Updated: May 15, 2019
In a previous post I sorted out the question on why I speak of Jesus depite no longer considering myself a "Christian."
There is an alternative way of understanding Jesus than what has been traditionally taught by institutional Christianity. I start unraveling this in my third book Being Jesus in Nashville, catalog my givances with Christianity over Jesus in Notes from (Over) the Edge, and present an alternative story about Jesus and his truth in Inner Anarchy.
The historical Jesus was more than an annoyance; to the Romans, he was a dangerous revolutionary – a religious fanatic who would no doubt try to overturn their social order if allowed to gain too many followers.
I wrote about Jesus in Notes from (Over) the Edge:
“Jesus was a human being like you. He was a first-century Jew in ancient Palestine. We know about him today because the truth he shared distressed a deep-rooted, 4,000-year-old religion and threatened the political and societal power centers of his day. He sure raised quite a bit of hell for one guy! Ultimately, those religious and political powers conspired together to have him killed.
Why? What danger did Jesus pose to these powers that resulted in his execution?
The truth that Jesus shared and demonstrated debunked the foundational premises on which those religious and political systems were built. Jesus called for people to stop listening to them and start listening to the spirit of truth within themselves. He attacked the credibility of those systems and told people to find their authority inside themselves. Instead of a human-led society, he was advocating a world ruled by an amazing power or Spirit mind that was already within us. Jesus called it the kingdom—the authority—of heaven. Each time Jesus opened his mouth, he was pulling out another wooden Jenga block, making these religious and worldly powers vulnerable and unstable. Jesus himself was no threat—he had no position of religious or political power and wasn’t campaigning to be the worldly president—but his truth made him a one-man wrecking crew.
If Jesus were alive today, that scenario would repeat itself. He would come to his people—the Christian establishment—and they would quickly discover that his truth doesn’t line up with their longstanding, “orthodox,” theological tradition. Protecting their church kingdoms, Christian leaders would come out with guns blazing. Like first-century Jews, they would reject Jesus, label him a heretic, characterize him as a dangerous inciter, and ostracize him. As Jesus stirred things up and more people started listening to and following him, he would become a person of interest to our worldly and political powers. The government would not allow the rebel Jesus to go on like this—it might just get people questioning their dogma and authority as well.”
The world basically assumes that organized Christianity represents Jesus. However in my view, there are many instances where Christianity does not get Jesus right, even on some of the most elemental points. In another passage in Notes from (Over) the Edge I discuss the historic identity of Jesus:
“Even the name “Jesus Christ” was an invention of organized Christianity. Jesus’s Hebrew or Aramaic name was “Yeshua.” The name “Jesus” originates from the Latin translation of the Greek name Iēsous, which comes from the Hebrew “Yeshua.”The English equivalent would be “Joshua.” So we could just as easily call Jesus “Joshua.” So let’s do that.
As far as titles go, which were common at that time, Joshua preferred to be called “son of man” or “son of Adam,” which has the same meaning. Jesus’ name could have easily been known to us as, Joshua ben Adam. But instead, “Christ” (from the Greek word, Christós, meaning “anointed”) is a translation of the Hebrew word Māšîaḥ, and became used as a messianic title for Jesus. The title was chosen by his followers and written into the New Testament.
God is spirit and takes on human expression in people. Joshua ben Adam taught that all people must relate to God in the spirit of his name. Think of this in light of the name Joshua ben Adam. The “son of man” or “son of Adam” means a human one in solidarity with all human ones. In other words, relating to God in the name of Joshua ben Adam means we come to God in solidarity with all humankind. This was the way of Joshua. He once taught that if one comes to worship God with a sacrifice but discovers he is in conflict with his neighbor that he should leave his sacrifice at the altar and go make amends. On another occasion, Joshua challenged people to extend this line of solidarity to include even one’s “enemy.” He equated service to God as caring for the lowliest and least among them, and spoke of loving God and loving others as two sides of the same coin.
One can only relate to God in the name and spirit of Joshua ben Adam because God is inseparable from people. There is no “us” and “them.” Joshua ben Adam would reject any religion that advocates hatred, violence, and division against others. He once said that merely speaking a term of diminishment against another person is a violation of his way. And yet too often modern Christianity has fashioned a gospel that is built on demeaning humankind by asserting the idea that people are bad at the core, repulsive to God, and deserve eternal torment.”
