Many a times, I have asked myself how I should live a life that is worthy to be called 'Christ-like'. I have gotten different answers over the past few years. When I attended a seminar on 'Teaching with Styles' by Walk Thru the Bible ministry, Jesus was cast in the light of a great teacher with many teaching styles to be emulated by us. When I had an evangelistic bible study on John 5 where Jesus had an encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus was cast in the light of a great apologist who not only understood the woman's deep spiritual needs but handled her question well. In some churches, there are sermons that encouraged Christians to own private properties and to generate higher incomes as such were the economic background of the early supporters of Jesus' ministry.
In books like In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon, readers are invited to ponder upon the question of what Jesus would do in a given situation and this gave rise to 'What would Jesus do?' movement. In the history of the church, Jesus had been used as a rally point for the crusaders to redeem the 'holy land' that Jesus stepped on. In the middle of 19th century China, Hong Xiu Quan claimed that he was the second son of God, the younger brother to Jesus, on earth with a mission to found a new kingdom. This gave him the divine basis to inspire the Taiping Revolution, which crumpled eventually. A century later, the idea of Jesus the liberator of the oppressed was used heavily in the liberation theology to support the establishment of base communities in Latin America. In the last century, Albert Schweitzer popularized the quest for the historical Jesus, followed by Rudolf Bultmann in the recent century and the Jesus Seminar in the last two decades who advocated a deconstructed Jesus. In short, I realized that Jesus could be cast in whatever light we desire, so long as we have sufficient verses from the Bible to support ourselves. How are we then to imitate Jesus Christ if we are not sure which Jesus is historical and depicted in the light of who He truly is? Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity concludes that God is nothing else than man: he is, so to speak, the outward projection of man's inward nature1.
What then bothers me is: Are we casting Jesus in our own image? Are we projecting Jesus from our social-economic and metaphysical background?
I have been able to take comfort in books for layman like The Jesus I never knew by Philip Yancey which emphasizes on the Jewishness of Jesus Christ, The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel which uncovers empirical evidences for the crucified and resurrected Christ. As I come in touch with more literature, it dawned upon me that history could never be written objectively. It is always written by the victors, by someone who wants the readers to believe in his cause. This explains why the history book in the secondary school of Japan is different from that of Singapore in talking about the same world war.
In John 20:31 "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." The gospels have been written to convince the readers of the life, deeds and claims of Jesus Christ as perceived by the witnesses and preachers in the 1st century. We who are living in the 21st century cannot relive the historical events and have to accept what is written at face value. But we can validate the claims from verifiable evidences that we could gather. Just like a person who has not seen Confucius can only ascertain what Confucius has said and done from what has been recorded in the past and other forms of evidences to affirm the validity of it.
However, this approach has its metaphysical assumption. How do we believe in the resurrection, the healing of the disabled, the walking on water, the feeding of thousands based on few pieces of breads and fishes and other types of miracles as recorded in the gospels? This will depend whether we adopt as closed-ended universe or open-ended universe. In a closed-ended universe, we do not accept the existence of a transcendent God who can act in our system, whereas it is the reverse for an open-ended universe. For more argument about this issue, one would benefit by referring to C.S. Lewis' Miracles.
Graudally, I discovered that even if one is intellectually convinced in what the gospels said about Jesus, one may not come to accept Jesus Christ as her savior. This made me appreciate what Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9 "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast." It is ultimately the faith from God which convinces a person of the reality of sin, of her need for Jesus Christ and for her to experience the authenticity of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. It is then a myth that the Bible should be read objectively! The Bible is never meant to be read objectively, it is written that we may believe in Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing we may have life in his name (Jn 20:31) and for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2Ti 3:16-17).
Michael Polanyi, a physical chemist and a philosopher of science, wrote in his Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post Critical Philosophy that knowing is personal. He believes that all observation of the universe is personal, and is influenced by individual biases, human error, and the limits of the observer's knowledge. No human observer can remove humanity from the observation (and to formulate theories as though this were possible leads to conclusions that are absurd because they overlook the existence and influence of humanity and the scientist's biases)2. In John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, he affirmed that Scripture must be confirmed by the witness of the Spirit.
As such, I have reached the verdict that first and foremost, a person must possess faith (which is a gift from God) in order to believe in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. This would then be the paradigm through which we interpret our empirical evidence to support the case for Christ and we continually affirm our faith by our experience in life and within the community (or the church and fellowship) that God has placed us in.
But if we were to accept that Jesus Christ is indeed the son of God and that we believe that it is through Him that we are reconciled back to God and have eternal life and it is in Him that we can grow fully in His image, how do we assess the validity of Jesus as being the liberator of the oppressed? Or Jesus as being the miracle worker?
We must be faithful to the testimony of the Scripture and the history of the Church in our proclamation of Jesus Christ. A faithful hermeneutics calls for the Scripture as illumined by the Holy Spirit to be the guide to lead us to an understanding of Jesus Christ. It is foolish if one was to ignore the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedon Creed which form the basis for us to comprehend Jesus Christ as both fully man and fully God, as one of the Trinity and in the encountering of the different heresies in the 1st few centuries. Yet the application of the Scripture may yield different outcome in different context and in different community but all these demand that one should be trained in the exegesis of the text before one should commence teaching others about the same text.
In trying to concretize how I can imitate Jesus Christ, I would want to follow in His footsteps in identifying with the needs of others. To use Paul Tillich's term, Jesus Christ was able to participate in the existence of other beings. To further expand on this point, I shall extract from Paul Tillich's Communicating the Christian Message: A Question to Christian Ministers and Teachers.
Huston Smith's The World's Religions: