October 24, 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. That sounds great, IM.

    Funny, I was trawling through a list of christian blogs last night and came away feeling really disconnected. Now, I am pretty liberal and heretical in my views, I have to admit 🙂 But so many of these blogs were just … well, boring, for one. The vast majority of them involved people talking about their ministries, about their church’s outreach programs, about all these things that for me foster the disconnect, because there weren’t very many talking about the broken people they are connected with one-on-one outside of the confines of their little ministries and their little programs and their little churches.

    It’s like Christians are too scared to really live. Maybe so many of us are focussed on his death and resurrection because we don’t really believe that what God desires for us is life, and life to the full?

    I don’t know. I don’t mean to come on here and be all discouraged but if I am going to be really and brutally honest, I don’t really like Christians all that much. There is so much falseness that it seems everyone except ourselves can see, in our little middle-class lives where few are getting our hands particularly dirty (me included).

    I think our theology is seriously skewed … but I am rambling, and seriously digressing from your post 🙂 I love this idea and I look forward to reading your thoughts 🙂

  2. The pastor of the church I attend says that Jesus’ was teaching to the Jews and that we’re not ‘bound by’ his words. He seems to see the ministry of Jesus as a ‘last chance’ at an earthly kingdom for the Jews.

    (No, I don’t agree with any of this. Yes, we’re looking, but the pickings are slim.)

  3. ….OBVIOUSLY WE”RE FOLLOWING ANOTHER JESUS ..Im convinced that the vast majority of us “christians” dont know God..i fear the disconnect is because we have fallen prey to the seduction of a religious spirit that imitates an inauthentic Christ who is personified as a Feeling/Emotion that can be summoned by clever multimedia and a good band…..Disconnect?..There was no connection to begin with.

  4. I largely avoided the gospels for the first twenty so years after I became a Christian. I found them to be incomprehensible. No matter how many commentaries I read, they would not be tamed. I could only conceive of God as the wholly and majestic other. If people spoke of Jesus as if they knew him, I considered them shallow, silly, or worse.

    Now Paul was a man that made sense. I found in him all the intellectual pieces required to construct a beautifully complex theology. This theology provided the tools I needed to effectively insulate myself from ever having to seriously wrestle with a living Jesus. I was perfectly orthodox, and my well mannered God went about his business without disruption to my life. It seemed to be an arrangement that worked for the Trinity. It did for me. At least it did until it didn’t.

    I’m not suggesting Paul contradicts the gospels, but it is easier to construct a Jesus who conforms to current liberal or conservative ways of thinking than it is with the gospels alone. I found it easier to read Paul so that he and Jesus supported and reaffirmed the prejudices I came to faith with. At least I did until difficult life experiences blew my system apart. I then began to hear the voice of Jesus in the gospels in ways I’d never understood before. He became a real living person. At the same time, I found the Holy Spirit was alive and present. Paul’s words also took on new and more fleshy meaning. A real person will not fit into a mathematical formula. A living God even less.

    The Jesus disconnect you speak of is real. It seems to me there is a third organ of thought and perception that is located somewhere between the rational mind and the emotions. It was more common and natural to ancient and Eastern cultures than ours. Intuition and wisdom are related to it somehow. Whatever it is, it is near to absent among pragmatic, American, evangelical Christians. The recovery of this “third organ” of perception will not in and of itself reconnect the church to Jesus the Christ, but if we cannot hear him within the universe of the Kingdom of God and outside the universe of our common perception, I wonder how we will get past the disconnect you write of.

  5. …average Christian believer feels from the ministry of Jesus, specifically his miracles, exorcisms, teachings, training of disciples and encounters with individuals…

    Yup, that doesn’t look like Christian spirituality as I experience it in church on Sunday. Shockingly, we do fall short of Jesus. But especially in miracles and exorcisms… how are cessationists supposed to keep up with those? Not that I am one, but the other side of the tracks on those issues doesn’t seem too appealing either…

  6. The gospels are about the king of God’s kingdom, and the restoration of the kingdom of David now and in the world to come at the resurrection.

    Modern Christianity is not about that at all, hence the disconnect.

  7. Christopher Lake says

    MDS,

    Your comment is very intriguing to me. I’m trying to “connect the dots” of it, so to speak, but I’m having difficulty. Maybe you can help.

    When you say that in the Gospels, you saw a God who is “the wholly and majestic other,” while in Paul’s letters, you found a “beautifully complex” theology that “provided the tools I needed to effectively insulate myself from ever having to seriously wrestle with a living Jesus,” what do you mean? Perhaps my experience has been so different from yours that I just can’t relate, but I’d like to try to understand.

