Do we need a new Jesus?

I think we need a new Jesus. Or at least a new Christianity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the ‘old’ Jesus. I’m just not sure he’s quite the same anymore.

I started thinking about this because of Easter. I was wondering what the average Christian, and the average non-Christian, thinks about Easter. What do they think of the man on the cross? What do they think of the risen Christ? I imagine they don’t think about him much at all. He’s too used and abused these days. Same old Easter stories, same old pictures, same old songs. I wonder if he could ever be recaptured. Could he ever again come to us as the incarnate God? Or is he ever to remain the Jesus of our low expectations?

Imagine what it was like to meet the real Jesus. The one who lived, died, and came back to life two thousand years ago. I mean the shocking Jesus. Jesus the revolutionary teacher. Jesus the healer and miracle worker. Jesus the instigator. Jesus the radical man of peace. The Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God. The Jesus who turned everyone’s expectations upside-down.

I just don’t know if this Jesus can ever be the same again.

Some people might say that today Jesus is to be found in the Church, in Christians who are the body of Christ in this world. But I wonder if God really inhabits the Church anymore. Is this really God incarnate for us today? I don’t know.

Throughout the story of scripture, God came to people in fresh ways. Could he come to us anew today? Could God come to us again in such a way as to wake us up and stir us to action? Could there ever be a new Jesus? Or at least a startlingly new Christianity? One more provocative and life-changing than ever before?

Perhaps God is doing this already. Are there already new ways God is making himself known in our world? Where is God to be seen? Maybe God has even moved on from Christianity, making himself known here and there and wherever the true Spirit of Jesus is welcome – whether he goes by that name or not.

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“Our church…is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christians today will be limited to two things; prayer and righteous action among men. All Christian thinking, speaking, and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action…It is not for us to prophesy the day (although the day will come) when men will once more be called so to utter the word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming – as was Jesus’ language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth, proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of his kingdom…Till then the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair, but there will be those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time. May you be one of them…”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison

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11 Responses

  1. a new Jesus?

  2. Well my answer to your question is Yes!

    What I mean by that is that we need to see Jesus without all of the garbage that has been piled on top of him. We need a different Jesus other than the one we have created.

    Is it possible? I don’t know. This is one of the things I want to give my children: a (marginally) clearer view of Jesus than the one I was taught. You can’t live in America and not have a distorted view of the Jesus of the Bible. So I’m talking small steps here.

    But I wonder whether it is possible to have an experience like meeting the “Real Jesus” anymore. Who can even claim to know the Real Jesus?

    Some say read the bible and get to know Jesus. But the Jesus we read about in the Bible, though a far sight better than the American Jesus, is in many ways an enigma. Who could claim to understand the whole of a person (much less a person who was God) by the little that we have recorded in those few pages? Most of what is there is ignored by people who claim to know him anyway.

    Then others say you can have a personal relationship with Jesus today in a spiritual way. But I don’t think the evidence is very good that asking Jesus “into your heart” gives one a meaningfully different view of Jesus than the one they had before that moment. I am skeptical of anyone that claims to have a revelation out of their personal relationship with Jesus that is anything much different than my own view of Jesus, which is really just a culmination of the things I’ve been taught about him and have learned about him. Though I’ve been a christian all my life, I can’t say I have any personal revelation about what Jesus is like other than what others have taught me or I have read in the Bible.

    Then others say you get to know him through the church, which is his body on earth. This makes sense to me intellectually, and was appealing to me for a time. Then I realized that in order for me to look at the church and see Jesus, I had to exclude most of the church. I have found that the more a person thinks the church is Jesus, the more narrow-minded that person is about what the Real Church is. So I’m not walking down that road any more. The global church doesn’t act like the Jesus of the Bible. Neither does any church I’ve ever been a part of, for that matter. It would be better if we stopped expecting the church to act like Jesus, and stopped blaming Jesus for the things the church does. We should still encourage christians to act like Jesus. But we should stop hating them for not acting like we think Jesus would act.

    So I don’t know if anyone can claim to know the Real Jesus. But the one we have in America today looks nothing like the one I see in the Bible. So I would welcome a radically different Christianity that would enable us to see him in a new (if not perfect) way. There is a growing movement among young people towards a more authentic Christianity. This is really encouraging, and I’m anxious to see where it goes.

