A common theme today in many non-traditional evangelical churches goes something like this, “Let’s just focus on Jesus. He is peaceful, merciful and kind, but the Old Testament God is tough, distant, and judgemental.”
Amongst many evangelical churches today, a new ministry emphasis seems to be common. It goes something like this – “We focus on Jesus and simply following Him. He is peaceful, merciful and kind. Whereas the the Old Testament image of God was problematic, we see in Jesus an attractive and appealing persona.”
My church of the last seven years has built its outreach around this very idea. The members and adherents resonate deeply with this “Jesus is all we want to know about God“ vibe that gives the impression that Jesus was a material break from the God of the Old Testament more so than a a fulfillment of the law (as Jesus himself said). In such churches, we encounter an extended recasting of the image of the God we encounter in the Old Testament. Their emphasis hinges on the implicit idea that Jesus was in reality a kinder, softer and gentler version of God the Father. Jesus cares about the heart, they say, while the Father in the Old Testament cared more about adherence to the Law. This ministry emphasis, while understandable in today’s post-modern culture which is afraid of giving offence and thus projecting a certain softness into Christ, contains dangers that can lead us to a theological place we should not go as orthodox evangelical Christians.
A thorough reading of the entire Jewish/Christian Old Testament scriptures reveal that this God vs. Jesus distinction is a thoroughly lazy caricature (as appealing as it may be in our modern context). The deep mercy and heart of God the Father revealed first in the Old Testament scriptures shows tender mercies in almost embarrassing abundance. His heart is moved deeply by the plight of even those who after recurring warnings continue to pursue their own path. He warns through prophets. He weeps and feels pathos over Israel continuing to understand how much He loves them. The deep mine of gold in these writings is weighty and significant. I have read these Old Testament scriptures many times and never fail to leave with a sense of the deep compassion and heart of God the Father. Is it not in Jesus that we now personally encounter this very heart in bodily form? We see Him walk amongst us and suffer. We see him weep over the death of a friend and the hardness of the hearts of those in Jerusalem. We see Him suffer for us. Just like his Father. We can even argue that the very divinity of Jesus is self-evident in that his heart seems to be the same as the heart of God as revealed in the Jewish scripture.
I remain thoroughly flummoxed that these new “Jesus Churches” (now, before you protest, all churches are indeed Jesus’ church, but my use here is a mnemonic for the churches I referred to in my opening) take such a mentally lazy approach and in doing so leave harmful impressions. Harmful? What is the harm you ask?
The harm is the same type of harm we do when we do not fairly represent the full truth about someone who is so material to our lives. We create an unfair accounting of that person that misleads others. If we do this in a human context then we leave people feeling like they are knowledgeable about someone when they do not know that full person in a complete and fair way. So how dare we, the Church of God, paint this fuzzy and incomplete picture to those who walk through our doors. To reach such incomplete and lazy conclusions about the very God we serve seems to me inherently weighty and indeed serious. To then build a church and style of worship and engagement around an emphasis on the second person in the Godhead with the subtext being “Boy are we glad it is not just God the Father we serve” is indeed doing violence to a proper and full image of the loving and just and compassionate God whom we serve. If you fail to see a full convergence between God as revealed in the Old Testament and Jesus as He walked amongst us and His Spirit as he convicts and comforts us, then something has gone seriously awry with our theology.
Before you protest, I am not at all arguing that Jesus should not be seen as the key to unlock a better understanding of the full mysteries of God the Father. I am also not arguing that Jesus was not the object to which much of the Old Testament was pointing. What I am arguing is that this same Jesus is “Just Like His Father” and not to be seen as God 2.0 or a “nicer and better” version. This is a toxic and untruthful fancy that a full reading of the Scriptures will not allow.
How can otherwise well-informed Pastor-Teachers miss what is as clear as the nose on your face (if you immerse yourself in the Scripture)? Is this mental laziness or has it become convenient and even helpful to these Pastors who want to embrace a Jesus who is somehow hipper, cooler and “good” with their culture of effortless Christianity?
I urge these Pastors-Teachers to look deeper into this and to be very careful to make sure they leave their congregations understanding this – that this same Jesus is just like His Father in all ways. Period.