Another Side of Jesus
By Jesse Carey
Interactive Media Producer
CBN.com When we typically think of Jesus, it’s easy to forget about the guy who flipped tables in the temple in a wild rage (Mark 11:15) or called one of His best friends “Satan” when He was mischaracterized (Matthew 16).
But Mark Galli, an editor for Christianity Today, decided to explore the often-neglected side of Christ’s personality in his book Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God. We recently had the opportunity to talk to Mark about the book, the process of understanding Christ’s personality and the “mean” side of Jesus.
How did the book come about come about?
Well, I had been in churches, and heard plenty of talks from either pastors or teachers and had read the occasional lines in books that said things like, “The one thing about Jesus—He is always compassionate. The one thing about Jesus—He is always kind and forgiving.” And I would immediately think of things like the turning of the tables in the temple, the preachings against the Pharisees. And I would just think, “How does that fit?”
So one night I just sat down and read through the gospel of Mark and noted all of the passages in which Jesus comes across as anything but kind and compassionate. And I was absolutely stunned.
Of course Jesus is God incarnate; therefore He is Love incarnate. Then my assumption was, even these tough passages must be expressions of love.
Do you think that people have developed the wrong definition of “love”?
Yeah, and it tends to be a sentimental definition. In fact, a lot people said, “I don’t believe in the God of the Old Testament; I believe in the God of the New Testament—a God of Love—whom Jesus showed us”.
We, in American culture especially, we have a very sentimentalized view of what Jesus was about and who He was and what love is. Love usually amounts to being nice. And I’m trying to show that love has all these other dimensions to it.
Our culture seems to over-value self-affirmation at times, and we tend to discourage negative language. Has this cultural trend made us turn Christ into something He’s not?
He becomes—in a lot of circles—the grand therapists, who tells us we’re really okay, and that “it’s gonna be okay” and “you can do it” and all of the positive thinking stuff that goes on. Now, obviously all of us have been through enough life to know that there’s something truthful about that. It’s grounded, of course, in the theology of the fact that we’re created by God, and we’re created in His image. So fundamentally at our very core, God created us, and looked at us and said, “It is good. It’s very good.”
But our culture fails to help people recognize how our sinfulness can be admitted for what it is. I think that’s the false thing that happens in some schools of psychology where there’s an attempt to ignore the negatives with positive thinking and positive thought and optimism, when most people know deep down, there’s some serious things wrong with their lives; there’s some serious things wrong with the world, that need to be dealt with. The Gospel is magnificent because it goes right to the root of the most horrid things that are in the midst of our hearts and souls and says, “That is horrid. That is terrible.” But there is repentance, and there is grace available.
You mention in the book that the trickle-down of our selective characterization of the personality of Christ, when it hits the church level, is we automatically associate growth with success. But there’s a great line in the book that says, “Church growth is often nothing more than just good social science.” How do we correct that in the Church?
I had an example of when I wrote an article that said some of these things for Christianity Today—actually before I was working here—and one of the editors was in charge of the article. I had mentioned two or three passages in the Gospels where Jesus is upset or angry or impatient, and it was really interesting working with her because when I would bring it up, she would say to me, “But I can explain that.” And I’d bring up another example. “Oh, but I can explain that.” It was just really difficult for her to just read the passage as it was presented.
We have to be able to take all the stuff we just hear and spend more time listening to it. I think the Church could do that. I think most pastors and most Bible teachers are trying to do that. The more culture can do that—really listen to scripture—the less it will fall to these cultural idols like church growth that distract us from really obeying Jesus.
I think a real measure of success is pretty clear in scripture. First of all, are people displaying the fruit of spirit? Another sign is, are they doing things that Jesus commands them to? Are they in fact going out and trying to disciple people and baptize them? Are they, like He says in Matthew 25, visiting people in prison? Are they giving food to the hungry? Sometimes when churches do this, depending on the social and cultural context, churches will grow as a result. Other times, they won’t grow, but if they show the fruit of spirit and they do the good works that Jesus has called them to do, one can probably say, “Wow, that’s a Jesus church.” That’s a successful church.
Not to sound too harsh, but if people don't recognized the problem of mischaracterizing Christ’s personality and its implications in the Church, do you think it’s fair to call it idolatry?
That would be a fair characterization. It’s harsh, but we have all sorts of idols in our lives. I do in my life; our churches do. The definition of an idol is something that’s good—and could even be created by God—but it’s put in a supreme place. Growth is a good thing when it happens. We see church growth in the New Testament. But when it becomes the operating goal and the measure of success then it’s become an idol; it’s become something that has replaced God as the standard by which we live our lives.
How do we keep our view of Christ in check and comes to terms with His “mean” side?
It’s really easy to read the Bible and get sidetracked or begin imagining things the Bible teaches or doesn’t teach when you’re just by yourself. It’s when you’re in a group of Christians who can talk, debate, disagree, refine each others’ view that we become the most mature.
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Jesse Carey is the Interactive Media Producer for CBN.com. With a background in entertainment and pop-culture writing, he offers his insight on music, movies, TV, trends and current events from a unique perspective that examines what implications the latest news has on Christians.
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