A columnist for USA Today, who is a communications director for the Yale University Divinity School, published a book with an eye-catching and eyebrow raising title: Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus For Those Who Don’t Believe.
Although the author is employed by the Yale Divinity School he is a nonbeliever. Nevertheless, he does believe that Jesus can help nonbelievers become, in his words, “more humane and compassionate.” He also believes “Secular Jesus Followers” can be challenged by Jesus not to go with the flow of our “self-serving and self-obsessed” culture but swim against the current.
In fact, he hopes that Jesus-inspired nonbelievers “will nudge the world closer to the kind of world we … really want” – that is envisioned by Jesus! Now we come to our question: “Can a secular Jesus-follower find God and salvation?” Our answer is Yes, they can! Our prayer is that it will happen!
Before we examine the good in Tom Krattenmaker’s book, let’s point out that it is not the first of its kind. Professor Dan DeWitt reminds us that Thomas Jefferson authored The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (also known as “The Jefferson Bible”): A “Jesus-minus-the-miracles.” While both books are neither historical nor logical, they do have an appeal to people who find religion “objectionable” and/or “not believable” but have inner restlessness and no firm basis for morality.
Let’s look at three good results nonreligious readers may experience.
First, it is good for readers if they end up following Jesus’ teachings even if they don’t start out believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord. His teachings do inspire people to be “more humane and compassionate.”
A fellow atheist, whose blog characterizes him as “Godless in Dixie”, admits that he “often wishes for a god” and is attracted to Krattenmaker’s Jesus. In fact, he confesses that the Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower does lay out “compelling arguments” that “non-believers should follow Jesus, and how living life with a Jesus-centered worldview would humanize and revitalize human interaction.” He closes his article with these words: “If Jesus is as Krattenmaker describes, I want to whole heartedly follow his example.”
Christ is not just as good as Krattenmaker says, but He is much more – historically and logically speaking!
Second, it is very good if readers become increasingly intrigued and challenged by Jesus, and by those who knew Him and are the source for our historic information about Him. The Gospel writers did not write merely about an inspiring teacher of ethics! They wrote about a teacher, preacher, and healer Who came to demonstrate definitively the grandest love the world has ever known or imagined through His life, ministry, death, resurrection, and indwelling presence within His followers!
While the book testifies that “as a teacher of ethics and morality … Jesus is an unsurpassed example for the human race,” the fact is that His “agape” love embodied in the humility and self-sacrifice of God in Jesus dwarfs the noble ethics discussed within the confines of a non-miraculous, earth-bound book.
Third, it better than good if readers end up believing in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, and surrendering their lives to be saved and changed by Him. Whenever a reader with an open heart, soul, and mind not only reads what Jesus said and did, but studies His incomparable love-in-action the end result is a seeker/explorer who finds God and Salvation.
Such readers take Pascal’s Wager and win far more than they could have anticipated. Such readers may even be like the skeptical Lew Wallace, who went on to write a classic tale of faith and forgiveness entitled Ben-Hur. Such readers may be like C.S. Lewis, whose logical mind could not and would not believe Jesus was a Liar or a Lunatic, and therefore concluded He was Lord!
As Lewis spells out so succinctly in Mere Christianity, it is illogical to embrace Jesus Who made such seemingly outrageous claims of divinity as merely a great Ethical Teacher (as does Mr. Krattenmaker). If Jesus were just an ethicist or moralist and nothing more, then His well published claims were not true and He was a liar or a lunatic!
However, Krattenmaker is not prepared to posit such an unattractive and unacceptable view of Jesus, even though that is where both history and logic take the admiring secularist. Based on the most well-documented scholarship, Tom Krattenmaker the author and his nonbelieving readers are faced with the inescapable trilemma: Based upon what Christ said about Himself, He was either a liar, lunatic, or Lord!
Our hope and prayer is that students of Jesus shall find far more than Krattenmaker offers! In his review of the Secular Jesus Follower book Miroslav Wolf, professor of theology at Yale University and author of Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, reminds us that “wrestling with Jesus as the embodiment of the ‘true life,’ the key to human flourishing” will lead to Jesus the Christ, Savior, and Lord!
May not only the readers of Kreattenmaker’s book experience Jesus the Christ but also the author!