THE BOOK: A Different Jesus: A Christian Theology Big Enough for an Interfaith World
PUBLISHED IN: 2014
THE AUTHOR: Jan G. Linn
THE EDITOR/THE PUBLISHER: Sweetgrass Books
SUMMARY: Christian commitment is about living and not just believing, but what Christians believe has always mattered, something that is especially true today. The world is growing more inter-religious and non-religious daily. At the moment there are a billion and a half Muslims worldwide, with that number increasing steadily. There are more and more people of no religious faith, and a growing number of others who engage in Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist practices. Conflict between these religious groups is not uncommon. Tensions between Christians and Muslims are intensifying in many nations. Unchecked this tension will evolve into open conflict that will contribute to a more unstable world order.
In the past Christianity has ruled the world, at least since the fourth century. The Holy Roman Empire (French philosopher Voltaire once said it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire) that existed between the ninth and nineteenth centuries was so called because of the belief that God sanctioned those who ruled Europe. The collusion between the church and the empire only added to this myth. The church’s power and influence grew exponentially during this period to the point where Christianity became the world’s dominant religion. But times have changed. Christianity remains the largest religious tradition – some three billion adherents – but no longer commands the world as it once did.
There are many Christians who are unprepared for the world as it is, maybe most. There are just as many churches doing nothing theologically to help them navigate this sea of change that has taken place in the last fifty years. I believe the time (kairos) is right for Christians to re-engage our faith tradition in order to fashion new understandings of what can and should believe that will help us face the challenges ahead. The old notion that the way to preserve our faith is to set it in stone was never true. Faith is like anything else. To stay alive it must grow and at the same time adapt to a changing environment.
The purpose of this book is to rethink Christian theology that insists Jesus is “the only way” because he died for the sins of the world. This is called “atonement theology” which I believe is a hindrance to faith rather than a help. It shuts down respect and affirmation of the validity of other religious, essentially claims that God is “Christian,” and in the end contradicts much of what the Bible as a whole actually says. But how can you be a Christian and not believe Jesus died for yours sins? That is the question this book seeks to answer with a theology that is faithful to the heart of the Christian message and big enough to build bridges between different faiths and cultures around the world.
THE BACK STORY: I wrote this book because as a pastor I met too many people who no longer believed what the church had taught them about Jesus, mainly because it forced them to condemn everyone not a Christian to hell (whatever that is), so they were ready to give up on Christianity. I wanted them to know that ministers learn to think in different ways about Jesus in seminary and they should have a chance to be in on those discussions. This book opens that door. I spent two and half years writing it because there is so much research to do on a subject like this. I spend most of my time reading the books and articles that disagreed with what I was writing in order to be able to speak to those concerns and arguments on the other side.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The title suggests there is a Jesus other than the one the church talks about, and there is, only it is a Jesus much closer to what the New Testament actually says than the creeds and doctrines of the church are.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Anyone who is familiar with the “stained glass” Jesus of the church might read this book to find out that there are other ways of understand who Jesus was and what his life, death, and resurrection mean. Also, people of no faith and other faith traditions will be interested in the book, not least because it provides a view of Jesus that may never have heard before now.
“We chose this book for our theology book club. Our group appreciated Linn’s ability to look at New Testament passages which have traditionally become exclusionary to non-Christians, and bring them full circle, historically and theologically, to a probable original context more in-line with Jesus’ message of love. I particularly appreciated his use of footnotes as a sort of writer’s journal or dialogue with his sources, as some of his personal biases were apparent and these notes offered the needed conversation. Those of us who have read various theology books felt the author was broadly accessible and easy to understand; however, some, new to our group, unaccustomed to theology as a subject, did not agree. But since new people read the book and came to the book club, I think that is a testimony to its broad accessibility.” — By Julie Martin, Oct. 7, 2015..
“Are you someone who has long given up on Christianity? Or are you someone who still considers yourself a Christian but you are hanging on by a thread due to the seeming irrelevance of some of the Church’s teachings? Then you should read this book. It is written for you. Dr. Linn argues against a literal interpretation of Scripture. But more essentially, he argues against the common practice over the last few centuries of placing the cross and atonement at the center of the faith. Instead, he argues persuasively and articulately that the central, unique, and foundational heart of the faith is the resurrection of Jesus. He also insists that this understanding of the New Testament, certainly underscored by the writings of Paul, free us to respect and embrace, rather than exclude, our brothers and sisters who are devoted to the other Abrahamic faiths, namely Judaism and Islam. By extension he would also embrace the other world religions, although I would have wished for more explicit, rather than implicit treatment of this aspect. He devotes about 3 pages of this slim volume (96 pages) to a discussion of those words of Jesus as reported in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except by me”. This is a book whose time has come and one worthy of anyone who honestly seeks to be a follower of Jesus in this age.”– By The Rev. Dr. Ronald T. Roberts, October 16, 2015.
