Unity Speaks – Christianity Responds – Program 2

By: Rev. Sarah Travis, Travis Wolfe and Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1981
Is the Jesus of Unity the same as the Jesus of the Bible? Is there a difference between “Jesus” and “the Christ”? How should we interpret the Bible? Can we take it literally, or is there a better metaphysical interpretation?

What Does Unity Believe about the Christ?

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’re glad that you’re with us. Sarah and Travis, last week we were talking about many things, and one of those things was Jesus Christ. And I think for a lot of people tuning in, they were listening and trying to make the difference between orthodox historic Christian belief concerning Jesus and what Unity is saying. Let’s do kind of a refresher here for the folks that missed last week. What does Unity believe about Jesus, and then, Norman, what does orthodox historic Christianity believe about Jesus? And then, if we can, are there any differences in belief? Instead of the similarities, what are the differences? What would you leave out or put in?
Sarah: Okay, I believe the biggest difference can be said in the word “the,” because Unity people will say, Jesus, the Christ, and in orthodox Christianity it’s one word, “Jesus Christ.” Unity believes that the Christ is the spark of divinity that we all have; that we all have the Christ within us, and the Christ being the Second on the Trinity of God, the Son of God. Therefore we all have the Son of God within us. And when we interpret the Bible, we interpret some of the things as Jesus talking. We don’t believe, for instance, when Jesus was angry at the money changers at the temple, that the Christ, the consciousness of love of God would be angry at the Pharisees or make remarks to the Pharisees. We believe that was the human part of Jesus speaking out. Where the statements in John and many of the other statements in the other Synoptic Gospels are speaking from the Christ of Jesus: “I am the bread of life;” [John 6:35] “I am the way, the truth and the life;” [John 14:6] “I am…”
Ankerberg: Okay, we want to come back and I want to ask a little later on why is it that if Jesus was the Son of God that God Himself couldn’t get mad at what that behavior was? But before we get to that, Christ is “the Christ.” Now, when you say “the Christ” and He’s the spark, is He unique in any sense? Is He more unique than you or me?
Sarah: The Christ?
Ankerberg: Yes.
Sarah: The Christ is the principle of love.
Ankerberg: Okay. But Jesus, as He lived in Nazareth, say 2,000 years ago, is He any more unique than we are?
Sarah: Of course.
Ankerberg: In what sense?
Sarah: No one else, to our knowledge, has ever tuned in to the potential of the Christ like we have. And that’s bad word “tuned in;” no one else has “manifested” the Christ like Jesus of Nazareth. And I believe that when He went to the cross and went to Calvary, it wasn’t for our sins so much as it was to show us that the Christ is life eternal.
Ankerberg: Okay, I hear you saying something like “example,” then.
Sarah: Yes. His whole life was an example; and that also the crucifixion and the resurrection and the ascension all happens in consciousness.
Ankerberg: Before we have Norman give it here, I just want to keep on defining this just a little bit more. Was Muhammad an example?
Sarah: I suppose so, but I’m not a student of Muhammad, so I couldn’t say anything that would be….
Ankerberg: Or another way of saying it, were there other examples besides Jesus?
Sarah: I believe so. I believe that the Christ, the “I Am” principle of God, always has been and always will be.
Ankerberg: So there are a series of figures that this divine principle flows through?
Sarah: All people. All people.
Ankerberg: Okay, so it flows through all people. And in that sense it can flow through us just like it flowed through Jesus.
Sarah: Yes, and that was His message to us and for 2,000 years we missed it.
Ankerberg: Okay. Norman, I hear them saying something I think a little different than orthodox Christianity, but maybe you could take it on the other side here.
Geisler: Well, as I understand what the New Testament says is that Jesus is the Christ, not that the Christ dwelt in Jesus to a higher degree perhaps than any other man. But that that Person, Jesus of Nazareth, was an eternal member of the Triune Godhead and that He was the “I Am,” the Jehovah, the Yahweh of the Old Testament. In fact, the whole purpose of the gospel of John is that we might know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that we might believe this and have life through His name. [John 30:31] So the Person who came in the flesh that John said, “I felt; I heard; I saw, handled,” [1 John 1:1-3] that Person, Jesus of Nazareth, was in a unique sense God of Gods and no other person is in the same category with Him whatsoever. It wasn’t a matter of difference in degree, but He is an entirely different kind of Person because He is God where we are only creatures, finite, limited creatures, made in the image of God where He was God Himself.
