It is hard to tell the difference between a great leader and an awful tyrant just by looking at their personalities. Both tend to be focused, driven, and persistent. Often the only thing which explains the difference in a great leader and an awful leader is their understanding of the meaning of history. What story do they see themselves as a part of? Unlike people who see their lives as a philosophy, with beliefs simply compiled onto a vertical bullet point list, the standouts of history always seem to view their lives on a horizontal timeline, as part of a greater narrative. And that greater narrative informs everything they do.
Each of us has an individual story, with chapters which correspond to the most important turning points in our lives. We are called “sane” if we understand our own story, haven’t blocked out any chapters, and don’t confuse our story with someone else’s. But there is another, greater story which began long before our births and will continue long after our deaths. It runs through our individual stories and we are in that story in every moment.
We rarely take time to perceive this larger story or consider what it is, and I think that’s because doing so is humbling. Stories force coherency. When we translate our philosophies into the language of story, we very often find that our own beliefs clash within us. They explain one part of the story but not another. This is why very few explanations of the story have ever been taken seriously for very long by any substantial number of people.
Jesus of Nazareth framed his teaching using this story perspective. Though he has often been viewed simply as a moral philosopher or political activist, he answered the kinds of questions which every ideology and religion attempts to answer: What would the perfect world be like? Why is this not that world? Where is history headed? How would the world get fixed? What would it look like if the world got fixed? What will happen at the end of time? and Why is there a story in the first place?
I think it is unproductive to debate whether Jesus’ ideas were right – or even whether such a man as Jesus ever lived — without first considering what his ideas allegedly were. So this short confession will attempt to briefly outline those ideas. We will put special focus on the counter-intuitive parts of his vision of history and will avoid Christian vocabulary so as to make the document accessible to everyone. Finally, because Jesus said the Jewish Bible is a book about him, we will assume that its views on the story are his views as well.
As a Christian theologian in one of the world’s most atheistic cities, I am constantly asked two questions: what is the big story as Jesus saw it? And is that story true? These are completely separate questions, but I think understanding his view of the story is the gateway to any worthwhile discussion about whether he was right.
I’m still editing the confession. Civil suggestions welcomed.