Domesticated Jesus

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The first time I heard the song “Jesus is Just Alright” was in the early 80’s (on an 8-track mind you!) The Byrds covered it in 1969 and the Doobie Brothers three years later. Arthur Reid wrote the original in 1966 as a gospel song.

 The Byrds and Doobie Brothers did not sing it with its original intention. Rather, they were using the phrase “just alright” which was a popular way of saying something was “cool”. Other popular celebrations of Jesus during this time period were expressed in rock operas like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. These Broadway musicals portrayed Jesus as a loving person whom we should admire and imitate. Neither portrayed him as the Son of God. The hippie counter culture was seeking to rescue Jesus from the bourgeois culture of the middle class and its materialistic life-style. The middle class used Jesus to justify their lifestyle and how we could all be prosperous and nice if we just followed Jesus’ ethical teachings.

 What is remarkably similar with the hippie movement and the bourgeois middle class is both sought to domesticate Jesus. He became safe or cool depending upon your sub-culture.

 Surprisingly, this is the least honest option of all when you consider Jesus at face value. Consider this line of reasoning from C. S. Lewis.

 Jesus ... told people that their sins were forgiven. ... This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.

... I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him. He produced mainly three effects — Hatred — Terror — Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.

  Mere Christianity and God in the Dock by C. S. Lewis

As you can see, Lewis lays bare the rationale of either the hippie or bourgeois interpretations of Jesus and makes us come to terms with the only honest assessment Jesus, himself, offers us. This Christmas, the last thing you should do is “like” Jesus. He does not want you to like him and he does not give you that option. The formidable anti-theist, Christopher Hitchens got this. He said that Jesus is Santa Claus for adults, and that was no compliment. Hitchens got Lewis’ logic and chose to see Jesus as a madman or a narcissistic leader, certainly not a nice fellow or God. You have to admire Hitchens' honesty.

And you? What do you make of Jesus? If you are searching, here are a few books I would recommend you read. If you are a Christian and find that you may have downsized the greatness of the Christ and made him fit into your kingdom rather than you living in his, these books might serve you as well.

The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable, F.F. Bruce
Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
Basic Christianity, John Stott
Who is Jesus, Michael Green
Reason for God, Timothy Keller


Copyright © 2013 Timothy S. Lane. All rights reserved.



Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.