Who Do You Say I Am?
Back in my graduate school days, I used to collect statements about Jesus’ identity from theologians, philosophers, and others that I came across in my studies. It was an interesting way to get a sense of the different – and occasionally off-the-wall – responses to the question Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say I am?”
It sometimes seems as though there are as many ways to answer that question as there are people to answer it.
One thing about all of this is true: intelligent people disagree on how to answer this basic question. That’s an important thing to keep in mind for those of us who embrace what the historic creeds and the Ecumenical Councils say about Jesus.
I haven’t kept up with this project in a while, but I thought it might be fun to share some of it here.
Please feel free to respond with other interesting quotes that you’ve come across.
But be forewarned: this is an exceptionally long posting!
“Every Christian sooner or later has to ask the question, ‘Who was Jesus really?’ And we ask this in our age in a special way because we are very historically oriented. We are modern, or perhaps post-modern, people, but all of us have a sense that we want to know what things were really like. We know that the past is different from the present. We have experienced rapid change, all of us in our generation. And so we want to know what was Jesus really like. And that quest to understand what he was really like has turned out to be very disappointing. So how do we really get at that? We must, first of all, understand that in history facts always lie under interpretations and we never get to the facts. They're only interpretations. There is only an interpreted Jesus; there are many interpreted Jesuses. So where do we begin? We begin not with Jesus; we have no access to him. We begin with the responses to Jesus, by his followers, by outsiders who heard about him .... We begin with those reactions as they're enshrined in the text we have.”
Wayne A. Meeks, from the PBS Frontline webpage for “From Jesus to Christ” (1998)
“Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. … Whatever blurring of his image the welter of portraits of Jesus may create for the eyes of a faith that wants to affirm him as ‘the same yesterday and today and forever,’ that very variety is a treasure trove for the history of culture, because of the way it combines continuity and discontinuity.”
Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1985)
“The real Jesus is not simply a figure of the past but very much and above all a figure of the present.”
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (1997)
“For Christians, Jesus stands at the center of history as an eternal question mark, challenging all of our suppositions about what it is to be human. Theology cannot erase the question mark. But still the mystery of Jesus can be expressed in reasonably plain language: Jesus is God’s pledge to us that the whole venture of embracing life and becoming human is the way to God. Jesus is what we all have been called to become.”
Tad Guzie, The Book of Sacramental Basics (1981)
“Historically speaking, Christianity never appeared simply as the religion taught by the Master. It has always been an interpretation of the Master and of his religion in the light of some doctrine concerning his mission, and also concerning God, man, and man’s salvation,—a doctrine which, even in its simplest expressions, has always gone beyond what the Master himself is traditionally reported to have taught while he lived.”
Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity (1913)
“The great English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, once commented that ‘mankind can hardly be too often reminded that there was once a man named Socrates.’ That is correct; but it is even more important to remind mankind that a man named Jesus Christ once stood in their midst.”
Adolf van Harnack, What is Christianity? (1900)
“It is the grand distinction of Christianity that all its doctrines and all its forces centre in the Person of its Founder and Teacher. In the case of all the other founders of philosophical sects and religions, the entire interest of their mission centres in the doctrines they teach, the opinions they disseminate. This was obviously true in the case of Zoroaster, Confucius, and Buddha, of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, of Moses and Paul. In the case of each of them the question was not what they were, but what they taught. But in the case of Christianity, the entire system, from foundation to superstructure, rests upon and derives its life from the Person of its Founder. The question of questions is what he was, rather than what he taught.”
A. Abraham Hodge, The Person of Christ (1755-1805)
“What would it feel like not to have heard of Christ? Should we feel left alone in the dark? Do we escape such a feeling simply in the way a child escapes it when he knows there is someone in the room with him?”
Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1931, Culture and Value (1980)
“Had there been a lunatic asylum in the suburbs of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ would infallibly have been shut up in it at the outset of his public career. That interview with Satan on the pinnacle of the Temple would alone have damned him, and everything that happened after could but have confirmed the diagnosis.”
Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)
“There are only two positions one can take. Jesus Christ is either God incarnate, or a created being. If He is God, yet we deny this and believe He is merely a created being, then we have not trusted the Christ of Scripture and are condemned already (Jn. 3.18). But if He is merely a created being and we worship Him as true God, then we have committed idolatry, failed to trust in the Christ of Scripture, and are condemned. How we answer this question, therefore, will forever determine our eternal destiny—either in heaven with God, or in Hell with Satan and his demons.”
Michael Bremmer, "The Deity of Jesus Christ"
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman, or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1943)
“Jesus Christ is the object of faith; one must either believe on Him or be offended.”
Soren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity (1855)
“We cannot know Jesus without following Jesus. Engagement with Jesus, as the misconceptions of his first disciples show, is necessary to understand Jesus. In a sense, we follow Jesus before we know Jesus.”
Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (1989)
“If Jesus is someone besides God, we cannot and should not pray to Him. Many Christians, many among us, cannot find a way of joining honestly with those who pray to Jesus Christ. Something in us is reluctant, something which is genuine and valid, the fear of becoming idolatrous, the fear of being split in our ultimate loyalty, the fear of looking at two faces instead of at the one divine face. But he who sees Him sees the Father. There are not two faces. In the face of Jesus the Christ, God ‘makes His face to shine upon us.’”
Paul Tillich, The New Being (1955)
“… we are spiritually paralyzed by the fetish of Jesus. Even to atheists he is the supremely good man, the exemplar and moral authority with whom no one may disagree. Whatever our opinions, we must perforce wrangle the words of Jesus to agree with them. Poor Jesus! If he had known how great an authority was to be projected upon him, he would never have said a word.”
Alan Watts, Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship (1964)
“... let me first state my own unshaken belief that compared with all other men he stood, and stands, in [such] a unique relationship with God that he was and is truly human, and in one sense the most knowable and lovable of men, and yet that the world ‘human,’ as we usually use it, is not adequate to carry the heavy cargo of qualities which his words and deeds revealed. We use the world ‘divine’ because the word ‘human’ is not big enough. He is so much more like God than any other. But the word ‘divine’ is really only an expression of Christian agnosticism. I am quite ready to say that I believe in the divinity of Christ, but I do not know what it means, nor can I find anyone who can explain what it means, least of all some of the theologians from Paul onwards. I sincerely believe that he is the Savior of the World, and if I am immediately challenged about what he saves men from, my answer is that he saves men from the utter despair which would fall upon a thoughtful man, who, conscious of high aims and immense possibilities within himself, was condemned to try to achieve them without any aid save his own, and the purely human help of his fellows. Seneca said that what men needed most of all was a hand let down from heaven to lift them up. God, I believe, came to man’s rescue in Christ.”
Leslie D. Weatherhead, The Christian Agnostic (1965)
“[Jesus was] a man, of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, [and an] enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions of divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition by being gibbeted according to the Roman law.”
Thomas Jefferson, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French and English (1820)
“[Jesus’] own self-understanding did not include thinking and speaking of himself as the Son of God whose historical intention or purpose was to die for the sins of the world, and his message was not about believing in him. Rather, he was a spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion.”
Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith (1994)
“Anyone who gets involved with Jesus gets involved with the kingdom of God. This is an inescapable fact, for Jesus’ own concern was, and is, God’s kingdom. Anyone who looks for God and asks about the kingdom in which ‘righteousness and peace kiss one another’ (Ps. 85.10) should look at Jesus and enter into the things that happened in his presence and that still happen today in his Spirit. That is obviously and palpably true; for who is Jesus? Simply the kingdom of God in person."
Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World (1994)
“When I consider the holy image in the mutilated descriptions of the life of him who is the sublime originator of what has been the most majestic in religion even to now, I do not admire the purity of his ethical teaching, which only expressed what all persons who have become aware of their spiritual nature have in common with him, and which can have a greater value neither because of its utterance nor because of its being first. I do not admire the uniqueness of his character, the intimate marriage of higher power with touching gentleness—every noble, simple heart in a special situation must exhibit a great character in certain respects; these are merely human things. But the truly divine is splendid clarity with which the great idea he had come to exhibit was formed in his soul, the idea that everything finite requires higher mediation in order to be connected with the divine.”
Friedrich Scheleirmacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799)
“The Teacher of the Gospel revealed to his disciples the kingdom of God on earth only in its glorious, soul-elevating moral aspect, namely, in terms of the value of citizenship in a divine state, and to this end he informed them of what they had to do, not only to achieve it themselves but to unite with all others of the same mind and, so far as possible, with the entire human race.”
Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone (1791)
“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching—an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation. You probably all remember the sort of things that Socrates was saying when he was dying, and the sort of things that he generally did say to people who did not agree with him. … You will find that in the Gospels Christ said, ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell.’ That was said to people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about hell. There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost: ‘Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall be forgiven him neither in this World no in the world to come.’ That text has caused an unspeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world."
Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian (1957)
“Jesus incarnates theocentric piety and fidelity. Through the gospel accounts of his life and ministry we can see and know something of the powers that bear down upon us and sustain us, and of the piety and the manner of life that are appropriate to them.”
James M. Gustafson, Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective, Vol. I: Theology and Ethics (1981)
“Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished by its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his World. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, ‘I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think.’ But what a distortion did his doctrine and memory suffer in the same, in the next, and in the following ages!”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Divinity School Address” (1838)
“Clearly Jesus cannot be understood simply as prophet, for that designation, like every other, is inadequate for the historical reality of Jesus. Nonetheless, among his other functions it is clear that Jesus functioned as a prophet. In both his teaching and his very presence Jesus of Nazareth presented the ultimate criticism of the royal consciousness. He has, in fact, dismantled the dominant culture and nullified its claims. The way of his ultimate criticism is his decisive solidarity with marginal people and the accompanying vulnerability required by that solidarity."
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (1978)
“A mystic is a person who believes that he or she has direct access to God. In this respect, Jesus Christ was a total mystic. But He wanted all of us to understand that we too are mystics. He wanted us to know that if we follow His teachings, we will also work the works of God.”
William L. Fischer, Alternatives (1980)
“ … one belief defines any branch of Christianity: the belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior who gave his life out of love for his fellow creatures. He was the hero of love, a hero without power, who did not use force, who did not want to rule, who did not want to have anything. He was a hero of being, of giving, of sharing.”
Eric Fromm, To Have or To Be? (1976)
“What are the ‘glad tidings’? True life, eternal life is found—it is not promised, it is here, it is within you: as life lived in love, in love without deduction or exclusion, without distance. Everyone is a child of God—Jesus definitely claims nothing for himself alone—as a child of God everyone is equal to everyone else … To make a hero of Jesus!”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (1888)
“To see God is the highest wish, the highest triumph of the heart. Christ is this wish, this triumph, fulfilled. God, as an object of thought only, i.e., God as God, is always a remote being; the relation to him is an abstract one…. So long as we have not met a being face to face, we are always in doubt whether he be really such as we imagine him; actual presence alone gives final confidence, perfect repose. Christ is God known personally; Christ, therefore, is the blessed certainty that God is what the soul desires and needs him to be. … Christ alone is the personal God; he is the real God of Christians, a truth which cannot be too often repeated. In him alone is concentrated the Christian religion, the essence of religion in general. He alone meets the longing for a personal God; he alone is an existence identical with the nature of feeling; on him alone are heaped all the joys of the imagination, and all the sufferings of the heart; in him alone are feeling and imagination exhausted. Christ is the blending in one of feeling and imagination.”
Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (1841)
“Christ, that was nothing but Divinity dwelling in a tabernacle of flesh, and God himself immediately acting a human nature, came into the world to kindle here that divine life amongst men, which is certainly dearer unto God than anything else whatsoever in the world, and to propagate this celestial fire from one heart still unto another until the end of the world."
Ralph Cudworth, “Sermon Preached Before the Honorable House of Commons” (1647)
“The fact that Jesus is both the Son of Man and the Son of God is not difficult for a Buddhist to accept. We can see the nature of nonduality in God the Son and God the Father, because without God the Father within Him, the Son could never be. But in Christianity, Jesus is usually seen as the only Son of God. I think it is important to look deeply into every act and every teaching of Jesus during His lifetime, and to use this as a model for our own practice. Jesus lived exactly as he taught, so studying the life of Jesus is crucial to understanding His teaching. For me, the life of Jesus is His most basic teaching, more important than even faith in the resurrection or faith in eternity.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (1995)
“So, we find Jesus of Nazareth, in the first place, the true son of the Orient, intensely practical. He has no faith in this evanescent world and all its belongings. … He was a soul! Nothing but a soul, just working a body for the good of humanity; and that was all his relation to the body. … He had no other occupation in life; no other thought except that one, that he was a Spirit. He was a disembodied, unfettered, unbound Spirit. And not only so, but he, with his marvellous vision, had found that every man and woman, whether Jew or Gentile, whether rich or poor, whether saint or sinner, was the embodiment of the same undying Spirit as himself. Therefore, the one work his whole life showed was calling upon them to realise their own spiritual nature.”
Vivekananda, “Christ, the Messenger” in Christianity Through Non-Christian Eyes (1990)
“Even Jesus of Nazareth, who imagined that he was the Messiah, but was put to death by the court, Daniel had prophesied, as it is written, ‘And the children of the violent among your people shall lift themselves up to establish the vision; but they shall stumble’ (Dan. 11:14). For has there ever been a greater stumbling than this? All the prophets affirmed that the Messiah would redeem Israel, save them, gather their dispersed, and confirm the commandments. But he caused Israel to be destroyed by the sword, their remnant to be dispersed and humiliated. He was instrumental in changing the Torah and causing the world to err and serve another besides God.”
Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (c. 1178)
“Jesus left behind him a trail of shattered illusions and wrecked expectations. When we say today that Jesus was in some way a key clue to the nature of God, this expectation-destroying quality of his life suggests what such a claim means. The God Jesus discloses will not be the God anyone wants. … Jesus reveals God exactly because he was not what anybody expected or wanted. He refused to be classified, and he constantly forced people to deal directly with him rather than with their ideas about him. In doing so, Jesus exemplified in his life something Buddhist teachers constantly emphasize—that reality is always different from even our best ways of talking and thinking about it.”
Harvey Cox, Many Mansions: A Christian’s Encounter With Other Faiths (1988)
“Jesus was folly to the wise, a scandal to the devout and a disturber of the peace in the eyes of the mighty. That is why he was crucified. If anyone identifies with him, this world is ‘crucified’ to him, as Paul said. He becomes alienated from the wisdom, religion and power politics of his society. The crucified Christ became the brother of the despised, abandoned and oppressed. And this is why brotherhood with the ‘least of his brethren’ is a necessary part of brotherhood with Christ and identification with him.”
Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (1973)
“… there is no trace of success during Jesus’ lifetime; according to the reports that we have, this man died as one who was despised, outlawed and accursed. A solitary end in the utmost pain: avoided by his mother and his family, abandoned by his disciples and followers, evidently forgotten by his God. … It is thus, as the one who suffers in dedication and love, that in Christian understanding this Jesus differs from the Buddha, the benevolent and compassionate one. In this way he also differs unmistakably from all the many gods and deified founders of religions, and also differs from all religious geniuses and gurus, heroes and emperors of world history: as the sufferer, as the one who was executed, as the crucified one."
