August 12, 2020

Robert Short on The Partial Jesus of the Nominal Christian

The Parables of PeanutsThe BHT has a regular banner quote, and this one was so good I wanted to share it with my readers over here.

The nominal Christian, then, will see Jesus as a name, a representative, a symbol, a personification, a prototype, a figure, a model, an exemplar for something else. The nominal Christian pays homage to something about Jesus, rather than worshiping the man himself. For this reason, nominal Christians will extol the moral teachings of Jesus, the faith of Jesus, the personality of Jesus, the compassion of Jesus, the world view of Jesus, the self-understanding of Jesus, etc. None of these worships Jesus as the Christ, but only something about him, something peripheral to the actual flesh-and-blood man. This is why when the almighty God came into the world in Jesus, he came as the lowest of the low, as weakness itself, as a complete and utter nothing, in order that men would be forced into the crucial decision about him alone and would not be able to worship anything about him. -Robert L. Short, “The Parables of Peanuts”

Short was Presbyterian minister who wrote two well-received books on the Biblical concepts taught in the “Peanuts” cartoons by Charles Shultz. Shultz was a Presbyterian Christian as well, and his well-developed sense of when to use Biblical material was part of his genius.

Short’s description, made in the 1970’s I’m sure, is prophetic of the way Jesus has become a symbol within American culture. Our rhetoric says we believe in “Christ the Lord,” but very little in our lives comes under his kingly rule. We are a generation of Christians who admire the morals of Jesus, the values of Jesus (some confusion there, to say the least), and the teaching of Jesus (at least some of it.) We love what Jesus can get for us- Your Best Life Now- and what blessing we can get out of God if we approach him with Jesus as our savior.

Today in chapel, I preached on the emperor Augustus, and how all of his titles paralleled what the angels said about Jesus. Then, in Acts 4, when the authorities tell the Apostles to be quiet, they say “Who do you THINK we’re going to obey?” Then they pray for God to turn the world upside down so that its true King can be exalted.

Christians don’t pray that way today, because they don’t believe those things. We want Jesus to get stuff for us. We want Jesus to guarantee healing, money, marriage and morality for our kids. In scripture, Jesus is the God who reveals himself as a servant King. We want a God who will, as the disciples said to Jesus shortly before his passion, “…do for us whatever we wish.”


  1. Thanks, Michael. That is a fantastic quote that expresses something I have been trying to vocalize for a long time.

    I’ve been mulling over these people in the Gospels who encounter Jesus and express faith in Jesus–but there is no doctrine there. They don’t express faith in something about him, but just in him.

  2. Great quote. Spurred me to dig out my old Robert Short books – it was his “Bible According To Peanuts” that gave me my final nudge back to faith in 1994.

  3. What you are talking about is risky Christianity. Why take a risk when we are all so comfortable in our kingdoms?
    Maybe this is related to why Christianity explodes under persecution. Not that I’m wishing persecution on myself! I’m not that risky!

  4. Michael,
    I know it is a busy time of year, but could you trace through really quickly how the titles of Augustus matched up with that the angels said about Jesus? I am intrigued…and in need of a sermon….

  5. Cornchex: I wish I could do that sort of thing. You ought to google “Emperor Jesus Birth” or “Emperor titles Jesus.” Crossan did a thing at Beliefnet that covered some of this.

    Here’s the short version. The Roman emperors called themselves Lord and God, encouraged worship, claimed to be descended form gods (Augustus promoted the myth that his mother was impregnated by Apollo). They claimed to be responsible for all prosperity, and of course they claimed the title of King, potentate, Almighty, etc.

    The rhetoric of Yahweh’s Kingship, Messianic prophecy and the titles of Jesus all run directly counter to the claims of earthly rulers. See Psalm 2 and Acts 4.


  6. Whatever the opposite of “spinning in his grave” is, that’s what Sparky’s doing right now. 😉