Hi y’all. Recently I started reading the New Testament in Spanish as part of my continuing sporadic efforts to improve myself in that language. And it worked well for a while. Being in a second language allowed me a certain distance from the text. But eventually I couldn’t help but be drawn once again into the question of who Jesus “really” was and what he was “really” saying. Of course one’s views on the topic tend to evolve over time, at least they do with me. So here’s the latest of my feeble thoughts. I beg your forgiveness in advance. First of all, I’ve come to feel that everyone who tries to locate Jesus in one gospel or another, one voice or another is bound to fail. First of all, the composite nature of the texts means that relevant material is scattered throughout the various books. While various scholars will have their reasons for choosing one book or another as more “authentic”, in the end it comes down to individual predilection and to localize authenticity in one book or one voice is to leave out an awful lot of interest. Similarly, I’ve come to feel that one also has to resist choosing between Jesus and Paul, which is a common tendency. Some believe that Jesus was really more like John the Baptist, a one-dimensional character, and that all the interesting stuff was inserted under the influence of Paul. Others, probably the majority who take a side, contend that Jesus was a spiritual revolutionary whose message was highjacked by a Machiavellian Paul. This latter view I confess to having once shared, more or less. Again, to take sides is simply to leave out too much. So I agree with the orthodox to that extent – that we have to take into account all the words of New Testament. I differ in adding into the mix some of the non-canonical writings, especially the Gospel of Thomas, and also in my conclusions. In a nutshell: I’ve come to think that the difficulty as well as the enduring fascination of the New Testament writings derives from their having two centers of gravity. On the one hand, we have the mystical, savior Jesus, who comes, as Paul says, to correct the error of Adam; on the other hand we have Jesus as messiah, who comes to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham. This contrast is neatly summed up in the contrasting genealogies we find in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, the so-called Jewish gospel, the genealogy goes back to Abraham. In Luke, the so-called gospel for the gentiles, it goes back to Adam. It seems to me that the New Testament writings are organized around these two centers, and that historically the forms of Christianity have arisen from how individual sects and believers privilege these contrasting centers of gravity. Of course the question arises whether these two centers are really in conflict. The orthodox would say no, that they are really just two aspects of a complex message. They would say that the original creeds and dogmas show how these aspects are harmonized. Some liberal Christians and many interested outsiders like myself would disagree. Here I think the meaning of the crucifixion is key. The resurrection may be the bedrock of orthodox belief but its ultimate sense really depends on what we think happened on the cross. From the non-dual point of view, which is my perspective, the crucifixion is a powerful symbol of the unity of man and God. It’s the selflessness of God emptying himself into man reciprocated by the selflessness of man emptying himself into God. If the error of Adam was to fall into divided consciousness, then redemption is the undivided consciousness of Christ. This view is compatible with most “mystical” (a much-abused term) traditions, not just Indian but also Neo-Platonic. Some Christian theologians have tried to develop similar notions through the concept of “kenosis”, emptying out, whose privileged text is Phil. 2:7. But as I understand it the effort has not been terribly successful, and here I think you see on display the tension between the two scriptural centers. For kenotic theology quickly becomes tortuous, beset with logical difficulties (how can God empty into man since that would indicate change and God can’t change, etc.). But I think these difficulties are far less about logic as such, or even about a literalism as to the nature of God than about what underlies both the literalism and the logic: the core idea of Abrahamic monotheism as well as the messianic center of the New Testament writings, the rulership of god. The rulership of God vastly complicates the meaning of the crucifixion. The non-dual meaning is mysterious enough, but that rests on a pretty straightforward intuition (or faith if you prefer) of or in the essential unity of reality. Under the rulership of God that unity must be articulated so that God remains definitively in charge. Where a non-dual interpretation would see Jesus as representative of how we can all through utter selflessness attain unity with God and in that sense become, like Jesus, God, the Christian creed is anxious to avoid ambiguity. Christ becomes the privileged crossing point of man and God. We become one with God only through secondhand participation in the body of Christ. Ironically, this effort to avoid ambiguity only creates more. Even the texts seem uncertain and undermine the attempt at clarity. (Why is Adam called a Son of God? For that matter what does Son of God really mean? What does son of man really mean? Here is a centuries-old make-work project for scholars.) Again I submit that this anxiety arises out of an ideological not a theological imperative. In other words, the complexities of the trinity are not really a question of theology, and not even particularly mysterious, beyond the fundamental mystery of non-duality. If you look at some classic Indian texts (Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads) you will see – if you read carefully – that they’re fully aware that to “be God” is not to be a rival to the universe or its ruler. They don’t have that anxiety (no doubt they have others) because their core idea is not “rulership of God” but “that thou art”. Anyway, I’m such a windbag that this is as brief as I can be. Finally, I would only say that what I’ve set out here I’m sure is hardly original. There’s nothing new here I admit. And it doesn’t simplify things. If these two centers do in fact exist there have been and are many solutions to how they are balanced or enacted. I would only say that from an outside perspective only the non-dual Jesus is truly universal. And – again this is just one person’s opinion – I think that Christians are at their best when that side of their faith predominates, when they are interested far less in conversions to an ideology than in encouraging the practice of selfless love wherever they find it.