Who is Jesus to you? Perhaps you see Him as the Messiah, or the savior of the world. Others view Him as a good teacher, or in a contrasting parallel, a political revolutionary. More than a few see Jesus as a prophetic voice, seeking to balance the scales of justice between the rich and the poor.
However you may feel about Him, many will admit that His teachings have changed and validated the lives of countless generations of people. Yet, Jesus is often seen as someone who is old fashioned and even narrow minded.
In his latest book, The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus, author Mark Clark challenges readers to confront the real history of Christ. In doing so, Clark believes that doubters who truly consider Him in this manner will have a crisis of faith, one that forces them to a point of decision.
I recently spoke to Clark, who pastors Village Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, about why some people doubt the very existence Jesus, the biggest difference between the global and domestic Jesus, and why his book will hopefully challenge devout followers to strengthen their faith.
What was the inspiration or the catalyst for you to write The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus?
I wanted to take an approach to the person and the work of Jesus and say, how can I get both a skeptic and a lifelong believer to learn new things about Jesus, be confronted, challenged, and encouraged by Him in a world like ours. And so, I brought together both the kind of the questions and approach that even the skeptic is going to be convinced. The lifelong believer is going to be inspired and be able to see Jesus a fresh new way. So, I write about things like the miracles and whether they make sense legitimately from a scientific and modern perspective. And then, what do they mean for your life? Can the Gospels be trusted? Did Jesus actually exist? These types of things. I kind of fused together Biblical theology, but also practical life stories and the ability to see Jesus in the everyday, for both the skeptic and the believers.
So that’s what inspired me to write this book. I looked around at all my neighbors and they don’t go to church. They don’t care about Jesus. And then the ones that do, sometimes have this version of Jesus that when I read the Gospel, I don’t see. So, I wanted to clarify what Jesus was actually about. What was His message? After 20 years of reading every academic book I could on the historical Jesus, I came to the conclusion of what was He trying to say. When I listen to Christians and they talk about that answer, I’m not sure they’re always accurate. In one of my chapters about discipleship, I talk about the idea that Jesus presents to us, this invitation to follow Him, but what does that mean to the modern world?
The title of your book might be alarming to some devout followers of Jesus. You mention that Jesus is a ‘problem’ and that He is a ‘scandal’ in the subtitle. Why so forceful with the book title?
My first book that I wrote a few years ago was called The Problem of God. It’s actually taken from an A.W. Tozer quote. Tozer said this, “If all of the problems of heaven and earth were to confront us together, that would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God.” He is what He is like and what we as moral beings must do about Him. And so, this is the idea of a problem of course. I actually define this at the beginning of the book. It is a question raised for inquiry, consideration or solution, and is an intricate unsettled question. It’s more like a math problem then there is some problem with Jesus. So, it’s a play on words.
What was Jesus about? What was He calling us to? Did He really rise from the dead? And if so, what does that have to do with our lives? That’s why the word problem is used. It’s a problem. It’s a confrontation for all of our lives, but each person has to decide what they’re going to do with Him, because He’s the deciding factor of the fate of everyone who’s ever lived. So in that sense, He is a problem. And then the scandal … in the introduction I talk about the fact of the New Testament multiple times. I use the word scandal in relation to the person of Jesus and His message, how it was a stumbling block to people because we all want to live our lives the way we want to live our lives.
The scandal of Jesus is that He’s not going to let us know He’s going to call us to things that are going to make us uncomfortable, but that they are ultimately for our joy. That means in the next 80 years or the next 80 million years, He knows what is best for us. And so, are we going to allow ourselves to be confronted and scandalized by Him in that way? Or, are we just going to kind of bury Him and stay away from the question and the problem of Jesus? That’s where the title comes from.
Why do you think there is a misconception that Jesus is often presented as a good person, a positive influence, and ultimately very kind? What I have just described sounds like Mr. Rogers. Why do people seem to put Jesus in a box like that?
