This morning we looked at the most popular author residing on Christian bookstore shelves, the handsome, polished, smiling and totally spineless Gilderoy Lockhart. Lockhart writes under many different names and on myriad topics. But one topic, or rather one person, is seldom if ever mentioned in Lockhart’s works. It would take a great deal of effort to find this character in most Christian books. If he is mentioned, it is often as a minor character who supports the major one—in this case, Gilderoy Lockhart.
Who is this mysterious missing character, and does he even really need to be in these books at all? Well, he apparently doesn’t need to be in order to sell books. Lockhart’s sales are through the roof without featuring this person. Occasionally this character is held up as an example for what we need to do in order to be successful, but we only see him for this short time.
This person is not cool, and of course we only want to hang with cool people so we will look cool ourselves. That’s why we read Gilderoy Lockhart’s books in the first place. After all, he is cool, and we want him to teach us to be cool. So any uncool people can just sit this one out.
Who is this uncool person who is not in these books?
Really. Don’t believe me? Make your way to your nearest Christian supermarket and pick up five bestsellers at random. Flip through the opening pages until you see the author mention Jesus. Can’t stomach even going to such places? Then read this excerpt from Craig Groeschel’s latest, Soul Detox. It’s featured in this month’s Christianity Today. Read through to the end or you’ll miss this juicy morsel:
If we’re not careful, if we allow bitterness to take root in our lives, then we might miss God’s grace in our lives.
Really? It’s up to us to believe and behave correctly in order to receive God’s grace? Do you see what happens when Jesus doesn’t show up in these pages?
Let’s face it—Jesus is not a big seller. In our been-there-done-that society, Jesus is so out-of-date. We want flash, and Jesus ain’t flash. We want purpose and joy and hugs. We want an easy way to know God’s will, and then the ability to do the least amount of work to fulfill his will while still reaping blessings. (For some reason, Gilderoy Lockhart always makes it seem to be harvest time, but never soil cultivation or seed planting time.) Yet there are other reasons why I think Jesus is seldom mentioned in today’s Christian books. Here are my three—you may see others.
Gilderoy Lockhart is offended by Jesus. Well, of course he is. Jesus is offensive. He means to be. I mean, why else would he tell us that to be his disciples we would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood? Or hate our families? Is it not offensive to tell someone to sell everything they’ve worked for all of their life and give the proceeds to beggars and homeless people who wouldn’t know hard work if it dressed in pink? He wouldn’t even let a man bury his father. Talk about offensive.
If Jesus does appear on Lockhart’s pages, it is “Jesus meek and mild,” a nice, kindly shepherd who says “there, there” a lot. Mark Galli turned this picture of Jesus on its head in his book Jesus Mean And Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God. What? You haven’t read Galli’s book? What do you mean it’s not to be found in Christian bookstores? Oh yeah … Galli talks about the real Jesus who offends. Sorry, Mark, people don’t buy books that tell of Jesus offending and upturning their lives like the moneychangers’ tables.
Yet Jesus does offend. He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Jesus is not some happy jade statue passing out blessings to those who deserve them. Jesus does not play nice and breaks rules with regularity. If you are not offended by Jesus, then I question if you know the real Jesus. And the real Jesus just doesn’t fit with readers’ expectations today.
Gilderoy Lockhart does not know how to present Jesus. He doesn’t make mention of an offensive Jesus, for that would turn away readers. If he does mention Jesus, it is a tame Jesus, a Jesus we can negotiate with, a Jesus who does not judge or ever make us feel uncomfortable about ourselves. This is the only kind of Jesus Lockhart knows, so it’s not unreasonable that this is the only Jesus we will ever see in his books. But it takes talent and skill to paint a false picture of someone and make it sound believable. And Lockhart is not that skilled, nor does he want to work that hard, so he just doesn’t present Jesus to us at all.
What do you do with the real Jesus who, in setting a man free from demonic possession, utterly ruins another man’s business by allowing the demons to inhabit a herd of swine who then go running off a cliff? What do you do with a Jesus who seems to have no regard for servants (imagine those who had to take a pitcher of filthy hand-washing water to their master and ask him to taste it) or homeowners (“Hey, glad your buddy can walk and all, but what about this hole in my roof?”). Gilderoy tries his best to put Jesus in a box labeled “principles,” but Jesus never really taught principles. He showed his disciples that God was so much “other” than they had ever thought. Just when they thought they had Jesus figured out, darn if he didn’t go and totally change things around again. Can you blame Lockhart for not knowing how to present someone like Jesus in the pages of a book? So why not play it safe and talk about Gilderoy’s favorite subject—Gilderoy Lockhart—instead?
Gilderoy Lockhart does not know Jesus. There, I said it. Look, judgment is not in my job description, and I am very glad for that. So I am not judging anyone here. I’m saying that I wonder if some, perhaps many, of the authors featured in Christian bookstores today really know Jesus. I mean, if they know Jesus, why aren’t they talking about him? If they leave him off of the pages of their stories, is he really in their soul as the Storyteller?
C.S. Lewis, when he began to write The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, did not set out to tell the story of Christ through the great lion Aslan. He simply wanted to to write a children’s tale about a land where animals talked. But as he wrote, said Lewis, the lion forced his way onto the pages. Could that have happened if the lion had not already forced his way into Lewis’s heart? And could Lewis have written such a great presentation of the Gospel if the lion were not already present in his life?
So many books in Christian stores today are devoid of any accounting of the real Jesus. Is that because the authors don’t know him? Is it because, worse still, Jesus doesn’t know the authors?
I’d like to start a call to bring Jesus back to the pages of Christian books, but I think it is too late. Blogs such as this and others have taken over that task. Publishers, authors and bookstore owners are afraid to release Jesus on readers, so you get Magical Me by Gilderoy Lockhart instead. One day this group will awaken and realize all of their readers have given up on such tripe and are reading and talking with one another in an internet monastery. But then they will quickly find another smiling face to put on the cover of a book that doesn’t mention Jesus and sells tens of thousands of copies.
Meanwhile, we will continue to lift up Jesus here as he knows himself to be. But be careful—we never know where he is going to go next. After all, he is not a tame lion.