The suffering human Christ of Renaissance art, by Albrecht Durer, 16th century
The personal, accessible, historical, and Jewish Jesus of the Protestant Christian, Rembrandt, 17th century
The Christ of our own day and our own conflicts in a new cosmopolitan world, Christa by Edwina Sandys, 1975
Adam Gopnik has a long and fascinating essay on Jesus, the mysterious historical character, and about all the various roles created for Him by both faith and doubt, by His worshippers and His detractors. As usual with Adam Gopnik, it is very well written. For those who are looking for a clear mandate to believe or not, this essay is not for you. You will find it maddeningly even handed in its consideration of believers (like WH Auden), and unbelievers (like Thomas Jefferson).
Gopnik, like a lot of writers from outside the Christian faith, appreciates the originality and the revolutionary character of Jesus' teachings; for example, their radical egalitarianism by the standards of the ancient world, and by our own standards (I would also add His radical pacifism). I've always found it striking that so many Christians (conservative and liberal) downplay the originality of Jesus' teaching. I've always heard the line that His message is little different from that of the great rabbinic sages of the time like Hillel or Gamaliel. For many Christians, what matters are not Jesus' teachings, but His death and resurrection. And yet, Jewish and secular authors insist otherwise. Hannah Arendt always insisted upon the radical originality of Jesus' command to forgive the sins of others. Arendt pointed out that in the ancient world, only the gods and their chosen representatives, priests and kings, could forgive sins. Arendt says that Jesus put that divine power into the hands of ordinary people. Gopnik points out how Muslims appreciate Jesus' radical teachings and claims, and even find them offensive at times. Karen Armstrong points out in her writings that there were many early Muslim sages who very much admired Jesus' teachings while rejecting His claims for Himself.
Gopnik points out the wildly varying images of Christ within the Christian faith, from kind sage, to radical outsider, to charismatic liberator, to mysterious cosmic man, to vengeful world-hating apocalyptic fanatic. Gopnik says that those dramatically varying characters are all there in the one person described in the Gospels. He also notes that so much of the Gospel narratives are about failure and disappointed expectation, especially in the Passion narratives. Jesus declared to His disciples that they will not taste death before they see the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. That did not happen. It still hasn't happened. So much of the conflict within 2000 years of Christianity is over those frustrated expectations and over those wildly conflicting personas in that one person described very differently in each of the four Gospels. He also points out the uniqueness of the Christian claims about Jesus, how different they are from the Classical concept of a demi-god like Hercules, and how different they are from Hindu teachings about the Godhead, the gods, and their many avatars.
He concludes with the idea that belief in the post modern era chooses to embrace the abiding conflicts, mysteries, and doubts about Jesus instead of trying to resolve them.