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Friday, October 23, 2015

"The Original Jesus" (Daniel Darling)

TITLE: The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is
AUTHOR: Daniel Darling
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (160 pages).

The Christianity today is no longer the same as the Christianity in the early years. In fact, if the apostle Peter were to arrive on earth right now, he would be appalled by how Christianity had been modified by pop culture. Jesus has become a program in many churches; a poster boy in banners; a "Guru Jesus, Braveheart Jesus, Dr Phil Jesus, Free-Range Jesus, Prosperity Jesus, " and used as a swear word in many Hollywood films. The troubling fact of modern Christianity is this: The world exerts a far bigger influence on Christians today than never before. Author Daniel Darling believes that we need to peel away the myths of our postmodern world to reveal the "original Jesus." He tackles ten such myths with wit and humour without sacrificing the seriousness of the message. This he proves by beginning with D.A. Carson's quote: "The Bible doesn't begin with epistemology, but with theology." It is a loaded statement that says that in the beginning is God, purely, simply, and absolutely divine. The reason why we are not seeing God for who He actually is can be traced back to the many erroneous representations humans have placed upon Jesus.

The first myth is "Guru Jesus" in which Jesus is reduced to a series of concepts and knowledge about God. Using the Resurrection story and Easter to argue that Jesus is more than the teacher label, giving four ways to go beyond mere knowledge of Jesus. He reveals Jesus as victorious, sacrificial, Savior, Creator, and Lord. The second myth is "Red-Letter Jesus" which is a reference to those who place more emphasis on the words of Jesus and unwittingly downplayed the importance of the entire Word of God. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are authoritative. If Jesus quotes from the Old Testament, should we not imitate Christ, instead of merely focusing on the red letters of Jesus in the gospels? The whole Word of God needs to be taken as a whole. It may very well be a veiled response to the "Red Letter Revolution" advocated by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, to urge believers to practice the words of Jesus. The third myth is "Braveheart Jesus" which describes a kind of macho image that some believers have as a reaction against the "feminization of the church." Jesus is a real man and does not need to wear the hat of someone like Mel Gibson in order to lead the Church. The fourth myth is the "American Jesus" that politicizes Jesus and paints Christianity from the brush of American culture. The key to living the Christian faith is engagement and not enculturation. Contrasting this myth of right-wing politics is the other extreme. The fifth myth is "Left-wing Jesus" that focuses on actions for the poor, the marginalized, and a reaction against the conservativism of right-wing politics. Such a myth elevates the place of capitalism as a solution to the woes of the weak. The problem is, it reduces Jesus to a social gospel platform. The sixth myth is the therapeutic feel-good "Dr Phil Jesus," named after the popular TV show Dr Phil. With self-improvement the main drive to Christian faith, this myth straitjackets the believer into a DIY faith. The seventh myth exposes the "Prosperity Jesus" which unwittingly promotes greed, consumerism, individualism, and materialism. Such a myth falsely represents who Jesus truly is, and masks away the theology of suffering. The eighth myth is "Post-church Jesus" which reflects a postmodern mindset that believes in practicing the Christian faith without the Church. Darling offers four reasons why he believes that the Church is an integral part of the Christian faith. He strongly advocates for believers to be actively engaged in a Church. The ninth myth is an interestingly titled "BFF Jesus" that romanticizes Jesus into a buddy who exists to meet our needs. We need the Real Christ, not the needs-based Jesus. The tenth myth is that of a "Legalist Jesus" that treats Christianity as a series of do's and don'ts. Instead of legalism and rules, we are encouraged to embrace the gospel of grace that brings together both the Old and New Testament, blending judgment and justice, mercy and grace.

I must say that I enjoyed the idea behind this book. Using creatively titled and culturally relevant terms to show us how we have allowed the culture and the world to colour our understanding of Jesus, readers will begin to see what they have been missing all along. Interestingly, just like how the heresies of old spawn a list of orthodox creeds and confessions, this book of ten myths spawn a greater appreciation of who Jesus actually is. We cannot let culture and our environment colour Jesus. We need to let Jesus be Himself and who He has said He is. The chapters are brief and the understanding of the myths can be misunderstood at some points. With generalization comes the risks of misrepresenting the cultural labels used. For example, "right wing" or "left wing" are mostly accurate for extreme positions. People who are neither left nor right wings will find it hard to identify with what the author is saying. Perhaps, the way to understand the book is not to comb for precise definition of words or technicalities. Instead, one ought to read this book as a caution for us to avoid applying human labels on Jesus. The goal is to let the original Jesus be revealed to us as clearly and as purely as possible. No additives are needed. In this way, readers can be encouraged to come up with their own labels that are relevant to their churches or Christian communities. Like in Asia, we can come up with myths like "Instant Noodles Jesus" or "Samurai Jesus" as caution against quick-fix faith or a macho Christianity. In Australia, we can have myths like "Crocodile Dundee Jesus" or "Outback Jesus."

Daniel Darling is a former pastor and is currently the Vice-President of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Convention of the Southern Baptist Convention. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and four children. I enjoy this book for the way it highlights the problems of modern day Christianity without becoming offensive against any Church quarters.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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