August 23, 2017

Do You Trust The Abbreviated Jesus?

The other day a strange feeling came over me.

Don’t get me wrong about what I’m about to say here. It was just a feeling. I’m not claiming any powers of discernment or certainty.

I got the distinct feeling there’s something wrong with a lot of people who say they are Jesus-followers/believers.

If you want to supply your own vocabulary, like “aren’t saved” or “aren’t Christians,” do so at your own risk. I’m not saying that. (There’s other blogs for that game, if you are burning to know.)

No, but it was as plain as daylight to me that when I hear a lot of people talk about Jesus, I feel like I am hearing….an abbreviation.

I said abbreviation. A shortened version of the real word. You see the abbreviation, you’re supposed to know what it means. We all agree on the abbreviation.

Don’t we?

We all know what the shorthand version stands for.

Right?

Or maybe we don’t.

I’m beginning to get the feeling that when people say Jesus, I can’t trust the abbreviation.

I’m getting the feeling that we’re talking about a kind of “mini-Jesus.” A diluted, declawed, demoted savior who is a symbolic representation for a kind of anemic, watered-down, unBiblical, culturally acceptable Jesus.

I get the feeling that if you move beyond the standard biographical paragraph, you’re going to discover that the Jesus you’re hearing about has considerably less to say than Jesus as we meet him in the Gospels.

You’re going to discover that he has little or nothing to do with most of the Bible, especially the Old Testament and the more demanding parts of the new.

You’re going to discover that there’s a remarkable resemblance between the abbreviated Jesus and the current version of political correctness. (Isn’t it unusual how Jesus takes an interest in whatever happens to be the current rage on CNNMSNBCCBSSUSATODAY?)

I’m not sure this abbreviated Jesus believes in hell.

He seems considerably more flexible on sexual matters than one would believe reading the Bible.

Living together before marriage? The abbreviated Jesus seems to have not issued a statement on that one.

I actually think the abbreviated Jesus doesn’t like to be bothered with issues of morality, character or behavior. He’s mostly interested in larger political and cultural issues, or your experience at your local church, or how you’re doing in your relationships.

The abbreviated Jesus has quite a bit in common with contemporary “life coaches,” talk show hosts, political apologists, faith-based advocates, teachers of “principles,” community organizers and family values lobbyists.

The people who talk about the abbreviated Jesus don’t seem to know much about the Bible. Not at all.

But they still have a surprisingly strong opinion about the meaning of all kinds of things Jesus said and did in the Bible.

The abbreviated Jesus can convincingly seem like the real Jesus, until you look and listen closely. Then it appears that he’s lost his laptop, his luggage and his cell phone. So for right now, he’s reading it all off the teleprompter.

The abbreviated Jesus doesn’t vary much from the script.

In fact- and this is what really got my attention- the abbreviated Jesus would only get crucified if there were some terrible mix-up.

The abbreviated Jesus is Jesus without the Biblical context, Jesus without church history, Jesus without Jesus theology, Jesus without costly discipleship, Jesus without offensive teaching or mysterious parables. The abbreviated Jesus is so easily explained, so comprehensible and user-friendly that anyone can follow him, even without instructions.

In millions of cases, the abbreviated Jesus is Jesus without the church. He’s Jesus who lets you pick your friends, pick your community and pick your comfortable seat. He’s OK with whatever your plans are for the weekend. He’s not making demands on your time. (He’s a major spokesperson for unplugging the fourth commandment.) He’s not making any demands on your money that don’t follow your emotions. (He wants you to feel personally fulfilled about whatever you choose to support.)
The abbreviated Jesus seems to always need one more book to really get down to what he actually means.

He has a lot of preachers who understand him, and a lot of churches where his way of doing things has become very popular.

Aside from abortion and gay marriage, the abbreviated Jesus is pretty happy in America. There’s so much for his friends to do and enjoy!

I don’t trust the abbreviated Jesus.

