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More than one thousand students filled Memorial Union Theater Thursday to hear author and speaker Rick James attempt to depict Jesus Christ outside the lens of religion in a presentation called Jesus Without Religion.
James prefaced his talk by explaining the legitimacy of the Gospel testimonies, he described the culture of the time to clarify why and how certain things were written. In so doing, James claimed that the Gospel documents could be used as historical references to Jesus.
“If you think about it, Mark’s Gospel is circulating in Palestine, really, 20 years after Jesus died, so you still have all of these eyewitnesses, all of these people who saw Jesus and heard him talk,” said James, “Whether you believed or not it had to resonate historically. You had to say yes that that’s accurate or Mark’s Gospel goes nowhere, okay, but it did.
” Specifically, James referenced the Gospel of Mark and focused on the story of Jesus calming the storm (found in Mark 4: 35-41). The story was used to show Jesus’ claim of his true character as the long-awaited Messiah and to explain why Jesus taught in parables and poems.
“In understanding the text, [we can be] understanding or getting our minds around who Jesus was, what really was he saying, what was he teaching, what was he about,” James said, “Jesus is not claiming to be just a guy, this is critical, he is not claiming to be just a prophet or a guru or a sage or a holy man or a religious leader or a revolutionary. He is claiming to be Messiah, and the concept of Messiah is not just a guy, it’s a go-between between God and man. That’s who he is claiming to be. Unequivocally.
” James entertained the audience throughout the evening with pop culture references, satirical explanations and his admission that he did not even get to name his own book. The tone of the presentation was meant to portray Jesus to the audience as a figure that impacts daily life, not as a static series of statues and mosaics stuck inside church buildings as he is often perceived.
James wrapped up his talk by listing what all major world religions hold as common beliefs. Namely these included avoiding major taboos such as murder, rape or theft. He claimed that the difference between these religions and Christianity is that in all of these other faith systems a person must do x, y and z to reach God or heaven. However, the Christian claim says that faith/belief/trust in Jesus Christ is humanity’s only means to reach God and guarantee eternal life in heaven.
In conclusion, prayer was offered for anyone who had placed their trust in the message James had imparted. James articulated that his intent was not to create discomfort or to pressure anybody, but instead to provide a new way of thinking about faith in Jesus that focuses more on heart transformation than on rules and regulations often associated with the concept of religion.
Directly after the talk the floor was opened up for a question and answer session. Questions ranged from the psychological, “Is faith just a mental survival mechanism?”, to the nature of Jesus’ radical ethic of love and forgiveness.
James answered, “A survival mechanism is pointless unless it’s really true. The issue in Christianity is not even really how much faith; it’s a question of what your faith is in and is it trustworthy, is it true.
” In response to the question on Jesus’ love and forgiveness, James described this as the essence of Christianity. He asserted that no human being can meet such impeccably high moral standards of their own accord, and because of this human kind needs a savior.
James showed that Jesus Christ claimed to be that savior through love and forgiveness. He provided historical basis and evidence surrounding that claim in order to clearly state Jesus’ purpose and the Biblical Christian message. From there the audience could take it or leave it.
For more information on the content of this presentation contact UW-Student Impact staff. Email links can be found at http://uwstudentimpact.org/site/about-us/meet-the-staff.