“Jan Linn addresses some of the illogical thinking prevalent in so many “Christian” churches today. Linn disassembles various atonement theories and offers us a new way to think about who Jesus was, his life among us, and clarifies his original message to humanity. “A Different Jesus: A Christian Theology Big Enough for an Interfaith World” is a very refreshing voice to the church universal. Highly recommended.” — By R. Bible on November 6, 2014
AUTHOR PROFILE: Jan Linn is a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He was Chaplain and Associate Professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia for ten years before serving as Professor of the Practice of Ministry at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He and his wife, Joy, also served as co-directors of the New Clergy Program for the Department of Religion at the Chautauqua Institution for two years. Currently he serves as the Dean of the School of Ministry for the Christian Church in the Upper Midwest Region, with special focus on developing a curriculum based program of education for Commissioned Ministers of his denomination.
In 1998, at the invitation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper-Midwest, Jan made the decision to gave up his tenured professorship at Lexington Theological Seminary to become founding co-pastor with Joy of a new congregation in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. It was modeled after the innovative ministry of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C.. After fourteen years they retired and Jan assumed his writing full-time.
A popular preacher and lecturer, Jan is the author of fourteen books, as well as numerous articles and book reviews. He is a graduate of the University of Richmond, attended Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, Princeton Theological Seminary, and holds the Doctor of Ministry degree from Christian Theological Seminary (Magna Cum Laude). He was a member of his college Areopagas Honorary English Society, the Theta Phi Religious Society, and has been the Shumate Lecturer on the Christian Life at Lynchburg College in Virginia, the John Turner Lecturer, First Christian Church, Lynchburg, Virginia, the William Chidester Lecturer, Sylvania United Church of Christ in Ohio, and the Preacher of the Week at the Chautauqua Institution.
Jan also writes a popular blog called, “Thinking Against the Grain,” that can be accessed at linnposts.com.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “In a world of religious diversity, Christianity need a voice other than the narrow minded, exclusivistic faith of evangelicalism. This book offers such a voice at a time when presidential candidates are using religion to divide people and create fear. God is bigger than anything anyone believes about God, else there is no God except the one we create. This book demands an accounting of Christian theology that increases the chances of peace and tolerance of one another that is absent from too much of what the loudest Christian evangelical leaders of today are saying.”
A PERSONAL STATEMENT OF FAITH
This book is written for Christians who believe in Jesus but have serious questions about the meaning of his being the savior of the world. They want to be Christian without believing that God rejects everyone who is not. Ironically, surveys suggest these Christians are actually a majority now, but they don’t know that.2 Consequently they feel out of place in the church. Many of them have dropped out. Others are hanging on by a thin thread.
I hope this book will help these individuals see that it’s possible to be thoroughly Christian without dismissing or condemning all other religions. I also hope this material will help those who do believe Jesus is the only way to better understand those of us who don’t.
I did not come to believe in Jesus as a way to God—but not the only way—overnight. I was raised in a large, conservative church that not only told me Jesus was the only way, but also that the Bible was literally the Word of God (meaning the King James Version). The people in my home church loved and supported me as a child of the congregation and later as a student studying for the ministry. But there came a point where I knew that what they taught me was no longer what I believed, not because I doubted my own faith, but because I doubted what they taught me about theirs.
Anyone who has been in that situation knows how emotionally stressful it can be. A sense of separation builds between you and the people you love the most. That was happening to me until I spent a week with my hometown minister, who was holding a preaching mission at the student church I was serving. He was a dynamic but humble minister loved by the entire city as well as our
congregation. Even though his theology was more conservative than mine had become, as the week progressed I began to see that he genuinely believed in what he said. More than that, I knew him well enough to know that the goal of his life was to serve God. At the end of the week, I admired him even more than I had before. We were no closer theologically, but I realized that what mattered more than theology was our relationship.
That is a lesson I have drawn on many times in my ministry, in part because I have found myself at theological odds with a variety of people for a variety of reasons. It is not because I enjoy conflict. I don’t. It is because I think that what we believe as Christians is too important to merely accept claims on blind faith. Moreover, I believe wrestling with questions is vital to spiritual growth. It is a primary way many of us who are Christian make faith our own.
At the center of my questions is, of course, Jesus. Who was he really? Was he human and divine? What does that even mean? Did he die for the sins of the world? If so, how can people of other faith traditions who are friends of mine be in a relationship with God if they don’t believe in Jesus? What is the core of Christian belief? Or, in other words, is there any single belief without which the entire house of cards would come tumbling down?
This book is my answer to those questions. By the time you finish reading, I hope you will see why I believe Jesus was the man he was and why it was God raising him from the dead rather than his crucifixion that changed the world, opening the door to a faith that can thrive in the religiously plural nation that is the United States today.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I realize that the waters of Christian belief run deep, and emotions attached to faith can be so strong that they overwhelm our capacity to think through what someone who is challenging long-standing beliefs is actually saying. This happens to all of us. For this reason I want to underscore that my intention in writing this book is to build up faith, not tear it down. I want to strengthen the church’s witness, not undermine it.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & noble, etc. or directly from Sweetgrass Books at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PRICE: $12.95 (20% discount for orders of ten or more).
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: email@example.com