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.”
In an increasing number of evangelical churches a new ministry emphasis seems to be more and more common. It goes something like this – “We focus on Jesus and simply following Him. He is peaceful, merciful and kind, but the Old Testament image of God was challenging since God revealed Himself as firm, jealous, and judgemental.” My church of the last seven years has built its outreach around this very idea. The members and adherents of such churches resonate deeply with this “Jesus is all we want to know about God“ vibe that gives the impression that Jesus was somehow a material break with the God of the Old Testament and was not a fulfillment of the law (as Jesus himself said), but was an extended apology (in the modern sense) of sorts for the God of the Old Testament. This emphasis hinges on the implicit idea that Jesus was in reality a kinder, softer and gentler version of God the Father. Such ministry emphasis, while understandable in today’s post-modern culture so afraid of giving offence, contains inherent 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 a thoroughly lazy caricature (as appealing as it may be to our modern culture and context). The deep mercy and heart of God the Father revealed first in the Jewish Tanakh 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. And in Jesus we see the same heart in glorious bodily human 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. These things as they are seem perfectly true to me. 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 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 helpful to these Pastors who want to embrace a Jesus who is somehow hipper and cooler and “good” with their culture of effortless Christianity?
I urge these Pastors-Teachers to look again 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 – and we do Him great violence to pedal some other Jesus – who is in fact no Jesus at all.