Defense of Jesus as the Christ marks first Theology Weekend
COLUMBIA—The Bible records instances of crowds gathering for the chance to catch a glimpse of Jesus with their own eyes. In a forum running from Feb. 1-3, nearly 200 people packed the ballroom of the Tiger Hotel for a chance to see Jesus through the eyes of three very different men.
Hosted by Karis Community Church, “Jesus…Who? A Forum on the Person and Work of Jesus” featured a panel of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor and Pastor Tom Schreiner, Shakir Al-Ani of the Islamic Center of Mid-Missouri, and Rev. Bill Haney, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia in a “Theology Weekend.”
The position of Karis was clearly stated in that the church believes Jesus is the Christ, with other views being part of the debate. The event was divided into three sections–individual presentations by the panelists, organized responses to those appeals, and a Q-and-A session with the audience.
Schreiner’s presentation focused on Jesus’ place in “the story of history.” Beginning with Adam and Eve, Schreiner tracked the failings of man through the Bible before telling the crowd: “Israel’s story is our story, it’s your story, it’s my story. It’s not separate from any of us; what Israel has done, the human race has done. The human race has forsaken God.”
Schreiner plainly articulated the consequences of sin which he called an “unpopular message in our very tolerant and pluralistic world” and said that ultimately, Jesus’ purpose on earth was to “give his life as a ransom for many.”
Not only did Schreiner’s words contain the crux of the Gospel message, they provided a natural counterpoint to claims made earlier in the evening by his fellow panelists.
“The Christian life is not fundamentally…a pursuit of virtue,” he said. “The Christian life is fundamentally a love relationship.
“He came so that we would be entranced with God, that we would fall in love with God and our changed lives would be a response of love. It’s not just ethics. It’s love.”
Haney began the evening by referring to the questioning tradition of his church and its view that “being a Christian is a matter of character and not doctrine or dogma. Being a Christian is a matter of how one acts, not necessarily what one believes.” He discussed each of the four Gospels individually concluding that Jesus was “a reformer, not a founder of a new religion” and that he was “more interested in the religion of Jesus, not a religion about Jesus.”
“Who is Jesus? That is a question of faith, not history,” Haney said. “That there is Jesus today is a matter of sustaining faith. What he means to each individual is truly a matter for each one’s faith and faith tradition.”
Al-Ani’s presentation delved into more specific matters, presenting Islam as an all-encompassing religion whose worship included forming a clean community where people care for each other. Al-Ani said that all true Muslims believe in Jesus, an important prophet in a line from Adam to Mohammad, but who was not the Son of God. Because God is independent and all-powerful, he had no need for a son nor did he need to sacrifice Jesus for man’s sins.
During the Q-and-A, each panelist was asked to give their view of God’s purposes in creation.
Al-Ani reiterated that people’s purpose was to “fulfill the good worship” of God which includes being good citizens and forming “a clean society.” Haney responded “I wish I knew” before saying he doesn’t believe in a supernatural, creator God but sees creation as something that “draws us to one another” and a process in which we are co-creators. God, he said, is “present in creation as we make God present.”
The creation of the world according to Schreiner, however, was “… the joy of God gone public…” He added, “…the fundamental reason for creation ultimately is our joy so that we would rejoice in him, so that our joy would be maximized in God…”
Theology Weekend continued Feb. 2 with an informal session at a local coffee shop where people asked Schreiner questions on a variety of topics including biblical interpretation, world religions and the emerging church. Schreiner’s wife, Diane, hosted a “women’s conversation” that afternoon. The event ended with a sermon by Schreiner on the mission of Jesus, followed by a lunch and lecture on “Jesus: The Man.”
Karis Lead Pastor Kevin Larson said that Schreiner, a mentor and former professor of his, was asked to lead the church’s first Theology Weekend because he can handle complex, controversial topics in a way that is “winsome” but also expresses conviction.
Karis has announced a second Theology Weekend this October featuring Bruce Ware, a colleague of Schreiner’s at Southern Seminary.