The Problem with Jesus

24 03 2014
 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15

I have been in full-time ministry for 33 years, mostly as a solo pastor. I have seen a marked difference in evangelism. Within the church we have not felt safe going door-to-door to spread the gospel, nor do those on the other side of the door feel safe in opening it. We have resorted to putting our efforts into what is now called “outreach”. This method  attracts the lost to an event or perhaps integrates itself into an event in which the lost participates. I like outreach and actively participate in it.

Once we get the opportunity to present the gospel, I see another difference, and this one comes from the attitude of the lost. Many do not want to hear it because they have already accepted a Jesus who fits into their opinion and lifestyle. There is also an attitude of cynicism toward those who present the gospel, augmented by the dawning of the internet. In spite of the antagonism and stereotypes, we still have a great commission to reach the world with the gospel. This blog excerpt will help us to think through one of evangelism’s roadblocks.

by Carl Laferton

The Problem with Jesus

When it comes to outreach, we have a problem with Jesus.

Not a problem with who Jesus is, of course. Jesus is the answer to all our deepest questions and longings. He is the compassionate one the broken search for, the forgiving one the flawed need, the strong one the weak can cry to, the challenging one the self-righteous require.

In evangelism, as in all ministry, if we’re not talking about Jesus, we’re missing the point and we’re missing the power.

Post-Christian Christ

We speak into an increasingly post-Christian society. That means that Jesus isn’t foreign; he’s domesticated. He’s a somebody, not a nobody — and you can take your pick about which somebody he is. There’s a whole smorgasbord of cultural “Christs,” and you just select the “Jesus” who best fits your mindset and lifestyle, and run with him. If ever you need to trade him in for a different version, that’s fine.

So you want a good teacher whose advice you can accept or ignore? Welcome, Good Teacher Jesus.

You’re after a freedom fighter with a blank placard onto which you can write your own slogan (violent revolution or lower taxes or more defense spending or no war)? You’ll love Freedom Fighter Jesus.

You’d like to reject Jesus as out-of-date and bigoted, and get on with living how you like? You need Intolerant Judge Jesus.

The one Jesus our culture doesn’t offer, and can’t stomach, is Original Jesus — the one who can’t be changed, but who calls us to change instead.

And that’s why we have a problem with Jesus in evangelism.

As soon as you say “Jesus,” people hear “Intolerant Judge,” “Children’s Story,” “Distant God,” and so on. And then they hear whatever you say next — your explanation of the wonder of the cross, or the joy of the empty tomb, or the reality of judgment — within that false category they have of Jesus. Therefore, the gospel makes little sense and does not sound attractive, even though it’s the only thing that makes total sense and is infinitely wonderful! In a conversation where two people talk about Jesus, they are, in fact, often talking about two different people.

Making the Connection

What does this mean for our witness? First, we need to accept that the way we witness (though not its content) must change as society does. So we need to take the time to ask questions and listen well to people, so we know what image comes into their head when they hear “Jesus.”

Then, we can connect their pale imitation Jesus with the full, technicolor high-definition glory of the Lord Jesus. Not by showing them how wrong they are, but by connecting with their image in one of two ways:

Jesus is better than you thought. “Yes, Jesus is a good teacher. But look, he’s a good teacher who can calm a storm. So he can’t be just a good teacher — he’s God, teaching. That puts Jesus in a whole new, more exciting, category, right?”

What you think of Jesus is better than you think. “Yes, Jesus is an intolerant judge. He’s very intolerant of evil — aren’t you? And he will judge evildoers — and deep down I think you would like him to. Actually, it’s good news that Jesus is an intolerant judge. But it’s troubling news too . . .”

Meet Jesus, The Original

So when it comes to evangelism, we do have a problem with Jesus. But we also have a wonderful opportunity. In every way, the Jesus of history and of heaven is more genuine, and brings more joy, than the domesticated fake Christs of our culture. It’s our privilege to be able to say to someone, “Let me tell you about my Jesus. He’s more compassionate, more controversial, more compelling than you ever imagined. And he’s real. Wouldn’t you love to know him?”

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