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JewishJournal.com

July 20, 2007

Jesus the social philosopher

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/jesus_the_social_philosopher/

One would imagine that two millennia would provide ample occasion for exhaustive study of Jesus of Nazareth, and yet somehow every generation seems to find some new way to think about him. Our own age is no exception. For more than a century now, believers and skeptics alike have tried to strip theology from biography, to rediscover the man, Jesus, who lived before the faith, Christianity.

At its best, this modern approach to Jesus combines nuanced interpretation with thought-provoking argument. At its worst, it pretends to discern, say, what Jesus might consider the optimal rate of taxation or how he might direct American policy in the Middle East. Happily, Tod Lindberg’s “The Political Teachings of Jesus” belongs among the smart, sophisticated writings on the topic. Mr. Lindberg does not study Jesus’ political teachings with an eye toward public policy or partisan advantage. His interest, in fact, inclines to social philosophy. He treats Jesus as a profound thinker, a man with great insight into the enduring question of how we may best live together.

Stop. That’s what I did at this point in the Wall Street Journal book review. I stopped and thought, Haven’t I heard this before? Actually, I hear this all the time. “Jesus was a great teacher;” “he was a charismatic rabbi;” “he was a rebel.” There is some truth to these descriptors, but they are ridiculous to use unless—and this is a big unless, because most often I hear these statements from non-Christians—you believe Jesus was who he said he was. Because, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, Jesus was either “lord, lunatic or liar.”

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