine may not realize is that orthodoxy is a result of human thought, not divine revelation.

Since the 3rd century, church leaders have tried to define who they think Jesus was and is, and what “true believers” must believe in order to be saved. Since then every generation of theologians have twisted themselves into theological knots trying to work it out. With each passing year, they establish new denominations around differing interpretations about who they think Jesus is.

The funny part is, they never consult Jesus in the process since almost nothing in the creeds and statements of faith of these church leaders includes anything directly from the teachings of Jesus himself. Jesus seems to be an afterthought.

Jesus Isn’t Responsible for Christianity

There are so many problems with this line of thinking that it is hard to know where to start, but I thought I would get help from my friend Jim Palmer of the Center for Non-Religious SpiritualityJim is a good friend and wrote the foreward to my book, Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical.

But Jim Palmer is more than just a good friend, he is a theologian with years of training and experience both within an Evangelical mega-church as a pastor and as a trauma and grief counselor specializing in religious trauma.

Here is a little more about Jim. He is an author, activist, speaker, spiritual director, professor and thought-leader in the non-religious spirituality movement. He received a Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Divinity School in Chicago. As an author, he has published five books on the subject of non-religious spirituality.

One of those books is called Inner Anarchy: Dethroning God and Jesus to Save Ourselves and the World. That is a pretty provocative title, but trust me, it is an important and substantial book for those looking for something more than formulaic, cookie-cutter, zombie-like, assembly-line theology based on fallible human beings from hundreds of years ago.

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Palmer shows how the Christian religion has twisted the true life and message of Jesus, and has preached a powerless gospel that is preventing millions of people from being free. He challenges the reader to inner anarchy, “We must dethrone and tear down the mindsets and ideologies that are ruling our world from within us and taking us further down a road of certain doom.” Amen!

So, I asked Jim for permission to print a few passages from his book because it will answer the question that my critic-friend posed, probably in a way far more evocative and effective than I could. Thanks Jim for your help.

From Inner Anarchy:

“I find it curious that practically every creed of the Church, whether the early ecumenical creeds, the Roman Catholic creeds or the Protestant creeds are statements that outline the theological positions and doctrines of the Church, but hardly have any of the teaching of Jesus in them. Christendom is lost in a theological maze that has very little connection to or basis in the Jesus of history.”

Just for the record, Jesus did NOT:

    • Start the Christian religion
    • See human beings as “sinners”
    • Die to rescue people from God’s wrath
    • Establish the clergy class
    • Create a theological orthodoxy
    • Write or read the New Testament
    • Teach women were subservient to men
    • Require people to worship him
    • Say humankind is separate from God
    • Tell people heaven is a future place
    • Claim exclusive rights to God
    • Encourage the practice of religion
    • Believe in a literal hell
    • Claim superiority to all other humans

“Christianity is not the fault of Jesus. Jesus said the truth will set you free. If you are not free, you have not yet uncovered the truth Jesus referred to. Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you have uncovered it. In fact, it might be the biggest reason why you haven’t.”

Did I mention this was provocative? Jim has this to say about why he wrote this book:

“I wrote Inner Anarchy to offer an alternative to the traditional teachings of the church about Jesus and his significance. It’s a relatively short but high-octane book because I take the kid gloves off, speak my mind, and lay out my case for understanding Jesus on different terms in defiance of the Christian religion.”

More From “Inner Anarchy”

Palmer goes on to identify several different ways that Jesus is significant in a non-religious context. One does not have to accept a man-made theology to find inspiration and significance in the life of Jesus. In fact, it might just be that you can find greater significance in the life of Jesus once you leave behind all the religious baggage.

“Christianity is not the fault of Jesus. I do not identify as a Christian, but Jesus would be one of the first people I’d call if I wanted to launch a revolution.”

“According to the story we have about him, Jesus was not a religious person. He was considered a heretic and degenerate by his own religious tradition. Jesus is about the least religious person you’d ever meet. He felt more at home hanging out with the ‘sinners.'”

“Jesus and religion don’t go together. The real Jesus of history would be horrified in knowing that a religious system was created around his personality, life and teachings. The true significance and impact of Jesus will not be grasped until one stops thinking of him as the product or proponent of religion.”

I would say there are 10 ways Jesus is universally relevant, regardless of one’s religious, spiritual or philosophical belief-system:

  1. Jesus both affirmed what was good and confronted what was wrong in his own religious tradition.
  2. Jesus taught that love is and should be the ultimate fulfillment of all religious teaching.
  3. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of claiming a close relationship with God while perpetuating discord and hostility in human relationships.
  4. Jesus confronted the mentality of judging others, and instead told people to look in the mirror.
  5. Jesus taught a human solidarity where every person sees themselves as a “neighbor” to those in need.
  6. Jesus extended love, compassion and friendship to all people without condition.
  7. Jesus affirmed the inherent and equal worth of all human beings, regardless of their status or place in the world.
  8. Jesus confronted systemic oppression and took on institutional power structures that perpetuated it.
  9. Jesus did not seek to convert people to any religion or belief-system but challenged his followers to embrace and follow the spirit of love within themselves.
  10. Jesus affirmed that every person has the responsibility and authority to build a world of peace and harmony that works for everyone.

Thank you Jim, I couldn’t have said any better or more clearly. Yep, I left behind Evangelical Christianity, but I still find great significance and importance in the life of Jesus.

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