Harvey Cox, Harvard theologian and author of The Secular City, tells the story of a class he taught about the life and teachings of Jesus. The class was constructed as an experimental response to the well-publicized, damaging moral failures of university alumni.
The book, When Jesus Came to Harvard, describes how Cox's class exploded in popularity even among a population of cynical, syncretistic and unbelieving students.
I read the book several years ago, but I remember being challenged by these two ideas:
1) To be amazed once again at the wondrous life that Jesus lived. Jesus and I are like pre-school sweethearts. We've known each other a long time. I sometimes fear, then, that I have tamed Jesus or caged him away, enjoying his companionship on an "as needed" basis? Jesus' life and teachings were astonishing, and they turned his world upside-down. I pray that his presence in my life would continue to revolutionize my thoughts, reactions, attitudes, and relationships.
...What do you do when you find a stranger lying bleeding by the roadside; when no guests show up for your big banquet; when a sassy and rebellious son you thought had left for good shows up on your doorstep broke? Jesus also put people in uncomfortable situations by the way he lived. He violated the social and religious taboos of his day. He ate with people a respectable rabbi was not supposed to eat with. He kept company with shady characters and social deviants. He lived in such a way that anyone who encountered him had to re-examine the meaning of life and look at the world from a new point of view. His words were his deeds and his deeds were his words.”
I have read through the New Testament hundreds of times, but I LOVE those moments when I read a phrase and think, "I don't remember seeing that before". The Scriptures are alive in those moments and I long for God to speak to me.
As I read Cox's book I was delighted for the college students who were reading about him for the first time -- devouring the New Testament as we would devour a freshly-unearthed treasure map.
2) Paul says famously in Romans 1:16, "...I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes..." I belong squarely (and sometimes proudly) to a generation whose most cherished belief is that beliefs ought to be kept to oneself. My career and this resultant blog notwithstanding, I sometimes retreat from opportunities to identify myself with Jesus. Cox's story served as a convicting reminder that Jesus' teachings are now as they always have been: dynamic, relevant, life-giving, living, and convincing.
Perhaps my favorite quote from the book, though, comes very near the end as the author reflects devotionally on his Savior and Friend. I would love to hear your thoughts, so please comment or contact me...
“During my years of study and teaching I have read many criticisms of envisioning Jesus as a friend. To some it appears to be overly intimate, glib, or childish. Psychologists warn against clinging too long to the babyish habit of having an invisible playmate or a ‘magic helper’. Some theologians deprecate using ‘friend’ for Jesus because it diminishes the majesty and transcendence of the divine. But I was never swayed by these arguments. We have only human language and our experience of human bonds to express ourselves, and these supply the metaphors we must draw on to talk about Jesus: everything from lover to king, and from ‘lily of the valley’ to ‘bright and morning star’. Among all these, I still think that ‘friend’ comes closest, not just to conveying how I experience my relationship with Jesus, but to the core of Jesus’ message itself….”