September 25, 2020

The Jesus Disconnect (1): What and Why?

I want to write some posts exploring what I am going to call “The Jesus Disconnect.”

Nothing has impressed me more in my last few years of writing, reading and discussion than the disconnect the average Christian believer feels from the ministry of Jesus, specifically his miracles, exorcisms, teachings, training of disciples and encounters with individuals as described in the first half of the Gospels.

For many Christians, their view of Jesus is much like the movie Passion of the Christ. The story of Jesus begins with the suffering of Jesus, with the ministry of Jesus fading anonymously into the background, appearing occasionally in a few moralistic or sentimentally devotional flashbacks.

This disconnect leaves me with the feeling that many Jesus-followers are almost cynical regarding the relevance of the ministry of Jesus for anything other than preaching “lessons” from the example of Jesus. The actual significance of this major portion of scripture seems to be confusing to many Christians.

The disconnection from the ministry of Jesus takes several different forms.

1. At times, it is a stated preference for Jesus as presented in the Pauline epistles. This preference can be modest, defensive or hostile. In its more extreme forms, the person wanting to serious consider the place of the ministry of Jesus in an overall approach to Christianity may be accused of denying the Gospel, or of replacing a Gospel of justification with a Gospel of “the Kingdom.”

2. The disconnect may be a belief that the ministry of Jesus actually is an inspiration to liberal, socialistic misunderstandings and abuses of the Gospel.

3. The disconnect may grow out of a belief that the church Jesus founded and its current ministry in the world is the goal toward which all of Jesus’ words and actions pointed. To take Jesus’ ministry seriously is to wrongly emphasize the “seed” stage over the more mature “plant” or “tree.”

4. Others who are disconnected from the ministry of Jesus simply do not know what to do with the example, teachings and significance of Jesus’ ministry today. They are frequently quick to state that we don’t follow Jesus’ teaching literally and have no real need to do so.

5. Most evangelicals are operating off an outline of the Gospel that gives no real significance to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus death and resurrection have significance in personal evangelism, but the ministry of Jesus does not, so this part of the Biblical presentation of Jesus is easy to disconnect.

There may be other reasons for this disconnect from the ministry of Jesus, but these seem to me to be the primary responses that I hear, read and observe.

In the following days, I will be addressing “The Jesus Disconnect” by responding to these questions:

First, how do we view the ministry of Jesus in an overall consideration of Jesus?

Second, how does the ministry of Jesus participate in the Gospel and all that the Gospel does?

Third, how can we access the ministry of Jesus in a Jesus shaped Christian life?

Finally, what are the implications for evangelicals of recovering the entirety of Jesus as presented in the scripture?

Comments

  1. You are on a roll right now. keep it up!

  2. Michael Horton’s “Christless Christianity” was excellent in framing many of the issues surrounding the loss of Christ within evangelical Christianity. My personal experience of Reformed faith was however also largely devoid of Christ. Jesus seemed mostly a footnote to the Father’s sovereignty. And the Holy Spirit was hardly more than a formula rather than God’s active presence in and with his people.

    My connection with a living Jesus came only after immersing myself in the writings of Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Anabaptist writers. But still, the rigor of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions seem essential for holding things together in sufficient tension and to prevent them from drifting toward a faith that is mostly about me.

    Then too, a life lived with others in the presence of Christ is nothing if not daily and ongoing until the end. I see this to require something very much like liturgy. As a Baptist, do you see another way to foster this ongoing engagement with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit?

    It would greatly be appreciated if you are able to incorporate these things into your series. Thank you for this blog.

  3. I don’t believe we need the liturgy to be connected to Jesus. I appreciate those who find it meaningful and I count myself among them. But I don’t find it essential to knowing Christ.

    BTW, where I live, I am several hours from any “liturgy” other than the Roman mass.

    ms

  4. urban otter says

    Sometimes the most life-changing revelations are the most obvious and simple.

    I had the worst time with the disconnection you speak of until I realized that Jesus was not a modern Southern Baptist. Drawing solely on my own experience, I had subconsciously imagined Jesus as a contemporary American preacher — one that also happened to be God and all — but an American pastor nonetheless.

    Then one day I realized that he wasn’t. Then I felt stupid for not having taken into account this obvious fact.

    Most everything Jesus says makes no sense if he is speaking as a modern American evangelical. I bet others have made the same mistake I did; it certainly renders Jesus’ ministry incomprehensible. Sometimes we are bound by our own culture more than we realize.

  5. Urban Otter:

    It’s amazing how true that is, and pastors really need to get in gear on this one.

    All expository ministry and all application needs to be build on a foundation of properly understanding the actual context of the passages we are using.

    That’s means we have to invest in teaching some OT and NT intro and background.

    Let me use an example:

    You can’t just use the term Samaritan and say “Jews didn’t like ’em.”

    You have to talk about the division into two Kingdoms.
    You have to account for the “half breed” status after the Assyrian conquest.
    You have to mention the development of an “alternative Judaism”
    You should cover the Samaritan alliances with all of Judah’s enemies.

