October 28, 2020

Why Jesus? (1)

By Chaplain Mike

I’m eagerly diving into a new book by one of America’s great preachers, William Willimon. It’s called Why Jesus? I can’t wait to share with you my reflections as I read. For this morning, here his opening words, which contain enough for a full day’s contemplation:

Why Jesus? Because he is the most fascinating person in the world.

Into my life he came, unsought and uninvited, took over, and refused to go. He led me into dangerous territory. Only later did I learn this is typical. Though he is one with us, he is neither casually nor promptly known, not because he is arcane but because he is so very different from us, so difficult to categorize or to define, because he is also one with God. You can know him for many years, yet never really know him as well as he appears to know you. He manages to be unfathomable, deep, ungraspable, and yet oddly close, intimate, talkative, and relentlessly relational.

• Why Jesus?, ix


  1. From that little bit, I am dying to read this book.

  2. ……..uhhhhhh……. what else are we supposed to say to that!?!

  3. Well, that “unsought and uninvited” ought to throw the Calvinists into a fit of pique, if not downright confusion and denial….

    I heard a sermon once entitled “The Holy Spirit is no gentleman” that greatly changed my thinking.

    Remember Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven”?…I fled him down the labyrinthine ways…

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Yeah, I thought that was great imagery also. Made me think.

    • I beg to differ… “unsought and uninvited” is precisely how a Calvinist would describe it. God sought us, we don’t seek Him. Ya know, I’ve been listening tot his guy’s podcast for over a year now, and I just can’t figure out how he became a Methodist. His favorite theologian is Karl Barth!

  4. Doesn’t sound interesting. Besides Willimon is a mainline scholar who admitted that he doesn’t hold to the traditional view of Scriptural authority and inspiration.

    • alrighty then…..Mark dislikes it…..I’m at least interested 🙂

    • Here is what Willimon says about scripture. Sounds like a pretty high view of scripture to me. What is the source for your concerns Mark?

      • As a former fundamentalist, I’m guessing it would be this phrase:
        Though a few confused United Methodists may have been “literalists,” or “fundamentalists” in their reading of Scripture, we have never officially been so limited.

    • Mark, I think Willimon may be more in tune with Jesus at least when he writes:

      “Jesus remains the ‘one whom you do not know,’ even for people like me who have spent a lifetime trying to know him better. If you are reading this book and feel that you don’t know much about Jesus, that’s a good thing. In my experience, it’s the folks who think they really, really know Jesus who don’t know him that well at all.”

      • You gotta be joking right?

        You should read his book “Who Will Be Saved?” Fascinating read if you enjoy reading a modernist Methodist promotion of soft universalism.

      • On another note, what makes Willimon so sure that those “folks who think they really, really know Jesus” don’t really know him well at all? What is his criteria or standard? I would really like to know. It’s another bashing of conservative evangelicalism from a standpoint of a modernist mainline theologian who acts like he is promoting the apostolic faith.

        • are you o.k. mark?

        • Mark, first of all, I apologize for being overly harsh toward you personally in my comment. I have revised it. Second, if we can’t learn from brethren with whom we disagree about some matters, what does that say about us, and how shall we ever truly learn? Jesus himself constantly drew lessons from the kinds of people most of us would reject.

          • One of the things that struck me about meeting with some Jehovah’s Witnesses was that they were not allowed to read anything theological that had not been written by their own people. I contrast that to the vast resource of material that we can access. I enjoy reading different perspectives. I won’t always agree, but I find it helps me to expand my own thinking.

            Sometimes however, I may respond without properly thinking through what the other person was saying. I fear that I may have done that to Chaplain Mike and others in the previous post on Liturgical substance. My apologies for that.

          • “I enjoy reading different perspectives. I won’t always agree, but I find it helps me to expand my own thinking.”

            Amen to that. How else would anyone actually learn or grow otherwise?

          • Hi MIchael,

            I used to be a Jehovah’s Witness, and you’re right, I wasn’t allowed to read other theological material and in hindsight, I think it’s really sad. I’m currently reading through Scot McKnight’s ‘Jesus Creed’, a very uncontroversial book, and I can’t help but think whilst reading it that I wouldn’t have dared to tell other Jehovah’s Witnesses I was reading it.

            I now know that learning from each other and challenging ourselves is a beautiful thing, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about Willimon’s book.