Sometimes, he’s been in my house, my head, my heart and my preaching. And I don’t like him.

He’s flat. Empty. Easy. Moldable.

He’s not full of the Holy Spirit. He’s full of us.

Frankly, he seems to be full of….well…..there are words here that my daddy used, which I’m not supposed to use on this blog. If you don’t know what they are, write me. Or ask a farmer who knows the real Jesus.

I’m announcing that I’m afraid of the abbreviated Jesus and his followers. I’m afraid of his “church,” his books and his kind of “discipleship.”

I’m uninviting him from my life and my interactions with other Christians.

I want to know Jesus. The untamed, old school, offensive, mysterious, demanding, awe-inspiring, transformational, life altering, crucified, risen, ascended, revolutionary Jesus.

Spell it out: He’s the creator. The mediator. The fulfiller and establisher of the law. His the passover lamb. He’s the head of the church. He’s the heart and key to Holy Scripture. He’s the meal on the table. He’s life in the living water. He pours out the Holy Spirit. He’s the rider on the white horse. He’s the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s the eternal God.

He doesn’t need my explanations, endorsements or euphemisms. He isn’t reading my note cards and nodding. He doesn’t tolerate my sin. He’s the life of God for the sin of the world. He’s righteousness, sanctification and holiness. He’s the Kingdom bringer, the executor of judgement, the one who is worthy to open the scroll and read the books. He’s the light of heaven and the conquerer of hell, death, sin and the grave.

He’s the one in whom all history, poetry, story and theology come together into the great I AM. He’s the mystery and the Word that reveals God to all persons. He’s the Gospel itself, the meaning of every message and the open door of God’s mercy.

You can’t abbreviate him.

You fall at his feet and worship. You get up and follow. You die and he raises you on the last day.

That’s Jesus, and I’ve got a feeling a lot of people really don’t have a clue.

Comments

  1. No, I don’t trust an abbreviated Jesus. I’ve left two churches that tried to tell me I should.

    I probably don’t trust a whole Jesus either, because none of us knows the whole Jesus. Or the whole God. We all now only know in part; see through a glass dimly. And wait.

  2. Memphis Aggie says:

    Great post.

    I think the abbreviated Jesus is what we produce when we try to change Jesus to fit into our world rather than change ourselves to fit into His. It’s a rejection of introspection and meaningful conversion. Thanks for distilling it for us. I’d add that this seemingly innocuous Jesus actually greatly undermines faith formation and the respect for Christianity in the wider culture. When Jesus becomes and biblical Barney or Elmo agnostics who might be attracted by the true faith are deceived into believing Christianity is a Saturday morning cartoon.

  3. Howdy internet Monk

    loved the article and was wondering if it was okay if I shared it in our local paper

    i find people not only believe in the abbreviated Jesus but they are abbreviated Christians thinking they are going to an Abbreviated Heaven when the reality is they don’t read their bible and like Abraham they want God to bless their Ishmaels (sin)

    thanks for the article and especially the part of old school Jesus I like that in fact I am madly furiously in love with Him

    blessings

  4. I would suggest that the problem with ANY idea of Jesus, is that we can either chose to accept a set of premises about Him (and leave it at that – abbreviation?) or pursue a life of trying to work out what this character in History is about, both in community with others and in love, the desire for truth and humility.

    I actually disagree with at least one of the descriptors iMonk uses to describe the “non-abbreviated” Jesus. However I think I have a long history of thought and reasoning, including discussion with other believers, to rely on for holding this opinion. I also am ready to change my opinion provided the right level of discernment/ discussion is provided.

    In any case, I would suggest that we all have an “abbreviated” Jesus. The key, and perhaps the point iMonk is making (please inform me if I am wrong) is how we ensure that we continue to expand/ refine what we know/ believe about Him within the guidance of the Spirit, and in the community of Love, through the scripture – which of course is the starting place for Christian theology.