    The God whom I read of in Paul’s letters (especially the one to the church in Rome) is very much a “majestic other” (still deeply personal) who will not be “tamed.” How does one come away from Romans 9, in particular, with a domesticated God? I can’t fathom it. Was your theology more of an abstract, intellectual belief system than a set of passionate convictions about a living God with whom we have a relationship? I ask that sincerely, as an honest question and attempt to understand.

    In the Gospels and in Paul’s letters, I see God (both the Father and the Son) showing that He deals with people personally, in a very direct, personal, sometimes confrontational way– lovingly but firmly calling them out of their sin and into repentance and trust in Him. Jesus, as the God-man, did this in His life on earth, and God has always been doing it (especially since He widened His plan of salvation beyond the nation of Israel, which is described in Paul’s letters). Could you further explain the disjunction which you saw between Jesus in the Gospels and God in Paul’s letters?

  8. MDS, I wonder if C.S. Lewis’ essay entitled “Men Without Chests” would be helpful to you?

    He speaks of the disconnect between the intellect and the appetites, and says that it is precisely because we do not have “trained emotions” that we fall between these two stools (on the one hand, only that which can be ‘objectively’ shown to be justified is valuable, and on the other utility is judged only by ‘can I eat it? use it? wear it? will it make me rich and happy?’):

    “Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism (such as Gaius and Titius would wince at) about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment — these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.”

  9. One of the primary ways I think modern Christianity has become disconnected from Jesus (as revealed in the Gospels) can be found in how little consideration we give to “how” Jesus conducted His earthly ministry. We’ve built complex theologies based on His teachings and find inspiration and object lessons in certain specific actions of Jesus, but, by and large, we treat the overall form and method of Jesus’s ministry as if it were irrelevant — as if it was just some special form of traveling evangelism that served its purpose in that time but no longer has any practical application.
    But what about what we now call the Great Commission, in which Jesus instructed His disciples to go out into all the world and make more disciples — basically, to find people receptive to the Gospel and do the same thing with these people that Jesus had done with them. And the way Jesus discipled His disciples was through a daily, person-to-person investment of His life into theirs. They ate together, slept around the same campfires, traveled together from town to town, and, most of all, He engaged them constantly in instructive conversation. You could say that He lived life with them so that He could later live in and through them.
    There are several places in the Gospels in which Jesus refers to His church (His assembly or gathering) in the present tense. I know most theologians mark the beginning of the church at Pentecost, but could it be that what Jesus was doing with His ragtag band of followers for those three or so years was in fact “church” in its most original form? Or to ask it in a different way, is it possible that Jesus was modeling church as He intended it to be? And if that’s true, then how on earth did we get from something so simple, relational, and organic to the vast, impersonal, systemized religious institutions of today? Of course, a detailed study of Christian history will provide many answers to that question. But what I’m wondering is if that was just the natural, God-willed progression of things or if it was a path we were never meant to take. I’m also wondering if we’ve lost some of the original and essential elements of what it means to follow Christ and to be a part of His church. And, if so, how do we regain what was lost?

  10. Todd Erickson says

    I’ve never been in a church that preached on loving like Christ, and then helped people figure out how to actually do it.

  11. I think I can explain the *why* of the Jesus disconnect….The last church my wife and I attended turned out to be a highly legalistic, pietistic endeavor in which the synoptic gospels and John were never addressed. It was all OT and Paul, all the time. That made for a harsh, rules-oriented environment which Jesus would simply have screwed up. So the subject of Jesus never came up. It was sad.

  12. Thanks for the post, im — very pertinent, very provocative (in a good way).

    I was just formulating a post for my own blog site in my head — perhaps entitled “Kindergarten Christianity” — based on two of the principles outlined in Robert Fulgham’s “Everything I Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten”:

    “Don’t take things that aren’t yours” & “Put things back where you found them.”

    I was planning to base it on the ministry of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels. So much of what we call “Christianity” looks nothing like this. We give all kinds of explanations for it being the way we have decided it should be now, instead of pondering — meditating upon the Christ of the Gospels so He changes us to be like Him — instead we persist in changing Him to be like us.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where this discussion takes us.

  13. 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,”

    Average Christian? What is that?

    I’ve seen all kinds, been to numerous churches and gatherings and haven’t seen what you keep seeing.

    I’ve seen struggles of many kinds, triumphs and failures.

    They are frequently quick to state that we don’t follow Jesus’ teaching literally and have no real need to do so.”