    Until then, I don’t think we can do any better than what Bonhoeffer suggests: prayer and righteous action and patience for God to do whatever he is going to do.

  3. Mark – thanks for this reply. I struggled with posting this entry because I didn’t know if anyone would think it made sense (and maybe it doesn’t). But it really was my attempt to express where I am right now.

    I’m not sure Jesus can be rehabilitated. I think we have killed him a second time. Not a public gruesome death like before. No, this time it was a slow suffocation as we held our hand to his face, not allowing him to speak. We failed to realize that somewhere along the way he stopped breathing. Can there be another resurrection? I don’t know. Or maybe a new birth altogether. I am hopeful. O God, come to us anew.

  4. Wow Mark. That’s really depressing.

    “I am skeptical of anyone that claims to have a revelation out of their personal relationship with Jesus that is anything much different than my own view of Jesus, which is really just a culmination of the things I’ve been taught about him and have learned about him.”

    I struggle with this because i have known Jesus through a very real and personal interaction that turned my life right side up once upon a time. I tend to agree with you that my view of Christ has probably become somewhat watered down and skewed as i’ve slowly become discontent and institutionalized. But i remember and occasionally taste again what it was that happened to me that day in 2001. MY body underwent physical changes that day as a result of this personal interaction. Not only did i go through a drastic change of heart but i also went through an abrupt change in which my life was resued from hoplessness overnight (literally). You say your view of Jesus is just a culmination of things that you’ve been taught about him or learned about him. Reading this is reminiscent of the days i used to spend talking to my old Jehovahs witness friends who did not believ in a God that could speak but instead were living by theology and doctrines. Essentially they’re entire spiritual experience was not spiritual at all but just an elaborate chain of hearsay.

    That said, i am and will always be changed because of what Jesus did in me that day. The world is a big place brother but there IS only one Church. What He has done to me He has done to you.

  5. Ironically, (and this might be completely out of order for me to say), but according to Islam- Muhammad is the “new” Jesus. But, aside from the whole “Jesus is God” aspect, technically Jesus was the “new” Moses, who was the “new” Abraham, who was the “new” Adam. I think the better question is- Do we need a new “Prophet”? Do we need a Prophet for this age, to put the whole thing into perspective for the people of today?
    I know this sounds blasphemous (and again, completely out of order), but I think, in a way, we do. The world is connected and so small in ways unprecedented. Surely there is a connection among all of us in all of this. Couldn’t someone please enlighten us? Yeah, technically, this is the same thing as asking God to “prove it”. My mother would absolutely cringe, but isn’t that what you are asking indirectly? And I don’t think He owes it to me. It’s just a question.

  6. Yes, out of a sense of desperation that is what I am saying/asking – “God come reveal yourself anew. Through the ages you have revealed yourself in new ways. Come again to us. I believe Jesus was a unique and true incarnation of God in this world (which is different than a prophet as you did point out) but come again. We are in need of a revelation for today.”

    This is a crazy thing to say. I wrote it out of some discouragement. Maybe I won’t say it in a couple weeks – but that’s where I am now. I just think God has surprised people in the past, I think he can do it again. Jesus wasn’t what was expected in a Messiah. Maybe something as radical and new and unexpected (yet connected to the ancient story – like Jesus was/is) could happen in our day. For some reason (I’m not exactly sure why) this is probably blasphemous to say but I’m saying it anyway – “God come anew.”

    I’m not saying Jesus is worthless, throw him out, we need something new. Rather, I’m saying, come again, but come for us today. Speak to our needs today. Meet us where we are today. I don’t know what this would look like. And maybe it’s already happening. Maybe it’s always happening. I just want to see a fresh expression of it. An expression specifically for us today – a “new language” as Bonhoeffer writes. Really, I can’t say it better than Bonhoeffer did. I probably should have just let him speak for himself without adding to it (and confusing things).

    Aaron – your comment has me thinking about another post. I think what you wrote brings up some significant things I need to think through and write about here. Thanks for your comment – I really appreciate it.