          • @Paul: great to have you posting here; this is a good place to challenge and be challenged, there are precious few places in the body where that happens with charity. Glad to see you’ve made your way here. Read widely, the Holy Spirit will always guide.

        • David Cornwell says

          Your depiction of the UMC is a generalization that when analyzed is far being true. There are different stripes of theological opinion in the UMC to be sure, but I personally do not know one single so-called “modernist” these days. Maybe back in 1955. The UMC isn’t a denomination that forces a certain interpretation of theology, but it’s basic set of belief is found in the Articles of Religion. which were taken from the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

          I grew up in a fairly revivalistic sub-culture of Methodists. And I heard a lot of powerful “evangelical” type preaching at times, from Methodists.

          And maybe there are a some “modernists” also.

          • It may depend on what part of the country you’re from. In my area (northeast), the UMC folks I know, particularly in any positions of power, have much more in common with the extreme left of the UCC or Episcopal church than any evangelical or revivalistic groups. Conservative or traditional views are the one perspective that is definitely NOT welcomed. Again, I think with the UMC, it depends very heavily on what part of the country you’re from.

        • “On another note, what makes Willimon so sure that those “folks who think they really, really know Jesus” don’t really know him well at all?”

          Jesus is the Infinite God; the Alpha and Omega. He who created the universe and is completely Other entered into His creation. He who had no earthly father was born of a Virgin. He who had no sin died for the sake of those whom did have it. He who was dead lives.

          It is true that we can come to know Jesus. However, it is well to remember that He is the Infinite God; that He is I AM. To think that we can know God in His entirety is foolishness. I’d also say that Jesus has a way of surprising us sometimes (well, really everyday)- not because He changes, but because we enter into a deeper union with Him.

        • Mark, I just want to validate your concern. Scriptural authority is crucial, imo. However, you may find that this guy holds it a heck of a lot more than he is willing to admit. He also holds to Methodist theology, yet he writes for Modern Reformation magazine on occasion. Listen to a few of his sermons. You may yet find him to be pretty Biblical. I personally think he’s a Calvinist in denial.

    • Just because someone does not hold to the “traditional view of Scriptural authority and inspiration” (and whatever the working definition of that is) does not mean they cannot hold valid points. God’s truth is God’s truth, even if Satan himself were to speak it.

  5. I recently ran across the well-known excerpt from the book “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”. In my case, all I really need to know about Jesus I find in the Gospels. Perhaps we need some historical background, such as “Who were the Samaritans and why did the Jews despise them? What was the attitude toward women in Jewish society two thousand years ago? What was the problem for a good religious Jew with touching an injured person or a Samaritan, or with drinking from their water pot? From where did these ideas come?” This kind of historical information can help us understand Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well and His parable of the good Samaritan.

    Just that story and that parable speak volumes into my life. Who are the people in my culture who are most despised, especially by religious people? Why are they despised? Should I follow my own desires, the example of religious people or the example of Jesus?

    Who is this man Jesus? The founder of a religion or God in flesh? Why does almost no one talk about what an outrageous radical He was in the eyes of His contemporaries? Should we not follow that Jesus instead of the kindly, blue-eyed European we see in the paintings? They’re not the same Jesus. We want to follow a safe Jesus, not one who may get us crucified. We want a Jesus who gives us stuff, not one who might tell us to give away our stuff, take up our cross and follow Him, perhaps to some scary places. Yeah, we want Jesus, but one we have designed. The Jesus we find in the Gospels is a dangerous Jesus. Following Him might mean some things that take us way, way out of our comfort zone.

    Who is the real Jesus, and why would I want to follow Him? I’m trying, I’m trying and it’s taking me to some very unexpected places and totally changing my thinking and what we call my heart. He really is God! With the early church I must indeed say “He is risen indeed!” If that is true, and I wish to follow Him, I must indeed love my neighbor as myself. I’m trying to figure out what that looks like.

  6. Clay Knick says

    Wonderful book. Makes me proud he’s one of our bishops. Loved it.

  7. Why Jesus?
    Because he grew up in a society that was filled with references to Jesus, probably in a Christian family.

    • “Because he grew up in a society that was filled with references to Jesus, probably in a Christian family.”

      And this is a bad thing how? Isn’t that the goal of evangelization?