    I’ve never heard these statements or anything like it and you’ve heard it frequently??

  14. Yes, I’ve recently discovered that the message of the good news of the kingdom of God was of utmost importance to my Jesus. Yet this message has not been the priority of most Christians. I’m perplexed at why or how so many ‘Bible believing’ people can overlook this message.

  15. Peter Dickson says

    Hi Michael. First post, I’ve been reading your blog for the past month or two. Really interesting. Anyway, yep, you’re right of course. I was blessed, until I moved to be part of a bible study that has been deliberately focusing on the gospels, in a deep, systematic, verse by verse free for all for years now, with no “explain it away” commentaries or study guides on hand. There is definitely a surface disjunction between Jesus and Paul. However, it can be reconciled. Not theologically or intellectually. 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. He also was able to develop relationships with immoral people without compromising himself, and most (not all) Christians are content to sit in an ivory tower to preserve their “moral purity.”

    Finally, he loved people who didn’t love him, and basically said to respond to repeated oppression, violence, and abuse with forgiveness, mercy, and love. In essence, not to defend yourself. If you do that, you will get the crap kicked out of you, physically and emotionally. That is what people say anyway, and maybe it’s true. But you know what, Jesus’ teaching is consistent with the character of God and how he loved Israel. If we want to be like God, we MUST do this, even though it will definitely hurt us.

    I would suggest they are scared of what it would mean. They say, “Oh, that wouldn’t work in the real world, so it must not apply” and use that to justify having their lives remain the same. The real issue is that we are all partially if not completely sold out to the false gods of money and security, and it warps our understanding of scripture. Jesus warned against serving God and money, and we do it anyway. Living as Jesus did is incompatible with being materially prosperous, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. The sacrifice involved unlocks spiritual power which enables you to touch peoples lives in a way which was hitherto impossible, and I’m not necessarily talking about miracles here.

    The real issue is that we value money and security above God.

    There was a time in my life where I was really, seriously trying to implement that kind of teaching. I am not doing it now, at least not on the same level because of the emotional cost (the loneliness was unbearable). I’ve also kind of sold out to money and security too and accepted a more stable kind of work. The lifestyle closest to that of Jesus would be “missionary.” What I mean by that is a life completely (and I mean completely) devoted to serving others above yourself that persists over the course of your entire life from the moment you make that commitment.

    Missions work done alone is in my opinion unsustainable, and possibly so even among couples. But if I wasn’t alone, if I had a tight group of people, maybe I could go back to living on the same level. Instead I am living and working with what are basically non-Christian missionaries in terms of level of sacrifice: giving their lives for something they believe in, even if it means they will not be rich and can’t have normal lives.

    The church people in the surrounding community don’t seem to care about them (or even their souls) enough to make an effort to become involved in their lives. Instead, they ask me, “Why don’t they go to church” like it is their moral responsibility to come to worship services for a religion they don’t believe (and in most cases, have good reasons not to though they are surprisingly open to Jesus himself).

    It really bothers me. So basically, if I can become close to God again instead of being a borderline unbeliever, and I give my life by staying here, being poor, and loving them, maybe some of these people I dearly love will believe.

  16. I’m looking for a new church because of this. I’m too “young” a Christian to try and survive in a church where I can’t find Jesus. Maybe these posts will give me the language to try and explain it better. I am weary of people telling me I’ll never find a perfect church. I’m not looking for perfection, but if I’m going to *do* church then it’s got to be amongst people trying (and humbly failing)to be more like Jesus.

  17. Mr. Lake and Martha,

    It was late when I wrote and I failed to clearly express my thoughts. C.S. Lewis does indeed write well concerning much of what I was trying to say. I became a Christian while reading Mere Christianity, and am greatly indebted to him Martha.

    Christopher, I was merely trying to convey a bit of my own journey toward finding the Jesus who would not be held captive by “good theology”. It was easier for me, following along conservative theological lines, to fit the complex of Christian thinking into a rationalized and Western worldview than it was the gospels. I was very much trying to be true to scripture when I did this. For me, Paul could more easily be read in this way that the gospels. So I came to believe I had “gotten” the gospels without ever really encountering them head on. But when the gospels later opened up to me, it became clear to me that they, and the whole of scripture which includes Paul, would have to be understood in ways I’d not done previously. Jesus and the gospels became the grid through which everything else would not need to pass through.

