“Jesus is a Great Teacher.” Fighting words or a good answer?

In November 2013, My wife and I attended the SimplyJesus gathering in town.  It featured many well known keynote speakers (Yancey, Tom Wright, Campolo) as well as lesser known local folks.  It was exceptional.  As an aside, the organizers hosted the gathering because out of the 350+ church conferences held every year, they couldn’t find one just on Jesus.  Let that sink in….

Over the next few weeks, I’ll post some reflections from the talks.  You can buy the DVD from the gathering website and I’d highly recommend it.  

Today I’m featuring Jay Pathak’s talk #2.  Jay is a good friend of mine and serves Mile High Vineyard church in Arvada, Colorado.  Jay is a brilliant thinker, leader and communicator.

Jay began by alluding to the well known C.S. Lewis argument that “Jesus wasn’t just a great teacher, he was Lord.”  You may be familiar with the general argument and it is a good one, but Jay challenged the way we often use it.  Ie, typically, we might ask someone, “Who do you think Jesus is?”  To which they might reply, “well, Jesus is a really great teacher.”  This then triggers an argument of sorts.  We respond, “no he’s not, he’s more than that” and then we move into a pre packaged, half baked C.S. Lewis argument on “Liar, lunatic or Lord.”    Lewis famously wrote, “Jesus is not just a great teacher, he never gave us that option.”  

This is technically true, but can feel like a sting operation or entrapment to the person and then push them away from Jesus.  Sort of a, “wait….I thought that was a good answer.  Why is it bad that I think Jesus is a great teacher?” and all the while we’re smugly channeling Lewis to try to help people see Jesus.  Jay challenged us to affirm that answer instead of it triggering a fight.  He correctly reminded us that the answer, “Jesus is a great teacher” is in fact a great answer.  The Bible records multiple occasions when “the crowd was amazed at his teaching” and “his teaching was not like any one else, he taught as one with authority.”  

If we encourage people to put into practice the teachings of Jesus, they will discover the power those teachings have for life change and freedom.  Rather than convincing people of the Lordship of Christ and putting them on the back foot, we invite them into the teachings of Jesus and as they try them, they find them to be true and powerful.  

This approach seems so obvious, but so many Christians choose a hostile approach instead of this inviting approach. I’ve done it myself many times.  My posture or tone is not hostile, but I’m ultimately trying to prove something, show an argument, challenge someone’s thinking.  Jay challenged us instead to simply affirm and invite people into the life and teaching of Jesus by trying it on.  He had a very poignant story of challenging a young woman to try on the teachings on forgiving your enemy to discover a freedom that had alluded her.  That her enemy happened to be Christians only made the story more poignant.  

I came away from this very challenged by Jay’s simply idea here and found some hypocrisy in myself in that I’ve always been turned off by the confrontational evangelism approach, yet found myself doing a similar thing, albeit with a more polite veil.  Jay’s approach, I think is much smarter and respectful and much more likely to help people meet Jesus.  

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