  5. Our Jesus is and always has been an abbreviated Jesus since we can never fully comprehend him. What marks our time off from others is that we seem to be in a proud race to promote and market our shiny, sleek, more useful, trophy Jesus.

    You (iMonk) have not gone far enough. We are long past an abbreviated Jesus. We are now several generations into abbreviations of abbreviated Jesuses.

    I have expressed a similar idea by thinking of Christ as a clothing accessory, as something like a cool beret or hair style that marks us out as unique and interesting, makes us feel a little better about ourselves, helps us in our work and sex life, and wherever else we come up short.

    As an accessory, I can take him off when he gets in the way or ceases to provide an added value. Since I am the same with or without him, I simply use and wear him when it suits me, enhances my perception of myself, or gives me leverage in a particular social situation.

    To the degree these things are true in my life, God forgive me.

  6. Word. The post was great and insightful and I agree, and the comments and discussion have been useful and interesting as well. One the one hand, you have to start somewhere with teaching people (who are like little children) about Jesus, and I chose to introduce Him to my four year old as a friend. On the other hand, if He is never revealed as more than that, more than accessory, what is He worth? My Jesus is calling me out today, challenging me and making me awfully nervous.

  7. Imonk,
    Great post. I like it because it is true. I too though will not go as far as to say that those guilty of an abbreviated Jesus are not Christians. They may hold some unChristian ideas, but then all Christians do at one time or another.
    I have seen the same phenomenon I call it the Jesus Idol, The Jesus we fashion in our own image. Preached on this a couple of months ago. For instance I am tempted to believe in a Jesus that not only eats and drinks with sinners, but gets drunk with them. Others believe in a Jesus that would never consider making wine for wedding goers who may have already imbibed a little too much, accounting for the fact that there wasn’t enough wine.
    It isn’t to say we don’t believe in Jesus, and aren’t willing to listen to him. But when we do listen to Jesus he has a tendency to smash our beloved idol by the same name.

  8. K from St. Pete says:

    It seems fundamentally that it is a Jesus without reading, because the only way you can properly internalize all of the things discussed is to read about different topics over the course of a lifetime- hopefully beginning at home/church. But Christians don’t read any more- people don’t even read the Joyce Meyer and Max Lucado books, though they are on the shelves- every person I know who buys those sort of books (and Lucado, at least, is better than nothing, though not very impressive to me) admits to getting 50-60 pages in and quitting.
    I don’t see how any sort of Christianity can survive without reading (that may be true for any religion) and its not something that’s taken seriously

  9. I don’t trust the “Jesus” that “ministers” to children at VBS. Jesus should not be colored in coloring books. That’s the weirdest thing ever to me – it’s a vision of Jesus that asks and offers absolutely nothing but the figurehead, the organizing principle, the extension of the parents’ gaze and authority and it creeps me out majorly.

  10. I think one of the reasons we have an abbreviated Jesus is that we like to cluster ourselves around identities. As MLK Jr. said, the most segregated part of American life is sunday morning. Usually, the identities we cluster around have to do with race, politics and income, and in order to keep these unruly clusters from fragmenting, the bonds between members must be cemented. What better way to keep the church together than to preach sermons that keep the members feeling unified, except rather than find unity in a Jesus who challenges, we find unity in a Jesus that tells us that we are doing fine, we just need a couple of adjustments here and there. We find unity in a Jesus that tells we are being persecuted by “them.” We find unity in the idea that our sins are not willful, but are like illnesses and Jesus is our weekly allergy shot…

  11. I was almost shouting when I read the last few paragraphs of the post. Or weeping. But then, I am a pentecostal… 😉

    Maybe I have a slightly different takeaway from this than some, but here’s my thoughts. There’s the Abbreviated Jesus of all our preconceptions. Then there’s the Actual Jesus, as revealed in scripture, but also as the Living God who is, even as we discuss Him, at the right hand of the Father, and interacts with his people through his Spirit. Living in the present tense, as it were. This is the Jesus that I want to know, even if it’s inconvenient or disturbing or upsets my little apple cart. Here in just a few years, I’ll be out of this body and into eternity, and at that point my theological constructs of Jesus are going to be moot. I’ll be face to face with the real article.