  7. Aaron: I guess I wasn’t very clear. The experience you describe is exactly the kind of thing I would expect Jesus to do. It is the kind of thing he does in the bible and the kind of thing people talk about him doing in their lives. So I don’t doubt the truth of your encounter at all.

    The tangent I veered into was whether it is even possible to know the Real Jesus. I don’t assume for a second that saying this is going to be popular with anyone, but I think it is worth considering whether that is even possible.

    On the particular point that you quoted, I’m not saying God is dead or that he doesn’t speak. All I’m saying is that you aren’t going to get very far with me by telling me I’m wrong in my view of Jesus because you talked to him personally and He told you that you are right and I am wrong. I don’t deny that you have a personal relationship with Jesus, or that it impacts your life in profound ways. All I’m saying is that I haven’t ever had a revelation from Jesus that is any different from what I would have expected from Him based on what I already knew of Him, and I am skeptical of all who claim to have such revelations.

    You compare my skepticism to that of your Jehovah’s Witness friends. But that is actually a good example of what I’m talking about. I reject their views because I do not believe that the founder of that movement, C.T. Russell, had a revelation from God or Jesus or any higher power.

  8. Also, I didn’t mean to suggest that one can only know facts about Jesus, although I can see how my comment could be understood that way.

    I would agree that a relationship with Jesus is possible (to a certain extent). But now we are talking about the depth and intimacy of your knowledge of Jesus. My comments above were directed towards the problem Adam identified: our view of Jesus has become so distorted that it isn’t actually the same person at all.

    So I’m not saying you can’t have a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus. I’m saying your personal relationship with Jesus isn’t going to result in a realization that he is a completely different person, or otherwise be likely to result in a fundamental change in your understanding of the life, teachings, and characteristics of the person of Jesus, no matter how intense the personal relationship.

    Or at least, if you have such a fundamental change in your belief about who Jesus is and what he is about, I’m not likely to believe you when you tell me about it.

  9. (I apologize for the length of this comment. I tried to edit it down and I couldn’t.)

    I’m not so sure we need a new Jesus, or even a new revelation from God. As you said, the problem is not with Jesus, it’s with all the stuff we’ve added or taken away from him. It’s our convolution that’s caused the problem. So–and I *think* this is actually in line with the heart of your cry for a new revelation, Adam–I think we really just need new eyes and ears for the same old Jesus. Because, really, there’s nothing “same” or “old” about Jesus. I don’t know–there’s just something about those moments of touching him or tasting him that wash away the convoluted-ness, and I’m reminded of how unspeakably beautiful and relevant and compassionate and good and passionate and revolutionary Jesus is. And those moments have the power to shine through all the crap.

    I’m (sporadically) reading Praise Habit by David Crowder, and I am just struck by the following words. I am given new eyes to see through the crap with these words: “I mean, whoever thought of stars shining is ridiculous. I’m all excited about whoever took these pictures [of the stars], but whoever blew that thing up to begin with, now Him I’ve got to meet. If I’m ever in the same room with that Guy, I will not be cool. How could I? And what if our eyes met and I was found out? What if I looked up and saw Him running right at me with His arms spread wide and a torrential smile that would turn dry deserts green? This would be unreasonable. There is no justification for the Dreamer of it all, whom the cosmos and the grass in April and the stream swollen with snowmelt and the baby grabbing your finger and the laugh of kids in kindergarten and the smell of jasmine speak about, to be running toward me. That would be ludicrous.[…] Yet here He is with His heart in my chest and we’re locked in embrace and I’m not sure exactly when it happened but something fired inside of me, and now my arms are around Him, and people are watching, and I will tell you about it. I don’t think I can help it. No more than the stars in a black velvet sky can keep from it.”

    I’ve been found out by this Guy before, and it was never about Him telling me I’m right or wrong on any issue. It was about…oh, a hundred different things. Changing my heart; loving me in the incomprehensible depths of my soul, in a way no one else can; inspiring me to love others in a new or creative way; a soft whisper of the presence of Almighty God; a longing for something more for myself, my family, my church, my world; the strength and/or peace to DO, or not do, as the case may be. I’ve been leveled by him; I have sobbed with relief that he WAS real, to me, in my life; I have known Him in the sigh of a breeze and in the midst of unspeakable pain. And whether these moments validate or destroy what I’ve learned intellectually about Jesus, they are also an inherent part of what I’ve learned about Jesus.

    All the convoluted-ness is not going to go away, no matter if we get a new revelation or fresh eyes to see the old revelation. There’s always been crap in the way of seeing God. Always. We see through a glass darkly, for now anyway. And so I personally don’t think we need something else, something more. But, yes, Adam, I agree–God, give us–give me–a revelation for today, for right now.

  10. “Mark – thanks for this reply. I struggled with posting this entry because I didn’t know if anyone would think it made sense (and maybe it doesn’t). But it really was my attempt to express where I am right now.

    I’m not sure Jesus can be rehabilitated. I think we have killed him a second time. Not a public gruesome death like before. No, this time it was a slow suffocation as we held our hand to his face, not allowing him to speak. We failed to realize that somewhere along the way he stopped breathing. Can there be another resurrection? I don’t know. Or maybe a new birth altogether. I am hopeful. O God, come to us anew.

    This is a crazy thing to say. I wrote it out of some discouragement. Maybe I won’t say it in a couple weeks – but that’s where I am now. I just think God has surprised people in the past, I think he can do it again. Jesus wasn’t what was expected in a Messiah. Maybe something as radical and new and unexpected (yet connected to the ancient story – like Jesus was/is) could happen in our day. For some reason (I’m not exactly sure why) this is probably blasphemous to say but I’m saying it anyway – “God come anew.”

    I don’t know what this would look like. And maybe it’s already happening. Maybe it’s always happening. I just want to see a fresh expression of it.”

    Here is a quote from Austin Sparks that spoke deeply to me and I think it might fit in with the glorious but tumultuous time you are in.

    “It will be seen that it is not a matter of substituting another and better system for an old and poor or bad one. Some people seem to think that it is all or largely a matter of the order, technique, and form, and if we returned to the ‘New Testament’ form or order of churches all would be well. The fact is that, while certain things characterized the New Testament churches, the New Testament does not give us a complete pattern according to which churches are to be set up or formed! There is no blue-print for churches in the New Testament, and to try to form New Testament churches is only to create another system which may be as legal, sectarian and dead as others. Churches, like the Church, are organisms which spring out of life, which life itself springs out of the Cross of Christ wrought into the very being of believers. Unless believers are crucified people, there can be no true expression of the Church.”

    http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002090.html

    Adam,

    In my opinion what you are longing to witness-experience is not just another experience, feel good thang, but in fact may be what He rescued us for in the first palce..to BE, wholly-holy His!
    Its wonderful that Christ is in so many throughout the erath, BUT, if He is NOT being fully formed within us, although re-birthed, doesn’t it still boil down to looking to an external relationship with Him?
    In my opinion that which you are trying to articulate in the midst of your own personal turmoli is a graphic picture to me of the Father of your spirit answering the cry of your heart and His, that Christ Jesus is not just in you, but He is being fully formed within you.
    In my opinion there was never a more manly man than the Son of man, Jesus Christ. So many men today have been emasculated, castrated as it were, causing them to be much more domesticated~NICE! As C S Lewis alluded to in his book The Lion,Witch and the Wardrobe, so many want to know this Lion (Jesus) as long as he is TAME.
    I apologize for taking up so much room on your blog, but I did want to encourage you to continue to allow His life in you to bring forth His Son to BE uniquly seen in and through you.

    Rich

  11. I agree with Amy and with Adam, I believe we need a fresh revelation of the Jesus we have. I’m reminded of George McDonald’s response to the person that said “I do not get on as well as I would like.” — “What have you done today that Jesus Christ said you should?”

    Have I ever received such a radically different revelation of Jesus that it alters what I see in scripture, my fundamental beliefs about who He is? No. But, seeking to be in His presence in the midst of problems, questions, difficult people etc., my understanding of Jesus has expanded. I know I have been led to act in certain situations in ways that I never would have without the nudging of the Lord. Only looking back can I see that it matched with what the scriptures and what I believe to be true about Jesus. Knowing Jesus isn’t just about knowing His principles and then acting, it isn’t static, it is dynamic. It’s about walking and talking with this guy, Jesus. The problem is, how many are interested? What would happen if we all took George McDonald’s question seriously?

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