Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshipping Christ and Start Following Jesus

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-12-01
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Countless thoughtful people are now so disgusted with the marriage of bad theology and hypocritical behavior by the church that a new Reformation is required in which the purpose of religion itself is reimagined.Meyers takes the best of biblical scholarship and recasts these core Christian concepts to exhort the church to pursue an alternative vision of the Christian life: Jesus as Teacher, not Savior Christianity as Compassion, not Condemnation Prosperity as Dangerous, not Divine Discipleship as Obedience, not Control Religion as Relationship, not RighteousnessThis is not a call to the church to move to the far left or to try something brand new. Rather, it is the recovery of something very old. Saving Jesus from the Church shows us what it means to be a Christian and how to follow Jesus' teachings today.


Saving Jesus from the Church
How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus

Chapter One

Jesus the teacher, not the savior

What has been passing for Christianity during these nineteen centuries is merely a beginning, full of weaknesses and mistakes, not a full-grown Christianity springing from the spirit of Jesus.
—Albert Schweitzer

First, I owe a word of explanation to readers. This book is not about one more attempt to prove why it is wrong to be a fundamentalist. Nor is it a book meant to prove that Jesus is not divine—at least in a metaphysical sense—and never walked on water or raised anyone from the dead. Indeed, I could not prove such a thing to anyone who wasn't already inclined to believe it. Instead, it is a book written by a pastor, an invitation that comes bearing the postmark of the church and addressed to those who already accept the Bible as inspired, but not infallible. It is not offered as a scholarly argument against literalism or literalists, nor is it intended to be one more tirade against any form of ignorance or arrogance. Those in glass houses should not throw stones.

Rather, it is a word on behalf of those who have walked away from the church because they recognize intellectual dishonesty as the original sin of orthodoxy. It is a sermon addressed to nonbelievers as well as to those who grew up in the church. It is meant to provide a second opinion for all those who know what they are supposed to believe but refuse to equate miracles with magic or liturgy with history—and yet still fall silent when someone reads the Beatitudes or get goosebumps listening to the parable of the prodigal son. It is not an apologetic but a call to reconsider what it means to follow Jesus, instead of arguing over things that the church has insisted we must all believe about Christ. Doctrines divide by nature. Discipleship brings us together.

Instead of digging deeper trenches, we need to declare a cease-fire and agree to meet around the kitchen table, where people actually live, to discuss exactly what we are fighting about and what on earth it has to do with Jesus. There are countless pilgrims out there who remain fascinated and humbled by his wisdom and by the movement that his life and death unleashed, but who know too much now about the formation of church doctrine, the evolution and redaction of scripture, and the incredible but intransigent cosmology of the church to place much trust in the institution. There is a deep hunger for wisdom in our time, but the church offers up little more than sugary nostalgia with a dash of fear. There is a yearning for redemption, healing, and wholeness that is palpable, a shift in human consciousness that is widely recognized—except, it seems, in most churches.

Strangely, we have come to a moment in human history when the message of the Sermon on the Mount could indeed save us, but it can no longer be heard above the din of dueling doctrines. Consider this: there is not a single word in that sermon about what to believe, only words about what to do. It is a behavioral manifesto, not a propositional one. Yet three centuries later, when the Nicene Creed became the official oath of Christendom, there was not a single word in it about what to do, only words about what to believe!

Thus the most important question we can ask in the church today concerns the object of faith itself. The earliest metaphors of the gospel speak of discipleship as transformation through an alternative community and the reversal of conventional wisdom. In much of the church today, our metaphors speak of individual salvation and the specific promises that accompany it. The first followers of Jesus trusted him enough to become instruments of radical change. Today, worshipers of Christ agree to believe things about him in order to receive benefits promised by the institution, not by Jesus.

This difference, between following and worshiping, is not insignificant. Worshiping is an inherently passive activity, since it involves the adoration of that to which the worshiper cannot aspire. It takes the form of praise, which can be both sentimental and self-satisfying, without any call to changed behavior or self-sacrifice. In fact, Christianity as a belief system requires nothing but acquiescence. Christianity as a way of life, as a path to follow, requires a second birth, the conquest of ego, and new eyes with which to see the world. It is no wonder that we have preferred to be saved.

From Yeshua to Jehovah

To understand how a first-century Mediterranean Jewish peasant named Yeshua went from being what historical Jesus scholar Marcus Borg calls a spirit person, a teacher of wisdom, a social prophet, and a movement founder to the Only Begotten Son of God requires a clear and courageous approach to the study of the New Testament. To use Professor Borg's immensely helpful dichotomy, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) provide us not historical accounts but "sketches" by the early Christian community of both a pre-Easter man and an emerging post-Easter deity.1

Jesus is the pre-Easter man, or what biblical scholars have long searched to uncover: the "historical Jesus." Christ is the post-Easter deity that had fully arrived by the time John's gospel was written, even though his evolution from Jewish mystic to supernatural Savior was already emerging in the synoptic gospels. For the remainder of the book, however, I will speak of "Jesus" when referring to the Jewish peasant from Galilee—from his birth through the writing of the synoptic gospels. I will use the exalted title "Christ" to refer to the preexistent divine Savior from John's gospel forward to the writing of the creeds.

Saving Jesus from the Church
How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus
. Copyright © by Robin Meyers. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus by Robin R. Meyers
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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