    I found a third way of seeing the world, neither liberal or conservative, had to be developed in me. I came to believe it is nearer the way Christ sees the world of his creation. It requires seeing with the world using all of ones faculties. The rational and emotional are not excluded, but even more fully engaged than in the previous way of looking. But there is some other part added, the chest in C.S. Lewis terms.

    I don’t know if this answers what seemed unclear in what I wrote last night. Hopefully it is.

  18. You reminded me of a quote from Joseph Cardinal Malula, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Congo) in the late 1970s. Before he went into the conclave in Rome that would eventually elect Pope John Paul II, Malula told a reporter this:

    “All the imperial paraphernalia, all that isolation of the pope, all that medieval remoteness and inheritance that make Europeans think that the church is only Western — all the rightness makes them fail to understand that young countries like mine want something different. We want simplicity. We want Jesus Christ. All that, all that must change.”

    Our evanglical/Pentecostal inheritance is more Victorian than medieval, our isolation is of pastors and “celebrity preachers” rather than a single leader (though I suspect it’s only ’cause we don’t HAVE a single leader), but I suspect we are facing the same issue. How many things, how many systems and causes and pet beliefs have we in the American church erected between ourselves and Jesus? (Often with only the best intentions, I hasten to add.) And then we wonder why we don’t see or hear from Him …

  19. Peter D-
    “Then Jesus was homeless too. He had no fixed residence, and lived in houses of people he ministered to.”
    =======

    The fact that Jesus owned nothing is a comfort to me but he still had to rely on the kindness of supporters. Those supporters did have a means of providing for His needs and so I think it might be a mistake to think all of us should remodel our lives to be nomadic missionaries. Women and young families in particular are unable to live as Jesus and the apostles did.

    However we can share the Gospel of Jesus. One way we can do this is by asking our non-believer friends what they think the earthly ministry of Jesus entailed.

  20. Why waste our time trying to follow teachings like “love your enemies” when we can take Paul’s letters to a specific church or person at a specific point in time and use selected parts to support our own little legalistic arguments?

  21. ProdigalSarah says

    (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.”)

    We can’t have mature trees without the seed. And the whole point of maturity is to fruit and produce more seed. A tree is only the means by which more seed is produced. It is never an end in itself. A tree is a seed factory.

    Here is the problem. To become followers of Jesus we must be willing to follow Jesus.

    Sure, we are willing to stand with the multitudes and hear the words, but are we really willing to follow after the multitudes go back home to their hectic lives?

    I think most of us are too much like the rich ruler. It’s not necessarily money that keeps us from following. More often it is our reluctance to sacrifice time, comfort, security. We have our lives; they are our own. This is why it is so hard to follow. It’s easier to throw a few dollars into the collection plate or offer to be on the committee to beautify the grounds than to sit with a very unpleasant person who doesn’t smell so good or look so good and to listen to the disturbing details of a dysfunctional life.

    I know that Jesus still opens the eyes of the blind, casts out demons and works miracles. He has done all of that and more in my life. Now what am I willing to sacrifice? I’ve thought about this a lot lately and I keep making excuses. I don’t mind going to the difficult places, but do I really have the time to get THAT evolved? Maybe I should wait a little longer, do nothing until I really know what Jesus wants me to do. Maybe I need to study more first.

    Of course I know that everything that Jesus could ever want in a disciple is spelled out in the Gospels. But knowing it doesn’t make it any easier to give up the things that I don’t really want to give up.

    I think many Christians feel much the same. This is why it is easier to redefine discipleship, or imagine that a large and expensive building is a tree that can actually produce fruit.

  22. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It’s like Christians are too scared to really live. Maybe so many of us are focussed on his death and resurrection because we don’t really believe that what God desires for us is life, and life to the full? — Sue

    If so, it’s all a package deal with “Hell House: an Evangelicalism Eager to Leave”, “Just like fill-in-the-blank, except CHRISTIAN (TM)!” ghettoization, exclusive homeschooling, Wretched Urgency ambush witnessing, and persecution complex.

    They’re not living. They’re just keeping their noses squeaky-clean to pass God’s Litmus Test and get beamed up to Fluffy Cloud Heaven (any day/hour/minute now). And it IS all about fear. Fear of contamination, fear of Being Left Behind (latest idiom for Hell), fear of making one wrong step and having God come down on them like a ton of bricks.

  23. MDS,
    Actually, I thought your first comment was bang on and very well said.

  24. One of the questions that three very wise and mature Christian men (missionaries all) asked me in preparation for my confirmation as a teenager was, “When does eternal life begin?”

    I answered that it begins when we believe in and follow Jesus, so for me had already begun. This was the answer they were looking for, of course.

