Was Jesus Christlike?

Was Jesus Christlike? September 29, 2017

One problem with “What Would Jesus Do?” is that it doesn’t normally lead to ditching one’s parents while on pilgrimage, or flipping over tables. It usually simply means “What do I think the right thing to do is?” and Jesus is made to conform to that, rather than vice versa.

The Babylon Bee (HT Ian Paul) offered this bit of satire that makes the point:

Progressive Criticizes Jesus For Not Being Very Christlike

SEATTLE, WA—After reading several chapters from the gospels over the weekend, local progressive believer Wendy Butler reportedly published a Patheos blog post in which she criticized Jesus of Nazareth for “not being very Christlike.”

The blog post took Jesus to task for His “unloving and problematic” teachings.

“He devotes entire sections of His sermons to ranting about archaic religious concepts like hell and the last judgment instead of just coming alongside the marginalized and affirming their sins,” Butler said. “Very little of what He did on earth I would describe as life-giving. Frankly, I do a better job of being Christlike than Christ Himself.”

The woman was also agitated to find that Jesus didn’t devote any of His time recorded in the Scriptures to advocating for government-subsidized healthcare or women’s abortion rights.

“He had a few good things to say about loving our neighbors, but the bad outweighs the good in Jesus’ teachings, if we’re looking at things honestly here,” her essay continued. “He really needed to ask Himself, ‘What would Jesus do?’ more often, and then He’d have devoted a lot more of His time to social justice, like me.”

At publishing time, a horrified Butler had discovered the description of the Redeemer coming in His wrath in Revelation 19.

Grab a whipAs a progressive Christian who blogs at Patheos, I think this is funny and also makes a valid point. If Jesus doesn’t behave in a manner that seems “Christlike” to us, then we should be honest about it, and should honestly weigh the possibility that Jesus, being human, was not infallible and that we should not simply blindly try to do what he did, but should rather ask about core principles, recognizing that Jesus, like every other human being, may not have always consistently lived out the things that he taught; that he may have applied those principles in ways that it would not make sense for us to do so; and (most controversially), it is entirely possible that even the things that Jesus believed and taught may need to be evaluated from the perspective of hindsight as problematic and set aside. If we do the latter, however, it should not be with the attitude of the progressive in the Babylon Bee’s satire. If we think that future generations will not look back at today’s progressives with the same dismay that we look back at ancient one’s, we are deceiving ourselves.

Ian Paul, in his post, asks whether “God is love” and points out that, since “love” means different things to different people, the answer may differ depending on how one defines the word.

And so we are left with the possibility that God may not be love as we understand it, and Jesus may not be Christlike as we understand it.

This should lead us to reflect on and wrestle with the question of whether “WWJD?” is in fact a helpful way of approaching ethics. Not that the question of what Jesus would do is not worth asking. But just as the answer to the question may not be self-evident, so too it may be that there are things which Jesus did which we simply shouldn’t do, for a number of reasons.

On the other hand, if we ask what Jesus would do upon finding that ancient ethical authorities seem to fall short, we actually have some clear guidance, and I would suggest that his example provides a solution to this conundrum. We can do what Jesus did, and dare to plow our own course, diverging from the words and actions of great voices from the past, like Moses and Elisha, even as we affirm their espoused principles as our very reason for doing so.

Perhaps WWJD turns out to be the key after all…



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