ON BEING A CHRISTIAN
(By Hans Kung, "The Christian Challenge", pages 313-316, 1979)
A. Who is a Christian?
- No one is a Christian simply because he or she tries to live in a
human or in a social or even in a religious way. That person alone is a
Christian who tries to live his or her human, social, and religious life
in the light of Jesus Christ.
- The distinctive Christian reality is Jesus Christ himself.
- Being a Christian means: By following Jesus Christ, the human being in
the world of today can truly humanly love, act, suffer, and die, in
happiness and unhappiness, life and death, sustained by God and helpful to
B. Who is Christ?
- The Christ is no other than the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Neither
priest nor political revolutionary, neither ascetic monk nor devout
moralist, he is provocative on all sides.
- Jesus did not proclaim any theological theory or any new law, nor did
he proclaim himself. He proclaimed the kingdom of God: Godís cause (=Godís
will), which will prevail and which is identical with manís cause (=manís
- For the sake of menís well-being Jesus effectively relativized sacred
institutions, law, and cult.
- Jesus thus asserted a claim to be advocate of God and men. He provoked
a final decision: not for a particular title, a dogma, or law but for his
good news. But in this way, too, the question of his person was indirectly
raised: heretical teacher, false prophet, blasphemer, seducer of the
people or what?
- In the last resort the conflict centers on God. Jesus does not invoke
a new God. He invokes the God of Israel understood in a new way, as Father
of the abandoned, whom he addresses quite personally as his Father.
- Jesusí violent end was the logical consequence of this approach of his
to God and man. His violent passion was the reaction of the guardians of
the law, justice, and morality to his nonviolent action: the crucifixion
becomes the fulfillment of the curse of the law; Jesus becomes the
representative of lawbreakers, of sinners. He dies forsaken by both men
- Jesusí death, however, was not the end of everything. The faith of his
community is: The Crucified is living forever with God, as our hope.
Resurrection does not mean either a return to life in space and time or a
continuation of life in space and time but the assumption into that
incomprehensible and comprehensive last and first reality which we call
- The resurrection faith, therefore, is not an appendage but a
radicalizing of faith in God: of faith in God the Creator.
- Without faith in the risen Christ, faith in the crucified Jesus lacks
confirmation and authorization. Without faith in the cross, faith in the
risen Christ lacks its distinctive character and decisiveness. The
ultimate distinctive feature of Christianity is Jesus Christ as the
- The emergence of the Church can be explained only in the light of
faith in Jesus raised to life: the Church of Jesus Christ as the community
of those who have committed themselves to the cause of Jesus Christ and
bear witness to it as hope for all men.
- The essential distinction between "Catholic" and "Protestant" today no
longer lies in particular doctrinal differences but in the diversity of
basic attitudes which have developed since the Reformation but which can
now be overcome in their one-sidedness and integrated into a true
- The ecumenical basis of all Christian churches is the biblical
profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ, as the criterion for manís
relations with God and with his fellow men. This profession of faith must
be freshly translated for each new age.
C. Who acts as a Christian?
- The distinctive feature of Christian action, therefore, is the
following of Christ. This Jesus Christ is in person the living, archetypal
embodiment of his case: embodiment of a new attitude to life and a new way
of life. As a concrete, historical person, Jesus Christ possesses an
impressiveness, audibility, and realizability which is missing in an
eternal idea, an abstract principle, a universal norm, a conceptual
- Jesus then means for modern man a basic model of a view of life and
practice of life to be realized in many ways. Both positively and
negatively he is in person invitation ("you may"), appeal ("you should"),
challenge ("you can"), for the individual and society. He makes possible
in the concrete a new basic orientation and basic attitude, new
motivations, dispositions, projects, a new background of meaning and a new
- For the Church, too, Jesus must remain the authoritative standard in
all things. The Church is credible only when it follows in his way as a
provisional, serving, guilty, determined Church. At all times practical
consequences must be drawn from this for constant internal church reform
and for ecumenical understanding.
- It is particularly in coping with the negative side of life that
Christian faith and non-Christian humanisms have to face their acid test.
For the Christian the only appropriate way to cope with the negative is in
the light of the cross. Following the cross does not mean cultic
adoration, mystical absorption, or ethical imitation. It means practice in
a variety of ways in accordance with the cross of Jesus, in which a person
freely perceives and attempts to follow his own way of life and suffering.
- Yet, despite all demands for action, looking to the crucified Jesus,
the ultimately important thing for man will not be his achievements
(justification by works), but his absolute trust in God, both in good and
in evil, and thus in an ultimate meaning to life (justification by faith).