The significance of Jesus for faith and ethics

I’ve been re-reading Glen H. Stassen et al, Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), a critical analysis of H. Richard Niebuhr’s 1951 book, Christ and Culture, and came across this insight into the significance of the life and teachings of Jesus:

In a beautiful climactic passage [writes Stassen, p. 156], Niebuhr says the revelation of God in Christ gives us both a new trust in God as faithful and a new ethical standard to follow. It is like the historic event when Egyptologists, who until then could not decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, discovered the Rosetta stone.  On that one stone the same text was written in three parallel versions: easily read Greek script, ordinary Egyptian script, and previously undecipherable hieroglyphics.  Suddenly, they were able to translate and make sense of a world they could only puzzle at before.

When we speak of revelation we mean that moment when we are given a new faith, to cleave to and to betray, and a new standard, to follow and deny … From this point forward we must listen for the remembered voice in all the sounds that assail our ears, and look for the remembered activity in all the actions of the world upon us.  The God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ is now trusted and known as the contemporary God, revealing himself in every event; but we do not understand how we could trace God’s working in these happenings if he did not make himself known to us through the memory of Jesus Christ; nor do we know how we should be able to interpret all the words we read as words of God save by the aid of this Rosetta stone.

From H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation (New York: Macmillan, 1941), p. 154.

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