Can You Be Secular and Still Love Jesus? No.

USA Today columnist, Tom Krattenmaker, makes a case for a secular Christianity in his new book Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower that released this month. Krattenmaker explains his thesis to Phil Zuckerman, head of the nation’s only academic program in secularism, in an interview for Psychology Today. Zuckerman asks the question, “Can you be secular and still love Jesus?” His answer is yes. I disagree. Here’s why.

The way Krattenmaker defines a secular Christianity is very similar to how Thomas Jefferson talks of Christ in his book The Moral Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s a Jesus minus anything supernatural. Though Jesus is a fascinating historical figure, he claimed to be much more. Additionally, Jesus actually addressed the question raised in the article.

Jesus said that those who have his commands and obey them are the ones who actually love him (John 14:21). These commands include belief in God, that he is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he was raised, in accordance with Scripture, on the third day. There is much more to loving Jesus, but there certainly cannot be anything less.

“The point is,” Krattenmaker states, “we can see Jesus not as a divine savior who takes away our sins, but as an embodiment of transformative wisdom, insight, and inspiration.” Cough. Not really.

This where C.S. Lewis’s trilemma is helpful: Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or he is lord. Jesus may have been crazy, or disinterested with truth, or he was truly who he claimed to be. To say he was the embodiment of transformative wisdom, who, oh yea, happened to completely lie about his entire identity, is a complete contradiction in terms.

For an article in Psychology Today, you would think things like lunacy and deception might be considered. But Krattenmaker seems more focused on the “body of Jesus’ ethical teachings” than anything like taking seriously Jesus’ claims about himself. He even goes so far as to  say he is concerned that too many people try to “morph Jesus into something that requires nothing of us other than business as usual.” Huh?

I do appreciate Krattenmaker’s reverence for the wisdom of Jesus. I just think the angry atheists who says Jesus was a lier offer a more consistent option than to strip Jesus of his divinity and try to divorce his ethical teachings from his claims to be God. You cannot have one without the other.

You can be secular and love a secular Jesus, but Krattenmaker makes it clear: You cannot be secular and love the real Jesus. That’s not an option Jesus left open for us.