“Jesus had very little to do with religion. He had no home in any particular religious sect. He did not identify himself with the Essenes, Pharisees, Zealots, Priests or Rabbis. He did not subscribe to any school of thought, whether it was the school of the great Rabbi Hillel, Philo the philosopher, or the school of the Cynics, all of which had a strong following in his day.
Jesus identified with the whole of humankind irrespective of race, religion, or gender. His vision transcended any sect. He was not a member of any exclusive group. Jesus recognized that no group had a monopoly on the Truth or God. Some of Jesus’s earliest followers wrongly assumed that only their small group could claim to be his true disciples. But Jesus taught that any person who listened to the Spirit of God inside them and loved their neighbor were themselves a Jesus in their own right.
Jesus was not part of any kind of Establishment. Not an old one or a new one. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus did not replace Judaism with Christianity. At a later point, others organized an establishment called Christianity, but the itinerant Jesus had nothing to do with that. The very nature of an establishment was contrary to his free spirit.
Jesus was always picking a fight with religion. Religion was supposed to help people know God, but Jesus exposed the ways it was the obstacle hindering it. Jesus spoke of being divine AND human. He wanted humankind to know that, contrary to the view of religion, the two were not in opposition to each other. Jesus handpicked the most notorious “sinners” of his day as his close friends, and in so doing, confronted the false notion that some people did not qualify for God’s love and acceptance. Jesus didn’t allow the adulterous woman to be stoned to death as the religious law required. He stood in opposition to the performance-based mentality of relating to God.
Jesus honored the spirit of God wherever it was manifested, but he did not align himself with the religious mentality that sought to formulate and legislate God.
Often to their dismay, Jesus’s close friends found that he would not stay in one place long enough for them to consolidate interests and central beliefs or take steps to organize a movement. Jesus always moved on. In fact, one time his three closest friends had a revelation on a mountainside, and wanted to build some kind of structure or monument to capture and display the glory of Jesus. But Jesus, the incurable itinerant, would have none of it.
Jesus freely taught those whose hearts were open. Some of them followed Jesus and took up the truth he taught, and lived it for themselves. But it’s doubtful that Jesus ever took any steps to organize the church by ordaining twelve apostles, which is more closely aligned with the Old Testament tradition of the twelve tribes. Jesus was not involved in organizing the Christian church as the “new Israel,” an idea the Christian establishment fashioned after Jesus’s death. The whole notion of Jesus beginning a new hierarchy ruled by the chair of Saint Peter is a grave distortion of the whole character, life, and teaching of Jesus. Jesus’s central message was about the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of men.”
I have written extensively about what I believe the true message of Jesus is. Here are 15 liberative teaching of Jesus you are likely not to hear in church:
“There’s only one litmus test to authenticate if someone gets what I’m about – love.”
“The kingdom of God is here and now, which means it’s not somewhere else and later.”
“If you’ve reached perfection on your journey, feel free to judge others. Otherwise, be quiet.”
“My peace is not as this world gives. Your strategy to control circumstances in order to be happy won’t work… ever.”
“You religious people have your nose buried in the Bible, feeling all smug about your spiritual maturity. But you wouldn’t know my truth if it knocked you in the head.”
“There is no mountain, sacred place or church building where God expects to be worshiped. True worship is a way of seeing – it’s spotting and honoring the divine in all things.”
“You think you are doing well because you have not been hauled off to prison for murder, but your harsh and critical spirit is no different.”
“Embracing my truth will make you a heretic in most people’s minds and you will be persecuted. No worries; you’re on the right track in my kingdom.”
“God and I are one, you are included.”
“I have to die. Otherwise, you’re going to create a religion around my human personhood and personality, rather than embrace and give expression to my spirit and truth.”
“Don’t say you love God and then hate people. Those two things can’t be true at the same time.”
“You and God are not separated and never have been. You are connected to God like a branch to a vine – the essence and nature of God is the sap running through your veins.”
“You can’t reduce my way to a book. The same spirit that filled and led me fills and leads you. Follow that spirit.”
“You think your humanity is an affront to God. If this were true how could I be one with God?”
“You look into the sky to find some God that sits on a throne. You want to see God? You’re looking at him. Now, see that same God as yourself."
The point of my most recent book, Inner Anarchy, is to present an alternative view from traditional Christianity about the life, death, meassage and significance of Jesus. Here's an FAQ about the book.
Additional posts I have written about Jesus: