Who Do Americans Say Jesus Is?

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted September 01, 2020

In Matthew 16, we read, “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” (vv. 13–16).

That question—who do YOU say that I am?—echoes down the millennia to us today. Ultimately, every person will answer it in his lifetime, whether directly or indirectly. We can dodge, weave, ignore, or run in the other direction, but the question remains.

Recently, Ligonier Ministries, an evangelical group in Orlando, Florida, teamed up with Baptist-owned LifeWay Research to survey 3,002 American adults on “The State of Theology” in 2020. Of those surveyed, 630 were “professing evangelicals.” The full results of the survey are due on September 8, 2020, but the group released several pieces of information early.

Jesus writing in the sand

“A new survey reveals that 52 percent of American adults believe that Jesus was a great teacher and nothing more,” a Ligonier news release stated. Even more surprising, “almost a third of evangelicals (30 percent) agree that Jesus was merely a great teacher. And while 66 percent of American evangelicals disagree with the statement, ‘Jesus was a good teacher, but he was not God,’ nearly as many (65 percent) still agree with the statement, ‘Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.’”

This might come as quite a shock, but unfortunately, it is par for the course. Dr. Stephen Nichols, the chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries, states, “As the culture around us increasingly abandons its moral compass, professing evangelicals are sadly drifting away from God’s absolute standard in Scripture. It’s clear that the church does not have the luxury of idly standing by. This is a time for Christians to study Scripture diligently, engage confidently with people in our culture, and witness fearlessly to the identity and saving work of Jesus Christ in the gospel.”

Jesus: The Savior or a Madman?

There are many aspects as to why and how we’ve come to this turn in American life. Certainly, an increase in secularism in society can be blamed. Others can point the finger at “cheap grace,” the teaching that because God loves everyone just as they are, folks don’t need to repent or change their ways. A decline in biblical engagement—the amount of time Americans spend reading the Scriptures— can certainly be cited.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the survey responses is that they do not specifically address the question that Jesus posed. The belief that Jesus is “a great teacher” concedes something nice about Jesus, yes, but it avoids acknowledging His claims. 

Famous Christian apologist—not to mention former atheist—C.S. Lewis answered in this way: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.”1

The late Curtis Hutson, an independent fundamentalist Baptist preacher, previously worked in an Atlanta-area post office located on a hill with several access roads. During his time as a clerk, Hutson would often share his faith with customers, one of whom bristled at the claim of Jesus as the only way to God.

“Preacher,” said the customer, “the way I see this business about Heaven is: we are all at the Post Office this morning. You came up Covington Highway and out Candler Road and you are here. So-and-so came through Panthersville, and he is here. I came through East Lake Park and I am here. … As long as we are sincere we will all go to Heaven when we die. What do you think about that?”

Hutson’s succinct reply: “There is only one thing wrong with it: when we die, we are not going to the Post Office.”

Now, Amazing Facts International would take issue with some of Hutson’s assertions, such as people going to heaven after they die, but Hutson is right when he asserts that the saved go to heaven only by receiving Christ as Savior. There is no back road to eternity. It’s through Jesus; otherwise, it’s not going to happen. The Bible is abundantly clear on that: Jesus declared to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Says Jesus, “I, even I, am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11).

If we call ourselves Christians, we must respond to Jesus’ question as Peter did in Matthew 16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). There is only one Jesus of Nazareth: God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity—not a created being—the Savior of humankind who paid the ultimate price for our sins so that we could “have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

To learn more about Jesus and His purpose, check out “Who Is Jesus?”, a message by Pastor Doug Batchelor. Then find out whether God and Jesus are the same person, a popular question answered on Bible Answers Live. What you discover in these resources will help you figure out your own answer to Jesus’ question.

1Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity, rev. ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2000), 52.

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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