Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Domesticated Jesus

In After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, Bishop N.T. Wright makes the following observation concerning Jesus as the great "moral example" to be copied. He writes:
Many people, reading a chapter about Jesus and virtue, would expect a discussion of Jesus himself as the great example. Surely, many will think, part of the point of his life was to show us how it's done?
...Making Jesus the supreme example of someone who lived a good life may be quite bracing to contemplate, but it is basically safe: it removes the far more dangerous challenge of supposing that God might actually be coming to transform this earth, and us within it, with the power and justice of heaven, and it neatly helps us avoid the fact, as all four gospels see it, that this could be achieved only through the shocking and horrible events of Jesus' death. Jesus as "moral example" is a domesticated Jesus, a kind of religious mascot.  

... [Jesus himself] doesn't go about saying, "This is how it's done; copy me." He says, "God's kingdom is coming; take up your cross and follow me." Only when we learn the difference between those two challenges will we have grasped the heart of the gospel and, with that, the taproot of a reborn virtue.  
...The way of life he was modeling was precisely not something that could be reduced to rules... Nor, certainly, was Jesus saying that people should "do what comes naturally": indeed, what comes "naturally" from the heart, was precisely the problem, as far as he was concerned. The only way we can get to the heart of understanding the moral challenge Jesus offered, and offers still today, is by thinking in terms not of rules or of the calculation of effects or of romantic or existentialist "authenticity," but of virtue. A virtue that has been transformed by the kingdom and the cross.1

1. N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 125-127, 132

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