The first time I heard the song “Jesus is Just Alright” was in the early 80’s (on an 8-track mind you!) The Byrds covered it in 1969 and the Doobie Brothers three years later. Arthur Reid wrote the original in 1966 as a gospel song.
The Byrds and Doobie Brothers did not sing it with its original intention. Rather, they were using the phrase “just alright” which was a popular way of saying something was “cool”. Other popular celebrations of Jesus during this time period were expressed in rock operas like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. These Broadway musicals portrayed Jesus as a loving person whom we should admire and imitate. Neither portrayed him as the Son of God. The hippie counter culture was seeking to rescue Jesus from the bourgeois culture of the middle class and its materialistic life-style. The middle class used Jesus to justify their lifestyle and how we could all be prosperous and nice if we just followed Jesus’ ethical teachings.
What is remarkably similar with the hippie movement and the bourgeois middle class is both sought to domesticate Jesus. He became safe or cool depending upon your sub-culture.
Surprisingly, this is the least honest option of all when you consider Jesus at face value. Consider this line of reasoning from C. S. Lewis.
Jesus ... told people that their sins were forgiven. ... This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.
... I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him. He produced mainly three effects — Hatred — Terror — Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.
Mere Christianity and God in the Dock by C. S. Lewis
As you can see, Lewis lays bare the rationale of either the hippie or bourgeois interpretations of Jesus and makes us come to terms with the only honest assessment Jesus, himself, offers us. This Christmas, the last thing you should do is “like” Jesus. He does not want you to like him and he does not give you that option. The formidable anti-theist, Christopher Hitchens got this. He said that Jesus is Santa Claus for adults, and that was no compliment. Hitchens got Lewis’ logic and chose to see Jesus as a madman or a narcissistic leader, certainly not a nice fellow or God. You have to admire Hitchens' honesty.
And you? What do you make of Jesus? If you are searching, here are a few books I would recommend you read. If you are a Christian and find that you may have downsized the greatness of the Christ and made him fit into your kingdom rather than you living in his, these books might serve you as well.
The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable, F.F. Bruce
Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
Basic Christianity, John Stott
Who is Jesus, Michael Green
Reason for God, Timothy Keller
Copyright © 2013 Timothy S. Lane. All rights reserved.