From Mere Christianity, by CS Lewis (1952)
I was brought-up short yesterday, hearing this passage from Lewis's Mere Christianity read-out; with the realization of how different were my own view from those of Lewis (and of most Christians) - especially Protestants.
It is easy for me to forget (in the daily matter of Christian living) that for many mainstream, orthodox, traditional Christians; the 'main thing' about Jesus is his crucifixion and death; that is this supposed to have been an 'atonement' for the accumulated sins of Men - this atonement enabling Men to choose resurrected Heavenly life after their biological deaths.
For most Christians it is very important - centrally important - to what Jesus did for us that he suffered before and during his death, and that he was crucified. There are many differing theories about 'how this works'; but of its central significance there is broad agreement.
Yet for one such as myself who regards the Fourth Gospel ('John') as the primary and most authoritative source of information on Jesus and his teaching; this focus on the atonement is an error. In the Fourth Gospel no special significance is accorded to the manner of Jesus's death (except for the fulfillment of some prophecies that identify him as Messiah).
And I see nothing in the Fourth Gospel to suggest that by-dying Jesus was cleansing Mankind of sin, accomplishing some general work on behalf of Men, or anything of that kind.
The Fourth Gospel (implicitly) tells us that Jesus died because he was a Man - he was a Man who became divine at the baptism by John; but Jesus was a mortal Man and would (obviously) need to die biologically, like all of us, in order to attain eternal resurrected life in Heaven.
There is nothing in the Fourth Gospel that suggests to me either that Jesus's sufferings leading up to death, or mode of death by crucifixion, were of special or 'functional' significance.
As I have often said; the Fourth Gospel has a very clear and simple message - that Jesus came to bring the possibility of resurrected life eternal in Heaven; and that this possibility was available to anyone who recognized that He had been sent by God and who believed in Him and followed him.
(With this 'following' of Jesus to life-everlasting meaning something very literal, on the lines of a sheep following a shepherd.)
My overall inference is that the idea that Jesus atoned for the sins of Mankind, by his suffering and death; and indeed the idea that such atonement was necessary for salvation, are errors.
Perhaps these were introduced as a consequence of some already-existing assumptions and expectations of what the Messiah would do for the Jews here on earth.
Part of the error is, I think, a failure to recognize that by 'sin' Jesus meant - mostly - death. He was not talking about transgressions of The Law (except in a very secondary fashion).
It seems that Jewish theologians believed that it was the accumulation of sins (individually and collectively) that was 'blocking' salvation; and therefore that Jesus 'must have', somehow, wiped-away that accumulation - e.g. by a massive act of atoning sacrifice.
But the Fourth Gospel implies simply that before Jesus there was no 'route' for Men to get to Heaven; and it was Jesus's 'job' to make a path via which Men could - after biologically-dying and by following Him - reach Heaven.
Anyway; my trigger for writing this post was CS Lewis's assumption that the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus as an necessary atonement and the 'chief point' of being A Christian.
This strikes me as simply an error on CSL's part, which came from his creedal definition of Christianity, which itself came from The Churches.
In effect; Lewis set up a definition of Christianity after having-assumed that only obedient 'Trinitarian', 'creedal' Catholics and Protestant church-members were real-Christians. Having drawn that line, he produced a core/ 'mere' set of definitions.
But one, like me, who believes there are many other ways to be a Christian, i.e. a believer-in-the-divinity-of and follower of Jesus - there is no reason to bring any particular churches into it; and no reason to believe that assent-to a form-of-words is essential.
Yet it is possible, and as of 2021 almost essential, to derive one's definition of Christianity (including one's interpretation of scripture) from sources independent of The Churches; and endorsed by individual 'subjective', intuitive discernment.
That we each must find Christianity for ourselves - and take full personal responsibility for it - is, I think, already easy to perceive. And it gets easier and easier to perceive with every passing month as the corruption of external institutional sources becomes more-and-more extreme.
I hesitate to say it; but some of CS Lewis's assumptions in Mere Christianity would, if accepted, prove actively harmful in our current context; and would drive the potential convert away from God and into the welcoming arms of Satan - there to be enlisted in his 'great work' of global damnation.
The primacy of personal discernment is now unavoidable - but in trying to avoid it, and to behave as if they lived three generations ago - many Christians are being led into chosen damnation.
Note added - The way I think about it (as here) is to ask if Jesus's suffering and death by crucifixion was necessary to the success of his mission? To ask: If Jesus had lived a happy life and died of old age - would his mission have failed?
My answer is No. the success of Jesus's mission depended on his incarnation and becoming a fully-divine but mortal Man. His death and resurrection was what made it possible to save us; by enabling us to ascend to Heaven like him. It helped identify Jesus to some of his contemporaries as the Messiah (other noticing that not all the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus).
But Jesus did not need to have particular life experiences or a particular mode of dying to fulfil his divine mission; which was to bring Men the possibility of eternal resurrected life in Heaven.