Continued from Part 1
The Malleable Jesus of Modern Liberalism
Liberal theology begins with skepticism and an a priori commitment against the possibility of miracles. They, therefore, deny the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Jesus, His miracles, and His resurrection. In their attempts to explain away the miraculous character of Jesus and the Gospel record, they have created a false dichotomy between what they call “the Jesus of history” and “the Christ of Faith.”
Liberal theologians insist that the Gospels were written, not by the traditional authors, but by later writers who embellished the original historical account of Jesus with mythical stories of miracles and His claims to being the Messiah and Son of God. This they claim is the “Christ of faith” of a later generation. This is the position of the Jesus Seminar, a group of liberal scholars, some of whom are atheists, who have decided that only 20% of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels are really from Him.
This, of course, is a modern and novel theory rooted in skepticism and a pronounced anti-supernatural bias. Because they have never seen a miracle, they insist that miracles do not happen. This is neither science nor good scholarship. The well-known New Testament scholar, Dr. Gregory Boyd, who is known for debating atheists and liberal theologians, has been devastating in his critique of the Jesus Seminar, saying,
The Jesus Seminar represents an extremely small number of radical-fringe scholars who are on the far, far left wing of New Testament scholarship. It does not represent mainstream scholarship.
Sadly, this distorted, liberal thinking about Jesus has filtered down into the culture and even the Church. Bill O’Reilly wrote a book entitled Killing Jesus. I heard him emphasize that in the book they do not talk about the miracles of Jesus because, he said, “the book is about history, not about faith.” I immediately realized that he had naively accepted this false dichotomy between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith,” created by modern liberal theologians.
With no moorings of faith in Scripture, the Jesus of post-modern, liberal theology is like a malleable piece of material that can be twisted and shaped into an endless variety of shapes and forms. Lee Strobel was right when he said that the liberal Jesus is a “symbolic Jesus who is impotent to offer the world anything except the illusion of hope.”
The “Nice” Jesus of Popular Culture
Thousands of pastors and directors of Christian education were trained in liberal colleges and seminaries during the 20th century. Liberal professors and theologians taught an entire generation of Christian leaders that the Bible is unreliable and that they must “demythologize” the New Testament in order to discover what may remain of the Jesus of history.
As this malleable Jesus of liberal professors and theologians was adopted by pastors and communicated to their congregations, what has emerged is a milquetoast Jesus who is “nice” and accepting of everyone and neither challenges or judges anyone. This is the “nice” Jesus of popular culture that we encounter in daily conversations on the internet and on radio and TV.
For example, I recall listening to a discussion concerning same-sex marriage on Fox News. The person being interviewed brought Jesus into the conversation and it was soon obvious that she had embraced the “nice” Jesus of popular culture. She insisted that Jesus would never judge or confront anyone. Her mantra that she repeated over and over, was, “He was all about love.”
This, of course, reflects a misunderstanding of both Biblical love and the person of Jesus Himself. If you asked the temple money changers and merchants about their perception of Jesus, they would not describe him as “nice.” He walked into their midst with a whip in his hand, a somber and fierce look on His face, and began turning over their tables. He shouted that they had turned His Father’s house into a “den of thieves” as He drove them from the temple area (Matthew 21:12-13).
Neither would the religious leaders in Israel describe Jesus as “nice,” for He was continually rebuking them for their pride and misuse of Scripture and people. His language sounded particularly harsh when he called them “hypocrites” and compared them to whitewashed tombs that appear beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead people’s bones. He rebuked them, calling them snakes, and saying, Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the damnation of hell (Matthew 23:33)?
On the other hand, Jesus was very tender and compassionate toward the desperate who came to Him in faith. The compassion of Jesus toward the distressed is illustrated in the story of the woman brought to Him by the Pharisees whom they said had been caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:3-11). They set her in front of Jesus, reminded Him that the Old Testament law said that such should be stoned, and then asked, “But what do you say?”
This was, of course, an attempt by the Pharisees to entrap Jesus. They knew that He was very compassionate toward women and the oppressed. Would He defend her from being stoned according to the Old Testament law? If so, they could then accuse him of being a lawbreaker. They thought they had Him in a corner.
Jesus did not immediately answer but stooped down and wrote in the sand. He then stood and said, Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone (John 8:7). Now, they were the ones entrapped by their own words. They too were sinners; only their sins were hidden from the public but would be known by their closest friends. There must have been an uncomfortable silence as no one moved forward to pick up a stone. Then they began to quietly leave the scene until every accuser was gone.
Jesus, left alone with woman, then said to her, Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? She replied, No one Lord. Jesus then spoke words that must have been music to her ears. He said, Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.
Jesus did not condone her sin, for His final words were, Go, and sin no more. (John 8:11). What He did was give her a new beginning, free from the guilt and pain of her past. Only Jesus can do this, for as is demonstrated in the book, Discovering the Real Jesus, forgiving sins was a sign of His Deity, for only God can forgive sin and give a new beginning.