Ankerberg: Okay, I think the question that will come up right here is, okay, Unity then seems to be saying that something flows through Christ and flows through us. What would Christianity say is our contact with God and how does Jesus fit into that? Jesus, for them, I hear you saying, is an example. Jesus is not only an example to us, but He is more than that and He is something that we will never become. But then what can we have as far as the nature of God?
Geisler: Well, we don’t see continuity between fallen man and an infinitely Holy God, we see discontinuity because Adam sinned and brought death and separation upon all men. “Your sins have separated you from God.” [Isa. 59:2] So what Jesus came to do was to pay the penalty for sins and to bring man back to God who will admit that he is a sinner and will receive His sacrifice for their sin as their atonement. So it’s not a matter of becoming aware of the conscious unity that is there, it’s a matter of becoming aware of the disunity and the disjunction that sin and rebellion has caused and the absolute necessity of Christ’s dying for our sins to overcome that disunity.
Ankerberg: Okay, does that make sense, Sarah? Travis?
Sarah: On a metaphysical level.
Ankerberg: Okay. Travis, let me jump into something else and probably will tie in here, I think that we’ve got at least a trend going here. You’ve written many articles for the Chattanooga Times and so on, and you gave me a bunch of these and quite a few of them have to do with the word “hell.” “Abolition of Hell,” “Frightened Sons?,” “How to Prove There Is No Hell.” I’m interested in that one. Let’s stop right there. How do you prove there is no hell?
Travis: Those articles were written some time ago. I don’t remember precisely what that one said. It was in response to somebody who wrote in, but I don’t remember.
Ankerberg: What is heaven? What is hell, for you?
Travis: Heaven and hell are states of mind. They’re not actual places. That is my belief.
Ankerberg: Okay, where do you get that belief?
Travis: It is because I believe that God is all good, and good would not create a place of eternal damnation for His own creation.
Ankerberg: Okay, that’s a hairy topic to get into. Now, let’s get to this thing of, an eternal God, loving, as most people want Him to be and see Him as being, and they can’t seem to fathom that a loving God would send people to punishment forever. Now, before we have Norman just comment on that, what if there’s a guy out in the audience that says, “You know, skip the fact of hell; skip the fact of God; where did you get the whole thing that you’re talking about?” What’s the basis for saying God would do anything. That He wouldn’t turn people into turtles. Where do we get these ideas?
Travis: Well, part of it, I guess, is logic. Although, you know, you can’t use logic in faith all the time, of course. But you can use logic.
Ankerberg: Logic based on what, Travis?
Travis: Well, we believe in one God who is good. If He were bad and good, there would be two opposing factors in one person and we know what happens when there are two opposing factors – they destroy each other.
Ankerberg: So the basis of what you’re thinking is simply of saying, “You know, it seems to me…”
Sarah: No.
Ankerberg: No. Okay. If we don’t just get these thoughts out of just sitting around thinking; if we look at the stars or whatever, we get to the idea that there is something up there. Where do we get the information?
Travis: Well, I would like to say, where do you think the writers of the Bible got it?
Ankerberg: That’s a real good question.
Travis: Were they not inspired? How did they get the information?
Geisler: The Bible says how they got it.
Travis: Please tell us.
Geisler: Well in Hebrews 1 it says, “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets hath in these last days spoken through His Son.” [Heb. 1:1-2] So God spoke to them through dreams, through visions, through an inner voice, and then when they gave these prophecies that were fulfilled in Christ and Christ came, then God spoke through His Son Jesus Christ and Christ committed this to the apostles. In John 14:26 and John 16:13 He said, “I will give you all truth.” And to be an apostle you had to be one of the twelve who had seen the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1), and these apostles and their associates committed to writing what is now the New Testament. So we have Jesus verifying the Old Testament, promising the New as a revelation from God. And so we believe the Bible is the Word of God.
Sarah: May I speak to that?
Ankerberg: Sure.