Hans Kung, Credo: The Apostles’ Creed Explained for Today (1993)
“… Jesus on the Cross is both the symbol and the reality of the immense labour of the centuries which has, little by little, raised up the created spirit and brought it back to the depths of the divine milieu. He represents (and in a true sense, he is) creation, as, upheld by God, it reascends the slopes of being, sometimes clinging to things for support, sometimes tearing itself from them in order to pass beyond them, and always compensating, by physical suffering, for the setbacks caused by its moral downfalls.”
Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (1960)
“This holy anarchist who roused up the lowly, the outcasts and ‘sinners’ … was a political criminal, in so far as political criminals were possible in an absurdly unpolitical society. This is what brought him to the Cross: the proof is the inscription on the Cross. He died for his guilt—all ground is lacking for the assertion, however often it is made, that he died for the guilt of others. … The word ‘Christianity’ is already a misunderstanding—in reality there has been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (1888)
“The God-Man on the cross sums up in one image all the cruelty we inflict by being alive, all the ravages of human selfishness and thoughtlessness. This is why Jesus cannot be overlooked or dismissed.”
Alan Watts, Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship (1964)
“Christianity claims that the God who is manifest in Jesus the Christ is the true God, the true subject of an ultimate and unconditional concern. Judged by him, all other gods are less than valid objects of an ultimate concern, and if they are made into one, become idols. Christianity can claim this extraordinary character because of the extraordinary character of the events on which it is based, namely, the creation of a new reality within and under the conditions of man’s predicament. Jesus as the bringer of this new reality is subject to those conditions, to finitude and anxiety, to law and tragedy, to conflicts and death. But he victoriously keeps the unity with God, sacrificing himself as Jesus to himself as the Christ. In doing so he creates the new reality of which the Church is the communal and historical embodiment.”
Paul Tillich, “Aspects of a Religious Analysis of Culture” in Theology of Culture (1959)
“Jesus, like the Suffering Servant and many other biblical characters, is the victim of a mimetic contagion that is similar to these archaic phenomena [in classical myths and ‘primitive’ religions]. The real difference is that myths represent this deed as something just and necessary. Oedipus and other mythic figures are always supposed to have truly committed the crimes of which they are accused. They are guilty. In the Bible and the Gospels the innocence of scapegoats is explicitly acknowledged against the belief of the crowd. … We can recognize that Jesus is God because, thanks to him, the scapegoat cycle of archaic religion loses its credibility and its effectiveness. Jesus’ death and resurrection put an end to the closed communities founded on scapegoating, compelling human beings to get along without arbitrary victims. … When Jesus defines the Eucharist as eating his flesh and drinking his blood, he creates a completely nonviolent sacrament which has nothing to do with actual cannibalism, and yet he boldly alludes to the most primitive ritual practices. He ‘recapitulates’ and transforms from inside the entire religious history of humanity.”
Rene Girard, from an interview in The Christian Century (April 8, 1998)
“If Christians were Christians, there would be no anti-Semitism. Jesus was a Jew. There is nothing that the ordinary Christian so dislikes to remember as this awkward historical fact.”
John Haynes Holmes, The Sensible Man’s View of Religion (1933)
“Jesus was a Jew, yes, but only on his mother’s side.”
"Whether it's the Old Testament or the New, or simply the sayings of Jesus, it's all the same old Jewish swindle. It will not make us free. You cannot make an Aryan of Jesus; that's nonsense."
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
“Jesus was a crackpot.”
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1986)
“Jesus of Nazareth was the most scientific man that ever trod the globe. He plunged beneath the material surface of things and found the spiritual cause.”
Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875)
“Jesus represents the power of being that lies beyond the good and evil norms of the human community. His power, both to heal and to destroy, comes from a source that is both pre-and posthuman.”
Robert S. Corrington, Nature’s Self: Our Journey from Origin to Spirit (1996)
“The whole of history is incomprehensible without him."
