Your article (October 2017) “Who is Jesus to me”— and your Facebook friend’s comments — go to the heart of what ails us as Anglicans. You have captured in a nutshell why churches are closing and people are staying away in droves.
Church as we know it cannot survive unless it offers something we need, want, can believe to be true and can’t get elsewhere.
Your correspondent notes we can be “very good people” without going to church, and those who pursue social justice can do so through political parties and interest groups.
We meet our need for community through family, work, service clubs and shared hobbies. We get counselling and absolution from friends, therapy groups and drinking buddies. A lot of academics tell us the universe is self-explanatory and doesn’t need an external agent. So when you ask, “Who is Jesus to me?” many must reply, “superfluous” and “irrelevant”.
Certainly, Jesus invites a personal response from each of us, but you cannot give an informed answer to “Who is Jesus to me?” until you first know the answer to “Who is Jesus?” If parishioners cannot answer the “to me” question, it’s because we have not given them clear and convincing answers to the “Who is Jesus?” question.
I met a retired minister recently who had a copy of Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ. I mentioned Tom was my thesis supervisor at Wycliffe, and I had watched with sadness as his faith unravelled over the next 45 years. My friend mentioned he too had lost his faith and was no longer attending church. He said the turning point came (of course it did!) when he stopped believing in the resurrection.
We in the church have nothing to offer that can’t be found better outside the church, unless we can re-affirm the Jesus of the New Testament and the creeds — virgin birth, incarnation, atoning death, bodily resurrection and second coming. We must show how those things are still credible within the scope of current Biblical and scientific knowledge, and how the 30-year gap between the Jesus-events and the writing of the New Testament was bridged by a reliable oral tradition.
It’s difficult to have a personal relationship, or even a brief conversation, with a Jesus who you suspect may not objectively exist. So it’s time to scrap those 12-minute feel-good homilies and replace them with solid Biblical exposition and apologetics.