Sarah: How we come to the conclusion that there isn’t a place for heaven or hell but rather that it’s a state of mind, I believe that Jesus’s statement, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” [John 8:32] goes right back to the creation story. If we are created in the Creator’s image, we, too, are creators. Therefore, we create our world the way we want it. And if we want to create heaven, we can. Lo, the kingdom of heaven can be in the midst of us. [Luke 17:21] Right here and now we can live in the kingdom, if we want to create it. Or, we can create Gehenna or hell right now, too.
Ankerberg: But what if somebody was to say that maybe that statement, “The truth shall set you free” [John 8:32] does not necessarily refer back to that?
Sarah: Well, it doesn’t have to refer back to that, but that is the truth as I know it.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I guess what I’m saying is, if truth can be handled that way, could we use the phone book and just get those kinds of thoughts?
Sarah: No. I think that most of the statements that Jesus makes are backed up by Old Testament. All truths aren’t in the New Testament.
Ankerberg: You see, I guess what I’m saying, Sarah, is that when I was searching myself, I had to cross this problem and I’m sure that you have, too, of, what are those statements actually going to mean? Why do I go to the Bible? If I walked into one seminary where across the portals of the doors is, “We are here to create theology.” And the new theology today, they do that. We all get together and say, “Hey, what do you think? What do you think? Let’s get together and pool it.” Okay, that’s our thoughts. But I think biblical Christianity is saying, hey, God spoke, and we have the evidence in the Person of His Son Jesus who was really God. There were eyewitnesses that saw Him and we’ve got it written down here, and that they are quoting Him properly. Now, if Jesus is the Son of God, if He really is God in the flesh, then what He has to say is awfully important. I don’t want to misquote God. Okay?
Now, the question is, it seems like there is a method, the historical, grammatical way of looking at Scripture, that keeps us from just saying, “Well, He might have meant this, this, or ten other things.” It’s like getting a letter from your wife or your husband, when they say, “I’ll see you at 10:00.” I don’t really say that means something else. I say, “That means 10:00.” And do we have a problem when we say, “Okay, it might mean this; it might mean that”? Does that make any sense?
Sarah: It does, and I know religions, and you do too, right now that are dividing themselves in two over the fact that some of the ministers are still translating the Bible literally word-for-word and others are saying, “No, I can’t translate this literally word-for-word.” But can’t it be that the most important message that any person gets out of that Bible is what that person feels when they read that passage? Who are we to tell anyone that anything they read in the Bible is wrong because it isn’t interpreted the way a pope or the head of a religious organization decided that it should be interpreted?
Ankerberg: When we look at the Bible, how should we read it? How do we interpret it? Norman, give us a few ideas on that. What would you suggest?
Geisler: Well, I suggest approaching the Bible the way you would approach a newspaper or any book; that is, what is the author trying to say to us? What is the intention of the author as conveyed in these words? This is called the historical, grammatical method. Some people call it interpreting the Bible literally. Perhaps a better word would be the normal, plain, commonsense historical way of approaching the Bible. So when I read the gospel of John, I say, “Who was the author?” He was a disciple of Jesus. “What was he trying to say to us?” That Jesus, the One he saw, he handled, he touched, the literal Jesus of Nazareth was the eternal Son of God, who came to die on a cross for men’s sin. All of these things John says. So rather than read my own feeling – I would like it not to be true; I would like that I not be a sinner, my feeling is that everything should be hunky-dory – but unfortunately, as Sigmund Freud said in his book The Future of an Illusion, that makes it suspect if it’s built only on our “wish fulfillment.” It would be nice if there were no hell. It would be nice if there was no sin. But Jesus said there was a hell. Jesus said there is sin, and so I must face the reality of that. Rather than read my own meaning into it, my own feeling, I must accept what He said or say, in all honesty, “I don’t believe in Jesus.”
Ankerberg: Let me ask you a question for Sarah. When people say the Bible is literal, in Psalms we’ve got poetry, Proverbs we’ve got proverbs; in other spots we’ve got allegory; some places we’ve got straight prose. When orthodox historic Christianity says it’s literal, some people take the word literal and do things with that that I don’t think that we’re saying. Would you agree?
Geisler: Well, the word “literal” doesn’t mean that we take everything in the Bible as true literally. It means that we take everything in the Bible as literally true. For example, when Jesus said, “I am a vine,” [John 15:1] we don’t look for branches coming out His shoulders or something. Obviously His intended meaning there was that He was a vine and we are branches: we tap into His life. So we take….
