JESUS IS THE SAVIOR AND TRUTH, NOT JUST A SOCIAL REFORMER
t may be pertinent to begin this article with the following statements: For Christians, the Truth has a name and face: He is Jesus Christ, the Word of God made-flesh for the salvation of the world. Thus, following the event of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death, the apostles began to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ and of Him as the fullest-manifestation, the fulfilment of God’s self-disclosure to the world. This is the core of Christian faith and teaching (cf. Acts 2:14; 8:5; 10:42).
As often said, one of the swiftest ways to destroy a kingdom, a people, or the Church (as in our present case), is to attack from within the core doctrine or teaching on which the Church itself hinges. Our Lord Jesus Christ who says, ‘fear him not who kills the body but the spirit,’ is right on the mark (Matthew 10:28). A psychological war waged against a people – Christians in this matter, is far greater and worse than that of a physical combat with the enemy.
This introduces us to the main object of our present article.
During the last Holy Week celebrations, leading to the Easter Sunday of the Resurrection, Nigerian media, especially, the social media was abashed with the news report of a lecture delivered by one Prof. Pius Oyeniran Abioje. Described by the media as a Professor of Christian theology at the University of Ilorin, Prof. Abioje was reported to have “disputed the age-long Biblical teaching that Jesus Christ died on the Cross to save the world.” He made the claim while delivering the 167th Lecture of the University of Ilorin, entitled, “Christian Prophets and Other Prophets in Nigeria.” According to Vanguard Newspaper, Prof. Abioje told his audience that:
“Jesus was killed by haters of truth … the conspiracy to kill Jesus Christ came from the milieu of chief priest and political elite. Regrettably, the interpretations by many Christians is that God wanted Jesus to die so as to save the world. Yet the world continues to persecute innocent critical prophets.”
Continuing, Prof. Abioje, said:
“Why can’t Christians emphasize that Jesus was killed by haters of truth, the religious and political powers that be, particularly since the world is still seeking redemption … Nigerians should learn to see critical prophets as friends of the society, and pardon them whenever they happen to err since no human being is infallible.”
He further advised: “Academic programs generally should include the introduction to critical prophecy, which makes a person to be committed to advocacy … Virtues for which critical prophets strive is arguably the key to individual and social progress, even when truth can be very bitter.”
Some online newspapers reported this lecture of Prof. Abioje with the title: “Jesus didn’t die to save the world, He was killed by haters of Truth, - Scholar.”
Many weeks have now passed since that lecture of Prof. Abioje was delivered, publicized with attendant wild interpretations in the media. One, however, would have expected that by now Prof. Abioje could have said something following the controversy that trailed his lecture in the social media. Yet, the learned lecturer has not said anything or reacted, either to retract or correct the media report of his lecture. His silence means that he concurred with the media reports and therefore has nothing to retract or correct. Even when it is obvious that his lecture has the potentiality of wounding the sensibility of many devout Christians and others. The professor has not said anything yet to correct the wrong impression created by the lecture.
Although, his was a lecture on social role of prophets, yet the way it was presented and reported in the media, portrays the learned professor as someone nursing serious reservations, if not an outright negation, of both the divinity and salvific-redemptive-value of Jesus Christ’s passion, crucifixion, death and resurrection. It is for this reason that some had expected that Prof. Abioje could have responded to the media report of said lecture to correct the wrong impressions therein.
In fact, since the publication of the news report of that lecture in social media outlets, a good number of our people have written me to ask what I think about Prof. Abioje’s lecture. Because, according to some of them, Prof. Abioje’s lecture if not clarified, has the potentiality of wounding the sensibility of many Christians, especially, the vulnerable and uninformed ones.
Again, the fact that the media described him as a professor of Christian theology also makes many to see his stand on this central theme of the Christian faith as authoritative and reliable. This is why some people are really, disturbed by the lecturer’s view on the redemptive and salvific value of the Christ-Event.
Moreover, the fact that his lecture was a major news report about Easter-Event this year carried by most of the mainline Nigerian Newspapers and social media during the Holy Week and Easter celebrations, should be a cause for concern to any discerning mind, especially, among knowledgeable Christians and theologians.