    There was a reason Jews didn’t like Samaritans! Lots of them. And it delves deeply into Jesus choice of Samaritans as significant parts of his mission and teaching.

    And on and one we go.

    You are so very right.

  6. I might have missed it, but has any commenter mentioned the Old Testament? The careful structure of the gospels, and of Jesus’ ministry itself, follows patterns laid down many times in the Old Testament. In these Scriptures, Jesus revealed His ministry typologically, but we don’t want to know.

    We just want to watch the last episode and pretend we know what’s going on. It is actually the Old Testament we are disconnected from, mostly by our unbelief.

  7. Mike Bull:

    Certainly true on a hermeneutical level and I make this point all the time.

    But I am going to be talking about the actual Christian life and community, and my focus is the complete discounting of virtually everything we have about Jesus outside of the passion and a personal selection of stories/sayings we like.

    Theologically and in terms of interpretation, you are right, but I’d also say that I hear a lot of OT preaching with no appreciation for why we are in the New Covenant. Many preachers esp prefer to make legalisms out of Proverbs and Leviticus than to understand and practice the New Covenant.

    But the OT is a worthy subject for a set of posts.

  8. KR Wordgazer says

    I just don’t think we should confuse following Jesus with living like He lived. He didn’t tell everyone He met that they should sell everything and give to the poor, and live the life of a homeless itinerant. He did ask certain people to follow Him that way– like the apostles, and one particular rich young man. But there’s also a place where He tells a man He has delivered from demons NOT to follow him in a physical sense, but to go just home and tell everyone what God did for him.

    I don’t think we need to feel we’re missing out on authentic Christianity just because we felt called to marry, have kids, and hold down an ordinary job.

    The real issue is, do we love God and our neighbors, and act like we love them? Focusing on external lifestyles instead of on this, is just more legalism.

  9. Michael,

    On your very early morning post, I see that you have completely demolished the most common updating of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

    GRIN

  10. KR: Wordgazer:

    You have set up a false either/or.

    I agree with you, but then so does Jesus.

    It is not hard to determine that Jesus did not call all persons to celibacy, poverty, etc.

    It is also not hard to determine that the financial, sexual and social values of the Kingdom are radically different from the world and we can’t say we follow Jesus and live like the world.

    If we are followers of Jesus, we do live with Kingdom ethics, and those ethics are not legalistic.

    ms

  11. treebeard says

    Isn’t part of the problem the assumptions we make about what Jesus would demand of us? A lot of it sounds like religious presumption.
    For example, several people on this thread and others have mentioned Jesus telling the young ruler to “sell all.” But where in the New Testament are we all required to sell all? Jesus did not say to Nicodemus, “sell all,” or to Joseph of Arimathea, “sell all.” So we shouldn’t assume that such a verse is binding on very reader.

    Another example is 1 Tim. 2:1-2, which tells us to pray for our rulers and authorities so we can lead a “tranquil and quiet life.” That’s not a demand that we all forsake everything and become missionaries.

    Point being, even our comments here assume a lot about what Jesus would have us do.

  12. KR Wordgazer says

    iMonk said:

    “KR: Wordgazer:

    You have set up a false either/or.

    I agree with you, but then so does Jesus.

    It is not hard to determine that Jesus did not call all persons to celibacy, poverty, etc.”

    InternetMonk, I was actually responding to things I was hearing in posts like this one (from Peter Dickson):

    “But if we actually lived like Jesus did, Paul’s views would become more comprehensible, and also you’d understand them differently, in a way consistent with the life of Jesus (our lives).

    However, most evangelicals have no desire to live like Jesus did because of the level of sacrifice associated with it. Giving to everyone who asks you… well, if you did that, you’d be poor. Then Jesus was homeless too. He had no fixed residence, and lived in houses of people he ministered to.”

    This post was the most explicit on the subject, but I felt I was hearing implications of this idea in other posts as well. So if there is a false either/or being set up, it was not by me.

  13. KR: One thing that seems clear about Jesus is that he did not set behavior standards for his followers, except in some unusual instances.

    Peter had a home and was married. Many of Jesus disciples went right back to their normal lives. He had no standard of celibacy, made no specific financial demands. In Luke 8, wealthy women pay his bills, Zacchaeus gives back 4x of what he took but is still collecting taxes as far as we know. Soldiers remain soldiers and so on. Paul interpreted Jesus to teach the necessity of responsible work to care for one’s family.

    We are free to pursue the Kingdom within our callings. This is why Christian community is vital. It encourages us to be disciples in whatever calling we have. If we AREN’T attempting to implement what Jesus did teach on sex, money and lifestyle, we’re off base.

