Does Jesus mostly teach simple lessons for children?

August 22, 2013


I don’t follow American politics closely (anymore), much less British politics. But I’m a fan of a blogger who does—a priest in the Church of England who blogs under the name and persona of Thomas Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury who led the Protestant Reformation in England and edited the first Book of Common Prayer).

Often, living as I do on this side of the Atlantic, I don’t know what he’s talking about. But I’m in love with his witty style and tone, which is often deeply sarcastic. As I rediscover time and again on clergy-related social media, we United Methodists pastors are the most earnest people on the planet. Most of my colleagues don’t appreciate sarcasm at all. (Come to think of it, that sounds sarcastic, but I really don’t mean it that way!)

Recently, the British Prime Minister, apparently the most nominal of nominal Anglicans, has been persuaded by his handlers to appease the base of his Conservative Party by talking about his “faith,” such as it is. (As you can see, American and British politicians are all the same.) I’ll let Cranmer describe a recent press conference.

He arrived… and announced with the sincerity we expect from our leaders, “I’m a Christian and an active member of the Church of England.”

As he delivered those rousing words, Dave glanced at the sky, but neither saw nor heard anything. Focus Group clearly felt Dave was on the right track.

And specifically, came the question. What parts of Christianity appeal to you most?

Tricky question. How does one answer it to the satisfaction of those bloody grassroots, but without upsetting one’s friends in W11 and N5? Dave desperately scanned the room looking for Focus Group, but it wasn’t in attendance.

He had to take a bold leap into uncertainty. The Scripture, he explained, is “not a bad handbook” for life.

Encouraged by The Guardian chap’s approving nod, Dave expanded with his usual eloquence. “What I think is so good about Jesus’s teachings is there are lots of things that he said that you can still apply very directly to daily life and to bringing up your children.”

Such as?

“Simple things like do to others as you would be done by; love your neighbour as yourself, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount.”

Do you see how Cameron’s explanation relates to my post the other day? What did Jesus teach? “Simple things” for children, like the Golden Rule and all those other innocuous bromides from the Sermon on the Mount.

I’d like to ask him which Sermon on the Mount he’d read recently, but whatever. Cranmer continues:

Happiness all around. Except among those whose own faith doesn’t depend on Focus Group.

Four of the ‘simple’ things Dave mentioned are moral dicta appearing in the Old Testament, and the fourth is Jesus’s sermon on morality. These are all crucial to Christianity, no question about that.

But suppose a rank atheist were asked the same question. Wouldn’t he happily give the same answer?

In fact I’ve never met an atheist who’d admit to being comfortable with the idea of hating one’s neighbour, robbing and killing him, having a go at his wife and then lying about the whole thing under oath.

Look at it from a different angle. A tricycle and an aeroplane both have three wheels, are made of metal and are used to transport people. Yet someone giving this explanation to a visiting Martian wouldn’t be partly right or almost right. He’d be mad.

An explanation of anything has to focus on its unique characteristics, in this instance on the fact that aeroplanes fly. A definition must be based not on similarities but on differences.

Thus a real Christian would have answered the same question differently. He’d know that the Scripture ought not to be confused with Debrett’s Etiquette for Girls. And Christianity isn’t just a moral teaching by Christ – mostly it’s the teaching about Christ.

Central to it is His Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. Christ is the second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, and a Christian is someone who believes in His divinity. Christian morality must define life in this earth, but it’s strictly derivative from the essence of the faith.

“Christian morality must define life in this earth, but it’s strictly derivative from the essence of the faith.” Very well said. It’s a point that Dallas Willard also emphasizes in The Divine Conspiracy. Jesus’ moral teaching is profound, but also profoundly difficult apart from the essence of faith, which includes Christ’s identity, his atoning death and resurrection, and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

I’m sure I’ll explore this more in my sermon series.

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