    But I have a suspicion that many American evangelical Christians today wouldn’t subscribe to this view. And this has a whole host of implications for praxis. For one, because the eternal kind of life Jesus offers is a distant thing, there is little drive to understand Jesus’ ministry before HIs passion that, in this view, alone and absent all else ushers in eternal life / salvation for us. There is also little sense of the kingdom as present and available now and active in and through the gathered community of Jesus followers. So in this view Jesus’ ministry and miracles aren’t really central to the story. Throw in the fact that some of the sayings are hard and others demand sacrifice, and the need to study and live by them gets even less compelling.

    I could be completely wrong and the above may overstate the influence of this view, but I think it’s definitely one component of the trend.

  25. Is part of the problem the fact that most people today can not relate to having a lord or king? Lordship is a concept that was very real in Jesus’ day. Caesar declared he was lord and you better darn know what you needed to know and how you fit in if you knew what was good for you.

    When the first Christians declared Jesus Lord, it put Jesus front and center. You didn’t have to tell people what he taught was important. He was Lord. The importance of His teaching and following Him was self-evident.

    Today we read about kings in history text books, but our western worldview is one of radical individualism, not allegiance to a king. We still call Jesus Lord in our creeds, but the full meaning of the term has lost its impact (for some at least).

  26. Former SBC'r says

    *takes gloves off*

    I dunno, but, I definitely don’t think that any of the answers are in interpretations of the writing of C.S. Lewis.

    (Really, what does ~ Narnia or The Space Trilogy or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ~ or for that matter, any other form of gazing for signs in bellybutton lint have to do with anything because I don’t recall the book of Lewis (or any of his books) being included in the Biblical canon.)

    When looking at the Biblical Jesus (Ministry) vs. Post Bible Man’s answer (the church), we do know (as a sure foundation) that if Jesus did it and it was recorded in the Bible (then obviously) we would know about it. And if Jesus said it ~ it was highlighted in red ~ at least in some translations.

    The “church” since then, (and outside of what is described in the NT / Acts), not so much.

    (So let’s not get sidetracked on arguments about what books were and were not included in which Bible or why ~ and/or arguments of translations for the sake of this argument. Let’s instead confine ourselves to what Jesus did / said in the Protestant Bible and what the actual response of man has been, (in the form of Church), where the Bible leaves off and post Bible man’s history begins.)

    I posit that more enlightening than Lewis would be a deep study of the history of the Christian church from where the Bible leaves off, (and man takes over), to the present day.

    (Go back as far as (and include) the historical temples, synagogues, meeting places / houses, underground christianity and the persecuted church ~ compared with the ministry of Jesus.)

    Compare and contrast the first historically recognized organized ‘christian’ church(s) in rome, (and eventually Martin Luther’s thoughts / response to the ‘One’ church), to the present day models of denomination / church and then study the Bible for how historically ‘church’ stands up to the ministry of Jesus.

    I think at that point ~ the Jesus disconnect ~ becomes clear.

    It’s a lot of work I know, but hey, I not sure that I want to stand before God having abdicated following Jesus for some shiny baubles, a nice cathedral, smoking hot worship band or a new gym with indoor track at the family center.

    Look to God, the Bible, not to the church and CERTAINLY not Lewis for the Jesus disconnect.

    (Lord help us all.)

    I hear people say that we as Christians need another era of persecution to get us back on the right track. My personal prayer is that all we need is another Luther.

    How many miles is it to the Wittenberg Church?

    (peace and grace)

  27. ProdigalSarah says

    “But I have a suspicion that many American evangelical Christians today wouldn’t subscribe to this view.”

    Sure. Just look at the Rapture obsession. I keep meeting people who tell me that Jesus will return very soon.

    Jesus is with us now. His presence is very real and present tense.

  28. Former SBCr, I was not suggesting we exchange Lewis for St. Paul – I was just giving an example that helped me in my own understanding. (And I am now really grateful I didn’t go on to include his mention of the Tao in this context) 😉

    Often we seem to cast the choice as between the head and the heart, when what is needed is balance between the two ways. I found Lewis’s metaphor of the “chest” as the mid-point between the “head” knowledge and the “belly” impulses helpful. That doesn’t salt your porridge? No bother!

    My problem, which I recognised an echo of in what MDS was saying, is that I have the Pharisee tendencies of “What does the Law say?” about the practice of my faith. Not speaking for MDS on this, but I did see what he meant when talking about a tidy, intellectual system of faith. It’s fun to argue theology! It’s a pleasure! But letting Christ into my heart and changing my life in accord with that – oh, that’s too much. That’s too risky. That’s not comfortable.

