How do we sort through these myriad Jesuses, each of which has just enough truth in them (even if just a dash) to make them dangerous, to find the real Person Jesus Christ? I think we ought to start with the Gospels, which may be the last texts an inquirer consults. We think we are quite familiar with them, but we are not. We think we know their stories and have been building on them for years, but the army of false Jesuses marching in the hearts of well-meaning Christians testifies otherwise.
And the Jesus Cottage Industry is making a killing on all the ways we have Jesus without the gravity of his real personality. We have endless books offering alternative histories and secret messages and "what he really said" and hidden gospels. When, if we cared to see it, the four Gospels we already have contain enough truth to challenge, comfort, convict, and create us for eternity.
Yes, create us. It was G.K. Chesterton who, in his defense of Christian orthodoxy, said, "I did not make it. It is making me."
Can we say that of Jesus? Can we say the Jesus we believe in, rest in, trust in is the Jesus who is making us? Or is He the one we'd prefer, the one who's most like us, who's safer and nicer, who reflects all of our personal or political values and idiosyncrasies? Is Jesus making us, or is he the Jesus of our own making?
It is quite possible to make an idol of Jesus. Which is not to say that Jesus is not to be worshiped. He is the only Man worthy of worship. What I mean is, it is possible to project a self-idolatry onto Jesus, to mistake our own satisfaction with ourselves for authentic discipleship, instead of worshiping the real, living God in the real, resurrected person of Jesus Christ.
Here's one personal test I subject my own reading of the Gospels to (which actually works quite well when reading any Scripture):
Is it freaking me out?
Am I convicted, challenged, impressed, scared, or inspired? Am I moved?
The Word of God -- both the living Word and the written word -- is transformational revelation. If we are not being transformed by the Christ of Scripture and the Scripture of Christ, we are not reading either correctly.
And if we constantly find them confirming our sense of self and our prejudices, leaving us unrepentant or unmoved, we have the chief indication we are looking down the deep, dark well of our own heart and seeing our own reflection.
(If you liked this piece, you may like my book Your Jesus Is Too Safe.)