Wanted: Dead or Alive
Christianity is purportedly about Jesus of Nazareth, but unfortunately, it more usually reflects the values of the people who killed him. John Petty
Dear little baby Jesus, who's sittin' in his crib watchin’ the Baby Einstein videos, learnin' 'bout shapes and colors… Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights
My earliest recollection of learning about Jesus was when I was a small child. This was probably through a combination of hearing Christmas carols and seeing the porcelain figure of the little baby Jesus that my mother would lay in the manger in the nativity crèche scene beneath the family Christmas tree. Jesus was a cute babe in a manger and he was many times smaller than I was. Jesus was nice, quiet, calm, innocent, still, and domesticated like the cows and the sheep in that manger scene – Jesus was safe.
Then as I grew, I started to notice the pictures in my children’s Bible, and it became clear that Jesus didn’t remain a tender babe in swaddling cloths. Most of the pictures were of a grown man with a full beard and a determined look on his face. Jesus was always on the go, purposefully walking on land, walking on water, riding on boats, riding donkeys, calming storms, healing people, teaching people, preaching about the Kingdom of God, inviting himself to dinner in people’s homes, blessing children, arguing with angry religious leaders, knocking over tables, and then getting whipped and nailed to a cross. It was apparent that Jesus was a serious man on a mission. He was a man of action. I didn’t understand why he was driven, why he looked so loving and also so serious, why some people didn’t like him healing the sick, why religious leaders argued with him, or why those Romans killed him. I wanted to know why.
The answers to those questions were readily available in popular American Christianity. According to this widely held conservative, traditional perspective, the reason for all of these questions and concerns I had about Jesus can be found in the following description:
About 6,000 years ago, from his home in up in heaven, God created the world and it was good. Then, just a few days later, the first humans, Adam and Eve, screwed everything up (but mostly Eve) when they ate from the forbidden fruit in that idyllic garden. Ever since then, people have been wretched sinners who do horrible things. God created a special race of people called the Jews. The Jews worshipped Him – but they didn’t really understand Him and they constantly messed up their covenantal relationship. About 2,000 years ago, things were getting so bad that, according to His Divine plan, God provided a way to help people escape the chaos of their actions. That way was by Him coming down to earth in the form of Jesus. This Jesus was born of an actual virgin, who was possibly immaculately conceived herself – and hence, he was untainted by “the genetic birth defect“ of human sinfulness.
Jesus grew up, got baptized by His prophetic cousin John, went out to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, resisted the temptations, and gathered a band of disciples and followers and taught them about God and God’s Kingdom. However, His true and primary purpose was to die for people’s sins, so God (according to God’s plan) had Him killed through the means of the human rulers. He was nailed to a cross, His blood was shed, and He died – thus saving all of us who believe in this version of the story. To sweeten things for Jesus’ grieving followers, and to help people know that salvation is what just took place, God resurrected Jesus from the dead to show us that death (the “wages of sin”) and Satan had been defeated and that God’s power is greater than human sin. We therefore have hope for whatever we may face in life. We know our sins have been forgiven by what Jesus did. He died for us as a proxy or substitute for us so the rest of us wouldn’t have to get what we deserve - being killed. A “just God” requires retributive justice and punishment. If Jesus hadn’t been killed, we would have been (or we’d all go to Hell after we die of natural causes and/or after the Second Coming of Jesus).