Ernest Renan, The Life of Jesus (1863)
“Jesus is not to be looked at merely as the last and greatest in the long line of rabbis teaching pious people how to behave; he is to be looked at as a mover of history and as the standard by which Christians must learn how they are to look at the moving of history.”
John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (1972)
“As Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, he would not; Incarnate, he could and did.”
Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus (1975)
“For Jesus was God in terms of man, not superman, and as man he had the finite limitations proper to humanity. He experienced fear and sorrow, hunger and thirst and pain; he had to eat and drink; when tired he had to sleep. His human knowledge was not divine omniscience, and thus while its quality was illumined its quantity and extent was limited.”
Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion (1947)
“For the rest, I accept Christ’s passion, death, and burial literally … but His resurrection I understand allegorically. I admit, that it is related by the Evangelists in such detail, that we cannot deny that they themselves believed Christ’s body to have risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, in order to sit at the right hand of God, or that they believed that Christ might have been seen by unbelievers, if they had happened to be at hand, in the places where He appeared to His disciples; but in these matters they might, without injury to Gospel teaching, have been deceived, as was the case with other prophets ….”
Benedict de Spinoza, Letter to Henry Oldenburg (Feb. 7, 1676)
“It would be a serious misunderstanding to regard as ‘mere chance’ the fact that Jesus, the carpenter’s son, proclaimed the gospel and became the savior of the world. He must have been a person of singular gifts to have been able so completely to express and to represent the general, though unconscious, expectations of his age. No one else could have been the bearer of such a message; it was possible only for this particular man Jesus.”
Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961)
“Jesus is not like a meteor that suddenly appears in the heavens and then descends to the earth. He is not separable from the whole, nor can he be understood except as a part of it. This new understanding of history applies to everything else as well. For us, redemption affects not God, but humanity. We believe in a higher inspiration that emanates from a specific center. The God-consciousness of Jesus radiates upon those who stand within his circle. … It is not God, but humanity that is destined for love through Christ.”
Ernst Troeltsch, The Christian Faith (1912-13)
“Divine truth is better understood, as it unfolds itself in the purity of men’s hearts and lives, than in all those subtle niceties into which curious wits may lay it forth. And therefore our Savior, who is the great master of it, would not, while he was here on earth, draw it up into any system or body, nor would his disciples after him. He would not lay it out to us in any canons or articles of belief, not being indeed so careful to stock and enrich the world with opinions and notions, as with true piety and a God-like pattern of purity, as the best way to thrive in all spiritual understanding. His main scope was to promote a holy life as the best and most compendious way to a right belief.”
John Smith, A Discourse Concerning the True Way or Method of Attaining Divine Knowledge (1660)
“Jesus cannot be fully identified with that great religious phenomenon of the Western world known as Christianity. He was much more than the founder of one of the world’s great religions. He stands above Christianity as the judge of all it has done in his name. Nor can historical Christianity claim him as its exclusive possession. Jesus belongs to all men."
Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity (1976)
“Christ, as redemptive person and Word of God, is not to be encapsulated ‘once-for-all’ in the historical Jesus. The Christian community continues Christ’s identity. As vine and branches, Christic personhood continues in our sisters and brothers. In the language of early Christian prophetism, we can encounter Christ in the form of our sister. Christ, the liberated humanity, is not confined to a static perfection of one person two thousand years ago. Rather, redemptive humanity goes ahead of us, calling us to yet incompleted dimensions of human liberation.”
Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (1983)
“The abiding and eternal in Jesus is absolutely independent of historical knowledge and can only be understood in contact with His spirit which is still at work in the world. In proportion as we have the spirit of Jesus we have the true knowledge of Jesus. … He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906)
“… the Mystery of Christ really means … that when God becomes incarnate in Jesus, he isn’t just doing a job on one person who happened to live in Palestine two thousand years ago. Rather, he’s manifesting in Jesus—making sacramentally present in Jesus—what he’s been doing all along in all persons and, for that matter, in all things. But it’s also more than that. The Incarnation isn’t just God coming into the world of time and place; it’s also God taking all time and places into himself so that they’ll all be present to him in his peacemaking, forgiving, reconciling power. Nobody is left out, you see.”
