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Published: Saturday, 12/31/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Author portrays Jesus as playful, disruptive

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
John Eldredge says depicting Jesus Christ as only 'loving' and 'compassionate' reduces him to  'a stained-glass cartoon.' John Eldredge says depicting Jesus Christ as only 'loving' and 'compassionate' reduces him to 'a stained-glass cartoon.'
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Author John Eldredge just can't take it anymore. He's heard enough descriptions of Jesus Christ as "loving" and "compassionate."

Fine qualities indeed and certainly true of Jesus, he said. But what about the rest of his personality?

Without Jesus' other character traits, which are so evident in the Bible, he said, we are left with a "religious mannequin" or "a stained-glass cartoon."

"It's like trying to love a get-well card," Mr. Eldredge says in his new book, Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus (FaithWords/Hachette, $22.99).

"Meanwhile, we continue to sound on about the love and compassion of Jesus, like the village idiot banging one note on a piano."

Strong words, but not too strong considering the offense, Mr. Eldredge told The Blade.

Such two-dimensional portrayals negatively affect views of Jesus and can stifle Christianity, he said.

"This is the greatest heist in the history of the world. Nothing of such magnitude or consequence has been accomplished as this robbery," he said.

Mr. Eldredge, 51, of Colorado Springs said he feels more passionately about the message of Beautiful Outlaw than he does about his 2001 bestseller on men and spirituality, Wild At Heart, which has sold more than 8 million copies.

He said that when he reads about Jesus in the Bible, he finds a combination of personality traits that depict a complete and unique human being, such as playfulness and a sense of humor, cunning, humility, "disruptive honesty," and "scandalous generosity."

"The Bible says that man is created in the image of God. Man has a sense of humor, therefore why do we withhold this from God? I just don't get it," he said.

One example of how Jesus' personality shines through in the Scriptures is John 21:1-12, Mr. Eldredge said.

The story takes place after the resurrection, when the disciples, presumably grieving over their leader's crucifixion, decide to go fishing in the Sea of Tiberias.

Jesus appears to them on the shore and asks, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"

The disciples don't even recognize him.

Jesus then tells them to throw their net on the right side of the boat, and when they do they catch so many fish they can't even haul in the net.

Mr. Eldredge points out that Jesus, after rising from the grave, could have made a stunning entrance on a cloud of glory, but instead walks up on the beach and asks the fishermen a typical tourist question, "Catch anything?"

The nonchalance of the risen Christ illustrates his playfulness and sense of humor, Mr. Eldredge said.

"It is a fantastic story because it is so unexpected," he said.

"Why not the radiant glory? Why not show up in the Temple? Why not invite them to a service of some sort? But to hide his identity, to simply show up on the beach and ask them how the fishing's going, it is so delightful. It is absolutely brilliant. It's so winsome and completely unexpected. And that is Jesus. He's like that."

People too often skip over the depth of Jesus' personality found in such verses, and the consequences are serious, Mr. Eldredge said.

"Do you like hanging out with a person who doesn't have a sense of humor?" he asked.

"No. It immediately makes him a person who is unappealing. We're supposed to love this man and yet you wouldn't spend your vacation with someone who doesn't have a sense of humor."

Depictions of Jesus as a gentle and meek soul don't align with verses such as John 2:13-17, in which he drives money-changers out of the temple.

Jesus fashioned a whip out of cords, turned tables over, sent coins crashing to the stone floor, and yelled at the merchants.

Acting alone, he created a wildly chaotic scene and cleared out the temple.

"Jesus is a locomotive, a juggernaut," Mr. Eldredge writes. "For all practical purposes, he is the bull in the china shop. But is this the Jesus of our worship songs? The religious fog sneaks in to obscure Jesus with lines comparing him to, 'a rose trampled on the ground.' Helpless, lovely Jesus. Vegetarian, pacifist, tranquil. Oh, wait -- that was Gandhi. Not Jesus."

In the interview, Mr. Eldredge said the tendency to describe Jesus as only "loving" and "compassionate" is perpetuated by people and churches without much thought or serious analysis.

"I don't even want to call it the distortion, I want to call it the vandalizing of Jesus Christ," he said.

"Part of the tragedy is that these things just get repeated, like urban legends. This whole characterizing, stereotyping, dehumanizing of Jesus has become so rote that it doesn't take a lot of looking into the stories themselves to realize how far from the truth it is. These things get ensconced in our religious traditions, in our church culture. And by the way, when something gets ensconced in church culture it gets really ensconced."

The shallow perception of God distracts churches and Christians from their real purpose, according to Mr. Eldredge.

"It has made it hard to love God, nigh impossible. And so what is the effect on the church level? We have ended up making church about other things," Mr. Eldredge said.

"It's about social justice, belonging to community, programs and activities and marriage conferences and financial planning seminars. If Jesus is not someone you can actually fall in love with, the effects are devastating, both on the level of individual belief and of our church life together."

More information on John Eldredge is available online at ransomedheart.com.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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