Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?
“To put the matter personally; on the one hand, however loyal one judges oneself to be to Jesus, it is difficult to see how such loyalty is a mark of Christian thought if the Jesus so invoked is domesticated and selectively constructed that he bears little relation to the Bible.”–– D.A. Carson
I often am painfully aware of how easily and quickly I can make idols in life. As the Church theologian John Calvin once wrote, “there is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity. Like water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving himself full license, and devising some peculiar form of divinity, to meet his own views . . .The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols” (Institutes Book I.V.12 and Institutes Book I.XI.8-9). Though in context, Calvin was speaking of man in general and focusing on non-believers, I believe this reality is also continuously threatening the Church and individual Christian believer.
I am reminded from the Scriptures of the story told in Exodus 32. In the story, the people grow impatient with Moses’ delay on the mountain, which leads them to ask Aaron to make them gods who will go before them. In what probably should be quite unsurprising to us, Aaron responds by leading the people to fashion a golden calf as an idol. He says to the people, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” While standing in front of this golden calf, he then declares that they will have “a festival to Yahweh.”
Did you catch what happened there? . . . Aaron makes an idol, points to it, and then calls it "Yahweh." Aaron and the people basically squeeze God, Yahweh, through their preconceived mold of divinity. They simply revert to their cultural way of thinking. In short, they fashion Yahweh to their own understandings, preferences, and likings.
In the original context of Calvin’s quotes above, Calvin further argued that ignorance of God is a forerunner to idol making. I think this holds true for the Church as well. When we are ignorant of who Jesus is and what his Kingdom is really about, we will fashion idols after our own likings and then slap the name “Jesus” on them. In the Church today, we are far too ignorant of who Jesus is and what he is all about; and as a result, we indeed are constructing Jesus' that bear little relation to the Bible.
In his book, The Barbarian Way, Erwin McManus lamented, “Jesus is being lost in a religion bearing his name.” In the cultural of Christianity where widely varying Jesus’ are being fashioned continuously and in my own mind where the temptation to fashion idols after my own liking is always looming . . . may the real Jesus please stand up!