Now this traditional, popular story and version of Christianity has indeed given meaning, life, hope, motivation, inspiration, and encouragement to millions of people over the years. Part of the selling point for this story is that it supposedly fulfills the prophesies about the Messiah that are found in the Hebrew Scriptures - referred to by some Christians as the “Old Testament.” The author of the book of Matthew appears to have had exactly this in mind. A major part of his agenda was to help persuade fellow Jews that Jesus meets the criteria for being the Messiah by finding all sorts of passages from the Hebrew Scriptures and “proof-texting” and spinning things in a new way so that it would hopefully become obvious that Jesus is the Messiah. Perhaps this effort was so overt because Jesus didn’t exactly meet the most commonly held expectations about the Messiah - that he would be a powerful military leader who would overthrow the worldly powers that be, kick the oppressive Roman heathens out of Israel, and reestablish a powerful and independent Kingdom of Israel.
that form of “apologetics” (defending the faith and explaining it to others) no
longer works well in this new day and age. The last great death-throe for this approach was Lee
Stroble’s book, The Case for Christ (1998) – and it has sold
many copies (as well as a few newly released variations on that original
text). However, I’d hazard to
guess that most of the people who’ve purchased that book were people who
already believed that popular, traditional interpretation of Jesus and what He
was about and if they gave a copy of it to someone who isn’t a Christian, it
likely went unread. The problem is that the times have changed. The era of Modernity has ended and
we’ve moved into the Post-Modern era. ........
 a Roman Catholic dogma.
 Some conservatives provide very specific logic and reasoning concerning the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Oftentimes, it may be worded something along these lines: In Bible times, it was common (and expected) that a girl was a virgin before she got married. Mary was most certainly a virgin. The first reason was for genealogical purposes. The second reason was that the Messiah had to be born of a virgin, since man’s seed is the genetic carrier of sin and defects. Jesus couldn’t have genes from Adam otherwise Satan would be his relative and Jesus couldn’t defeat him. The Bible said clearly that the Messiah must be born as seed of woman, not of man. This logic leads to a curious glitch regarding Jesus’ messiahship. Hebraic prophecies indicated that the messiah would be of the lineage of King David. Joseph was supposedly a descendent of David, but, according to tradition, Joseph wasn’t the biological father of Jesus, so a fudge-factor was introduced – Joseph “adopting” Jesus. One wonders what people who assert this sort of logic make of the possibility of Jesus being born via parthenogenesis (the phenomenon in nature where females who haven’t been fertilized by males spontaneously conceive). What do such persons make of mitochondrial manipulation or cloning? Do they really think that a human child born of such means would be any different than the rest of us? That s/he wouldn’t sin? Really? Literalism doesn’t hold up to such scrutiny. This may be partly why conservative tend to Christians oppose cloning - to avoid having to face the limits of their theological premises. I’m opposed to it too, but for different reasons.
 Proof-texting refers to selecting various passages of scripture out of their original context and using them to “prove” some theological assertion (liberal and conservative Christians are both guilty of this). An obviously liberal-like interpretive approach was employed by the early Christians (though Conservative Christians may deny this). The early Hebraic prophesies about how the messiah would die indicate that he would be hung from a tree, not nailed to a cross (Deuteronomy 21:23, see also Joshua 8:29; 10:26 & 10:27). Since crosses are made out of wood, and since being nailed to one is a bit like being hung from a tree, well, you do the math. Executions by nailing people to crosses was an invention of the Roman Empire. It was a punishment that was reserved for persons found guilty of political subversion, rebellion, or terrorism. The Roman Empire wasn’t in existence when Isaiah was written so the notion of being nailed to a cross wouldn’t have been on that author’s mind.
 Though Strobel contends that he had been an atheist until he did some “research” on Christ, his research was from a legalistic perspective and it is not a small coincidence that Strobel has a degree in law. Efforts to try to “prove” a “case” for religious belief by appeals to legalistic rhetoric (especially to one-sided rhetoric as he failed to interview people with dissenting opinions) fall flat in our post-modern era. Just because that book has sold like hot-cakes, doesn’t mean that many people are coming to Christ because of it.
 Based upon the number of obviously unread copies of that book that I’ve seen at garage sales and thrift stores.
 To be sure, that book (and ones like it) is still selling, but this is because we are living the transition between two worldviews – with older generations being more steeped in Modernity and a higher percentage of younger individuals identifying with a post-modern perspective, or even post-post-modern.