Following the teachings of Jesus

Book talk at Harbor Church
Sat, 07/15/2017 - 7:45am

The title of Tom Krattenmaker’s latest book, “Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower,” can, deliberately, be read in a couple of different ways. Does the word “secular” qualify Jesus, or the follower? Either way, it’s a provocative question, and one that Krattenmaker, a columnist for USA Today, hopes will elicit thoughtful answers. Such a discussion will be had at the Harbor Church on Monday, July 17, at 7 p.m., where Krattenmaker will be participating in a Q&A and book signing.

“There are many words in that title that can be unpacked and have different kinds of meanings,” said Krattenmaker, who was quick to add that he understood Jesus was not a “secular” figure at all, but that his teachings could be applied to a secular life.

“What does it mean to implement the teachings of Jesus?” Krattenmaker said he asks in the book. “Is it enough to say that I’m kind of a nice guy? I’m fair? Then I’ve got it covered?”

If you took the teachings of Jesus — to love your neighbor, to love your enemy — Krattenmaker asks, how would your life look if you applied those teachings in a realistic, daily way? Particularly in a time when the world of politics is unleashing emotions that are divisive and hurtful.

In this regard, Krattenmaker said, “Politics is the most difficult discussion and therefore is the most interesting. What if we took to Jesus’ teachings to love your enemy and applied it to these deep political divisions, where we demonize and truly hate the person on the other side of the aisle? That’s a very hard conversation to have right now. Love your enemy is one of the most enigmatic and one of the most difficult [teachings] to apply” to daily life, said Krattenmaker.

He asked himself what would he say to those, like himself, who supported Hillary Clinton in the last election. “What would be the most challenging idea to apply that to? To love Donald Trump. What does it mean to love in this context?” He said that those who oppose Donald Trump should apply a “philanthropic love,” to make a “moral commitment [to see those you oppose] as human beings. You don’t demonize them. You want the best for them, not wanting their destruction or elimination. It does not mean you will support their bad ideas or bad actions.” The same is applicable to those who opposed Clinton in the last election.

This is particularly important in today’s atmosphere, said Krattenmaker, when “our politics are getting closer to a war,” he said. The question becomes, not the least for himself, “How do I interact with Trump supporters, particularly online? What I’m trying to do is keep my mouth shut and treat that person with respect. I won’t say you’re an idiot, or a horrible person. I’m not going there — I don’t want to be treated that way.”  

When asked how the teachings of Jesus can be separated from his faith, Krattenmaker said that one theologian described what he was doing as “radical decontextualization” — thinking of Jesus outside his role as a pivotal, historic, religious figure.

“Of course Jesus was religious. He taught about belief in God. He was the very model of compassionate behavior. I understand that for the many centuries that Christianity has been flourishing, a lot of that revolves around Jesus as the son of God, so a secular form of Jesus following may seem like radical decontextualization. It’s really strange to think about what I’m saying. I’m a secular Jesus follower. What it means is that maybe you’re someone [non-relgious] like me, but you are inspired by Jesus,” said Krattenmaker, who said he did not have a particularly religious upbringing. “I’m not going to be stopped by that. I’ll try to incorporate [Jesus’ teachings] in my life as best as I can.”

Another remarkable thing is that Jesus’ life’s teachings are still applicable in the 21st Century, said Krattenmaker.

“It’s uncanny how well they apply to life today,” Krattenmaker said. “The same temptations and struggles people had in the Middle East 2,000 years ago we still have in the United States today.”