Thursday, November 20, 2008

De-editing Jesus

There's a recent piece concerning something I myself have been thinking about lately by the imonk. (Do I ever reference any other bloggers?) It concerns "the abbreviated Jesus," or the Jesus that has major parts of him excised and sanitized for the ease and comfort of the audience. There is a suspicion sneaking about that this abbreviated Jesus is what the majority of Christians refer to when they speak his name. I wonder if this edited messiah is not the reason American church culture is suffering severe anemia and impotence, is "overfed and undernourished." I have brainstormed a quick list of somethings that get "edited out" of Jesus; maybe you can think of some too-- vital parts of the real Jesus that don't make the cut in our current paradigm, thus strangling the faith that expresses itself in love.

He is more interested in what he did than in what we are doing.

He is more interested in being revealed through us than giving us things.

He commended those who would be persecuted, even killed, in his name.

He was not under the illusion that he would never die.

He was not under the illusion that his death was something he should avoid or postpone.

He said that his kingdom was otherworldly.

So otherworldly that even he couldn't just say what it was. Parables were the best way.

He said "Woe to the rich," and explained how difficult it was for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

"Repent" was a major theme of his ministry.

He easily and willingly exposed people's sin to them.

He was completely unafraid of other people's opinions about him.

He was not out looking for an especially talented group to be his mediators for the sheep. He was the mediator.

No one took his life from him, he gave it up willingly.

He's not satisfied to be part of the solution.

At least 4 of these things have to do with death.


Bob said...

Here's another. He put a very high priority on sharing the Gospel message "in words." Going around telling people things, not just being really likable and hoping someday someone will ask us a question about our faith or something.

Leopold said...

I was wondering... I see a lot of questioning and criticism from you guys (because, believe it or not, I actually read what you both write) of a popularly held image or belief about Jesus. Actually of several images and beliefs, at least. There seem to be quite a few Jesus' in the world, maybe too many to count. And being that I am a bit on the outside of the discussion, I was wondering why it was that Christians are fighting over defining who Jesus is? I mean not that I'm not all too familiar with the vapid megachurch ideology. I like this post because it concentrates on what is, rather than measuring against what Jesus 'is not' (he's not THIS and he's not THAT) I'm just noticing that there's a lot of push pull, and I'm sort of playing devil's advocate, because I don't think everyone needs to believe the same thing. But I AM wondering... well... um... if Jesus is the foundation of morality, or the foundation of meaning, and of how to live, and some would say the foundation of how to vote, then, if we're not clear on who he is (which seems sort of inevitable), isn't that kind of a problem? Like, sort of a big one?

Bob said...

"I was wondering why it was that Christians are fighting over defining who Jesus is? "

Good questions, Butterfly. One, I think the there is a crying need for self-criticism or self-evaluation in the church, but most of it is not really a question of conflicting definitions of Jesus (at least here and on my blog) as a debate about the full ramifications of who Jesus is and what he did.

So its a call for self-reformation coming to the church from within the church, with not that much disagreement among them about the tradional understanding of who Jesus is. In other words, we're not talking about drastically different Saviors, but trends in the church that undermine our full grasp of all that he taught.

"if Jesus is the foundation of morality, or the foundation of meaning, and of how to live, and some would say the foundation of how to vote, then, if we're not clear on who he is (which seems sort of inevitable), isn't that kind of a problem? Like, sort of a big one?"

I don't think so. In regard to voting, for example, everyone votes according to what they believe fundamentally. No one should be expected to do otherwise. Just as someone for example with an atheististic worldview should vote according to the ramifications of that worldview, people with differing understandings of God (or within Christianity of Jesus) should also vote according to the ramifications of their understanding. If that means Christians don't wind up being a uniform voting block, well fine. There are those who try to make Christianity out to be a political movement with a uniform political agenda, but that just is not the case. So I guess I'm saying why is that some sort of problem?

Or perhaps I'm not understanding your question fully. I'm typing this response quickly, off the top of my head, so that may well be the case. I look forward to hearing both yours and Nate's response.

Anonymous said...

word for the day...



Nate said...


