I was going to begin my series looking at the points of evaluation for the sufficiency and reliability of a faith system, but before we get into all of that, I want to suggest something. Start with Jesus, that is, with biblical Christianity.
Why is that?
First, everyone wants a piece of Jesus. To the Buddhist, Jesus was a guru, or an enlightened one. To the Muslim, Jesus was a great prophet. To the secularist, Jesus was a great moral teacher. To the Jehovah’s Witness, Jesus is the archangel Michael. To the Mormon, Jesus is the literal son of Heavenly Father, the firstborn and greatest of all his brothers and sisters (us). To Christians, Jesus is God.
Personally, when I buy something online – particularly when I’m not buying directly from the dealer or manufacturer, such as shopping on Amazon or some other retailer – I have to occasionally be careful to check the reviews and user pictures to make sure that what I’m ordering is actually what the picture shows. There are many cases when people will sell knockoff products on Amazon using marketing pictures taken from the actual manufacturer’s website, so what you get in the mail looks nothing like what you thought you were buying and – surprise surprise – they don’t allow returns. We want to know that what we’re getting is the real thing. We want something authentic and genuine.
No one likes a knockoff. When you walk the streets of New York city and you find someone selling Coach or Louis Vuitton bags for $20, you can be sure that they’re not real, they’ll probably fall apart within a week and, more importantly, they might even get you in trouble with the law. As a rule, counterfeits and knockoffs are low quality and disappointing. The practice continues because they’re typically cheaper, that is, they require less of you, and people enjoy letting others think they have more money than they really do. Similarly, the claims of a counterfeit Jesus are disappointing, don’t hold up in the end, and allow you to put on a facade of spirituality in order to avoid dealing with all that pesky taking up your cross and following him. But when the bag, or the counterfeit Jesus, falls apart, all you have to show for it is an unusable pile of scraps.
So if every religion has (contradictory) takes on who Jesus is or what he did, why not start with the only religion that he personally started?
Second, it is common for founders of religions to make specific claims. They come with “new truth” or “the right way to God” or as prophets and messengers. In this, Jesus is again unique. Jesus did not simply claim to have truth like Buddha or Charles Taze Russel or L. Ron hubbard, he claimed to be truth (John 14:6). He did not just claim to be a messenger of God like Joseph Smith or Muhammad, he claimed to be God himself. A fuller discussion of where and how Jesus claimed to be God will have to wait for another time since many people deny that he did so and it’s not a small subject. For the moment, we are going to take Christian orthodoxy at face value.
Because of these two reasons, it simply makes sense to start with biblical Christianity when investigating faiths. Since every religion has its own version of Jesus, why not start with the original? Since every religion promises to get you closer to God, why not start with the one founded by someone who claimed to be God? If the Jesus of the bible checks out as the genuine article, if his claims to deity can be backed up, then your search is over. If not, you can move on.
When I’m looking for my car keys, I don’t start by looking for them in the backyard or underneath a dusty box in the closet. I look for them in the two or three places I am most likely to have left them when I walked in the door. From there, I expand my search if they don’t turn up. Similarly, if I’m trying to figure out how to get closer to God, it would make sense to start with the person who claims to be God and whose impact on human history is what we would expect if God physically stepped into the world.
I plan to get into the issues of where and how Jesus claimed to be God, whether or not he backed that up through the resurrection and whether or not we can trust these stories in the future. However, I like to work systematically and I want to lay the proper groundwork first.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.