The Jesus Problem

In the cover story of this week's issue of Maclean's ("The Jesus Problem," March 31, 2008), Brian Bethune reports that some Christians have decided that the Church might be "better off" without Jesus. I've heard some curious ideas before, but this was a new one.

As evidence of this, the article cites the recent publication of With or Without God, by Gretta Vosper, the pastor of West Hill United Church in Toronto. Bethune describes the book as "a passionately argued case for a post-Christian church" (40).

The article describes some of the conclusions of modern biblical scholarship, specifically the fact that many of Jesus' sayings are widely recognised as having been created by the early church. Some people, myself included, find the resulting "historical Jesus" to be a far more compelling figure than the gospel portrait of a man who went around claiming to be, among other things, "the light of the world" (John 8.12). Others, on the other hand, are less impressed, and Vosper is apparently among them:

When Gretta Vosper looks at the emerging historical Jesus she sees no rock on which to erect a church. "In trying to capture exactly what he said, we have found, quite by accident, that what he said has little power." (41)

If that's case, why bother with "Christianity" at all?
Vosper isn't so much prepared for the obvious questions she faces as inured to them. She's often asked, with various degrees of incredulity and indignation how, in the name of God or Love (if she prefers), she can call herself a Christian. Because, she replies, her Christianity...is more a way of acting than a way of belief. "Being a Christian is about taking out of my faith tradition those things that are of value in my effort to live right with myself, with my relationships and with my planet," Vosper says. "And removing those things that are toxic." (42)
I don't disagree with that. I've long felt that Jesus's message was more concerned with how we live than what we believe. Still, based on this article, I'm not convinced I'm going to find Vosper's vision of Christianity all that compelling. But I'll wait until I read her book before I make any final judgments about that.

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