    When that day comes, I would rather not have to explain how I used my abbreviations of the real thing to justify my own lusts of flesh or power, or my pride of life…

    Lord, let me live today transparently before you, walking with you, open to you, not trying to mold you into some abbreviation of your true self.

    Thanks, Michael. Great post. Good discussion too, everybody.

  12. Yeah, and the photo at the top: Jesus is half-price this week, on clearance. Why? Because we couldn’t sell enough of Him at full-price, so we’re clearing him out so he won’t be a drain on our bottom line.

    Does that irony make anyone besides me shudder a little?

  13. Pastor Mike: Of course. Consult Creative Commons license at bottom of the page for all that sort of thing.

  14. Loved the post! I wonder though, if as humans we can fully grasp Jesus unless He is put into multiple abbreviations, just as we can never fully grasp another person but must put them into our personal judgement boxes such as loudmouth, shy and quiet, charismatic, etc. Can we relate to Jesus in a multi-dimensional way or do we always approach Him within one dimension? I know it is something I struggle with.

  15. I was struck today that I have actually been reading you on the web for YEARS now after having accidentally stumbled across your page one fateful afternoon. Often what you have written is bouncing around in my head long after I have read it. This post is excellent. I will be sharing it.

    Thanks for continuing to put your heart out here.

  16. iMonk:

    Outstanding post, my brother. When I was in high school, my step-mom (a new ager) said that she liked Jesus, but hated the church, and that Jesus came to earth to “bring peace and balance in the universe.” Full of recent Bible reading, I let her have it, proclaiming about swords and who is my mother and brothers, etc. Not very Jesus-like, I know, but it made me mad to think of a new-ager coopting Jesus into something He is not.

    In my travels I have met the Republican Jesus who is your life coach and wants you to feel good about buying the Camry instead of the Expedition for your third(!) car. I have also met Granola Jesus, always ready to work at the soup kitchen but never asking “Who do you say I am?” to anyone.

    I agree with an earlier commenter who said if Jesus came back He would have plenty to say about “those people” with their wrong ideas but He wouldn’t then shut up but continue to address all of mine. Who wants that?

    I only know that with great humility I can say “though He slay me still will I trust Him,” and “Thank you, Jesus for being so gentle with my life.”

    Keep it up, boss. You doin’ good.

  17. Okay, that was the best blog post I have read in a long time. Awesome! Enough said.

  18. Dave Jaspersen says:

    Great stuff Mike ! This is the book you need to write .

  19. Hey, an example of the amputated Jesus showed up in my Email box recently:

    “HE ARRIVED THIS MORNING, WE HAD PRAYER,
    SPENT SOME TIME JUST TALKING, HE HELD ME FOR AWHILE ,
    AND THEN, HE WAS ON HIS WAY TO YOUR PLACE.

    When he gets to your PC, escort him to the next stop.
    Please don’t allow him to sleep on your PC.
    The message he is carrying is very important and needs to go round.
    May God bless you as you do this – AMEN.

    Walking for Jesus!
    Say a prayer, then pass him on to bless others.
    Our assignment is to love and spread the gospel throughout the world.
    Have a blessed day and touch somebody’s life today! I just did.

    He’s walking around the world – via e-mail!!
    Pass it on, so he can get there.
    When you forward, put where he left in the subject box.”

    Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy don’t it? No?? Well, me neither. Maybe you have to be spirtual, not religious to get it. All I know is that the amputated Jesus doesn’t look anything like the Jesus I encountered when I started reading the Bible to prove it wrong nearly 25 years ago.

