Beyond Sentimentality, Moralism, or Mysticism: A "Crucifiable" Jesus

I once encountered a Marxist debater who was slicing and dicing a mild-mannered Christian speaker in London’s Hyde Park. The Marxist was making mincemeat particularly of the Very Nice Jesus being proclaimed by the now-sad fellow marooned on his little box.

“Jesus was not a nice person!” the young Marxist exclaimed, his finger jabbing at a New Testament text in which Jesus is saying terrible things about the Jewish theological professionals of his day, and then at another in which Jesus threatens hellfire for those who ignore his teaching.

I took on my Marxist neighbour in a sort of rhetorical judo: “Of course Jesus wasn’t a nice person!” I agreed, to his confusion. “You don’t crucify nice guys.”

If we reduce Jesus to a nice person, or a mere do-gooder, or a groovy mystic–as so, so many “Christians” do, including many who are preaching sermons in Christian churches this weekend–then we cannot possibly explain why the leaders of his own religion and the highest political authorities of his region decided he was worth a moment’s notice, let alone an extensive whipping and then a brutal execution. No, as friend Larry Hurtado argues in Slate, a good test of any portrait of Jesus is whether it passes the test of “crucifiability.”

On this Day of Days in the Christian calendar, and in the days to come, let’s re-read our Gospels. Let’s re-sing the old songs. Let’s recite the old prayers and liturgies. And let us get into focus as clearly as we can Someone so unusual, so upsetting to the established order of things, so wonderful, and so powerful that those best acquainted with him either loved him to death or hounded him to death.

He really was crucified. And it’s worth asking–it is always worth asking–why.

0 Responses to “Beyond Sentimentality, Moralism, or Mysticism: A "Crucifiable" Jesus”

  1. Angie Van De Merwe

    I think Jesus was a fully developed human being, that is, made in god’s image…he grew in statue adn favor with god and man…in reading about moral development…those who reach a univesalizing point are challenging to the status quo. They don’t see things like the conventional world does, these see injustices and seek to rectify them…this is what Jesus did to those outside the power structures of religion and politics…that does not mean that his example is the only example of moral development, there are many and they vary as to their focus and their impact. But, they all change the social structures, and/or the people that they encounter. They are iconoclastic…and since they threaten all “common” they are usually misunderstood and crucified..

  2. Sophia Marsden

    I wish I could see Jesus Christ as He was.
    All I can think of when I hear about His death is that He is God, He’s coming back, none of this is real because He will rise again.
    I can’t appreciate the suffering because all I can think is “but through all that He was still God”.
    I can’t grasp His human side at all, or how it can be compatible, even though I know it was so.

  3. John Stackhouse

    Angie, you should read Professor Hurtado’s post. We should guard against cheapening the concept of “crucifixion” to mere “resistance” or “ostracism” or some other negative reaction. Crucifixion was extreme in its context, as Professor Hurtado shows, and requires us to see Jesus in some symmetrically extreme way. Reducing him to a really, really spiritual guy who is an example of moral development really won’t do.

  4. Angie Van De Merwe

    Your choice of sentalmental, moralism and mysticism rings of feeling (emotion), society (mores/norms) and the transcentdental…these are culminated in Christ in the incarnation.

    If he is to be “the christian example”, then all of our being, that is, feeling, norms, and understanding is illustrated in his life…this makes him “god”, above and beyond human…supernaturalism…as far as theology is concerned.

    and in one’s life, in experience, that means absolute annihlation of the individual person’s identity…which I find dissolves personhood and spiritualizes what should be humanized…this is emtional cruelty at its worst…

  5. Rob

    Angie, for some reason I feel compelled to enter the fray here. Jesus came to “testify to the truth”. His crucifixion was a perfect expression of submission, sacrifice and love. He is man, and He is God. There is no truer identity. That is to say the fact that He loves us so much that He died to allow us to have relationship with Him (Trinity here) is the ultimate unique expression of love. As for “spritualization” versus “humanization” I think that it is entirely possible that there is no difference between the two; at least in the sense that you mean.

  6. poserorprophet

    Does this mean that a good test of the faithfulness of the followers of Jesus is their “crucifiability”?

  7. Angie Van De Merwe

    The crucifiablity of Jesus was because of Rome’s desire for “peace”, and fear of subversion…this is the case for any “powered structure”, that feels itself threatened. It is a matter of “self-perservation” because of its threat of identity.

    Jesus threatened not just Rome’s “need” for peace, but also threatened the religious and their need to identify themselves a distinct from another…thier identity was wrapped up in a religious identity…Christian has become a religious identity, and the religious Christian will crucify those who threaten their “form” of identity, not understanding that their identity is only one form amongst many forms and understandings of Christian faith…

    I much prefer nominalism, as it doesn’t identify itself with any one form…

  8. John Stackhouse

    Alex (#10) asks if I have “empirical evidence proving that Jesus actually existed,” and of course I do: a number of ancient documents (gospels and epistles in the New Testament) that say so, either written apparently by eyewitnesses or validated by (hundreds of) eyewitnesses. I also have (so to speak) the Christian religion itself, whose origin has to be explained and, I have concluded, it is best explained by positing the existence of Jesus and Jesus pretty much as the New Testament depicts him. (No Jesus, or another Jesus, really doesn’t adequately account for the amazing phenomenon of the early Christian community.)

    Thanks for asking.

  9. John Stackhouse

    My old buddy Dan (#7) raises a powerful question. I don’t think all followers of Jesus must meet the test of “crucifiability” because their God-given vocations may not entail such dramatic confrontations with murderous power. But I do think all of us Christians ought to have the integrity of commitment–in profession and practice–such that we would be eminently crucifiable if the right (that is to say, wrong) regime came along.

  10. Angie Van De Merwe

    So, since it is beyond emotion, cultural norms, and transcendence, then it is about one’s job, (the political realm), which in the West, we can choose (for the most part). And those in the West who would like to prove the “crucificability” of Christ wouldn’t want to bring that into someone else’s life to “experiment”, would they? I mean, after all, this is what consevatism “preaches”, crucifiablity…the “cross” as a “disciple”…that is ludacrous! (I used to believe this!)

    Human beings have to have some form of identification, if that is taken away, then they suffer despair. Some think that despair brings “new identification” “in Christ”…that may be, but it could just as well produce the response of suicide, like with my brother! (he had been very disappointed with the Church).

  11. Derek Langille

    I can think of two great films that demonstrate the kind of person Jesus, revealed in the Gospels, was in some ways. The first film is the CBS mini-series, Jesus, and the second is Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ. Both films demonstrate the personality of Jesus…CBS’s Jesus shows his humanity and joy among other things, and Gibson’s portrayal of Jesus shows so much of Jesus it’s hard to describe in a few words. Watch them both if you will and compare them to the Gospels. Jesus was and is the divine Son, the second Adam, our Lord and our brother!

  12. Chris B

    Very good arguments, but none of us really know. We just can’t skip through the desert digging up documents written by people who were extremely supersticious to begin with and taking them literally. I could misinterperate any event and write it down and bury it in your back yard and you would probably believe it. Political influence also played a dominant role in the distrobution of religion. Look at Hitler he actually convinced people of his mad theories, it’s obviously easy to do. Look at scientology, these people are no morons and they still choose to dump money and believe in these proposterous beliefs. People throughout civilization are nieve and gullable and long for a place of belonging and understanding and before we jump into believing certain things we need to examine how civilization really works.


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