    “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”

    I have no problem loving God with all my mind. I think the Pharisees had no problem with that either. Our problem is loving God with all our heart as well.

    MDS, may I suggest that a good saint for us is the Apostle Thomas? The one who wouldn’t believe the rest of his fellows when they were bursting with the news of the resurrection – “We’ve seen the Lord! He’s alive!” “Yes – well. I’ll believe it when I see Him, and actually touch His physical body, and prove for myself this is really Him with the real wounds of His death. Then I’ll give it my assent.”

    Well, he got his chance – and he responded “My Lord and my God!” instead of conducting an objective experiment under controlled conditions. May we be inflamed with charity! May our hearts of stone be broken and we be given hearts of flesh!

    May we come to the happy mean between the dour, stolid, feet on the ground at all times Thomas and the exciteable, up one minute and down the next Peter, and follow them as they followed the Master 🙂

  29. [Mod: Please narrow down the “you” in your response please.]

    You start with the premise that none of us has the power to decide anything. I’m a Roman Catholic — believe in the Papacy — but the “authority” of the Pope is limited in the extreme. And in Jesus own words even the Pope has to go to the Jews for salvation — John 4:22 — whatever Jesus meant by that.

    I know what I know about the Gospel because I have experienced Christ in my life. But I also know what I don’t know about the Gospel — and I think I can wait to decide what I believe about that stuff until I find out the way I found out the stuff I do know — the latter is quite enough to live on until I find out more. I don’t have to decide — I can’t decide.

    All I can ever hope to be is an unprofitable servant on a need to know basis. I’m not the decider.

    And neither are any of you.

  30. If this becomes a Protestant-Catholic debate or lecture, I’m going to turn off the comments on this and all subsequent posts in the series.

  31. Andy Zook says

    I think the disconnect comes because american christians don’t want to do the counter-cultural things Jesus would do, if He were among us in this culture. We don’t want to sell our wealth and give it to those ‘lazy’ welfare people or illegal immigrants. We don’t want to live simple, less attached lifestyles. We don’t want to show love to and spend real time with gays, atheists, racists, liberals, neo-nazis, prostitutes, Muslims, goths, JW’s, drunks and homeless. We don’t want to turn the other cheek when enemies do us harm. We don’t want to give up the political/cultural ‘power over’ clout that western ‘christianity’ has had. (Much as the scribes and Pharisees had no interest in giving up their cultural/religiosity for the kingdom of God). We don’t want to allow our ‘exceptional’ culture its God-given right to free will choices contrary to His ways because…God-forbid we might face ‘persecution’! Oh how uncomfortable if we were mocked by the media for singing Christmas carols in the town square or even sued! Basically we’re wimps who don’t want to walk the humble, down in the dirt, economically challenged, prayerful, un-cool, insignificant by the world’s standards, reverent, path of Jesus. It would be so un-american… I believe worship of another, the amercian dream, explains somewhat why we find it difficult to really follow Jesus and live life in a way that would better mirror Him. It might look ugly at first (and even a bit misguided and obsesssive) but I think some practical, intentional (taught and practised by our spiritual leaders) pushback against the ‘american-dream-way’ would be a start in the right direction.

  32. Had no intention to imply that, im — sorry it came off that way. Just using that as an example of what I believe about what I believe. I don’t believe anything because I am supposed to — no one really does. We believe what we believe because we are somehow convinced of its veracity and value.

    I am completely convinced of the truth and import of everything that Jesus has done and said. My confidence in what anyone else says about what these things mean cannot come close to my confidence in Jesus Himself and His power to convince me of any and all Truths important for the health and well-being of my soul.

    I must guard my soul with all diligence to only believe this way. It’s like having a set of servants to taste my food before I eat it because I know the enemy wants to poison me — turn me into another “Christian zombie” existing by ingesting the brains of the still living.

    And I’m not pointing to any particular group with this. The zombies are everywhere. I can be one in the next minute, if I’m not careful …

  33. your post reminded me a book titled “Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross” by Michael J. Gorman.

  34. sue kephart says

    All this seems to be head knowledge. Connecting to Jesus to me is through the Eucharist and in centering prayer. I am a Proteatant so this is not a RC vrs Protestant debate.

    It’s too bad Jesus didn’t leave us a video tape (CD). Then we could see His expression and hear His vocal inflections. And when He was laughing. I think sometimes He was laughing. That’s why I am not a Biblical literalist. “If your eye offends you pluck it out. If your hand offends you cut it off.” So Christians are the one with an eye patch and one hand!!!

    Seeing Jesus is the ability to go beyond the words.

  35. Sorry, Michael. Will try to rein in my Papist sensibilities 🙂

  36. …Sue is not far from the Kingdom of God….to find/understand the Spirit and not the letter is to find The Christ…

  37. A contributing element of our disconnect from Jesus was clarified for me in Paul Tournier’s “The Gift of Feeling.” In that book, Tournier, a psychiatrist, describes how his wife helped him to see the people he counseled as people rather than patients. He speaks of how men more readily abstract and reify things and people than do women. Ancient cultures tended to personify everything. The wind, water, movements in the woods; there was almost nothing that was seen apart from spirit. The scientific culture, in contrast, depersonified everything in the world. In order to operate on a living human body, the physician found he had to suspend thinking of the person as a person before he could slice open their chest. He had to reify the person before he could operate on them.

    Tournier writes that to reify a person is to thingify them. It is the mental act of learning to see a person as if they were a thing. Men more readily thingify things and people than women. The age of reason was an age of thingifying the world. The awesome advances in medicine, technology, and Western culture made it tempting to imagine we had found a way to see the world as it really was. Earlier ways of thinking about the world came to be seen as having lesser value, as being more feminine, and simply not ready for prime time.

    Amidst all this, liberal Christianity tried to hang on to Christ by saying he could only be found within personal experience. This tack soon left the church with no Christ at all. The conservative church, in contrast, used the tools of science and reason in an attempt to protect and preserve God. This became like what would happen if I were to develop a theology of my wife which then became more real than her; as if I’d fallen in love with a concept of my wife. In the meantime, my flesh and blood wife is dying for lack of love from her husband. But he can’t even see her. She has been thingified by him. In the same way, we thingified God. The Jesus disconnect was built into our theology.

    When I first met my wife, she was a mystery to me in most every way. There was something about her that encompassed a world I knew nothing of. I wanted to take her and her world into myself; to be expanded and completed by it. My entire being was open to her. It wasn’t all that long after we were married that she began to lose her mystery for me. I felt I knew her, but I had merely simplified and packaged her in a way that left me room and energy to spend on myself. My own stuff became more important to me. She became lonely and saddened as she saw her husband withdrawing from her. When he looked at her, she knew he didn’t really see her. But he didn’t know he’d pulled away. But then later in our marriage, I found myself being reawakened to her once more. I found her to be no less mysterious and amazing than she was the day of our first meeting. There is no end to the mystery of who she is, and when I’m halfway awake, I’m in awe. In the process, she is finding herself less alone, more loved, and more alive.

    This is a picture, in part, of how I and much of the church lost Christ. I still love doctrine, but I’m not married to it. Christ is far better. And let me say this about that. He is truly to die for.

  38. Speaking of a disconnect from Jesus: A friend of mine who has done much searching, has now settled on the idea that Jesus himself is a metaphor, and one of many “prophets” who have brought some kind of truth into the world. That the prophets themselves are not that important – it is their message (as he sees it). Quite an about face for him. The next time I sit down with him over a cup of coffee I will surely be praying about what I say. My thoughts about this is that his “unconversion” is a product of hearing about the lessons of Jesus throughout his life in his church, in a selective manner, and these lessons sounded a great deal like those of other religious teachers throughout history (and probably some other things). I don’t know if you will be discussing any points that will be helpful, as it sounds as though you might be addressing your points to Christians. I don’t think he falls within that “category” anymore. If anyone can suggest anything I would appreciate it. I am aware of scriptural references that I can use.

  39. “These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you.

    “But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.” John 14:25-26

    Sue – We don’t need His facial expression or the inflection in His voice. Those things are still “flesh and blood” impressions — coming to us through the senses. We have — or should have — much better than that.

  40. pennyyak — “Speaking of a disconnect from Jesus: A friend of mine who has done much searching, has now settled on the idea that Jesus himself is a metaphor …”

    In fact, Jesus is not “a metaphor” –He is the One and Only True and Complete Metaphor for God. This is the entire point of the Gospel. The Gospel is not an allegory, saying “God is like this.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ is — “This is God — there is no other.”

    It doesn’t mean that nothing else can be seen as a representative of aspects of God — all created things reflect characteristics of their creator. It doesn’t mean that the human intellect and spirit can’t discover some essential truths of its own abilities. Of course this is so.

    But the Gospel is the Man. I find that if I stop making up my own intellectual reflections and/or listening to those of others and just contemplate what that Man did and said as being God’s representation of Himself, it begins to come clear.

