A growing cluster of malcontents are confronting the popular caricature of Jesus as the sweetest guy to skip across ancient soil and are, as author Mark Galli claims, “filling in the picture.” Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today, is among the best authors who are emancipating Jesus from well-meaning yet hazardous sermons, books, and songs that portray him as history’s all-time Nicest Guy.
Submerge yourself in this genre of contra-writing that challenges soppy Christianity (you can save yourself some money and just read the Gospels), and listen to some of America’s most popular preachers and ask yourself, Whose Jesus are they talking about? Their promise-fulfillment Jesus, eager to meet my every want, is more like a cosmic bellhop than the creator of the Universe. He’s so approachable that he appears co-dependent. He’s so much my buddy, so me-centered, that it makes me feel that the only person I can really turn to when my chips are down is a composite of my own wants and desires. When I’m lost and I’m told about a tender-only Jesus, I’m not convinced that I’ll ever be found, let alone rescued. My faith falters. Their Jesus is too much like me, but with a killer smile and silkier hair.
Galli’s new book, Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God (Baker Books), a work of firm persuasion, reminds me why we should thank God that Jesus is not our best friend. You don’t pray to your best friend. You don’t offer him your tithe. Loaning him money is dicey enough. You may admire him, but I hope you don’t worship him. Chances are your best friend is as lost as you — especially when it comes to inevitable grief and suffering. He may pick you up when your car breaks down, which is a blessing, but how well can he counsel and console you when your mom dies? Your child?
A dessert-portioned Jesus is who Jennifer got when her son died a few days before his sixth birthday. “People told me that ‘Jesus loved your son so much that He couldn’t wait to bring him home’ and to ‘Consider it all joy.’ Stuff like that.” She told me that she sank into a gray lagoon of depression where she felt like no one nowhere. Her platitude Jesus couldn’t reach her there.
She hated this sentimental savior but then found her faith awakened when she witnessed the real and tough Jesus who went through emotional turmoil like her, and who expressed desperate emotions like her, and who didn’t pretend that He had to put a smiley face on life all the time and who, contrary to her spiritual training, described life’s darkness with unflinching detail. She, like Him, could really "feel life," and in doing so could see life more clearly. She was better able to throw off the shackles of confusion that always gouge our minds when we can’t get to the truth. Jesus’ toughness helped her combat falsehood, a requirement for repentance. She spoke as if she were born again, again.
Though many don’t want Galli’s “mean and wild” Jesus, we need Him for long-haul faith and for abundant living. I had the underreported and sometimes maligned Jennifers of the world in mind when I asked Galli the following questions; people whose faith took a Scud-missile hit when Kleenex Christianity, weak and boring, buckled under the weight of their grief and sorrow.