taking the words of Jesus seriously

An acquaintance from my evangelical past recently posted on social media the fable of Einstein as a young university student undermining the arguments of an atheist professor. The first comment pointed out the myth of this story and I observed the sad, bad record Christianity has of inventing myths, like this Einstein story, using faulty syllogistic reasoning to try to justify glaring contradictions in its invented beliefs. I was guilty of using stories like this in my preaching for years (“sermon illustrations”). Gradually, I realised engaging in these debates misses the point of what it means to follow Jesus. My spirituality became richer and more satisfying and authentic when I decided to simply follow Jesus’ in focusing on humanising others in my life and, by so doing, humanising myself. This is the good news – we can become more who we are made to be and we do not have to waste time on pointless debates on who is right about irrelevant beliefs.

Another evangelical acquaintance asked where in the scriptures are Christians called to be humanized and reported a quick Google search showed “humanising” being not a particularly Christian thing. Perhaps the Google algorithms found more examples of fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity’s record of dehumanizing the gospel even though admirable pockets of evangelicalism still engage in humanitarian enterprises. The challenge to expose the humanizing motif in the Christian scriptures prompted me to review my post-evangelical journey of thirty-plus years with the figure of Jesus.

The lack of explicit references to the humanizing focus of the gospel in the Christian scriptures is not unique when it comes to claims of scriptural support for beliefs in the Christian faith tradition. There are many things those who claim the identity of Christian do that are not explicitly called for in the scriptures. For example, there is no call for Christians to construct buildings and call them churches and plant them all over the planet. But it is something of an obsession in the Christian tradition. It grew from seeing adherents of other religious traditions erecting places of worship and Christians wanting to compete (despite fairly strong hints in the early New Testament writings for followers of Jesus to not create communities of faith dependent on man made artefacts as the focus of the worshipping community). But, churches in buildings have a history of doing much good so the tradition continues. More confounding are the many things that are explicitly called for in the scriptures that Christians do not do – like communities of faith sharing their resources to ensure all members enjoy prosperity and do not experience poverty.

When it comes to the claim that the gospel presented by Jesus was mostly about humanising people, I start at the beginning of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. The creation story consistently emphasises that humans are made in the image of the creator. The humans created were judged by the creator to be the perfect expression of humanity due to their unimpeded relationship with their creator. The story of the fall is a description of the perfect humans being seduced into believing independent, self-preservation was the point of life (the serpent’s tantalising offer) rather than the communal care of all people to enable them to experience the humanity with which the creator imbued them.

Over the next few thousand years, according to the Old Testament scriptures, people identified as prophets continually called those who claimed to follow Yahweh to return to treating all people as human and stop treating some (or many) of them like animals to be used and abused for personal gain and preservation. In other words, the call was to humanise others to enable people to have an experience as close as possible to that of the first humans before the fall.

When the prophet project manifestly failed to bring people back to the creator’s vision of humanity, the New Testament scriptures announce a new strategy. The use of the terms “new creation,” “new Adam,” “son of God,” and “oneness of Father and Son” indicate the presentation of a repeat, perfect expression of humanity from the creator. This expression provided a perfect example of humanity for people to follow through his uninterrupted communion with the creator. Moreover, it included the ability to lead all humans to be engaged in becoming better expressions of perfect humanity and helping others become the same through entering into closer communion with the creator.

When we read the stories about Jesus’ sayings and actions in the gospels in this light, we see him explicitly and deliberately opposing the beliefs and acts of the Judaist religious tradition the prophets had called out that had dehumanised many in their communities through deprivation, exclusion, marginalisation, and dogmatism. The theme of Jesus’ words and actions shows a strong commitment to provision, inclusion, incorporation, and openness to other perspectives on previously non-negotiable beliefs. One of the strongest calls for followers of Jesus to be engaged in the enterprise of humanising others and themselves is in Matthew 25:31-46. Here Jesus as the judge is portrayed as excluding from eternity in the presence of the creator those who simply believed the right things but dehumanised others. Even those who appeared not to believe the right things but manifestly engaged in Jesus’ humanising enterprise were welcomed into eternity.

The lack of results in a Google search on “humanizing and Christianity” is bewildering. There is a reasonable body of literature that argues somewhat compellingly that authentic following of Jesus produces the truest form of humanism founded on an understanding of a creator whose desire was to create perfect humans with whom to have a meaningful relationship. However, this is one perspective on what the gospel is and there are many more that make sense also. I prefer this perspective but accept that it does not make sense for everyone who claims the identity of Christian. They are welcome to whatever perspective enables them to explain why they call themselves Christian. I no longer claim the identity of Christian and prefer to identify as a humanizing follower of Jesus – but that is just what makes sense to me.

About The Author


Mal has been involved in mission work all his life and is a member of a Jesus-centered mission community, Incedo, in Aotearoa/New Zealand focused on justice, equity, and inclusion initiatives for people on the margins. Recently he moved into the world of academia lecturing in intercultural communication and completed a PhD on cultural inclusivity.

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