The privatized view of Jesus merely as ‘personal Lord and Savior’ does not really provoke controversy today. After all, our non-Christian neighbors shrug: ‘Whatever works for you’. However, these ascriptions of praise to Jesus Christ were subversive on the lips of early Christians in the Roman Empire. After all, they were titles that Caesar had ascribed to himself. People could believe whatever they wanted to in private. Whatever they found morally useful, therapeutically valuable, or spiritually and intellectually enlightening was fine. In fact, when it came to gods, the more the merrier. The Roman Empire was a melting pot of cultures and religions. However, whatever varied religions and spiritualities it tolerated, Rome insisted that they contribute to the civil religion that included the cult of the emperor. God could have his heaven, or the inner soul, but Caesar was ‘Lord of the Earth’.
The early Christians were not fed to wild beasts or dipped in wax and set ablaze as lamps in Nero’s garden because they thought Jesus was a helpful life coach or role model, but because they witnessed to him as the only Lord and Savior of the world. Jesus does not just live in the private hearts of individuals as the source of an inner peace. He is the Creator, Ruler, Redeemer, and Judge of all the earth. And now he commands everyone everywhere to repent.
Horton’s contrast between the early days and the common contemporary caricature is stark. While the contemporary view is not so much wrong as it is deceivingly inadequate, we would do well to recalibrate any simple ‘Jesus meek and mild’ notions by reflection on the provocative power portrayed in the testimony of the Forefathers of our Faith.