Over the years I have generally enjoyed John Eldredge’s books. Never completely, but always a lot. Never completely because there tends to be some things in each one that I wish he would state differently. Theologically I am not on the same page, and I know that he is strongly critiqued by some. Since this blog isn’t intended to be a place of critique, I won’t go into any detail here, but will offer some interaction with this caveat in place.
The latest one I have read is Beautiful Outlaw. This is a book about Jesus subtitled, Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus.
Eldredge’s portrait of Jesus will most certainly help the reader to enjoy Jesus, perhaps for the first time. I am saddened by the thought that some of us claim to have known Jesus for years, but hesitate if we are asked if we like him. We can determine whether we like a person within minutes of meeting them, but apparently we can know Jesus for years and not instinctively know whether we like him?
The majority of the book is given to personality traits of Jesus and is written positively. But nearer the end of the book Eldredge sets his sights on religion as the great blanket that deadens our delight in our Lord. He states:
By the way, this is the bottom line test of anything claiming to be of Jesus: Does it bring life? If it doesn’t, drop it like a rattlesnake. And you will find that the religious never, ever brings life. Ever. That is its greatest exposure. (209)
He points out that Christianity and Christian culture are by no means the same thing. We need to hear this. He points to the development of personal preferences that are then defined as the only right way to do church and to know Jesus. He points out that a lot of Christian culture can get pretty weird, including a language and affected pronunciation that goes with it. But “loving the culture of the church is not anywhere close to the same thing as loving Jesus.” (170) We can’t forget that the Pharisees loved their religious culture, but hated Jesus.
This isn’t just a quaint quirkiness in churchianity. Eldredge suggests that religiousness is a ploy of the enemy. In his words, “a wing nut talking about Jesus does far more damage than fifty atheists.” (171) So true. I’ve met a few.
He goes on to list the bad breath effect of those who claim some intimate connection to Jesus, but whose lives are so unappealing: “’Gifted Preachers’ who are mean to their children. ‘Anointed Prophets’ who cannot sustain ordinary friendship. ‘Servants of the Lord’ who need to be the center of attention.” (171)
Since people loved to be with Jesus, but are often repelled by the culture we’ve created around his name, I think it is worth prayerfully probing this subject over the next few days.
I’d like to take Eldredge’s ten tests of religiosity and walk through them for the rest of this week. How are we doing, as preachers? That is, as those often so visible to both believers and visitors. And what is our preaching doing? Are we pushing people toward Christian culture, or inviting them to know and enjoy a compelling Christ?