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Following Jesus

Simply Jesus: Is That Enough?

August 30, 2018 by

“Jesus sets us free from Christianity,” the speaker declared the first evening of a conference I recently attended. “We like to talk about Jesus in terms of something else – like justice, or mission, or the family, or church – but Jesus, simply Jesus, is enough.”

The speaker caught my attention. It’s true, we’ve layered Jesus over with all kinds of religious nonsense. So, I was eager to hear more about who this Jesus really was. Several speakers tried to echo the main point in the three days that followed.

simplyJesus_main

“Jesus was beloved by God, his Father…. You too are special,” explained one speaker.

“There’s something better than freedom from prison; it is freedom (Jesus) itself,” expounded another.

Hum…. Simply Jesus?

“Death is not the end of the story,” an emotionally charged speaker proclaimed. “Jesus doesn’t give us eternal life, he is eternal life!”

“Jesus loved women,” one presenter argued, as she shared her pain about having to contend in a man’s world.

“Jesus wants to touch you….” “Jesus repudiates GMO’s – ‘Ghastly Moral Obligations’….” “Jesus wants to….”

By the end of the conference, I didn’t know what to think.

I hadn’t been to a conference like this in a long time. The speakers were sincere, and so were those I met. There was a hunger, and thirst for something beyond Christianity-as-usual. But everything seemed so comfortable, so safe, so spiritually soft. What I heard was not the Jesus I had come to know from the four Gospels.

A few weeks later I happened across something Gerhard Lohfink, a German New Testament Scholar, wrote in his book, No Irrelevant Jesus. Lohfink bemoans how much our modern Christianity has domesticated Jesus and made him irrelevant:

Jesus is rendered irrelevant when his preaching of judgment, which makes up a significant portion of the gospel tradition, is ignored and there is talk only of the loving and tender Jesus.
Jesus is tamed when there is no more preaching about his sharp words against the rich. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus said (Mark 10:25).
Jesus is tamed when it becomes taboo to speak of his celibacy. It was not accidental and not a matter of fate; it is connected with his absolute devotion to the people of God.…
Jesus is also tamed when we sharply criticize the treatment of divorced and remarried persons by Rome and yet keep silent about the altogether clear and thoroughly well-attested words of Jesus against divorce.…
Above all, Jesus is tamed and rendered irrelevant when he is presented only as a sympathetic rabbi, a prophet mighty in word and deed, or a gifted charismatic – or as the first feminist, a radical social revolutionary, a gregarious social worker. All that conceals his true claim. In all these categories Jesus is shrunken, distorted, twisted into shape, planed smooth, disempowered, and accommodated to our secret desires.

Wow! Lohfink sounds quite a different note than the one I heard at the conference. The mantra, “simply Jesus,” sounded good, but that was the problem – it sounded good, too good.

In one way or another we are probably all guilty of domesticating Jesus for our own purposes. But one thing is clear. Those who hung Jesus on the Cross never accused him of being a kind, loving friend who affirmed and accepted them as they were. The Jesus of the Gospels upset his world and in so doing got his followers, including himself, into big-time trouble.

We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet...
—Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers observed that those who encountered Jesus first-hand “thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person: they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.”

Simply Jesus? “I have come to bring fire on earth” (Luke 12:49). Those of us who preach “simply Jesus” had better beware. The unadulterated Christ never leaves us intact. No, he offends our basic sensibilities, smashes our small worlds, and then through his Spirit transforms them from the bottom-up and from the inside out.

If it is Jesus we simply want – the dangerous firebrand that he is – then we better get ready to have our ideas about him set on fire. It’s that simple, but not very easy and certainly not very comfortable.


Photo by Ltshears

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About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore resides with his wife and daughter in Esopus, New York where he teaches Bible and Christian Thought at The...

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  • Dear Charles, Thank you so much for your article. I came to the Gospel just two years ago and my first year of reading the Bible is a complete blur as I hadn't read any kind of book for over forty years. However, my second attempt with my mentoring Brother has been far more successful and a wonderful experience. Next week I shall start reading the New Testament and I'm really looking forward to reading God's words through Jesus. Now, having read your article I shall be more aware of 'Jesus the firebrand' and why the Saducees, Pharisees and others were so worried about how he challenged their perfect (and profitable) lives. God Bless

    Steve Dunn