Spooky Jesus vs The Gospel


Alan Hirsch spoke today at Pastors Appreciation Days on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. You can click and view the chapel session here. Alan was an earlier innovator in the missional church movement. In fact, he pretty much coined the term “missional” vs “attractional”. Missional means that a church is focused on its mission rather than simply doing church or “getting people to come”. A missional church doesn’t expect people to come. The missional church goes. But today Hirsch reminded us that before we go we should make sure we’ve got the message down.
Hirsch quoted Archbishop Temple “If your conception of God is radically false, then the more devout you are the worse it will be for you.” He then presented 6 hilarious ways we often get Jesus wrong as we present him to our world.

First up:

spooky jesus

Hirsh says this is the most common picture of Jesus but it shows him as a glowing not of this earth figure oddly handing you his heart. If you saw this guy late at night you would “first, take a picture” then run for your life. But his more serious note is that this image of Jesus connects to how many of us essentially deny Jesus’ humanity and therefore minimize our own humanity. Spooky Jesus does not represent the Son of Man well.


Buddy Jesus


Buddy Jesus has got your back. He’s your pal. He’s on your side. He wants you happy. He’s completely domesticated. Here there’s barely a hint of the divine and not enough respect for the holy. Sometimes when we’re trying to reach out and be relevant we reduce Jesus to looking too much like ourselves. He mentioned a certain megachurch pastor in Houston as a purveyor of this kind of Jesus. (Who could that be?)


Sunday School Jesus


Sunday school Jesus fits nicely on a flannelgraf and helps children grow up to be productive members of society. This nice version of Jesus has lots of hugs and is entirely too tame. He never talks about sex or pain or death. This is not a realistic picture of Jesus. Some of us never grow out of it. He demands our complete loyalty and is far from being a safe, family values deity.




Jesus is my boyfriend is an overly romanticized picture of Jesus. Again, our desires are front and center. He rides in on a white horse to save our day. He’s the lover of my soul. Hirsch pointed out that many praise choruses present this image. Some truth to it but it shouldn’t dwarf our larger understanding of Jesus.




This one truly made me laugh out loud because a large print was in the foyer of the church I grew up in. I thought of it as the cocker spaniel Jesus but bearded lady works, too.  As I child I would look at it and think “Something is wrong with this picture.” He was kneeling in Gethsemane which was powerful, but I couldn’t put my finger on the error. Hirsch nailed it. Jesus is supposed to be sweating drops of blood but instead the stylist has just coiffed him for the photo-shoot. Unfortunately, with this image we miss that Jesus was a revolutionary building an alternative kingdom.




Middle class Jesus is beautiful and has it all together. He even shops at IKEA! Not much redeeming value in this Jesus but we probably see ourselves here. It’s ironic to see Jesus looking at a catalogue but this one hits close to home if we let it.

Again, there is some truth in each of these pictures, but Hirsch says that when one bit of truth dwarfs all others, Jesus is reduced, domesticated, made to fit our comfort zone. That’s not really good news and the world often knows it. Hirsch closed by inviting us to learn all we can about Jesus and then do everything possible to become like him, a worthy challenge. I would just add that it’s not all up to us. Jesus wants to be known by sincere seekers. He reveals himself and empowers us to change. Whichever reduced image of Jesus has sometimes distracted you, repent of your spooky, buddy, Sunday School, Bearded Lady, Boyfriend, or middle class Jesus ways. Thankfully, the full untamed Jesus awaits to know and be known on the wild journey of discipleship.

We have been given a transformational message. I led a couple of afternoon sessions looking at learning to navigate our visual culture and use that emerging language to communicate a truly transformational message without reducing the gospel to movie clips. If we keep asking these questions, seeking Jesus’ face, and taking the message to people in a language they understand, the kingdom will come…



Posted on October 30, 2013, in Spiritual Formation. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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