Shuck and Jive

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Who's Your Lord and Savior, Baby?

(Conversations with Bob! More depth than a root canal! My turn!)

Thanks Bob for your last post! I appreciate you gettin' into the Greek.

One of the problems progressive Christians have (or at least I have) with titles such as lord and savior is that they come with a great deal of theological baggage. They also have the baggage of the English language. Furthermore, they have the baggage of conquest, feudalism, and dis-empowerment. I do not think that the historical Jesus set himself up as lord or savior.

There were enough lords and saviors to go around in Jesus's time and in ours. Caesar was lord and savior. He called himself that. Roman Imperial Theology consistently reaffirmed that. While I think the gospel writers, and perhaps Paul, used Caesar language for Jesus in order to spoof Empire, this, like all good spoofs, was forgotten as a spoof and crystallized into a Christian Imperial Theology. In other words, the church simply substituted Jesus for Caesar and Christendom became as oppressive as Rome. After Constantine, The Roman Empire became the
Holy Roman Empire. Different god but the same thing. Good for a few, bad for most.

From my study and reflection, I find that Christianity from the earliest times, turned Jesus into something he never claimed to be. Jesus was about empowering people who had no power. To paraphrase: "You don't need any
Lord. The kingdom of God is in you!" Jesus would say odd things like, "Your faith has saved you (made you well)." The same word for "save" is translated in English as becoming well or whole.

I personally affirm individuals who use their own titles for Jesus or who use none. Since as you pointed out Bob, in a previous post, and I echoed here, these two English words, lord and savior, have gained prominence and we have to deal with them in some way. For those who feel wedded to the words, but do not like what they have come to mean, here is an option, for what it is worth.

If the earliest communities followed Jesus as one who denounced Roman Imperial Theology (and the theology of Empire in general), then to follow Jesus means to move against Imperial Theology and its values.

As John Dominic Crossan wrote:

If Jesus was executed by Empire and we live in Empire, what does it mean for us to follow Jesus?
To claim Jesus as Lord, is in effect, to follow Jesus as anti-lord, against lordship, domination, and all it entails. Similarly, Jesus changes the meaning of savior. Caesar claimed to be the savior of the people. Caesar as lord and savior meant celebrating as divine revelation peace through violence.

To paraphrase Caesar's theology: Roman leadership is good for Rome and for the world.

The Project for the New American Century knows this theology quite well.

American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.
That could have come from the mouth of Octavian himself.

If we understand salvation as wholeness or peace with justice, then to claim Jesus as savior is to claim the way of Jesus as the way to a just peace. It begins with trust. "Your trust has made you whole." It is to live in a way opposed to peace through violence and for peace through justice.

To summarize: To say Jesus is my Lord and Savior, could be understood as committing my life to the way of Jesus, a way of opposition to domination and a way of empowerment and wholeness for all creation.


  1. Curiously John I don't think I disagree with your post. Certainly what you have said is part of what it means to say Jesus is Lord and Savior. My concern, as I mentioned in my post, it that some like to pick and choose between the possible meanings of the words in the New Testament.

  2. Don't we all pick and choose, though, Bob?

  3. Yes we do. My comment in my statement on the use of Lord and Savior was primarily directed to fellow Evangelicals who only use the judicial atonement model. I find the various statements about how Jesus is savior to all be necessary to have a well rounded look at what it means. So I would say the same to you as I do to them: salvation and savior is too big a subject to fit under one image. I want to include them all.

  4. I got ya. I received this e-mail:

    "John Shuck,

    In your September 30th post you wrote the following for which I thank you very much. For many years I have been troubled by the saying, or the thought of saying, "Jesus is my Saviour"; the "Lord" ( an example for living) was easier to accept. Your writing and that of J. Crossan's makes so much sense. I am grateful to you for removing my conflict.

    I am not used to blogging, so I send this to your church email address.

    Very sincerely,

    I think that you are right, Bob. We need the variety which so that many can find a way to connect.