Herche and Mark Tooley
Institute on Religion and Democracy
October 30, 2000
A "Faith and Reason" video series available through EcuFilm features speakers who question Christ’s claims to unique deity. EcuFilm is an ecumenical film/video service that includes MOST major mainline Protestant denominations, the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and the Maryknoll Missioners. This series examines - uncritically - the beliefs of the late Rev. D.L. Dykes, a United Methodist pastor who declared succinctly about Jesus: “He did not see Himself as the Son of God, He didn’t see himself as anything special.”
Dykes pastored the First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. The video series advertises that Dykes preached for 30 years on "controversial topics." David Dykes, the minister’s son, is the producer of the video series and appears as part of the panel discussion responding to video clips of his father.
Others speakers featured in the video series include Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, who are both scholars in the controversial Jesus Seminar. Borg is Episcopalian. Crossan is a former Catholic priest. Tex Sample, a retired United Methodist seminary professor, is also featured.
The series is comprised of 24 different videos, each of which tries to answer a different question about Jesus, such as “How did Jesus of Nazareth see Himself,” or “Was Jesus really raised from the dead? In each case, the traditional Christian belief about Jesus is either denied, or the speakers respond so vaguely as to avoid the issue.
The video series repeatedly quotes Dykes in saying that “Jesus is not God,” and that the Holy Trinity just isn’t “important.” According to Dykes’ logic, if Jesus were God then we cannot possibly aspire to live as He lived, as a moral, socially minded person, concerned mostly with political justice. As his son describes, D.L Dykes is “… not so much interested in that notion of Jesus dying for our sins, as he is in the way Jesus lived, and what Jesus said.”
The elder Dykes asked how anybody can try to follow Jesus if He were truly divine. But if “Jesus was the model human being for all model human beings” then we can live a life just as pure and spiritual as He did, Dykes opined. He also explained: “What God is and what mankind can be, they are one and the same…You see true God and potential man, they are the same.”
God is “not a God of Justice…. He never punishes or rewards,” Dykes further explained in the video series. In his examination of Dykes’ beliefs, Marcus Borg also warns that presupposing a “just” God will inspire “righteousness in the worst sense of the word.” The consensus in the video series is that God apparently is not so much concerned about judgement and personal morality as he is about relationships and systematic political justice. It naturally follows that a Savior who offers atonement for humanity’s sins is not really necessary. As the younger Dykes explains, Jesus saves us not by any action on the cross but by His concept of “the nature of life and human relationships.”
The younger Dykes further offers that he cannot understand why Jesus would be in such agony on the cross if there were really a plan that He would be raised three days later. Clearly Jesus did not expect to rise from the dead. The video series leads viewers to to accept the claims of groups such as the Jesus Seminar. For example, they argue that Scriptures about Jesus’ resurrection and eternal life were simply added to the Gospels by the early church much later after Jesus’ death in order to improve on the story.
But Jesus’ divinity, atoning sacrifice, and resurrection were not the only central Christian tenets denied during the video series. According to Craig Evans of Trinity Western University in British Columbia, the Bible is filled with “creative fictions.” Many stories are not literally true, but they still have teaching value. The resurrection of Jesus is one such story. Dykes preferred to focus on Jesus’ example while living, not on purported miracles that none of us can repeat. Or as Dominic Crossan explains, Jesus’ resurrection was not a literal event, but merely a metaphor to explain that His life was “powerfully efficacious” in the world.
Crossan’s Jesus Seminar has become notorious for denying the authenticity of much of the New Testament. In the video series, Marcus Borg announces that he and “most scholars” agree that Jesus never uttered the words, recorded in the Gospel of John, “I am the Light of the world.” Borg stresses that historical accuracy should not be confused with truthfulness.
Borg, who does not believe in a personal deity and describes himself as a panentheist, calls Jesus a “spirit person” who leads His followers into a “super spiritual life.” This hyper-spirituality will hatch human hearts to the “reality that God is all around us.” According to Borg, Jesus is a sort of therapist who invites all of us into a “relationship with the sacred, that then has the power to transform us and liberate us from self-preoccupation and anxiety.”
This theme is echoed by other speakers in the video series, none of whom insists that Jesus was anything more than an extraordinary man whose life offers a role model. According to Evans, “Jesus had no systematic philosophies and He doesn’t have a systematic theology. But He does have a pattern of living.”
The speakers say little about the possibility of eternal life, but they are clear they do not believe in divine judgment. “I don’t believe in a God of eternal damnation,” Borg says. “What really happens to those really awful people?” asks A. J. Levine, a professor from Vanderbelt Divinity School in Nashville. “I don’t know,” she responds to her own question.
And the speakers are largely agreed about the non-uniqueness of Jesus. Borg says the “same things that made Jesus make every person: society, genetics, the political situation.” He offered that Jesus was unique only in that his “psyche was so open to the presence of the spirit that He could be filled with the spirit in a remarkable kind of way.” Dykes explained that Jesus was not “guaranteed” by God. Rather, Jesus “chose to be that way.”
Dykes asked if there will be another Jesus. He speculated that “maybe you and I won’t make it, but maybe we can make the effort enough so that a grandson, or a great-grandson, or a great-great-grandson maybe will make it.” Agreeing with Dykes, Borg says he would still believe the traditional beliefs about Jesus if he were still a child. But these doctrines become “dysfunctional” when you’re an adult, he explains.
Although the video series includes twenty-four 25 minute videos, none of its speakers seem to offer a traditional explanation of Jesus as the unique Son of God and Savior of the world who offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Instead, the speakers describe a Jesus who is merely a heroic and good man whose example can possibly be followed by others in the future.
The “Faith and Reason” video series was produced in 1998 by the D.L. Dykes, Jr. Foundation. "Faith and Reason" is marketed through EcuFilm's catalog. Most videos produced or marketed by EcuFilm seem to be aimed at Sunday school audiences. The videos sell for $25 each or $89.90 for a six-video sub-set of the full 24 video collection.