“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
Tom Nelson wrote on May 8 about the life and death of Dallas Willard. He quoted him, in reflection on this verse, “The difference is simply a matter of what we are conscious of. In fact, at ‘physical’ death we become conscious and enjoy a richness of experience we have never known before.”
Not that this world isn’t real, as some say, but it is like an illusionist, distracting us with the inconsequential so that we miss the most important things. At death, we see through it all.
The title of Jared’s first book, Your Jesus Is Too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior, brings to mind J.B. Phillips’ classic book, Your God Is Too Small: Miracle Grow for Your Puny Religious Imagination (OK, I made up that subtitle, and Phillips would not have thought it funny). What I remember most of Phillips’ book is the first part, the destructive part, in which he tears down inadequate views of the Almighty. I expected to find Jared’s book similarly organized, but it isn’t. He doesn’t spend much time describing poor views of Jesus, like Hippie Jesus or the inhuman Flannel-graph Jesus. He touches on them in the context of healthy views on Jesus’ role as a shepherd, a judge, a prophet, a king, and many others.
Something Jared says while discussing one role puts a finger on his approach to the whole book. “In contemplating Jesus as Shepherd, I’m most tempted to make a short list of things shepherds do—the shepherd’s responsibilities chart—and cram Jesus into and see how he fits. Some books actually take this tack. I believe this is a backward way to go about things—sort of getting the cart before the horse . . . or sheep, I guess.” Jesus—the real, historic, biblical Jesus—is the focus on the book. If a reader finds it unfamiliar or oddly lacking in application, then I suggest they question whether they may be influenced by preaching and reading that presents the Christian life as a pattern of moral behaviors, who Jesus is not being nearly as important as what he supposedly wants us to do. Your Jesus Is Too Safe is a Christian Living book, but not a book with 40 ways to have a victorious Christian life. Just to iron out any possible subtly here, the latter book is the safe one; this book isn’t safe.
It isn’t too dangerous either. Even though Jared jokes about making readers angry when talking about Jesus’ humanity, (he says people in some circles get riled at the suggestion that Jesus may have relieved his bowels at some point during his life) he does not draw excessive lines in the sand and call out the heretics lurking in every church. He is very charitable, while presenting sound, biblical portraits of Jesus. I appreciate how he reasons deeply from the Scripture and does not fill each chapter with personal stories or extra-biblical illustrations. It’s a darn good book, in other words.
One outstanding point of interest for readers of Brandywine Books is the section on Jesus’ human intelligence. Jared quotes from Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracyto say Jesus isn’t generally considered smart because “the world has succeeded in opposing intelligence to goodness.” Saintly people who are also brilliant are considered anomalies in the world, if their brilliance is recognized (I suppose Chesterton’s Father Brown was one). Some Christians take this idea so far as to discourage heavy study, even in theology, but noting that Jesus was God in human form, Jared states “anytime a Christian denies the importance of reading, learning, and studying . . . one is, practically speaking, denying the incarnation.” So loving the Lord our God with all our minds may mean reading Plato or Shakespeare because doing so would enrich our imaginations.
The attack on objectivity of values is not an attack on general objectivity of values, but a ruse for the supremacy of certain values over others. Because you can get a long way in winning your argument if you don’t have to argue for it at all.
Our problem is not the disconnect between the heart and intellect. The problem is what composes our intellect. Nothing is considered moral knowledge today; consequently, no one is morally ignorant.
We should be very sure that the ruined soul is not one who has missed a few more or less important theological points and will flunk a theological examination at the end of life. Hell is not an ‘oops!’ or a slip. One does not miss heaven by a hair, but by constant effort to avoid and escape God. ‘Outer darkness’ is for one who, everything said, wants it, whose entire orientation has slowly and firmly set itself against God and therefore against how the universe actually is. It is for those who are disastrously in error about their own life and their place before God and man. The ruined soul must be willing to hear of and recognize its own ruin before it can find how to enter a different path, the path of eternal life that naturally leads into spiritual formation in Christlikeness.