If someone brings up Jesus in an ordinary situation, the conversation immediately gets awkward. It seems the only people who want to talk about Jesus are “those people.” At first this seems reasonable, but on a deeper look, this unlocks an unfortunate backstory.
Historically, it’s undeniable that Jesus was a Jewish man who lived and traveled throughout Israel. The bible as well as extra biblical resources account for his lineage, his location, his vocation, and many of his acts and sayings. His humanity is not where people get hung up, and for most it’s not even his claims of divinity.
Just mention the name of Jesus in an ordinary setting and people will immediately get on edge. “Where is this conversation going?” Modern people have associated Jesus with those who are always talking about him. Everyone knows a fundamentalist who condemns everything or a devout believer who has an overly nice exoskeleton. The frameworks that produce such people are usually stuck in low level tribal or traditional consciousness which is below the scientific or postmodern consciousness that make up most of our culture. Sadly, Jesus has been portrayed backward by regressive mindsets that have yet to appreciate the scandal nor scale of his message.
Jesus is most often characterized as the Savior of the World. This is because the mission of the church has become exclusively soteriological (salvation). Instead of restoring and healing the broken world as charged, the church is now engaged in an evacuation strategy. This depiction of Jesus actually has very little power because he is portrayed as a savior who is presently losing the battle in this evil world. Power is deferred until either we die or he comes back at Armageddon with a giant can of whoop-ass on all unbelievers. In this portrait Jesus loses most of humanity because he can’t or won’t save them.
Other common images of Jesus are as an effeminate white guy with perfectly feathered hair who wears a dress and has a halo. Other images appeal to the male ego by depicting a strong carpenter who is a warrior against evil. I call this one comic book Jesus. There is also the tortured carcass Jesus made famous by Hollywood. There is homeless guy Jesus, and countless others.
All of these portraits have their genesis within the pages of scripture, but each also comes attached to a particular theological framework. It’s not a matter of right or wrong so much as it is a matter of particular versus universal. I’ll address this in part two as the tiny Christology.
The weirdness comes out once we overlay any of these images onto Jesus’ claim to deity. Once a particular version of Jesus becomes God then that fundamentally shapes our spiritual framework by exclusion. This is where faith and reason collide and people give up one or the other. If we cannot reconcile the image we are given of Jesus with the notion of God then faith is cut off. For most modern people Jesus is too small, too narrow, too unloving, too elite, or too far off to be known, yet alone worshiped.
This begs the question: “Who is the Jesus being worshipped?” Far too many believers spout off that Jesus is the Son of God without asking the hard questions behind it. This looks like blind faith to the rest of the world. Furthermore, if Jesus is the son of God, then why is there not a disproportionate amount of transformation in his followers compared to the unbelieving world?
Each portrayal of Jesus answers these watershed questions differently with it’s own spin and bit of light. For most modern people, the Jesus masquerading as fire insurance is too small. The bait and switch that sucks us into a church or another religion is too small. Jesus as a sin management system is too small. Jesus that makes us happy and prosperous is too small. Jesus as a problem solver, or invisible best friend is too small.
A Jesus that is too small is a ruined Jesus. A ruined Jesus is the one no one wants to talk about. When someone wants to invite us into a “too small” Jesus, we rightly question the bandwidth of the offer and step away.
Unfortunately the result of a ruined Jesus is that too many just avoid the subject. While understandable, neutrality isn’t really possible. Yet this is the source of agnosticism.
Next week I will share the only framework where Jesus could possibly be big enough for everyone. Once we see it, we can never go back, nor would we ever want to. It’s big enough that all of us will want to talk about it.
In fact everyone already is.