Saturday, August 4, 2012

The new "nice" Jesus

One of my older students, after reading the Gospels for the very first time, expressed surprise that the Jesus of the Gospels was not the Jesus she expected to find.

I'm not sure what she expected to find, but I fear that many in contemporary Western culture have re-defined Christianity as the practice of “niceness” in the worship of a non-judgmental, All-Tolerant God. I’m afraid some forms of contemporary Christianity have made Jesus into an idol more closely resembling Santa Claus than the Jesus of the Gospels.

While it is certainly true that the Jesus of the Gospels had a lot to say about love and compassion, that’s not all he had to say. The Gospels present a Jesus who condemned malice, deceit, greed, envy, slander, arrogance, lewdness, evil thoughts and sexual immorality—which, in Jesus’ culture, would certainly have included the sexual sins listed in Leviticus 18 and 20)—and who went around warning people to repent of their sins  or they would perish (Mark 7:20-23; (Luke 13:5; Mark 1:15; Matthew 4:17; John 3:18-19; 5:28-29).

While the Jesus of the Gospels was certainly compassionate and loving, he was not always nice. He told one of his own disciples to “get behind me, Satan.” He called self-righteous religious leaders greedy, self-indulgent fools; hypocrites, blind guides, whitewashed tombs and children of hell (Matthew 23:15-17, cf. Luke 11:42-44). He told a crowd they were of their father, the Devil (John 8:44). He even condemned his entire generation as evil, adulterous, sinful, faithless and perverse (Mark 8:8; Lk 11:31-32//Mt 12:42, 41; Mk 9:19; Mt 17:17; Lk 9:41). On numerous occasions he warned people of being cast into an eternal fire where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mark 9:43-48; Matthew 5:28-30; 8:12, 13:42; 25:14-30).

In short, his teachings condemn all of us (see, for example, Matthew 5-7), but he claimed to have come to give his life a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Those who sincerely repent of their sin and turn to him as savior and King will not be condemned. According to the Gospel of John, those who refuse him are condemned already because they have not believed in Jesus, and because their deeds are evil, loving darkness more than light (John 3:16-20).

Not everyone will like the Jesus of the Gospels and that is their right, but to present a more politically correct Jesus by cherry-picking “nice” parts of the Gospels and ignoring the rest is either ignorance or dishonesty. In either case, I think the Bible would define it as idolatry.