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An inconvenient Jesus

April 10, 2012

Well, I looked at NEWSWEEK the other day and there on the cover was Jesus; or at least someone dressed to look like an American version of him.  Looking closer I saw the headline “Forget the church, follow Jesus.”  I am a big fan of following Jesus so I immediately found the article online (I was too cheap to buy it) and went through it.  The summary of the article, written by Andrew Sullivan, was that the church is in crisis and our only hope was to forget it and just follow Jesus.

Frankly, the declaration that the church is in crisis didn’t faze me at all.  If you google “church in crisis” if will give you 89,000,000 results.  Seriously.  It seems as if the church has always been in crisis and, even if it wasn’t, there were plenty of people to scream that it was, so what is new here?  Some of the screamers were calling for a defense, some for an attack and some, like Sullivan, for us to abandon ship.  But it was interesting that Sullivan called for following Jesus.

When you get into the article you find that he admires Thomas Jefferson’s approach to the Bible.  Jefferson took scissors and cut out all the passages and books he didn’t agree with until he was left with what he felt was “pure” Christianity.  Sullivan pretty much does the same thing, shearing away the story of Jesus and, in some cases, rewriting it.  He claims, as just one example, that Jesus “disowned” his parents as a teenager and uses that as proof that we can disown the church.  One assumes he was talking of the boy Jesus in the temple but, in the very next verse, we see Jesus going to Nazareth and being “obedient” to his parents.  But this verse, because it was inconvenient to Sullivan’s theory, was ignored.

That really is the problem with Jesus; He is just so inconvenient.  Jefferson and Sullivan don’t like some of what they see in Jesus so they edit, rewrite and reinterpret Him.  We evangelicals meanwhile sit smugly over here shaking our heads in dismay.  There is only one problem – we pretty much do the same thing.

Sullivan’s article, like all criticism, has truth in it.  Were his attack on the church patently false they would be ludicrous.  But he makes many telling points that, quite frankly, point to our snipping away or revising things in Jesus we consider inconvenient.  Culture warrior Christians find it inconvenient that Jesus says little or nothing about politics, and certainly never urges mass campaigns of political action, so they ignore that or reinterpret texts to suit their need.  I’ve seen people cite Jesus with confidence showing that He supports Obamacare while others are sure He despises it. 

The list goes on.  What does Jesus think about healthcare?  What does Jesus think about the poor?  War?  Christians in public office?  Abortion?  Same sex marriage?  Google any of these items and there are people by the dozens who are His self-appointed spokesmen ready to tell you.

The truth is, nobody is immune to the fact that Jesus is so darn inconvenient.  All of us, knowingly or through our world-view blinders, adapt and modify Him and His opinions.  Grace and humility requires us to be honest.  We are just as prone to it as Sullivan is.

And this is why I will never disown the church.  Knowing my own weakness and my own pride, I need the church to keep me focused.  Across the world thousands, if not millions, of Christians struggle to really know Jesus.  Down through history countless men and women of God have struggled to do the same.  We are all frail, all weak in our understanding and faith.  But together, both historically and globally today, we work as a team to know not a convenient Jesus, but who He really is.  We will differ, we will argue, we will get things wrong.  But it is only the body that gives me hope that I am not alone with my scissors trying to snip out the real Jesus.


From → Christianity, Jesus

One Comment
  1. jessop permalink

    Thank you, That is something I appreciate because I talk a lot with Christians who are ‘out-of-church’ followers of Jesus but who cannot resist judging and condemning all traditional or structured churches and denominations. I am not in any church myself but I know that the Church is the Lord’s Church and any judgement of it is, to say the least, brash.

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