    It’s real simple — too simple much of the time.

  41. ….Pennyyak”s friend may be feeling/experiencing a disconnect from the American Jesus that he was taught…Now that this has happened he will wander around in the wilderness for awhile but he”ll be back…God will see to that.

  42. Thank you for writing about “The Jesus Disconnect.” I am looking forward to your future blogs dealing with other aspects of this subject.

    I have been in ministry a long long time and have been in the “evangelical wilderness” at least 40 of those years. Early on I saw and experienced personally the “Disconnect” but didn’t have mentors to point me to the Jesus Way other than what I read in the gospels and I didn’t know how to apply that. So, I stayed with a very unfilling system of doing religion and church. I finally got so fed up several years ago,I literally said, “God, I have had enough. I don’t know what you are going to do but I am out of here.” I resigned my church and moved into hospital chaplaincy. Amazingly enough, I experiened a peace and calmness I had not known before. Everything fell in place regarding housing, training, and employment. It was as if God said, “It’s okay. You don’t have to do that anymore.” It doesn’t mean everything has come up roses since then but it was right for me at that time in my history. My “Disconnect” to God, Holy Spirit, Jesus took a terrible toll. Disobedience does that.

  43. I wonder if part of the disconnect is caused by the discouragement of the use of imagination in the church. (I suspect that this is more of a problem in the fundamental evangelical branch)

    The teaching topics tend to be more theological, more Pauline and less the life and parables of Jesus.

    If we try to retell the parables, except using our images, we might be able to connect better.

  44. An interesting point. Fundamentalists do disparage the imagination, but they also use the material in the first half of the Gospels a lot….to teach fundamentalism. More on that later.

  45. The Pauline question in my mind is this — Paul was knocked down by a blinding vision of the Lord Himself — spent three years alone in the desert to find out what he knew — to discover the spirituality that enabled him to understand what he did.

    So why is it that we think we can just read his letters , think a little bit, maybe read some apologetics and exegeses — and now we can interpret Paul for everybody else …?

    If we don’t get Jesus, we have nothing to say. And I find that when I do get Jesus, there isn’t much else to say ….

  46. penny, sorry about your friend.

  47. Dan Smith says

    I admit I haven’t read all the comments so if I duplicate some, forgive.

    I discovered about 50 years ago that when “basilaia” is translated “reign” instead of “kingdom” a totally new vision is generated.

    “Kingdom” brings to mind a distant, unapproachable King in his palace handing down edicts to the “subjects.” I’ve grown up listening to preachers using words like “constitution,” “territory,” and “subjects” as representing the ekklesia.

    “Reign” brings to mind a personal monarch to whom the individual pledges allegience thereby bringing life in line with Jesus’ mind/life/actions.

    Dan

  48. Dan — “Reign” brings to mind a personal monarch to whom the individual pledges allegiance thereby bringing life in line with Jesus’ mind/life/actions.”

    This brings in the problem we modern Westerners have with coming into a “Jesus-shaped” spirituality that some have alluded to here, including me. Under that translation, we have to leave America, where we are free to pursue life, liberty and personal happiness out from under anyone’s “reign.”

    In His Kingdom we get the benefit of being a slave — just doing what we’re told not responsible for the consequences (if we act in love faithfully and in Spirit and Truth) — but we’re also Royal heirs.

    I always somehow knew that the angel’s call in Revelations — “Come out of her my people” — was for us.

  49. Well Jesus sure didn’t make it easy for folks to believe in him, did he? I mean, just look at some of the things he said:

    1. Give to all who ask. (Ladies first!)

    2. If you want something, just ask God. Prayer can move mountains. (Maybe.)

    3. Don’t worry about tomorrow, but be like the birds and foxes. Let your hair grow long and shaggy, like the hippies out in San Francisco do…oh wait, no, that was something else.

    4. Turn the other cheek, forgive people 70 x 7 times (which is apparently some incalculably large number).

    5. Love everybody–even your enemies–but hate your parents, just as Jesus hated his mother and brothers.

    6. There are such things as demons, and they can be exorcised into pigs and killed that way. Or something.

    7. The world will come to an end like, real soon.

    I don’t believe these things, and I bet you don’t either. In fact, I’m not convinced I SHOULD believe these things. They’re half crazy. (At least.)

    But I’m willing to give it the ol’ college try. If you can make sense out of Jesus [Mod edit], then I’ll think about doing…whatever it is all this is about.

  50. Jethro — Try starting with “God is love.”