Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jesus Doesn't Need More Cowbell

One of the best selling books in the category of "Christology" at right now is The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived: Secrets for Unparalleled Success and Unshakable Happiness from the Life of Jesus. One of the customer reviews explains the book this way:
He started his career with eight failures and became a multi-millionaire. In this book, he shows you how to succeed at being the best YOU you can be, by being like Jesus. This book is "How to win friends and influence people" plus every book that John Maxwell ever wrote, all in one. You can save yourself a ton of time and money if you buy, read, highlight, study, and apply the principles of this book.

In an endorsement, JetBlue Airways CEO David Neeleman says, "I believe these breakthrough strategies could propel you to levels of success and happiness you haven’t imagined. No wonder the wisest man who ever lived also became the richest!"*


We can scrutinize this spiritual vacuousness of this book till the cows come home. But the problem is that what is making this book so popular right now is also what drives the message of too many of our churches: Jesus wants you to achieve your hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The evangelical Jesus is the guru of our American dreams.

And why? Because that's what we want. That's what sells easily to us. That's what draws the crowd.

In John 6 we get a breathtaking survey of the extremes of Jesus' ministry. He begins by feeding a crowd of 5,000, a feat so miraculous and impressive they basically try to make him king by force. Then Jesus walks on the raging waters. The crowd loves it!

Then he says lunch is great, but eating his flesh and blood is best. And he teaches on God's sovereignty, not man's autonomy (John 6:65) and he loses a whole lot of people. He goes from packing out the arena to leading a small group.

Let us beware of negating the scandal for fear of losing a crowd. Jesus needs no adornment, and he certainly won't stand for having his message twisted or enhanced for maximum customer satisfaction.

You may end up with a crowd, but you may end up with no Jesus.

* Correction: Astute reader Matthew points out that the Neeleman endorsement was for the author's previous book, one on the business/life principles of Solomon. It was placed on the page for this book, so I mistook it for a new endorsement. I think the concept (and the sample pages I was able to read) still earn the criticism in the post, however.


Don said...

There is just so much that is wrong with their theology that I wouldn't know where to begin. They need to go back to reread what God's promise was to Solomon, as well as how Jesus is actually presented in the Gospels.

With no disrespect to your profile under "About Me", you reference to John 6 is precisely the reason that I do not like the term "Christ Follower". As you pointed out, Christ had a lot of followers before and during lunch, but they all stopped following Him when He indicated what they truly needed to be done.

Rob said...

Hi Jared,

I'm encouraged and inspired by your blog. Please keep it coming. There are all too few voices saying what you're saying.

What's so scary about this book is the fact that it's so blatant – zero attempt is made to disguise the fact that it is all about pure, unadulterated consumerism and materialism. What's even scarier is that apparently, a large number of people either don't have the knowledge/discernment to see through it, or don't want to see through it...


Remyne Naimlus said...

The scandal of Christ preachers

You wrote, “he [Jesus] certainly won't stand for having his message twisted or enhanced.” Message twisters are your focus and concern, and should be. Kudos.

However, that crowd isn’t my crowd. In my crowd, the pastors I read and listen to, respect and my pastor friends respect, may not agree about every detail of the “ologies,” however, they stand together on the gospel of Christ.

The rightness of doctrine can be the source of a problem of a different stripe. Right doctrine can disarm specific sorts of discernment. Thus, things like motives fly under the radar. Paul got that. “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Phil. 1:15-17, ESV).

Paul’s got in his cross hairs preachers who “preach Christ.”

Doctrinally, Paul is ink-dripping about our crowd. Preachers and churches that know and tell the right story right… God’s redemption is His gift by Jesus, in Jesus, for Jesus.

At the same time, it is in that crowd where Paul detects “envy,” “rivalry,” “selfish ambition,” and a lack of “sincerity.”

While Paul doesn’t use names, seems he is being quite personal here. Not a stretch to think he has in mind preachers who are his pals, that he has shared a bagel with, perhaps sown a tent for, and surely partnered with in ministry. After all, he calls them “brothers in the Lord” (v14).

I’ve been in ministry many years now. I’ve been around long enough to see friends go from school, to ministering faithfully to a local flock, in obscurity, to “success.”
Is it just me, or does not “preaching Christ” success always looks the same in the present day?

Great gifts and great effectiveness confined to a local flock. Then his flock encourages their preacher to give his preaching a wider hearing. A beyond-his-flock following builds. A successful preacher shares a few of his coupons of credibility with the new guy. The following broadens.

Then fame. Then great fame. Then great following, a great number of books, great presence on the Net, speaking before great crowds, great applause. Then great power. Then a great number of places where his name appears as an endorsement of other new-guy “Christ preachers” who are now rising up the tunnel of success behind him.

Then a series of non-profits supporting an increasingly impressive and devoted number of Christ workers is born out of the Christ preacher’s ministry to his non-flock following. Great payrolls depend entirely upon the Christ preacher.

Then great protection from a great number of people surrounds him. Then great wealth (large house[s], premium cars, Brooks Brother’s customs, travel, club memberships).

Then great insulation from pretty much everything that hammered Paul flat.

Then comes the need to sustain it all. With greater frequency, wrapped in cleverness that would make even the oldest Virginia fox blush, comparisons are made to others who are less faithful, Christ preachers but flawed.
Prayers may be offered, platforms shared. But in the end, there is no mistaking the stench of “envy,” “rivalry,” and “selfish ambition.”

The Christ preacher’s name is now a recognized, industry-supporting brand. He is paid well by those who stand to make money if they plaster famous brand on their not-so-familiar Christ-preaching product.

Portimo was correct, “Win the mob and you win Rome.” Win the mob and you get all that stuff the adoring mob gratefully offers. Paul’s “brothers in the Lord” figured that out. Sadly, it seems many of my brothers, non-message-twisting-Christ-preachers, have too.

I see you pastor a local flock. I see you’ve recently published. Congratulations. I plan to pick up a copy today.

Remyne Naimlus

Jared said...

Remyne: Thanks?

watchman said...

I'm really amazed by how blatant the consumerist cult can invade our perceptions of God/faith.

Yikes. Thanks for this post.

nhe said...

Remyne dragged me out into the deep water there and left me scrambling to find a buoy to hang onto.

I couldn't help but think of "The Dark Knight" when reading here about Jesus being "the most successful person who ever lived".....I wonder if Jesus would see that as a compliment?........Commish Gordon called Batman "not a hero" meaning he came to Gotham to be not less, but much more than the same way, it just feels like the whole notion of dwelling on Jesus being "successful" is completely missing any semblance of the point of the gospel.

jason said...

"You may end up with a crowd, but you may end up with no Jesus."

The churches I've been in that have been focused on driving up the numbers are the ones that seem the least interested in doing what Jesus called us to least until the cameras are there.

I know this may seem rude but if you can't show Jesus to the homeless man outside Subway asking for five bucks for a sandwich then you aren't showing Jesus.

Sonny said...

Although I am thankful I live in America the beautiful, I am renewing my mind thru God's word so that I can live here appreciatively yet not impatiently scream at the microwave, the time effecient fast food drive thru, the overnight delivery guy, and the guy changing the oil on my Benz to hurry up because I have been born again to be an entitled Christian....