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Hello friends and readers! I’ve just started back into the fall semester of seminary, so as I get in the swing of things, I thought it would be a great time to host a guest blog from my friend Dan Darling.
Dan is the Vice President of Communications at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He previously served five years as Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church. He is a contributor to Leadership Journal, Homelife, Crosswalk.com, Stand Firm,” and a variety of other evangelical publications. He has written several books, and he personally blogs at danieldarling.com. Dan is also a Cubs fan, so just because of that, we know he’s a patient man and an all-around good guy.
I’m thankful for Dan. He’s a good friend. Dan recently published a new book with Baker Publishing called The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is. I encourage you to check it out. Below, Dan shares a blog post with us that gives a bit of a preview of what you’ll read in the book. I hope you’re encouraged, or perhaps even convicted. We create our own Jesuses too often (see the header image above for an example), and I think Dan’s point is an important one.
Despite the Pew results, despite the seeming increasing hostility toward orthodoxy Christian faith, Jesus is still wildly popular in America. But is the Jesus we love on our bumper stickers, WWJD bracelets, and bookstore kitsch the real Jesus of the Bible or a Jesus of our own making?
Jesus seems ever malleable today. We like to form Jesus in our own image rather than being transformed into His likeness. I think there are three ways in which we bend the Son of God to fit our preferences:
We like a Jesus who comfortably comes alongside our lifestyle and behavior, affirming the way we already live so we can do two things at once: have Jesus as our BFF and also continue to live as we please.
So we say things like: “Jesus never mentioned __________ therefore it’s ok to do.” Not only does this sound strangely like something my 6-year old son would say—Daddy, you never said we couldn’t climb on top of the refrigerator—it is also really poor exegesis. Christ himself affirmed the Old Testament Scriptures (Matthew 5:17-19; John 10:35). He also promised the coming of the Holy Spirit who would inspire the writers of the New Testament to complete the canon (John 14-16).
When we say things like, “Jesus didn’t say this in the red letters” we demonstrate a small, paltry view of Jesus. But the Christ of Scripture didn’t come to clean up the mess from the supposedly angry deity of the Old Testament, the Christ of Scripture is God and as Creator, Lord, King, and one with the Father and the Spirit, is the author of all of Scripture. All the letters in the Bible are red, not just the ones highlighted in the gospel by the Bible publishers.
When we adapt Jesus to fit our behavior, it seems beneficial at first, but ultimately we find in this Jesus an impartial Jesus, a false Jesus. We come away empty, unsatisfied, and incomplete. Only the real Christ of Scripture, who came to old us unto His image, will satisfy the deepest longings of the human soul.
We also like a Jesus who is an easy proof-text for our ideology. People on all sides of the spectrum fall prey to this, myself as the chief one. Its easy to pick and choose statements that either make Jesus a card-carrying member of the GOP or a union rep for the progressive caucus. But Jesus doesn’t easily fit into our political boxes. On some level, Jesus crushes conservatives in so much that he forces us to think beyond just moral categories towards redemption and gospel transformation of the soul. Love of country and checking all the right political boxes leads people to Hell as fast as hedonism.
But Jesus also wasn’t a free-range socialist mascot for left-wing causes. Jesus spoke often about the poor, in line with the Old Testament prophets, but only partisans could turn him into a champion for the nanny state.
In other words, Jesus didn’t come to be a bumper sticker for our pet causes; He came preaching repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that upends the existing social order. He both preached the creational and mosaic view of marriage and offered sanctifying grace to adulterers. He spoke of a literal Hell and told deeply religious people that their outward conformity wasn’t enough to keep them from judgment. He was silent before his accusers and he told the leading rulers of his day that their mini-kingdoms were subject to the authority of God.
We’re better off leaving our pre-conceived Jesus notions to the side when we study the real Jesus because Jesus is way better than the proof-texted Jesus who endorses our paltry ideologies.
Lastly, we conform Jesus to our own image because Jesus has become . . . well . . boring to us. But we’re not falling asleep because the real Christ is yawningly pedestrian, but because we’ve forsaken a pursuit of the real Christ for a Christ who entertains and delights, a Christ for all of our senses. Jesus is not boring, it is we who have, in the words of C.S. Lewis, exchanged vacations at the sea for mud pies. This might be why many evangelicals who gather to worship every Sunday find themselves strangely empty on Monday morning. We’re thirsty for transcendence, but we’re drinking from the dry wells of narcissism.
The real Christ, the Christ of Scripture, the Christ who is building His church and calling out his people, this is the Christ we need. Jesus doesn’t need new PR, he pursues relationship with those he came to save. We don’t need a new Jesus for a new day, we need the ever-relevant Ancient of Days. A Christ who doesn’t titillate and entertain, but who transforms and sanctifies. It is not Jesus who needs to change, it is us who will find lasting peace and personal glory only in knowing, following, and loving the original Jesus.