    The Jesus of scripture is awesome (in the truest sense of the word). The amputated Jesus is just awful (in the worst sense of the word). One raises the dead – the other praises the dead.

  20. Memphis Aggie says:

    Michael,

    Does the Jesus doll talk? I can just imagine.

  21. I’m sure someone could create goals and definitions that separate sermons from blog entries – but I would love to hear what you wrote preached, word for word. I hear and experience the passion coming through in the written words; I would love to have the passion and presence of Spirit-filled spoken words plant the seeds of truth even deeper so they produced a bumper crop of the real Jesus being displayed in my life.

    Great post, Michael – do you preach as good as you write?

    In short, AMEN!!

  22. Nathan Meierbachtol says:

    I grew up in the church. I worked in the church. I am now finishing seminary. I have gone through the struggles of becoming a post-evangelical. I am now wondering what it mean for us to BE post-evangelicals.

    I understands the emotions of this discussion. I am there every day. At the same time, I am cautious about how quickly many of us want to echo agreement and yet, we are all still wandering in the post-evangelical wilderness.

    I want to know what happens next?

    Are we doomed to wander? What does it mean for us that so many feel akin to post-evangelical sensibilities but are still lacking kinship with each other? We may have the courage to leave a bad situation (if one can call this courage). Do we have the courage to embody a healthier alternative?

    Will there be a remnant? What do we do now?

    I would love to hear your thoughts.

  23. Thanks for another great post. I hear you loud and clear. The main abbreviate version of Jesus that I run across is one that wants all his children to be healthy, wealthy and powerful. In one form or another I see Jesus stripped of his cross. The passage about denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following him have been whited out. All talk of suffering for him is completely absent.

    Thanks again. Keep writing. 🙂

  24. “He’s the creator. The mediator…the passover lamb” – iMonk.

    It’s weeks like this that make me jealous of Roman Catholics. The daily readings from the Missal are building toward Christ the King Sunday. Today’s reading is from Revelation 5:1-10, where the hosts of heaven fall down to worship…not a ferocious lion, not a snarling bull, not a fire-breathing dragon, not a super hero…but a lamb. Not just a lamb, but one that “seemed to have been slain”. Behold the unfathomable ways of God! We try to make Jesus into a weak, anemic, conciliatory lap dog. In doing so, we entirely miss the point. Jesus became far weaker than we can ever imagine: conceived, born, suffered, crucified, died, buried, descended. But as Paul proclaims: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). From utter weakness, the Father raised Jesus above all powers, so that Paul also can proclaim, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). To make the point painfully clear, the resurrected, ascended, and soon to come Jesus is portrayed still as a helpless, powerless, slain lamb. Those who know the ways of God fall prostrate at the site, rather than fear the prospect of stadiums full of hungry lions. To say the least, looks can be deceiving.

    Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

  25. Praise HIM !!!!!!! LORD we praise YOU for the awesome GOD that YOU are. Forgive us O GOD for failing to always see YOU as YOU really are. Help us to behold YOUR glory, and to live to that end always and forever. Search us O GOD, cleanse us, test us, strengthen us to live for YOU alone JESUS, LORD of all. WE give YOU our lives. Bless YOU LORD JESUS.

  26. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The abbreviated Jesus is everywhere in the name of relevance… — T.C.

    Don’t they know that nothing gets stale faster than over-relevance?

  27. Michael IM Spencer,

    The more I read you the more I like you! I appreciate your genuine, convictional mind and heart.

    Matt

  28. no one really has a clue

  29. I think perhaps the Pharisees of John 8 were looking for abbrieviated Jesus. When the real Jesus told them he was the I AM, they picked up stones to kill him.

  30. You were on a roll there, iMonk. But be beware of adding iAppendices when unAbbreviating Jesus.

  31. Do you actually mean to say that Jesus is not quite the real Jesus without “church history” and “theology”?

    No abbreviations; no extensions.

    Oh, and by the way…good luck!