  8. Dan Allison says

    I’ve never read Willimon but he has an excellent reputation, and on that basis alone I’d put more stock in what he writes than in anything by Hagee, Osteen, MacArthur, and the other usual suspects.

  9. Chaplain Mike, why is my earlier comment @ 1:37pm on 1/11/11 still awaiting moderation?

    Am I on some kind of “to be watched” list? Not that I’m paranoid or anything…

  10. http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2489.htm
    There’s a sermon by Willimon there and a short interview with him after the sermon. I had never heard of him before, but he sounds wonderful to me.

  11. http://willimon.blogspot.com/
    And there is Willimon’s blog. I will read more of it later.

  12. We are also one with Him, just as He is one with His Father. This depth is seldom explored.

  13. Sorry to be such a na-sayer, but I’m afraid similar sentiments might be expressed (and have been expressed) about any cult leader. The author’s reasons for preferring Jesus to any other putative sage, prophet or deity are probably an accident of his personal biography, and would not apply to everyone, or even most.

    “The most fascinating person in the world”? How is this not a matter of opinion and taste? Another might name Nietzsche, or Justin Bieber.

    • Werner, I feel sad for your cynicism. Besides, find me another one of those ‘fascinating people’ with an empty tomb, and you might have a case.

      • Years ago a group of historians were polled to identify the most influential figures in world history:
        Mohammed was #1, because he founded both a religion and a system of government.
        St. Paul was #2 because he had the strategy to successfully propagate a religous meme throughout the western world.
        Jesus came in at #3. Apparently, he only ministered to a few people before he died.

        I guess being God, resurrecting from the dead and being the second Adam doesn’t impress historians.

        • I’m a historian who has taught in universities for 26 years. This poll sounds fascinating and I’d like to look into it. Can you give me a source for where I can start?

          Thanks in advance.

    • Nietzsche was a social critic who ranted about everything.
      Justin Bieber makes tween girls squee.
      Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose from the grave, thereby paving the way for eternal communion with God.

      I think I know who I’d choose. But, it is as you say, a matter of opinion and taste.

      • Now you’re trying to introduce their relative importance, which was not mentioned in the paragraph quoted above. (Nor was their any attempt to “prove” Christianity, e.g. by references to an empty tomb a la Chaplain Mike above.) Rather, the appeal was to a psychological effect. I suggest that this criterion is arbitrary. This is not “cynicism” (as Chaplain Mike says), but a realistic observation about human diversity.

        • You are absolutely correct, Werner. I apologize for my comment. It wasn’t exactly the best I’ve made, let alone of any importance to the conversation.

          • No apologies necessary–it’s all part of the normal give-and-take of an enjoyable discussion.

    • I guess they did not use Nietchzsche’s birthday (or Bieber’s!) to measure time..

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “The most fascinating person in the world”? How is this not a matter of opinion and taste?

      Or of sounding like a Dos Equis beer commercial? (Or the Jerry Brown for Governor campaign ad that parodied that commercial line-by-line and shot-for-shot?)

  14. I must be missing something. Since when is the incarnate-yet-transcendent paradox of Christ a liberal or universalist idea? It doesn’t seem like he means that nothing can be known about Jesus. It would seem that the overly-rationalistic and familiar views of Jesus common among evangelicals these days are anything but conservative. We make light of Saint John Chrysostom, who declared that He whom the universe could not contain was pleased to dwell fully in the womb of Mary, if we think we can figure this stuff out. There is little or no room among evangelicals for mystery.

    • here is little or no room among evangelicals for mystery.

      Where did that comment come from? Generally evangelicals are accused of being the opposite of rationalistic. See Y.E.C. posts.

    • Sometimes I think that it is not so much that is there is no mystery amongst Evangelicals. Rather, I think some of the problem stems from trying to define what the mystery is, let alone how it “works”. But, I digress.

    • I concur. Evangelicals like canned answers and figuring everything out. Mystery if for the Orthodox. The few evangelicals who develop an interest in mystery catch the liturgy bug and hit the Canterbury trail, or Wittenberg, etc…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      There is little or no room among evangelicals for mystery.

      Somewhere in the Internet Monk archives, there’s a posting about Evangelicals and “MAO Inhibitors” — “MAO” in this case meaning “Mystery, Awe, and Otherness.”