Robert Farrar Capon, The Mystery of Christ … & why we don’t get it (1993)
“For those who profess and call themselves Christians, the lens through which everything else is interpreted is a person: Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. Just as the lover never plumbs the mystery of the beloved, so we do not exhaust the mystery of Jesus."
Alan Jones, Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality (1985)
“To pronounce the name of Jesus Christ means to acknowledge that we are cared for, that we are not lost. Jesus Christ is man’s salvation in all circumstances and in face of all that darkens his life, including the evil that proceeds from himself. There is nothing which is not already made good in this happening, that God became man for our good. … We do not exist in any kind of gloomy uncertainty; we exist through the God who was gracious to us before we existed at all. It may be true that we exist in contradiction to this God, that we live in remoteness from Him, indeed in hostility to Him. It is still truer that God has prepared reconciliation for us, before we entered the struggle against Him. And true though it may be that in connexion with our alienation from God man can only be regarded as a lost being, it is still much truer that God has so acted for our good, does and will so act, that there exists salvation for every lost condition.”
Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (1959)
“Over a period of centuries, Christian doctrine worked out what it means to say that Jesus is ‘incarnate God.’ Christians say that Jesus is ‘truly God and truly human’—fully and authentically God and fully and authentically a real human being. If this is impossible to imagine, that’s all right. The doctrine was never meant to explain anything; only to point toward a truth that, like all truth about God, remains to some degree permanently beyond the grasp of human language and understanding. The main thing, still, is that original sense people had—the sense of experiencing God in Jesus, of being assured that the good news in Jesus is seriously meant by God for you.”
L. William Countryman, Good News of Jesus: Reintroducing the Gospel (1993)
“This man was not just a great teacher of profound truths about God and the secret of a happy successful life. He was not just a revolutionary political leader with a vision of a more human and just society. He was not just a great moral hero for us to imitate as best we can. He was not just a very godlike personality, the model of a truly spiritual life. Nor was he just the founder of a religious club later called the church, where religious people with a common interest in him come together to admire him and admire themselves for admiring him. To know this man is not just to know a very great, very good, very wise, very spiritual human being. It is to know God.”
Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine (1994)
“This Christ is a man who himself lived with tension and contradiction and inner conflict.
He is man surrounded by friends who yet withdraws to be apart in the desert.
He is a son and yet he separates himself from his family and asks ‘who is my mother and who are my brothers?’
He stays alone with himself through long nights of prayer but still journeys on a road that he knows will bring him to suffering and death.
He is the redeemer who on the Cross holds together the vertical, pointing towards God, and the horizontal, arms stretched out to the world.
In Christ all things will be brought together.
In Christ all things will be well.”
Esther de Waal, Living With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality (1989)
“Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the Book of Life in Whom we read God.”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (1958)
“Christ in his passion is the greatest teacher of who God is. Sheer humility. Total selflessness. Absolute service. Unconditional love.”
Thomas Keating, Intimacy With God (1994)
“… the fact remains: the movement beyond resignation to reconciliation is the movement inaugurated and maintained in Christians by Jesus Christ. By Jesus Christ men have been and are empowered to become sons of God—not as those who are saved out of a perishing world but as those who know that the world is being saved. … And for all of this we are indebted to Jesus Christ, in our history, and in that depth of the spirit in which we grope with our theologies and theories of symbols. Could it have so happened otherwise; could the same results have been achieved through other means? Are they being produced elsewhere through other means? That seems possible; nevertheless this one is our physician, this one is our reconciler to the Determiner of our Destiny. To whom else shall we go for words of eternal life, to whom else for the franchise in the universal community?”
H. Richard Niebuhr, The Responsible Self (1963)