Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Or, have we forgotten how wild and untamed the Lord really is?
Dr. Harry Kraus, missionary and author of Christian fiction and non-fiction, believes the Church -- particularly in America -- has gradually taken crucial missteps that result in miniaturizing and muzzling the One who is mighty to save.
Crosswalk.com caught up with Dr. Kraus while he was home on furlough to talk with him about his latest effort, the somewhat-radically titled, Domesticated Jesus.
Crosswalk.com: Dr. Kraus, where did we even get the idea -- if we even did it intentionally at all -- that in our culture we could "domesticate" this Jesus who in the Bible would not be tamed, pigeonholed, or contained?
Harry Kraus: Great question! I mean, obviously we want our [audience] to understand that you cannot fence Him in. You cannot tame Him. You cannot domesticate Him. You cannot contain Him to a box. But what I mean by this phrase "domesticated Jesus" is just something that I do in a thousand different ways. Perhaps, maybe in my worry, I am acting as if this Jesus, who is powerful enough to have spoken and stars happened, is small. I am acting as if he is not big enough to solve my problem.
How did we get here? I am going to blame that one on Adam, I guess. From the get-go, even in this beautiful plan of the gospel, we want to turn it around and make Jesus into someone who is a servant to me. It is all about cleansing my sin. Come on in to my life, Jesus. Clean up my sin mess but then just kind of sit quietly over there. And I will give you some time once a week, but I want to go about running my life myself, and you just come in on my terms. I get to be in control. That is what "domesticating" him is.
CW: You mentioned Adam's sin, and in your book you talk about the different ways we domesticate Jesus through a lot of our own sins, failings, shortcomings, or frailty. Recognizing that frailty, do we try and bring the Lord down to our own level? HK: I do not think we mean to but, yes, we do. And I do this all the time. I use the example of anxiety. When I am an anxious Christian, if somebody is looking at my life—and unfortunately, I am the only gospel that some people see—what is it telling them about the size of my God? When I am a guilty Christian—I am walking around feeling bad for something that was taken care of and that has been forgiven—what is that telling other people about the size of the cross? It is telling them that it is small.
And so I address this in a very practical way in many, many chapters as not somebody on a pedestal telling you down there, "You guys that struggle with this…" No, this is where I struggle. I am only writing, Shawn, the stuff that I need to read. I write as an insider. Sure, I have been a Christian for many, many years. I have been a foreign missionary for years. I served as a missionary surgeon in a closed Muslim context. So I can write as an insider. I know that the American Church struggles with this because I struggle with this.
CW: How have your insights as a missionary home on furlough informed what you have written?
HK: Well, I think coming in again after having been out of the country for a few years, sometimes I realize how repressed we are in our worship. And I think, "Wait a minute. What are we here to do?" Let's think about that. Why am I yawning on a Sunday morning? Why am I not spending time in preparing for this event? We have been promised that where two or three are gathered, there is some special presence of God. I do not know how that works intellectually. I don't get that, but I just know that He said, "I am in your midst."
And I also know that this Jesus was present at creation, and He made this galaxy and a billion others and so, therefore, He is kind of beyond gettable. Is that a word? He is beyond gettable! And perhaps in some way, we have to domesticate Him. We have to bring Him down small enough just for language to contain Him, because my mind is going to explode with trying to understand Him because I can't. He is not gettable.
CW: If that is true, why would we even try to place limits on God? HK: I don't think we try. I just think it is something that we fall into because we are so limited, and we have to build a mental construct of God just so we have a frame of reference, unfortunately. As we go through life and we understand more and more of His holiness, He is going to blow away every little mental construct I have.
And what this book is about is looking at the little ways in our life—maybe it is through anxiety, or fear of the future, or doubt, or guilt—these things we should take and go, wait a minute! What is this saying about the size of the God I believe in? And what am I really believing? Do I really believe the gospel? It is transformative now, not just something for a ticket out of hell. It is so much bigger than that. And the God of the gospel is so much bigger than that.
CW: Do you think it is just way too challenging for some folks to read about the Son of Man having no place to lay his head, or saying give away all of your possessions and follow? Are these claims just too hard for some people to accept? We like the moral side of what Jesus represents, but the true radical nature of who He was and what He preaches... is that just too hard for us?
