Dueling Messiahs

Ray Waddle, former religion editor of the Nashville Tennessean, has written a guest column on one of the most enduring problems in theology: The temptation to remake Jesus in our own image by emphasizing only the portion of his message that confirms our pet ideas.

Waddle summarizes the four most popular views of Jesus as "Free-market Messiah," "Peace-and-Justice Jesus," "Silence of the Lamb (of God)" and "Redeemer Revisited."

I would add Cool Older Brother Jesus, who loves absolutely everyone just as they are, unless they express doubts about how the gospel of inclusiveness compares with Jesus' other words, like those unsettling warnings about hell. Or there is Live Long and Prosper Jesus, who wants to shower people with health and wealth -- unless they stray from the legalism of prosperity theology.

How about you, readers? What are some of the limited images of Jesus that have caught your attention this year, or in years past?

These two paragraphs of Waddle's are a good start toward understanding Jesus on his own terms:

In the New Testament, Jesus is too intense and unpredictable to belong to any clique, whether in first-century Holy Land or 21st-century Washington, D.C.

In the four Gospels, Jesus blesses the peacemakers but also brings a sword of judgment. He says love God, fear God, show mercy, be righteous, live the Golden Rule, expect the fiery Reign of God from heaven and look for it inside the heart too. Believers must somehow hold all these themes together because the Gospels do. It will take humility, discernment and a sense of humor to realize that a user-friendly Jesus might be just a pious excuse for justifying political prejudices.

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