Jesus loves everyone in the sense that His intentions toward everyone is for their good. He does not, however, fawn over everyone with sugary sweet accolades and affirmations. Because He desires the best for us, He is willing to point out the attitudes and sins that are destroying us. To the members of the lukewarm church in Laodicea, He said, As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19).
The Distorted Jesus of Religious Cults
In her excellent book, Another Gospel, Ruth A. Tucker, defines a “cult” as a religious group that has a “prophet”-founder who claims to have a special message from God, not found in the Bible. The leadership style of the leader is authoritarian, and they tend to see themselves as the only ones possessing the truth. They also inevitably distort the person of Jesus.
Jehovah’s Witnesses was founded in 1884 by Charles T. Russel under the name, Zion’s Watch Tower and Tract Society. The movement arose in a milieu of great emphasis on the second advent of Jesus and speculation as to when it would occur. Russel accepted a widespread teaching that Jesus would return in 1874. He and others were very disappointed when the year came and went, and nothing happened. However, in 1875, Russel claimed that it had been revealed to him that Jesus did return in 1874, but “invisibly.”
Russel later predicted that Jesus would return in 1914, based on his study and interpretation of the Old Testament Book of Daniel. When Jesus did not return in 1914, another explanation was necessary. It was decided that this was the time when Christ’s kingdom began on earth and the Jehovah’s Witnesses were chosen as His official organization. According to one writer,
What expressly distinguishes their teachings from any other denomination is the keystone doctrine centered on 1914. This is the date when Christ’s rulership began, his commencing judgment then and, above all, his selecting the Watchtower organization as his official channel (Hyatt, Discovering the Real Jesus,
Jehovah’s Witnesses deny both the deity of Jesus and salvation through faith in Him. I once confronted two Jehovah’s Witnesses on these two issues. It happened while Sue and I were visiting family in Ontario, Canada. It occurred one Saturday when we visited a massive outdoor market attended by thousands of people.
As we entered, we noticed that two Jehovah's Witness women had stationed themselves near the entrance with a small tent and racks of books and pamphlets. When we passed them for the second time on the way out, I sensed a compassionate drawing toward them and so retraced my steps and politely opened a conversation with them.
I began by asking them how, according to their beliefs, a person can know they are saved and will go to heaven. The one who was obviously the leader answered that we cannot know if we are saved until we die. She then quoted Jesus’ words, He who endures to the end shall be saved (Matthew 24:13).
I responded with the question, "Does that mean that at the end of our life, if our good works outweigh our bad works, we will be OK?" She replied, "Yes." I then asked, "So what was the need for Jesus to come and die for our sins?" They did not have an answer.
The conversation then turned to who Jesus is when they mentioned the name "Jehovah." I asked, "Do you believe Jesus is Jehovah?" She answered with an emphatic "No!" When I pointed out Scripture that clearly point to the deity of Jesus, the leader politely brought the conversation to a close. Jehovah Witnesses believe that Jesus was Michael the Archangel before His birth in Bethlehem. Their doctrine is very similar to the Arian doctrine of the 4th century that was condemned by the Council of Nicaea.
Realizing the leader did not want to hear anymore from me, I kindly exhorted them to follow Jesus and went on my way with a sense of knowing I had obeyed the Lord and borne witness to His name.
Mormons are another group founded by a self-proclaimed prophet by the name of Joseph Smith. I have a chapter on the origins of Mormonism in my book, Prophets and Prophecy, which shows how the early Mormons naively accepted everything Joseph Smith said, including his claim to finding the golden plates on which were written The Book of Moroni in an ancient hieroglyphic text. Smith also claimed that John the Baptist, as well as Peter, James, and John, appeared to him and a colleague and ordained them to the Priesthood of Melchizedek (Hyatt, Prophets and Prophecy, 92).
Mormons teach that God was once a man and that men can become gods through adhering to Mormon doctrine and ritual, particularly “celestial marriage.” With their wives they will populate the various planets in the universe. This teaching is summed up in the Mormon eternal law of progression: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”
Although Mormons claim to be orthodox Christians and use Christian terminology, the words obviously have a different meaning for them. They also balk at the exaltation and preeminence of Jesus that is so clear in Scripture. For example, in the 1980s, there was a movement on the campus of Brigham Young University encouraging students to develop a “personal relationship” with Jesus. Mormon leadership, however, opposed this movement.
Bruce McConkie, one of their Twelve Apostles at the time, spoke against the movement and condemned the creeds of Christendom, particularly the Apostles and Nicene creeds, which clarify the deity and preeminence of Jesus. He went so far as the say that these creeds are what Lucifer wants so-called Christians to believe so they will be damned. As far as Jesus is concerned, McConkie insisted, “We worship the Father and him only and no one else.”
Where to Find the Real Jesus
It is obvious that we will never discover the real Jesus in New Age seminars, fictional novels, liberal theology, popular culture, or religious cults. Neither will the real Jesus be found in many Christian churches and seminaries that have been affected by these teachings. If we want to know the real Jesus, there is only one reliable source, and that is in God’s word, approached with a prayerful heart and teachable spirit.
This article was derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt’s new book, Discovering the Real Jesus, available from Amazon and his website at http://eddiehyatt.com.