Ankerberg: The problem that people will say is, I mean, that one’s an obvious one. Jesus said, “I am the vine,” and we don’t look for a plant or something like that. But, the problem seems to be with people that say, you know, where should take these words actually like that, and what are the rules for saying it might be allegory; it may be symbolism?
Geisler: The rule of thumb is a text out of its context is a pretext. You understand that text in the light of its context. What was He in that total context of that statement in that book, and that book in the light of the context of the whole Bible, intending to convey? A rule of thumb that we often use is, “If the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense.”
Sarah: I have a question for Norm.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Sarah: You stated earlier that the Bible is written by the finger of God, or however you put that. How can any of us, Bible scholar or not, sit down and interpret what God writes through our human understanding? How can we be open enough? How can we be unjudgmental enough to know how those writers wanted the word to come across?
Geisler: Of course we can’t unless we’re really open to the truth. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” [John 8:32] But if we don’t want to be set free then, of course, we’re going to be prejudiced as we come to it. Secondly, we can’t of ourselves unless the Holy Spirit who is the Third Person of the Trinity, who inspired those Scriptures illuminate. So we must come with an obedient heart. Jesus said in John 7:17, “He that willeth to do my will shall know of the teaching.” So if we’re really willing to know what God wants to say, not what we would want it to be, and come to it with an open mind, then the Holy Spirit will speak through it and teach us.
Ankerberg: And it seems too that there’s a difference between when the Holy Spirit inspires something, and when He illumines something. When we come, what has He inspired? He’s inspired those words. And what does He illuminate in us? Does He give us further revelation, or does He just give us understanding of the words that He has already inspired? I think some people say that we can come to these words, and the Holy Spirit inspires us and we get new thoughts.
Sarah: Right.
Ankerberg: I think orthodox historic Christianity says, no, what He’s doing is helping us understand that which is written. And in other words, we are bound, we are confined, by that which God has told us.
Travis: I would like to ask Norm a question. How do you know this is the Word of God?
Geisler: Okay, that’s a good question. I know it’s the Word of God the same way something is known in a court of law: because there were eyewitnesses who saw this who have been verified to be honest, accurate eyewitnesses; and therefore their report would be accepted in a court of law. And to illustrate how that is true, Simon Greenleaf, who taught law at Harvard a number of years ago, and who wrote the old book on legal evidence used to test truth and falsity in the courtroom, was challenged by his students to test the New Testament to see if it was accurate and would stand up in a court of law. He applied the rules of legal evidence to it, and he himself became a Christian in the orthodox Christian sense. And he wrote a book entitled The Testimony of the Evangelist showing that these witnesses were accurate, were reliable, and that what they said about Jesus is true.
Travis: What about other reliable witnesses in other literature?
Geisler: Well, there is no reliable witness to say that any of these things are false. We’re just talking about, “Who is Jesus? Did He die, rise from the dead? Is man a sinner?” There are no reliable witnesses to give any contrary evidence to that fact.
Sarah: I’d like to speak to that. That sounds like it’s following the letter of the law perfectly. But didn’t Jesus bring the spirit of the law? And the spirit of law can’t ever be boxed in words, whether that be how to worship God, how to interpret the Bible, or how to limit whatever you think the Holy Spirit is capable of illumining in you. The spirit of the law is more than our human consciousness can even understand.
Geisler: I don’t understand what you’re saying. What is the letter of the law? Are you saying that this kind of eyewitness testimony about Jesus is letter of the law? I don’t understand what you were referring to.
Sarah: I believe it just has a letter of the law feeling to me.
Geisler: It is not feeling that determines truth. It’s really the facts.
Travis: That’s what Jesus taught against was taking the law and using it against the people.
Geisler: But you see, we wouldn’t even know what Jesus taught unless what I just said is true; unless these were reliable eyewitnesses who reported to us what Jesus taught. We would not.
Travis: Well, nobody is challenging the reliability of the eyewitnesses, what we’re saying is there is a great vast amount of other literature and writings that are divinely inspired.
Geisler: Well, if that’s true then what kind of evidence do we have for it? And secondly, if it is true and they contradict the Bible, then we have two inspired pieces that are contradictory. Then God is saying contradictory things.
Ankerberg: Okay. Let’s continue this next week. Thanks for tuning in.

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