Personally, when I first read the newspapers’ report of Prof. Abioje’s lecture, my first reaction was that the learned professor was quoted out of context by the media. I thought immediately, that he would waste no time in making a disclaimer of such misrepresentation of his paper in the media, especially, since it touches on the core aspect of our Christian faith and teaching on salvific-redemptive-value of Jesus Christ’s Cross-Event.
This is because, I am sure his paper was on the theme of the social role of prophets, which should not be confused with the truth of the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ and salvific-redemptive-value of the Cross-Event, which Christians celebrate at Easter. From the narrative of his lecture, however, I also guessed immediately, that the learned professor is perhaps, an expert on sociology of religions, and not on Christian theology qua tale.
For while sociology of religions is concerned with study of social phenomenology of religions, interprets its concepts, including that of God, the Church, Prophets, etc., from that perspective, theology per se, is a sacred science on God and things of God. Christian theology, in particular, is a science of communication of self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. Christian theology deals with the role of the Church and every Christian in participating in the salvific mission of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit according to the original salvific plan of God the Father.
In other words, Christian theology is a Trinitarian theology. It is the study of the salvific plan of God the Father through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, in which the Church is the sacrament, instrument, called, and privileged to participate until the second coming of Jesus Christ at the end of times. It is the study of what God did for our salvation through Jesus Christ. It is a Trinitarian theology, which studies the fulfilment of the salvific plan of God through Christ – the complete or rather the fullness of the self-revelation of One-True God in Jesus Christ. This is the truth. It is for this truth that Jesus Christ came into the world and was crucified and killed by men of evil deeds.
On a positive side, however, the news report of Prof. Abioje’s lecture, as I see it, may be a blessing in disguise. That is, if we are to see it as an invitation to our theologians, other scholars alike, indeed every Christian, to begin a constructive debate on the theme of prophecy and the mystery of the One-True God revealed in Jesus Christ from the perspective of our local context. This is an invitation to all Christians to deepen their faith in the self-revelation of the One-True God in Jesus Christ, through research, catechetical teaching, witness of life, and defend it at all times.
This is very cogent today, since it is now obvious that the understanding of prophecy in Nigeria by many, including learned circles, leaves much to be desired. Today in our society, among some secular scholars and deceitful pastors, there seems to be a mixture of the essence of Christian faith with the charlatan activities of the self-acclaimed miracle workers and the so-called prophets in Nigerian Christianity.
The activities of the Charlatan miracle workers (in healing ministries), self-acclaimed prophets and pastors (most of whom behaving like pagan diviners, fortune-tellers and prophets of doom), is gradually, turning Christianity in Nigeria into a religion of workers and seekers of miracles. The characterization of Jesus as social reformer-prophet by Prof. Abioje in his said lecture adds a new dimension to the complexity of the problem facing Nigerian Christianity today.
The essence of Christianity, the death of Jesus on the Cross, for that matter, is not so much about social reform (though this is good – the consequence of what follows when men and women do the will of God through Christ). The essence of Christianity, and therefore, of Christ’s death on the Cross is to lead humanity to the inner-life of the One-True God revealed in Jesus Christ Himself. It is to help all men and women participate in the inner-life of God, which is the life of love and communion of the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is where the Church’s mission comes in. Because what remains is reaching out or rather letting this good news reach the hearts and minds of all creatures, men and women. It is about helping a vast majority of peoples in the world today, who are still ignorant of what God has done for them in Jesus Christ, to come to the true knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
In this case, the transformation of the society, which the Church preaches and advocates is about helping the people to create an enabling environment through mutual and peaceful dialogue that respects human dignity and freedom so that all could live the values of the Kingdom as Jesus Christ preached and inaugurated through his death on the Cross and resurrection. Our redemption and salvation is accomplished already through Christ.