This is my motive for writing the book. People misunderstand what He was about and if you don’t put Him back in His historical context, understand His message and what He was doing, (you might be a little lost). I think the second issue is when you hone in on certain parts of His life. For instance, I was listening to kind of a new age scholar. He was talking about how Jesus wasn’t about all of these things, like teaching about how or exclusivity that Jesus was the only way. He wasn’t all about that. He was just talking about loving people. Then he said, “Go read the Sermon on the Mount. That’s the summation of what Jesus was actually about.”
Everything else was just whatever. And I thought to myself, I don’t know when the last time this guy read the Sermon on the Mount because it’s some of the most controversial, scandalous, and confrontational stuff you could ever read. In fact, the Doctrine of Hell, it could be said, actually rose out of the Sermon on the Mount. He talks about it all the time. And so, this idea that people would hone in on certain parts of Jesus’ life and say that’s what Jesus was about doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think that’s why people misunderstand and put him in that Mr. Rogers role, because if you just focus on loving one another and you don’t realize that part of loving one another is actually giving people the truth, that Jesus is the only way for instance, and if you read the Gospels, you see these moments where He says things and we don’t get that He’s claiming to be the One when He says it.
I have read and seen this in several places over the years where people say that Jesus is a really nice story but it’s a fable. I think it goes without saying that there’s hard evidence that Jesus was a real, historical figure. Why do so many people question the accuracy of His physical existence?
There are people who have agendas. We’re all driven by agendas and I think people come up with things in order to avoid what Jesus was about. At the end of the day, you look at scholarship as a whole, in the academic world, whether it’s conservative or liberal, and the concept that Jesus never existed as a human being, isn’t taken seriously by almost any of them. I was reading a book the other day about Jesus, a 700 page book on the historical Jesus. And it deals with the question of His existence. In one sentence, it basically says, look, this isn’t even a question of whether He exists among academics. We have more historical evidence for the existence of Jesus than any other religious founder, whether that’s the Gospels presenting Him, which are historically trusted (documents).
There are all kinds of reasons for that. First of all, the archeological ethics (prove this). But then, there’s at least 12 people outside of the Bible (who corroborate this). I talk about this in the book and I list some of their quotes so that people can see for themselves. They didn’t even think they were enemies of Christianity. (They were) not friends. And they talk about Jesus as a historical person. People thought He was a magician. He led people astray. He died under Pontius Pilate. He was crucified. These guys aren’t writing a Gospel. They’re just saying, “What happened to this guy?” So, whether you’re in the halls of Harvard or somewhere else, no one worth their salt from an academic standpoint today is arguing Jesus Christ never existed. They might differ on what He said, or who He said He might be, but they never argue about whether He existed (here on earth).
Final question, what’s the biggest difference between the American Jesus and the global Jesus? I hear and read stories coming out of Africa and other locations about Him that are just astounding to me. Yet here in America it’s like … Jesus? What’s that all about?
We don’t want the radical, offensive Jesus. So, we take the safety Jesus. And once you have safety, then He’s just a concept on a shelf that you take off from your comfortable, American dream kind of life. He becomes simply about certain ideas or values, but He never challenges you. For instance, I had a guy in my church a couple of years ago, who said God wakes him up at two o’clock in the morning. He’s got this beautiful house in Vancouver. He’s got a family, he’s got a mortgage, he’s got a great job. He’s got kids in school. God wakes him up at two o’clock in the morning and says, “I want you to sell everything you have. And I want you to move to this particular country and take care of the widows and orphans until your visa runs out.” So he did. And what do you think happened? Every single person that loved him told him, “You’re crazy. This is nuts. You have a comfortable life, you have a mortgage, you have kids, you have responsibilities. This is nuts.” And yet he went into this thing because sometimes the people who are closest to us are the very people who make us not be able to hear the voice of Jesus when he calls us to do something radical. And to come back to your question, the American or the Canadian dream snaps that voice. It’s not a radical life. It’s a domesticated life. It’s a Jesus that affirms my politics, affirms my religion, affirms my secularism, or affirms my work life.
He totally messes with us in a good way, because He knows what’s best for us. So, I think the part of the disconnect between the global, depending on where you live, is that there’s less to lose. There’s less domestication. There’s less idolatry in some sense around the things that keep you from really following Jesus in the radical way that He lays out.
Watch Mark Clark as He Unpacks The Problem of Jesus: