F. Neil Folks: Jesus — Savior or wisdom teacher?


Interesting question, is it not?

We’ve been taught through the years that He, Jesus, is our Savior and Lord. Yet, all through the New Testament, he is considered the rabbi, or teacher. Jesus always said, “Follow me, not worship me.” “Yes,” said Jesus, “as I am, you, too, can and must become. I will be here to help you. But you must do the work yourself.”

I find that when someone uses the phrase, “Jesus, my Lord and Savior,” he or she tends to forget “you must do the work yourself. Get God in you life and all will be well.” I am afraid it isn’t that simple. God doesn’t always give us the “Saul treatment.”

Be helpful, yes, but that’s not always the way it works.

Let’s put Jesus in context. We look at Jesus through the Western filter, exclusively. What this means is we’re looking at Jesus through the Roman filter. Two earmarks of the Roman filter are that it tends to confuse unity with uniformity, and it puts a high priority on order and authority.

Filters always change how we look at and perceive reality. So, we get conformity and purity, and performance codes preached to us.

Much of this type of preaching comes through the human convention of doctrine and dogma church law. It is more about law than following the spiritual teachings of the Rabbi. These laws tend to create exclusivity and dualism.

Ah, wasn’t it nice when we had our tradition; we had our creeds; we had our rules; and we had our story line right.

But somehow 9/11 put a damper on all this. In the Western tradition, Christians came in only two flavors: Catholic or Protestant. We heard along the way something about Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. But they were something that existed in the East. That was about the extent of the Western Christian knowledge of them.

But what about the Ethiopian church? The Oriental Orthodox? The Nestorians? The ancient Syriacs? The Malabar Christians? The Chinese Christians of Xian with their distinctly Buddhist-flavored versions of the teachings of Jesus? What do we know of all these other Christian streams of influence?

Since 9/11, we’ve now reduced the world to three categories of faith —Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, and we have forgotten what Jesus taught us about creating classes.

Jesus stayed close to the perennial ground of wisdom: the transformation of human consciousness. He was always asking those questions we hate to have asked: What does it mean to die before you die? How do you go about losing your little life to find the bigger one? Is it possible to live on this planet with generosity, abundance, fearlessness, and beauty that mirror the Divine Being itself? What’s it mean to be “all one?” What does it mean to “Put on the Mind of Christ,” as Paul teaches?

These are deep wisdom questions — spiritually deep, that is.

Western Christianity has a strong tendency to sentimentalize Jesus as an uneducated tradesman. After all, he grew up in some far away place from Jerusalem, a small hick-town called Galilee as a humble carpenter’s son.

We’ve bought into this fantasy, because it strengthens our human convention that he learned from God. In re-reading the Bible, this picture does not hold up.

We’ve been taught that Jerusalem was the center of culture, not Galilee. Galilee was far from being cultural backwater. Galilee was actually more cosmopolitan in environment than Jerusalem, where people all rushed off to get their spiritual needs filled.

Galilee lays on the Silk Road, that great viaduct of human commerce which has connected the lands of the Mediterranean with the lands and culture of Central Asia and China. The Silk Road went right through the city of Capernaum, where Jesus did a lot of his learning and his teaching.

Wouldn’t this be a great environment in which to learn? What exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking. This would seem as New Age stuff for his time.

In Luke 4:16, we read about Jesus walking into the synagogue in that great moment of his public debut, reading from the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah. I would have liked to have been there that day to watch the look on the faces of the temple priests — Jesus was no priest himself.

An illiterate wood carver from Galilee? Not hardly. His teachings reflected the deep spiritual sources of other spiritual traditions, particularly of Buddhism and Persian light mysticism. And furthermore, being on the Silk Road, he probably spoke several other languages besides his native Aramaic.

To me, He was a literate citizen of His day. Jesus deliberately aimed at turning our usual mind, full of theological percepts, upside down — the Parables and Beatitudes. The parables were spiritual hand grenades; their job is not to confirm, but to uproot.

For me, Jesus is not the Savior or Lord, but The Life-Giver, The Teacher, The Man of Wisdom. He was teaching us how to live “the right” life today, and tomorrow will take care of itself. Heaven is on Earth now, not at some far off place or future.

We must learn to live, act, and walk in the now, not in the tomorrow. It’s time again to set at his feet and listen to what he is really saying.

Then we must go do the real “work.” Amen.


onewhocares 6 years, 9 months ago

Wow, what a great article Neil. As you know I am definitely not "Christian or Catholic," but VERY spiritual. I feel your perspective on Jesus is by far probably the closest to the truth I've heard yet. I couldn't agree more, (if) Christ walked the earth, he probably walked in the manner closest to Mother Teresa than anyone else-humble, kind, full of wisdom, truly brave and loves everyone, especially those with the least.
Just as Mother Teresa didn't want to be put up on a pedestal, I doubt Jesus would have either. Those truly of GOD strive to be humble, happy with little, and loving to ALL, not striving for possessions, up on a stage asking for money and preaching the gospel living in ego. Jesus would be devastated at how people use him as a cope out and scapegoat keeping them from facing their own responsibilities & actions in this life to the earth and others & using Christ to justify racism and separatism from other people's in other religions, races, cultures, etc. Just as Mother Teresa loved all, so would Christ and I have always taught my kids "GOD helps those that help themselves." (FYI: The profound problem with the Bible and most organized religions , is its separateness from the natural environment, giving people the illusion that somehow man is ABOVE the earth & the animals, when in reality we are absolutely no different. That disconnection has allowed us to completely destroy the planet, which means the ultimate destruction of ourselves, right along with all the other creatures.) Religion separated us, and science & technology has altered the perfect system leading to the end of the natural and perfect world. GOD had NOTHING to do with it...WE DID & continue to do so by over populating and it is our responsibility to change our lifestyles & take responsibility for the number of people on this earth leading to depleted resources, the poisoned oceans, quality of air, chemical laced foods and water we created. GOD gave us heaven to live on, and we as humans turned it into a hell. )

Your friend, Kerrie.


David Carrick 6 years, 9 months ago

Neil, you wrote: "To me, Jesus is not the Savior or Lord, but The Life-Giver, The Teacher, The Man of Wisdom."

I feel compelled to lay out this correction: along with Jesus being first and foremost both Savior and Lord, He ALSO is, as you put it, "The Life-Giver, The Teacher, The Man of Wisdom"...and so much more, may I add!

It is so easy, however, in the midst of the decrying words and influence of our surrounding secular society, to forget, and therefore leave out, Philippians 2:9-11, "Therefore [because of his sacrificial death, outlined in verses 5-8] God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."


dawnnewday 6 years, 9 months ago

David, Thank you so much for adding what was missing -- Neil left out some very important information, not the least of which was Jesus' statement, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one come to the Father except through me." in John 14:6

And so, He is both Savior and Lord, and as Lord, instructs us in how we should now live...


David Carrick 6 years, 9 months ago

That's right...and not even A way, A truth, and A life, but absolutely and singularly THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life!

Truly "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men" (John 1:4). Unfortunately, the next verse also still holds true today: "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."

May we take the approach of a father in Mark 9:24 -- "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"


Cole White 6 years, 9 months ago

I think what maybe what David and Dawn missed when reading the article is that in the end it doesn't matter what the Bible says Jesus is or isn't, but what's important is your personal relationship with Christ. Each person should and likely will have their own individual relationship with Jesus and that relationship isn't necessarily going to match Peter's, John's or Paul's.

I find it amazing how little children can develop a relationship with God and have nevery read a single scripture in their life. Taking your faith back to scripture is not a bad thing, but man's faith in our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ can exist without scripture, but scripture can not exist without our faith in God.

I think too many individuals and too many churches have lost track of the core, individual faith in Jesus Christ and the end result is thousands of churches, non of which seem to agree with one another. Once you strip away the layers of the dogma, the scripture, the ritual, the tradition, the theology and reduce it to its simples form I think you will find a man standing before his creator seeking guidance, love, answers, and a relationship with him who gave us life.


dawnnewday 6 years, 9 months ago

Highway; Your point is well taken in your observation that a relationship with the Christ is paramount, however, faith comes by hearing the Word of God, and the Word provides guidance, love, answers and a relationship... If that relationship is to deepen then Scripture is needful -- as the writer of Hebrews said: "In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elemental truths of God's word all over again." For the record, I am not a member of any organized religion and do not participate in man's rituals or traditions, nevertheless, because of Christ, I am a child of the Living God and a student of His word, attempting daily to be an obedient daughter as He instructs. Little children do not remain little children, after all, and each of us will give an account of himself. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) Jesus is that living word, come to dwell among us, showing us how it is we should live. Scripture details His life, His path and His purpose. It cannot be dismissed.


daybyday 6 years, 9 months ago

Scripture is the word of life to be held forth (Phil 2:16), The word of reconciliation proclaimed (2 Cor 5:19), The word of salvation to be heard (Acts 28:26), The word of truth to be received (Eph 1:13), The word of faith to be believed (Rom 10:8), The word of wisdom to be ministered (1 Cor 12:8), The word of faithfulness to be held fast (Titus 1:9), All scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), All scripture is truth (John 8:32)


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