    Jesus, btw, was not “homeless.” He had a home for 30 years, and apparently had some sort of temporary digs in Capernaum according to Mark. He was itinerant, and while he was in that mission he did not have a “fox hole” etc. But again, this isn’t telling me to comb my hair like Jesus. It’s telling me to learn how to be a disciple, not a legalist.

    ms

  14. KR Wordgazer says

    MS,

    I think we are in complete agreement, actually. Please see my post in your more recent blog “What Was Jesus Like?” for a clearer explanation of my perspective and how my past experiences have contributed to it.

    KR

  15. However, most evangelicals have no desire to live like Jesus did because of the level of sacrifice associated with it.

    Yes. If you lived like Jesus did, you’d have to sacrifice your life for the sins of the world at age 33. Most evangelicals don’t feel up to the task.

  16. Wow, MDS, that comment (17 above this one) was an excellent description. Thank you very much for sharing.

  17. FC: I don’t want to debate this with you because you’ll logically pummel me, but you are certainly aware that Paul says its God’s desire we grow up into Christlikeness in every way. Without taking the hyperbolic litearalistic route you outlined above, I think that means something. Even to people who are admittedly weak on sanctification.

    Given that it doesn’t mean we are to be the sinless Son of God, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, it does mean something that Paul was able to pray and work for. He said to the Galatians that he was laboring over them until Christ was formed in them, and he didn’t mean conversion. My amateurish guess is that living in the Kingdom of God has something to do with being more like Christ and less like whatever I am without Christ. Not as a way to be declared righteous, etc.

  18. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Nothing has impressed me more in my last few years of writing, reading and discussion than the disconnect the average Christian believer feels from the ministry of Jesus, specifically his miracles, exorcisms, teachings, training of disciples and encounters with individuals as described in the first half of the Gospels.

    Though it seems the Pentecostals try to establish a connection through imitating the “miracles and exorcisms” as often as possible. With the risk that the “miracles and exorcisms” — some of them pretty lame and/or trivial (falling gold dust and angel feathers?) — can take the place of the connection.

    For many Christians, their view of Jesus is much like the movie Passion of the Christ. The story of Jesus begins with the suffering of Jesus, with the ministry of Jesus fading anonymously into the background, appearing occasionally in a few moralistic or sentimentally devotional flashbacks.

    Because the Suffering is part of “He Died for my sins” and the “I’m SAVED” Salvation trope and the ministry isn’t. Jesus needs to be onstage only long enough to Accomplish My Salvation in a form of tunnel vision where the Salvation (with or without 500-page theology tomes) ends up obscuring the Christ who did the Saving and much more.

    In both these cases, the medium not only becomes the message but hides the Person.

  19. I suspect much of the disconnect in contemporary Christianity stems from the influence of dispensational cessationalism in evangelicalism, even among those who don’t know they’ve been influenced by it.
    A hermeneutic that boils the supernatural ministry (miracles, etc.) of Jesus down to “that was then, this is now” is not going to have much trouble dismissing other aspects of His ministry, either. Helping the poor, etc., is the new province of “socialists” (aka non-Republicans) in a lot of churches.

  20. iMonk, I only said it because of the hyperbolic literalism of Peter Dickinson, as quoted by KR Wordgazer. My target isn’t you or anything you said, but the way some like to use hyperbole to sanctimoniously condemn other Christians (usually those with better jobs than them) without going to the logical conclusion of the sort of rhetoric that ethicizes Christ by destroying his unique mission.

    My own view is that everything is an outworking of “As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” that love preaches the Gospel, confessing with our actions what we confess with our mouths. To believe in Christ is to believe that his sacrifice of his own life is divine love, that if I believe he has justified me and no longer condemns me, that I must believe he has justified others and denied me the right to condemn and hate them. If there is no more enmity between God and man, neither can there be enmity between man and man. In short, God manifests his love for the world through us in the ways he has appointed for us; this is imitation of Christ.

    A hermeneutic that boils the supernatural ministry (miracles, etc.) of Jesus down to “that was then, this is now” is not going to have much trouble dismissing other aspects of His ministry, either.

    Actually, the churches most dismissive of the ministry and miracles of Jesus are the most socialistic. Having dispensed with the supernatural, they identify the machinations of government with the kingdom of God.

  21. a lot of smarter people have already commented here 🙂 – i just wanted to say thank you for articulating what is in my heart. I’m a homeschool mom with seven littles at the kitchen table every morning, reading the Bible aloud – when we get to places like Mark 4 – the little guys don’t just snore through – they sit up and say “hey! that doesn’t sound very nice! why won’t Jesus just explain it a little better so *everyone* can get it?” and i sit there and say “Jesus is a lot more complex than what you get in Sunday School – ask Him yourself!” – sometimes they go away and come blow me away, sometimes they just get quiet for a little bit. But there is more to Jesus than i get from church. There, he’s a tame monkey, knowable, known quantity. When i actually read the Bible, there is more i don’t understand every time i go through it… i don’t want to give my children a false sense of confidence that they know Who He is, that they’ve got it all down pat… It’s scary not knowing, but it’s scarier to presume…