By analyzing Jesus’ life and ministry in detail, Wills advances the theory that religions that purport to be Christian are not, in fact, based on the true teachings of Christ. Though churches call themselves Christian and look to Jesus as their spiritual leader, they ignore the key concepts of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus was an extremely radical individual whose life was singular because of his special relationship to God the Father. However, he made very clear by his actions and words that he was drastically opposed to the hierarchies that circumscribed the world in which he lived. His excoriation of the traditional religious authorities of his time should not, in Wills’s view, be seen as a repudiation of Judaism or Jews, a mistaken interpretation often used by the Christian church. Rather, Jesus’ rejection of animal sacrifice, cleansing rituals, intercession of priests, and so on indicates his desire for complete egalitarianism of humans—socially, sexually, politically, and financially. Any system in which some people are privileged over others for any reason is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught and represented in his life on earth.
Traditional Christian beliefs of caring for the unfortunate of the world and self-abnegating service were certainly recognized by Jesus as positive behaviors. However, Wills asserts that the social and political conservatism of many modern churches would appall Jesus and is just the sort of action he came to oppose. The sanitized version of Jesus preferred by many churches is a nonexistent figure who allows people to feel superior or to control money and power. Jesus himself, however, time after time rejected such ideas and gave the example of truly Christian behavior by embracing with love all those who came to him in the spirit of trust.