In What Way Can Jesus Be A Moral Example For Christians? -- By: Alister E. McGrath

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:3 (Sep 1991)
Article: In What Way Can Jesus Be A Moral Example For Christians?
Author: Alister E. McGrath

In What Way Can Jesus Be
A Moral Example For Christians?

Alister E. McGrath*

Novelist Dorothy L. Sayers is perhaps best known as the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, a distinguished aristocratic amateur detective. She was also no mean amateur theologian, who was thoroughly impatient with those who declared that doctrine was “hopelessly irrelevant” to the life and thought of the ordinary Christian believer. “Ministers of the Christian religion often assert that it is, present it for consideration as though it were, and, in fact, by their faulty exposition of it make it so.” She was es-pecially-and rightly—scornful of those who argue that it is principles, not doctrines, that distinguish Christianity from paganism. Writing in the depths of the second world war she declared:

That you cannot have Christian principles without Christ is becoming increasingly clear, because their validity depends upon Christ’s authority; and, as we have seen, the totalitarian states, having ceased to believe in Christ’s authority, are logically quite justified in repudiating Christian principles. If “the average man” is required to “believe in Christ” and accept his authority for “Christian principles,” it is surely relevant to inquire who or what Christ is, and why his authority should be accepted … It is quite useless to say that it doesn’t matter particularly who or what Christ was or by what authority he did those things, and that even if he was only a man, he was a very nice man and we ought to live by his principles: for that is merely Humanism, and if the “average man” in Germany chooses to think that Hitler is a nicer sort of man with still more attractive principles, the Christian Humanist has no answer to make.1

Why do Christians take the teachings of Jesus Christ so seriously? Why do they attribute such authority to him? Underlying the authority of Jesus is the Christian understanding of who he is. Christians regard Christ as authoritative because, in the end, they recognize him to be none other than God himself, coming among us as one of us. The authority of Christ rests in his being God incarnate. His teaching is lent dignity, weight and authority by his identity. And that identity can only be spelled out fully by the doctrine of the person of Christ. Christian principles thus rest on Christian doctrine.

The question that I propose to address in this paper concerns the manner in which Jesus Christ can be regarded as normative in relation to Christian

* Alister McGrath is lecturer in Christian doctrine and ethics at Oxford University in England.


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