If you've been nauseated by the plethora of books out today that repeatedly espouse a compassionate, peace-loving, merciful Savior who reminds you more of a 1960's "love child" than incarnate God -- then here's a must-read:
Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love Of An Untamable God, by Mark Galli, has just been released, and is sure to stir up the pot over how we should understand the character and ministry of Jesus and how he relates to humanity. Here's an excerpt from the Introduction by Eugene Peterson:
"In a free-market economy everyone is more or less free to fashion and then market whatever sells: cars, clothing, ideas, self-improvement plans, movies, books -- and Jesus. When evangelism is retooled as recruitment, then marketing strategies for making Jesus attractive to a consumer spirituality begin to proliferate. Words or aspects of Jesus that carry unwelcome connotations are suppressed. We emasculate Jesus" (pp. 10-11).
Drawing primarily from the Gospel of Mark, Galli lays out a fairly thorough treatise of how the scriptures portray Jesus as anything but the "meak and mild" variety which has dominated much of popular Christian teaching. Christianity has tragically become a "Religion of Niceness," claims Galli, where people are more concerned with happiness than holiness.
By drawing attention to Jesus' mean and wild side, Galli is not calling us back to the "cruel and arbitrary God" of a shame-and-fear-based religion -- something he calls "Christian fascism." Rather, his book points us back to a grace found in Jesus that demands repentance, a balm that can hurt, and suffering that can redeem.
In each of the book's seventeen chapters, Galli focuses on a gospel passage that portrays a Jesus who regularly issues stern orders, rebukes or castigates people, employs the use of shame and fear, and expresses exasperation and anger. Yet, throughout all of this, the author shows how love is enigmatically at work. As Galli puts it, Jesus "loves us so much he refuses to pamper us." Here are some thoughts from the author:
- Suffering is our preparation for ministry in a world of suffering. This is not a world for shallow people with soft character. It needs tested, toughened disciples who are prepared, like their Lord, to descend into hell to redeem the lost.
- One reason a life of holiness frightens us, why an encounter with the real Jesus can be so unnerving: when he comes into our presence, we sense the chasm between his holiness and our uncleanness.
- Sometimes the most honest and truthful response to foolishness or evil is anger. Jesus couldn't have integrity if he was indifferent. The person who is always nice, always decorous, always even-keeled is like a person who ultimately does not care about what God cares about.
- The risk in loving the theologically or morally wayward is that we may become tempted to compromise our values to be nice to them. But true love is robust; it includes compassion and confrontation, empathy and truth-telling, kindness and sternness.
I frequently run into people who speculate as to what Jesus would be "turning over" if he were to show up at the typical church today. The most common item mentioned: our SUV's
Yet most people would never even think of Jesus turning over or "going after" anything. He's too nice, too loving for that. Well, I think Mark Galli is on to something here. We need to recover a healthy and full-bodied understanding of Jesus.... one that includes his actions and words that may make us feel uncomfortable.
"He looked at them in anger...deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts..." - Mark 3:5
"But when Jesus turned and looked at this disciples, he rebuked Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan,' he said. 'You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'" -- Mark 8:33
"'O, unbelieving generation,' Jesus replied, 'how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?'" - Mark 9:19
I'm sure that you can think of one or two "mean and wild" passages yourself!
If everything goes well, we will all get the opportunity to dialog with Mark Galli about his book here at Paradoxology. I'm currently working with his publicist on setting up a date for an interview and a guest appearance -- right here! So I'll definitely keep you posted.
In the meantime, tell me what you think in general about the concept of "Jesus mean and mild." I look forward to hearing from you.
drawing credit: J. Raines