Your excellent addition did occur to me after I had put up this post. Speaking the gospel proactively. This seems for many to be tied to the fear issue- we're afraid of the opinions of others and so we wait for them to ask us, hoping really to avoid the issue altogether. Or worse, look for an opportunity to mention "my church" so that people will know that I have some kind of faith, and hope they make some mental jump from "my church" to salvation through Jesus Christ.

Leopold: I was recently reading a book provocatively titled "Heresies and Heretics." It said that with the exception of Islam, Christianity has contended on doctrinal grounds more than any other faith, because of its assumption that belief is the core, not practice.

This is why Christians fight over things like this. I don't strictly want to "define" Jesus in such a way elevates anything subjective. The question is, is there anything objectively revealed by God? I do vigorously believe that God chose to reveal certain things about himself for the benefit of humanity. Central to this revelation is Jesus, and the message of Jesus is the gospel. When the gospel is not preserved(i.e. Jesus' identity and actions are falsely interpreted) the issue may seem like the trivial debate of old cranks in some dusty library, but in reality the effects are intensely and immediately practical. The "vapid megachurch ideology" that you mention, and myriads of other problems, are traceable to simple bad theology.

I'm not all that interested in 90% of the battles being fought in Christianity, but this one inflames me, and many others: Christ alone is salvation. And Christ is revealed via the Bible(sola scriptura) This is compromised to the destruction of lives and churches.

You would think this battle would be fought between Christians and various other religions and sects, but currently it is raging within evangelicalism itself. The majority of the church teaches Christ in principle but essentially denies him by adding to him or leaving out crucial parts of his gospel(i.e. "take up your cross" cannot coexist with "god wants you to be rich") The result is Christianity as you see it in America: blind, powerless, smarmy, judgmental, greedy, obsessed with possessions and "good activity."

That's my short answer! I could probably write a book. Suffice it to say that who Jesus is is central to anything worth pursuing in Christian life. I'm also operating with the assumption that the gospel revelation is clear and readily found in the Bible. Yes, there are many things that are difficult to grasp or interpret, but foundational necessities are plain as day, and there should be no surreptitious compromise on the part of leaders with agendas to exalt themselves and their churches. Which I suspect is what is sweeping all the things in this post under the rug.


Nate said...

I should have said belief is core "to practice" not "not practice."

Nate said...

Oh, one last nitpick:

Leopold, I don't know exactly what you meant by Jesus as the "foundation of morality...and of how to live." I might be just jumping on something without really getting your full intention...but I don't believe that Jesus' primary revelation is that of moral living. Taken on its own, this assumption is exactly what kills Christianity. It's largely this assumption that I'm opposing by asserting that the gospel is of first importance. The gospel- God doing for us what we can not do by force of our moral action. Salvation by grace.

You may be rolling your eyes and saying "duh", but I just didn't know how much of the principle of the gospel you have been exposed to; or if you figured that we think that Jesus is our Great Example instead of the one who justifies us by grace.

Just a clarification.

Leopold said...

"You may be rolling your eyes and saying "duh", but I just didn't know how much of the principle of the gospel you have been exposed to."

No, actually, I wasn't aware of much of this... that is to say I am extremely aware of the basic tenets of Christianity, of all the dogma, and I still don't really get it. I honestly wish I did. At some points I've wished I could be Christian, but I've realized over time that I fundamentally either can't comprehend or don't agree with its founding principles. I'm really not sure what I need to be saved from. I think humanity is fundamentally good. I don't feel the desire to live forever, and I can't distinguish "The Passion" from "Saw 3". I have extreme difficulty connecting the dots, and it makes no sense to me. I'll try to explain at some point what exactly it is that doesn't make sense, but it would take some doing.

I neglected to read this before I commented on your latest post, which is a defense of death. I hope you don't mind me being all quizzical/argumentative like this on your blog. Let me know if you do.

Nate said...

Actually I think it's a great gas! I obviously have lots to say and could probably use a calling out once in awhile. From one heretic to another: glad to have you, no matter what it is you're saying!

BTW, I also think humanity is fundamentally good-- but differentiate this from its being afflicted with a "disease" that is in eradicable from within the grid on which it works(i.e. human action and intention). Not quite the Lutheran conception, but I've diverged a bit from my roots an that one!