A new book called The Zealot has been making the news. It's author, Reza Aslan, is an Iranian American scholar. He gets at the thesis of his book in this post. His central idea tracks his own personal experience in which he "lost Christ and found Jesus." Here are two of my reactions:
There's nothing new under the sun.
Some of you have been alarmed by his premise. He claims that Jesus was a religious zealot who challenged the establishment of Roman occupation - not a Lord or Savior. He makes a distinction between Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus the Christ; Jesus the historical revolutionary and Jesus the divine Son of God. His studies, which do not consider the Biblical text to be authoritative, have led him to the "historical Jesus." He claims that the "real" Jesus is different than the Jesus Christians believe in.
Aslan is far from the first to challenge the divinity of Jesus. The ancient creeds were developed as a response to such propositions. I haven't read the book, but his basic claims are nothing new. In fact, his basic assumptions are the standard in almost every academic institution today.
Regardless of the century, the decision remains. Either the gospels are mythological texts and Jesus is less than he claimed. Or the gospels are the truest account of Jesus we have, and he is who he said he was. Either he's merely a historical figure who died 2,000 years ago. Or he's the universal King who is alive to this day.
For further study on the Bible's credibility and Jesus' Lordship, read Tim Keller's book The Reason for God. It is a recent response to common criticisms of Christianity. Keller responds intelligently and respectfully. Particularly pertinent are chapters seven, twelve, and thirteen.
Have We Gotten the Gospel Message Wrong?
I heard Aslan on NPR a few weeks ago. He gave a recap of his personal experience. He had a Christian conversion experience at a camp at age 15. After a couple years of enthusiastic evangelical Christianity, he began to question the Christ he came to know. During a period of academic research he came to "lose Christ and find Jesus."
One thing he notes in the article as well as in the radio interview is the "Christian message" that he heard from Christians. As a short summary he writes, "all who believe in him and accept him into their hearts will never die, but have eternal life." He mentioned this exact summary numerous times.
Let me offer a criticism, not of Aslan, but of Christians. How often have you heard this presentation of the Christian gospel before? It's laden with "accept him into your heart," and "believe in him for eternal life."
Or consider this common gospel statement: "Believe that Jesus died for you so you can go to heaven."
This is typical gospel statement that we hear from Christins. And I wonder if it might be heresy. Here's why.