A while ago, my priest at church gave a sermon wherein he quoted CS Lewis, (and I am paraphrasing poorly, surely): either Jesus said some prfound and meaningful things that make a real difference in our lives, or he was a lunatic. Let me break here and Google, to get a quote.
It was not hard to find, and I am sure that this is a fairly famous and important passage in halls of modern Christian theology:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. 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 the 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 patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, pages 40-41.
Usually my priest says very sensible, middle of the road southern mainstream theology. The kind most Episcopalians would be pretty tame and happy about. And for most of them, this case fits with that, ruffling few feathers.
But I take issue. First of all, I think CS Lewis was a smart guy, and deeper than what most people take from him. I am not convinced that it is a good thing to boil down the Christian message to taking one of only two choices. And further, I think it sells Jesus short.
Providing two choices is what we do for children in discplinary settings. “You can sit at this table and eat your peas, or you’ll get no dessert.”
Jesus was a wise and complex man, and scholars agree, he really lived. But I am not of the opinion that he was quoted word for word in the gospels. However, there are some dichotomies in the gospels. One is the parable of the seeds, where the wheat is separated from the chaff. heaven, versus eternal fire.
Let’s work on CS Lewis’ dichotomy of choice first. Jesu either meant what he said, or he was a lunatic. What if he was not quoted accurately? What if the gospel writeres were trying to make a point, to the Jews, to the Romans, to the Pharisees, to the gentiles? What if Jesus’ message was closer to “repent,” and a reminder about Shema, “the Lord is One”? And Jesus was deepening the command to love God and love others. But the gospels were written at a time when clarification about his deity was at issue, at a time when Jews were wrestling with their political status with Rome. What if we choose the historical/cultural option?
And there are other choices. People often joke, even say they are proud of being crazy. Not to belittle the seriousness of the gospel writers’ claims about Jesus, but there is a continuum between sanity and craziness.
Furthermore, at first it makes sense to say, “Either Jesus was God, or he was not.” We must test this statement against a defnition of God. And you get into a world of difficulty here. There’s the God of Tanakh, who is referred to as YHWH, Yahweh, Lord, Elohim (god, or authority), El (mighty one), Shaddai (almighty), Adonai (master), Elyon (most high), Avinu (our father). Jesus refers to God as Abba, which means daddy, Father. Many Tanakh passages mention the Lord’s relationship to other Gods – Baal, for one. This in contrast to Shema – the Lord is One.
How about the nature of God? If we are created in his Image, does it follow that God is like a human? Is God everywhere, everything, which might be inferred from many other passages? A Pantheistic, Panentheistic view of God? I am not trying to weasel out of Jesus’ message, just the opposite.
All of this is to say that our idea of God changes and is never uniformly understood. I don’t think salvation is simply multpile choice. Clearly, there are more choices.
What if we were to choose, “none of the above?”