Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?


Thanks to Michael Spencer's insightful book, Mere Churchianity, for the following outline of the different kinds of Jesus different kinds of believers believe in.

Jesus on the cross
This is where Jesus begins and ends for many Christians. Despite believing that Jesus arrived on earth as a newborn and came back to life after being executed, the only thing Jesus did that makes any real difference for most people was that he died for the sins of the world. The tight focus on Jesus hanging on the cross is a version of Jesus where his other works, miracles, words, and overall mission are secondary. Sure he said some things and healed some people and taught people how to live. But all of that pales by comparison to preaching about the cross or focusing on the Eucharist.

Jesus the guru
This version sees Jesus' unjust execution on a Roman cross as the inevitable outcome of a good man living a life of love in a bad world, a la Martin Luther King Jr. What matters to these Christians is Jesus' teaching. If we could put the teaching of Jesus into practice, then we'd live like real Christians and the world would be a better, more peaceful place.

Jesus the miracle worker
This is the Jesus who solves problems by his superpowered ability to make bad things go away and good things happen. If he could cure a leper and bring corpses back to life two thousand years ago, he can deal with the problems people have today. Jesus the miracle worker is important in the present and has little real contact with the Jesus of the New Testament. He's mostly about hearing our prayers, changing things to match our desires, and sending miracles to whomever needs one.

Jesus the promoter
Jesus is always up to something big. He builds bigger churches, raises astounding amounts of cash, and sponsors huge religious events in stadiums. This version of Jesus can almost always be found in a venue with incredible music, entertaining video effects, and good-looking, upbeat speakers. He's the Jesus you meet when you find that awesome megachurch that has everything you need for a great religious experience.

Jesus the culture warrior
The culture-warrior Jesus is concerned about the public display of the Ten Commandments and the effect of Hollywood movies on your children. He fully approves of a number of political agendas, and his advice to his followers is to hunker down, take care of yourselves, and fight for America  -  a country that Jesus is particularly fond of. (No matter that he is a Palestinian Jew.)

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All of these versions of Jesus contain truth, but they are not the whole truth.

Borrowing some more from Mere Churchianity:

Jesus did die on the cross and was raised from the dead, but that's not the entire gospel message.

Jesus' teachings deliver crucial knowledge, but Jesus is far more than just a motivational change agent. He gives people a new identity and a new life, not just better doctrine.

God is compassionate and a worker of miracles, but let's face it: Jesus doesn't always solve our problems. He is not a celestial vending machine.

There is no question Jesus is doing a big thing in history. He is advancing the biggest agenda ever: to bring all believing people from every nation into the Kingdom of God. But it's a mistake to equate Jesus with our ideas of importance or accomplishment, like attending a church that operates its own water park or having a laser show at the 11:00 a.m. service.

Jesus cares about what happens to children, families, and culture, but Jesus doesn't use morality to change the world, and he doesn't equip his followers with political weapons.

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Truth is...I find myself humbly agreeing with C. S. Lewis, who said, "I need Christ, not something that resembles him."

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