In his latest book, After Evangelicalism, Baptist ethicist David Gushee argues that one of the sources of post0evangelicalism is the discontentment people feel with the distorted images of Jesus promoted by white evangelicals in America.
Gushee presents four such distorted portraits of Jesus, of which, he argues, only the first one could be defended, partially at least, from within the New Testament framework. Here they are:
- Jesus the Crucified Saviour
This is the image of the Saviour, who died for the sins of humanity in order to reconcile it with God, as rooted primarily in the Pauline epistles.
Gushee argues that this is a sort of ‘personal salvation’ Jesus, which still misses a lot of everything else that the incarnations of Jesus was meant to accomplish.
- Hallmark-Christmas-Movie Jesus
This is the juicy nice image of eJesus promoted in many emotionalist evangelical churches. Gushee says: ‘This is the Jesus whom we ask to “hold me,” one who is there “when I am weak and he is strong,” and “when I am down he lifts me up.” This Jesus is the best (platonic) boyfriend or bro-friend I could possibly have, the one who is there for me all the time, my comfort and encourager.’ And he adds ironically: ‘He also runs a really nice Christmas-related operation, so that’s a plus.’
- Jesus Who Wants You to Succeed
This is the made up image of the ‘corporate Jesus’ that dominates the pragmatic business and success oriented world of white American evangelicalism. It promotes the false ‘prosperity gospel’ in whether softer or hardcore versions.
- Vacant Jesus Fillable with Any Content We Want
This is the culmination of this process of distorsion of the image of Christ. Gushee describes it in this manner: ‘This Jesus, having been distanced so profoundly from his Jewish roots, his account of himself, and any New Testament depictions, is a mere shell, symbol, or totem. This is a Jesus always available to be filled with whatever content we might like to drop in there.’ This image, says Gushee is not only useless, but harmful. ‘He can be the Jesus of my tribe, my class, my race, my party, my all-important self, providing ultimate religious justification for every passion I might feel like giving myself to.’
So, it’s time for a reckon. Is any of these your Jesus? I hope not. At least not fully.