Viewed from this perspective, a careful reading of Prof. Abioje’s lecture calls for further reflection on the following three themes of Christian theology and thought: a) Truth, b) Salvation, and c) Prophecy. However, due to constraints of space, we may say only few words on the topic of Truth in the present article. In subsequent articles, we will have time to discuss prophecy in some more detail. In whichever case, however, the central theme of salvation in Jesus Christ runs through.
Truth: At the heart of the Passion, before the Crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross, the question of ‘Truth’ dominated Pontius Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus himself when he was brought into the Praetorium. Pilate asked Jesus the age-long question: ‘What is truth?’ Pilate began his interrogation of Jesus thus:
“Are you the King of Jews? Jesus replied: ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or have others said it to you about me?’ … Jesus told Pilate: ‘Mine is not a Kingdom of this world … Pilate said: so, then you are a King? Jesus replied: ‘It is you who say I am a King. I was born for this … to bear witness to the Truth; and all who are on the side of the truth listen to my voice.’ Truth? said Pilate. What is that?” (John 18:33-38).
This is the summit of all salvation history, the arrival of the long awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world in the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. This is the truth hidden in all history but foretold by the Patriarchs, Moses (the Law) and the Prophets. In Jesus Christ, the Truth, the fulfilment of God’s salvific plan for the world took flesh and was accomplished, once for all, for the salvation of all – all humanity and created universe.
Consequently, from outset, in his Prologue, John equates Christ, Son of the Father, and the Logos, the Word of God made-flesh. Three factors make Christ the perfect revealer of the Father: his pre-existence as Logos, of God (cf. John 1:1-2), his entrance into the flesh and history (cf. John 1:14), and his unbroken sharing of life with the Father, before the incarnation as well as after it (cf. John 1:18). John thus gives the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ its maximal meaning and extension.
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is the Messiah who teaches, preaches, and proclaims the good news of the Kingdom. In John, the full identity of the Messiah is made known: he is the Son of the Father. What the Son tells us is the interior life, the reciprocal love, of Father and Son: a love which the Father wills to communicate to all human beings, in order that all may be one. Indeed, for John, the final word about the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ is that it is a work of love and salvation that has its origin within the Trinity (cf. John 1:18; Revelation 1:5; 3:14).
In Pauline corpus, one pair of words, which takes us to the heart of Paul’s thought on the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ and its salvific value, is ‘mystery-gospel’ metaphor. For Paul, in Jesus Christ, the mystery hidden initially is now disclosed, preached, and made known, in order to elicit faith. The mystery of which Paul speaks is the divine plan of salvation, hidden in God from all eternity and now disclosed, by which God establishes Christ as the center of a new economy and makes him, through his death and resurrection, the sole source of salvation for both Gentiles and Jews and head of all who exist, both angels and human beings.
The mystery is the complete divine plan (incarnation, redemption, sharing in glory), which in the final analysis is reducible to Christ and his boundless riches (Ephesians 3:8). Concretely, then, the mystery is Christ (cf. Romans 16:25; Colossians 1:26-27; 1Timothy 3:16); and participation in him: everything is “recapitulated” in him. The world, which was created in unity, returns to unity through Christ, the savior and universal Lord.
Again, Paul makes “gospel” and “mystery” equivalent terms (cf. Romans 16:25; Colossians 1.25-26; Ephesians 1:9-13; 3:5-6). Once it has been revealed to chosen witnesses (cf. Ephesians 3:5; Colossians 1:25-26), the mystery is made known to all human beings. Mystery-gospel are concerned with one and the same reality, namely, the divine plan of salvation, but each looks at this plan from a different angle. In one case, there is question of a mystery that is hidden, then disclosed and manifested; in the other, of a good news, a message announced and proclaimed.
Divine plan hidden and revealed; divine plan proclaimed: gospel and mystery have the same object or content. This object has two aspects: soteriological, that is, the entire economy of salvation as accomplished through Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:1-10), and eschatological, that is, the promise of glory, which includes all the blessings of salvation, these being intended for the Gentiles as well as the Jews (cf. Colossians 1:28; 1Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:18).
