The late Dallas Willard (philosopher, Edmund Husserl scholar and devout Christian) used to say he was trying to get a "fresh hearing for Jesus." Jesus needs one.
We don't do a very good job of listening to Jesus. His friends tune out anything he has to say that doesn't fit into the theological framework they've already built. His enemies hear even less, and attribute to him things he never said - usually anti-intellectual hokum or contemptuous things about gays or liberals.
The result — for his friends and enemies — is a kind of intellectual sclerosis. What people know about Jesus (or think they know) simply reinforces what they already knew (or thought they knew) about the world. No matter what he says, his friends hear him advocating their own theological, political and social viewpoints and his enemies hear him spouting nonsense.
The unexpected consequence is that some people think they've believed in Jesus when they've only believed in themselves, while others think they've rejected Jesus when they've only rejected a silly caricature of him.
The political pundit Kirsten Powers served in the Clinton administration in the 1990s, later as a consultant to the Democratic Party and more recently as a contributor to major media outlets. Ms. Powers recently wrote a piece for Christianity Today describing how she changed her mind about Jesus.
Powers wrote, "Just seven years ago, if someone had told me that I'd be writing ... about how I came to believe in God, I would have laughed out loud. If there was one thing in which I was completely secure, it was that I would never adhere to any religion - especially to evangelical Christianity, which I held in particular contempt."
Powers grew up in a nominally Christian family, holding a belief she now calls "superficial and flimsy." When, in early adulthood, her archeologist father disclosed to her his own religious doubts, she jettisoned the faith altogether.
During her stint as a Clinton appointee, Powers was surrounded by smart people but knew no one who had a deep faith in God. Later, as a Democratic Party consultant in New York, everyone she knew "was politically left-leaning, and [her] group of friends was overwhelmingly atheist."
When Powers did encounter Christians, they were inevitably people who said malicious things about gays or feminists. Her perception of Christians was so negative, when a boyfriend asked if she believed in Jesus as her savior, her first thought was, "Oh no ... he's crazy."
She did, however, agree to attend church with him and was surprised by the intellectually rigorous message that Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, gave. But she was frustrated that Keller kept ruining "a perfectly good talk with this Jesus nonsense."
Page 2 of 2 - It never occurred to Powers that the Jesus she had rejected was only a distorted mockup of the real person. Though she felt no connection to God and didn't desire one, eight months of listening to Keller and reading the Bible led her to conclude that Christianity was very possibly true. Without realizing what was happening, she was being introduced to the real Jesus.
Kirsten Powers had been well defended against the Jesus she thought she knew, but the real Jesus was another matter altogether. He was systematically breaking down her defenses.
She hesitantly accepted an invitation to a Bible study, though she worried that "only weirdoes and zealots went to Bible studies." It was there she met and trusted the real Jesus.
That's what happens when people give him a fresh hearing. Objections that seemed — and were — insurmountable, become irrelevant. Certainties formed in isolation from him fall to pieces. Given a fair hearing, Jesus still proves remarkably convincing, to friends and foes alike.