What does it mean to believe in Jesus?

Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator ...Researching this question has been quite difficult, as it appears that the majority of the books, periodicals, opinion polls, interviews and internet based discussions of what it means to believe in Jesus get caught up in the first part of the question. People would rather discuss what it means to believe in anything and not bother to discuss the Christian implications of believing, specifically, in Jesus. The popular position of these publications is a romantic literalist approach, discussing the implications of choosing not to believe in Jesus rather than worry about the connotations of the name itself. As Carl Jech, Author of Channeling Grace, puts it, these people need to “face the issue of what kind of belief in Jesus,” (Jech, 1988) they choose to hold, and let go of their literally held belief that the only road to salvation is through Jesus. It is a shame that this isn’t more publicized though.

In discussing this with a Parishioner at St. Mark Lutheran Church, of Sunnyvale, this past weekend, the interpretation of Jesus meaning “God Saves” or “God Delivers” was quite surprising. The group I happened upon had not taken the time to actually look at the origins of their faith. One woman, Frances Michaels, let me in on her thoughts: “The congregation has trouble denoting that the bible is not the literal truth.” (Michaels, 2010) While the Lutheran Church is more accepting of social growth, considering their stance on homosexuality in the political climate where it is all but shunned and muted, and keeping up with this changing world it is a bit odd to me that something as interesting and important as the name of their protagonist would go unnoticed.

In screenwriting it is said that everything that ends up on the page has to have purpose, and for that matter intention. When I choose a name for a character, I am supposed to be looking up the meaning of that name, it’s implications, famous people sharing that name, and expanding upon this information, I am supposed to be trying to devise ways to intertwine irony or add subtle cues as to the characters goal or purpose in the play is. I can only assume that the radical literalists follow this approach, concluding that while the name is there, and sure it is god’s son, the deeper meaning is something entirely separate; something substantial and important to keep in mind. The name’s intention, according to our class, is to emphasize the more Universalist approach that Christianity has taken to explain God’s role in giving us salvation, unconditionally. It is not for us to assert, but to help others understand “what it means to believe that God alone is totally in charge of our salvation,” for “[it] is not up to us to say whether Jews or Hindus or, for that matter, atheists can be saved.” (Jech, 1988) Our class has shown me, for one, that in spite of the popular opinion that religion is about salvation through work, Christianity was founded in an effort to set itself apart from other world religions, not requiring work to reach salvation.

This all seems a bit sugar coated to me, though. It is as if to say that in spite of the long history, all of the pain, agony and bloodshed over differing religious views we have come to realize that it was all for not, and that’s okay. That we have come to the realization that we have all been far too literal and that we need to be more accepting of the world, and a recent review of a 2007 pew poll would seem to support this. Some 68% of those polled, who have confessed a religious affiliation, believe that their religion has multiple interpretations and 70% hold that many religions may lead to an afterlife. (Pond, Smith, & Clement, 2010) This new found radical literalistic approach is a bit baffling because the television, news, popular debate and many other media make the case that it is the exact opposite.

A recent example is the way that Brit Hume suggested that Tiger Woods come to Christianity for “forgiveness and redemption” so he can be a great example to the world. There are countless figures on our televisions and in our magazines that are undisclosed pundits and paint a horrible picture for religion as a whole. In a follow up interview Hume says “Jesus Christ offers Tiger Woods something that Tiger Woods Badly Needs.” (Hume, 2010) This is clearly not the same as the views of the previous two pieces, but it is one that I find myself having to compete with more and more each day. But, who can forget the number of hands that didn’t go up in the Republican National Convention when asked about their belief in Evolution, another heated and clearly politically charged subject that really has no reason to be as such. Taking anything as literal as to question and spite reality or another person’s privately held beliefs is never going to be the right choice.

If the position we have pushed for in our class is correct, believing in Jesus is about acceptance of others and allowing everyone to do as they will without being badgered or beaten up on, because it is ultimately up to god to decide on who get’s salvation. Yet there are so many different Christian groups that take it upon themselves to preach to those who have not chosen their specific flavor of Christianity. The Lutheran group I spoke to earlier are well known for their door to door salesmen type of approach to our community, but they aren’t alone. The door to door salesmen of religion are numerous and can be quite irritating. I have learned to ask them pointed questions and ignore letting them in to knowing something about my own beliefs because as long as a bible is in view they are going to assume the best and move on to the next unlucky soul. The logical conclusion of this softer approach to belief in jesus, however, is Universalism and if it is entirely left up to god to decide upon who gets in, regardless of the acts conducted, it is possible that I may have to sit next to Hitler or be cast away with other members of the community Like Martin Luther King Jr., as has been discussed within our class previously. It is definitely not the way I would like to see things turn out, and I am sure that many share this point of view.

I am not entirely sure that unconditional love exists. Even within the bible it says many contradictory statements about the righteous path. Despite the popular use of John 3:16, according to the NIV translation of the bible, just a few lines later it is said “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36 New International Version) While quoting the bible to someone who already agrees that it is not to be taken literally is unnecessary, it is a good example of how no matter the views you may hold about society and how we should conduct ourselves you can cherry pick much of the bible to support your views, no matter how horrible they may be to others. The only thing that we really have to go on in making the argument that god’s love is unconditional is the word of the bible and our growing discussion and interpretation of the contents. We are free to interpret things in a way that better conforms to our moral precepts but we have to recognize that the rest of the world is not willing to jump on our band wagon.

I agree with the charge that it is time that the Christians actually start examining the meaning of their beliefs; that they stop allowing themselves to fall into the rabbit hole of unquestioning loyalty to a concept; that they realize that Jesus didn’t stand for any of these ha
rd fast and stern positions that seem to be dominating our news and political horizon. Part of this position is certainly about that, but it is also about acceptance of differing view, and that seems to be the most difficult to fathom. To accept that god will actually do whatever he chooses because his ways are beyond us is to truly accept the new messiah, the new Christ. The problem is that this view has not yet found legs. Public figures have not shared this view, they don’t accept others and they wouldn’t dare accept the belief that all of this is in god’s hands. The primary bone of contention I have with this position is simply that it is not widely accepted yet, and that seems to be a problem for all of the seemingly beautiful and truly peaceful things that our society could build off of.

Forum Discussion on Thinking Aloud


Hume, B. (2010, January 4). O’Rielly Factor. (B. O’Rielly, Interviewer)
Jech, C. L. (1988). Channeling Grace. Lima, Ohio, United States: CSS Publishing.
Michaels, F. (2010, March 11). (R. Chatman, Interviewer)
Pond, A., Smith, G., & Clement, S. (2010, Feb 17). Religion Among the Millenials. Retrieved March 14, 2010, from Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=510
Treybig, D. (2009, March/April). What Does it Mean to Believe in Jesus. Retrieved March 9, 2010, from The Good News: http://www.gnmagazine.org/issues/gn81/b … -jesus.htm