Moreover, since the mystery is the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, the Church becomes the definitive goal of the mystery, the radiant concretisation of the divine economy, its visible and abiding expression. The plan of salvation is not only revealed, then proclaimed through the gospel, it is also made a reality in the Church, the “body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
The founding of the Church means that the time has come for the subjection of all things to Christ (cf. Colossians 1:16). Just as Christ is the mystery of God rendered visible, so the Church is the mystery of Christ rendered visible. The times are fulfilled; the salvation announced is at hand.
Furthermore, Paul speaks of a tension that always remains between historical revelation and eschatological revelation, between the first and last epiphanies of Christ, the former veiled, the latter glorious (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Beyond a doubt, the mystery, formerly hidden, is revealed “now” (cf. Romans 16:25), and the preaching of the gospel takes place “now.”
Therefore, Paul looks forward all the more eagerly to the eschatological revelation of the mystery, when the “revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” will come in its fullness (cf. 1Corinthians 1:7; 2Thessolonians 1:17), and when the glory of all who have become like Christ will also be revealed (cf. Romans 8:17-19). This tension between history and eschatology, faith and vision, lowliness and glory, is characteristic of Paul.
In other words, for Paul, revelation is the free and gracious action by which God, in and through Christ, makes the economy of salvation known to the world: makes known, that is, his eternal plan to unite all things in Christ, the savior and head of the new creation. The communication of this plan is accomplished through the preaching of the gospel, which is a ministry entrusted to the apostles and prophets of the New Testament.
The human response to the preaching of the gospel is the obedience of faith, which is achieved under the enlightenment action of the Spirit. Faith in turn gives rise to a process of deepening understanding of the mystery, a process that will reach its term only in the revelation that comes with the vision of God.
The New Testament teaching on the truth of self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ, its salvific value, the role of the Church and Christians as believers and witnesses, tells us one basic truth about our Christian faith. It is about the sovereignly loving and free action by which, through an economy involving the incarnation, God makes himself known in his innermost life and makes known, too, the love-inspired plan, which he has conceived from all eternity of saving all human beings and bringing them back to him through Christ.
This divine action is accomplished through the exterior testimony of Christ and the apostles and the interior testimony of the Spirit who works from within to effect the conversion of human beings to Christ. The Father thus makes known and carries out his plan of salvation through the joint action of the Son and the Spirit. It is only from this perspective and context that we can truly talk of true of revelation, salvation and prophecy in Christian religion.
Easter is a celebration of an already accomplished event, the redemption and salvation of the world achieved through Christ-Event. This is the good news of Easter. We are living in the grace of Jesus Christ shaped by His death and resurrection. It is through this grace that each one of us is expected to meet God at the end of time, receive his mercy (that is, for those who deserve it), which Jesus achieved for us already by dying on the Cross.
In Nigeria today, we need an enabling environment of peace, respect of human dignity and freedom to practice our faith as Christians if we mean to make this happen. That is, to live our Christian faith and witness to Jesus Christ in freedom and tranquility before our people.
Many people are still ignorant of what God has achieved for them already in Jesus Christ. It is the task of the Church, indeed of every Christian to be a vanguard of the good news of Christ-Event. For the Church and Christians in Nigeria today to carry out this task, they need an enabling environment, which we cannot say they have in the present dispensation of the country. This is the crux of the matter!
This is a disturbing scenario, considering the ongoing persecutions of Christians in the country, especially, at the hands of adherents of radical Islam, terrorists groups like Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen militia. This includes also the federal government’s seemingly tacit support to these terror groups against Christians in all fronts in the country, especially, since the last two years.
This is a far greater problem that should make every reasonable Christian thinker or teacher to think twice and carefully, while speaking on such sensitive topics that touch on the core teaching of the Christian faith. We all have the obligation as teachers of the Christian faith and doctrine to help protect the faith of ordinary Christians through our teaching and writing even as we grapple with social issues and politics. This is the primary duty of every Christian teacher and theologian as well as all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
NB: Our next article will be devoted to prophecy and social reform. See you then.
Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic priest. He lives in Rome where he is professor of missiology (mission theology) in the Pontifical University.