HK: No. I mean, yes, it is hard, but is it too hard? I don't think so, but we have to become small people with a big God. We don't have to think this is such a big thing or we cannot do it. That is a great place to start. Grace finds its perfection in weakness. All of these examples that I use in the book about how I just tend to make Jesus look small, that is my ticket [to the conversation]. If it was all about God being pleased with me because of the books I have written or the surgeries I have done or the service I had as a missionary, well then I would be promoting a concept called wages. But, man, I am promoting grace, grace, grace. This is not about me getting credit. I want Jesus to be treasured, and that is it.
CW: Can you tell us a little bit about how, in a non-fiction book, you have incorporated a bit of a fictional storyline? HK: Well, most of my readership knows me from being a novelist. Books like, Could I Have This Dance? or my most recent title, The Six-Liter Club, these are stories, and we write stories to impact people emotionally. And that is why I incorporate story in this book. It is partially because illustration is such a good way to teach a message, and you do that because it does not threaten the reader quite as much.
You don't say, "You have got this problem, and here is the answer." You say, "Look at Bob. Bob is struggling with addiction. And here is how Bob's day went." And the reader suddenly goes, "Wait a minute. I do that! Ooh, I recognize myself there." And I am just giving the reader a chance to put off on Bob, and it becomes a less threatening way to learn. But also, look around on a Sunday morning when your pastor says, "Let me tell you a story." Everybody straightens up a bit, and their heads lift, and they want to hear the story because we all have stories, and that is the way we experience life. That is the way we learn.
CW: Great perspective, considering the fact you are writing about Jesus who pretty much did the same thing. HK: Exactly!
CW: Is that the point in parables and story-teaching? To allow people to "put off on 'Bob'" rather than preaching directly at them; to let them get it for themselves? HK: Right. And you notice that Jesus resisted the tendency to over-explain. Now sometimes His disciples pulled Him aside and went, "I don't get it! What did you mean?" But most of the time, He told the story, and He let the Holy Spirit nudge them. And I find out in my fiction that often the Holy Spirit has an agenda way beyond what I understood.
Some people believe that fiction is different for every reader, because they bring something to the equation, and they experience the story just a little bit differently. And they will write me, and I might think, "Gee, that is pretty cool. I did not really mean it that way, but it is kind of true."
CW: Who needs to undomesticate Jesus? Is it me? Is it you? This American culture? The worldwide Church? And how do we do it? HK: Well, yeah, it is you, Shawn! [Laughs.] I'd love to say it is only you. No, it is me. It is the Church. It is the world. It is every believer struggling with understanding Jesus in His splendor, understanding the majesty. I mean this Guy is not gettable. He is beyond it.
So we understand we are on a journey of discovery, and we are going to be on that journey from now until forever. And I think that will be the beauty of heaven: this picture of angels who do nothing but say, "Holy, Holy, Holy"... and it does not get old! They just keep repeating it because there is no end to what we can discover about Him.
But this is a problem for everyone. Now, what do we do about it? Well, we become aware. We start looking honestly at our own lives, and when you find yourself as anxious, use it as something to prod you to say, "Wait a minute. If somebody was looking at me, how big would they say my God is right now?" And then go to the Scripture. This book is written very practically with scriptural prescriptions at the end of many of the chapters, just to say, "Look, if you are struggling with a fear of the future, if you are struggling with an understanding of forgiveness of your sins, if you are struggling with anxiety, look at these scriptures. Look at who Jesus really is." Yes, he cares for you deeply. He loves you deeply. He holds your future.
So, all of these things have a scriptural solution. It is just a matter of bathing our minds and aligning our thinking with His and getting just a little bit bigger glimpse. I mean, I am not going to tell somebody if they pick up and read this book, they will know God in all of His splendor, because it is only a book. They are only written words. Our language cannot contain Him, cannot describe Him. We can only say words that are just little tools. But, you know, that should prompt us to say, "How big is my God? How big am I acting that He is? And do the two jive?"
Dr. Harry Kraus describes himself as "a ragamuffin, just a fallen man who struggles with all the same problems you do. But I've discovered the wonder of a relationship with God, who reached out to me in the most spectacular way." Visit his website at www.harrykraus.com.
Publication date: October 21, 2010