24 April 2015
Would Jesus look like a Christian today?
Good question? This is a great question, one that I'm a little scared to answer to be honest. I'm a 32-year-old man, similar in age to Jesus at the peak of his ministry. But I'm 2,000 years later and 2,000 miles away. I call myself a Christian, but would Jesus look anything like those who claim to follow him today?
Firstly, it's important to state a few preliminary points. Jesus is God. He is holy, other, without sin. He was before all things, and all things were created in and through him. A rather obvious point. Yet he dwelt in human flesh. Jesus was a Jewish man rooted in a specific place and time in history. So it's perhaps helpful to begin by remembering that Jesus is simultaneously altogether other, and yet present through his image and the Holy Spirit dwelling in Christians today.
Christians can be Western, Asian, African, North and South American, Jewish, Palestinian, evangelical, conservative, liberal, Coptic, Protestant, Catholic, Arminian, Calvinistic – you can add your own descriptor here. I could be wrong, but I think it would be pretty hard to neatly categorise Jesus as a Christian today. I don't think our man-made labels would stick easily to him. Given the way he approached many questions put to him in the gospels, I'm not sure he would answer such a query on our terms.
"Jesus would surely have fun with some of my cool hipster Christian friends –I think he'd have an affinity with their beards and love of fine craftsmanship."
Continuing on the theme of Jesus's words, they were never ill-conceived, sinful, careless or misjudged. They were sometimes very offensive to the people around him, often misunderstood, always true. Always spoken with perfect justice and perfect love. He had the opportunity to teach systematic theology on the mountain top, but he talked of neighbours and anger, lust and the birds of the air. He could have expounded the theory of – well – everything, but he chose to tell stories about farmers and people who had lost coins. The deep spiritual truths about God and the good news of His kingdom was revealed in surprisingly down to earth language and encounters. I think Christians today are beginning to rediscover the power of their words under God's word, but I'm still pretty sure Jesus would sound different to the average Christian talking today.
We should also consider the Christian subculture. What would he make of Christian television channels and radio stations, the Christian worship industry, Christian book industry, the millions of Christian blogs, articles and social media chatter? Maybe Jesus today would make good use of the press and the internet - maybe he would have his own YouTube channel to disciple his followers. Maybe he would lead a mega-congregation, a worship band or a Christian life-coaching consultancy. But I'm not so sure. While I've no doubt he approves and celebrates many of these ways of spreading the good news, I wonder if he'd also have some 'table in the temple' moments.
Today, Christians are found in every sphere of culture: health, education, law, politics, science agricultural and the arts. Jesus was a carpenter in a small, rural town. He was a street preacher and temple teacher, spreading the message of the kingdom of God. He healed and cast out demons. He performed miracles that pointed to the Father. He went fishing with his friends and enjoyed meals with them. He debated with the religious and political leaders of the day. In this way I think Jesus would be like Christians today - about his Father's work and spreading the good news of the kingdom across every area of culture.
I said I was a little scared about writing this piece. I've been confronted with the fact that Jesus would look very different to me today. Knowing that he is returning to judge the earth one day, he would not be judgement allike I can be all too often. He would be kind when I am not and he would see the people I ignore. He would love more practically, pray more powerfully, do more radically, and live more abundantly. And the list goes on. Infinitely.
But while I'm writing I'm also reminded of Jesus's grace and his simple and profound love. For me and for his Church. He loves each one individually, even with their faults and failures and man-made labels. Jesus would surely have fun with some of my cool hipster Christian friends – I think he'd have an affinity with their beards and love of fine craftsmanship. He'd enjoy hanging out with those whose heart for the poor and the hurting reminds me of him and blows my mind. I know he already loves spending time with some of the older and wiser Christians, whose love for him, scriptures and the lost, genuinely challenges me.
The more I reflect, I keep coming back to the paradox that Jesus would look entirely different, and yet at times look remarkably like some of the Christians I know today. Like me, this might surprise you, but maybe it shouldn't given that we're being recreated in his holy image.