“You determine a man’s greatness by what it takes to discourage him.” – Rick Warren
This Post quoting Tim Keller nails the need for inspiring artists within the realm of Christianity:
“The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world. The simple fact is that the imagination ‘gets you,’ even when your reason is completely against the idea of God. ‘Imagination communicates,’ as Arthur Danto says, ‘indefinable but inescapable truth.’ Those who read a book or listen to music expose themselves to that inescapable truth. There is a sort of schizophrenia that occurs if you are listening to Bach and you hear the glory of God and yet your mind says there is no God and there is no meaning. You are committed to believing nothing means anything and yet the music comes in and takes you over with your imagination. When you listen to great music, you can’t believe life is meaningless. Your heart knows what your mind is denying. We need Christian artists because we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk.”
I’ll take it a step further: For me, musicians like Derek Webb and writers like John Eldredge have been a huge influence. I like them because they’re not a “safe”, watered-down, G-rated version of Mister Rogers’ Christianity. I see too much of that in well-meaning but rather hollow Christian music, movies and books that give up the actual art part of the venture in order to be “safe” and not offend anyone.
Derek and John tell the truth. Their work is transparent, unapologetic and inspiring because it is so REAL. It resonates with the life I live and the world I know. They don’t pretend and they don’t mince words. Many people – including those calling themselves Christians – consider them offensive and dangerous.
Folks, Jesus was (and still is) offensive and dangerous to many people. The Gospel is offensive and dangerous. Claiming to be the one true God, above all others, claiming to be the only way to heaven and everlasting life – that’s offensive and dangerous.
Jesus was wild, dangerous, controversial, beautiful, intimate, loving, kind, compassionate, empathetic, righteous and magnetic – the most talked about person in all of human history. He wasn’t always safe for the whole family. Let’s not water down our worship of him through art, music and story in order to be “safe” and non-offensive.
So keep it coming! I like my Christian art, music and books to reflect real life – dangerous, beautiful, inspiring and above all else REAL.
How about you? Who are your favorite Christian artists and why?
(NOTE: This is part of an ongoing, “real-time” review I’m doing on the book. My thoughts on other chapters are here.)
The best way I can describe Chapter 15 of Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus is that it feels like a modern version of Jesus clearing the temple.
In short, this chapter is a beautiful beat down of all the religious silliness human beings have attached to simply knowing and loving Jesus Christ.
John Eldredge attacks what he calls this “religious fog” head on, and points out that it is actually “the source of most of the debris keeping people from Jesus.”
He starts with an important distinction: “There is Christianity, and then there is Christian culture. They are not the same.” Think about that for a few seconds.
And what really resonates with me is when Eldredge discusses the crazies out there who portend to speak on behalf of Jesus and all Christians (I’m thinking especially here of politicians or certain TV preachers): “A wing nut talking about Jesus does far more damage than fifty atheists.”
I also love this as a litmus test for any church you are currently attending: “If you can’t take your church culture and language and drop it in the middle of a bar or a bus, and have it make winsome sense to the people there, then it’s not from Jesus. Because that is exactly what he would do. That’s what made him the real deal.”
If you grew up in a religious system or school (as I did), what Eldredge speaks of in this chapter will ring very true.
He outlines in beautiful detail some of the ways the religious fog continues to operate inside our churches and schools today:
- False reverence replaces loving Jesus
- Knowing about God substitutes for knowing God
- Power displays are confused for intimacy with Jesus
- Religious activity is confused with commitment to Christ
- Christian service substitutes for friendship with Jesus
- The holiness of God is taught by making him “unknowable” or unapproachable
- Holiness is substituted with rule-keeping
- A trivial morality prevails
- The system operates on the fear of man
- There is safety in distance (from God)
This chapter is so rich, so full of truth, and so sure to make our modern-day Pharisees mad, that I cannot put into words how beautiful it is. And so long overdue. I’m grateful for the courage of men like John Eldredge to stand up, tell the truth and clear the temple!
This video (via Mashable) of a deaf woman hearing her voice for the first time makes me think of what people’s reactions must have been like when Jesus healed them – the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. What a sight to behold, and what joy it must have brought Jesus to see their reactions! Not to mention those who witnessed the healing. Makes you understand why people mobbed him everywhere he went!
I love it when moments like this remind me of God’s goodness and of Jesus’ generous desire to heal us (physically, spiritually and emotionally). Helps me remember who the real Jesus is!
Here’s the video:
The details on this woman’s story, from Mashable:
Sloan Churman was born deaf. For 29 years, she has relied on reading lips and, to a very limited extent, hearing aids.
Two months ago, she received Envoy Medical’s Esteem Implant, which utilizes ear drum vibrations to bring hearing back to its users. The reaction, captured by her husband on video, is nothing short of extraordinary. Her pure joy is contagious.
Here’s what she said on her YouTube page: “I had an implant put in 8 weeks ago called The Esteem Implant by Envoy Medical. I was born deaf and have worn hearing aids from the age of 2, but hearing aids only help so much. I have gotten by this long in life by reading lips. This was taken as they were activating the implant.”
I almost died when I was 17 years old.
I still remember the Black Crowes cassette tape (“Shake Your Money Maker”) playing inside my parents’ 1987 Oldsmobile station wagon as a friend and I sped along at 75 miles an hour on the Interstate near St. Joseph, Minnesota.
It was late summer and we were headed to a friend’s cabin for a party. We were driving at night in a remote area, and I came flying down a hill as music blasted out the car’s speakers and blackness enveloped us.
I can still see the deer in my mind’s eye. One second the road was clear. The next, a huge brown beast was right in front of us, staring me straight in the face.
My friend and I both screamed an expletive. The driver-side window shattered and blew in on us. The front windshield spiderwebbed and cracked, but did not cave in. The car fishtailed down the road and ended up being almost completely totaled.
The mechanic who looked at the car afterward told my father that if the deer we hit had landed six more inches to the right, it would have come through the windshield and killed us both. A few more inches to the left, and it would have come through the driver side window and killed me. (I still remember pulling the snapped-off antlers from underneath the driver’s window.) Also, its body had just missed rupturing the car’s gas tank. There was a massive dent on the outside of the car right by the gas cap.
Life can end in an instant.
At the time, I was a 17-year-old kid who wanted nothing to do with Jesus Christ. In fact, it would be another 10 years before I came into a relationship with him.
What if that deer had been another six inches to one side or the other?
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Found this amazing photo of a sunrise via Google+. A nice way to start the day and a great reminder of what an artist God is!
John Eldredge was the first person to point out to me how the opening scene from The Last of the Mohicans is a beautiful illustration of The Trinity (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit) in action. Three moving as one. Perfect harmony. No words being spoken – and none being needed. Moving with a singular passion and purpose as part of a larger story and a shared adventure.
But that’s not what made me cry the other day. It was the scene below, where the hero of the story fights in the midst of a life-and-death battle to save the one he loves. He literally fights over, around and through the enemy lines to get to her. And, just when it appears he will be too late, he comes through in the most dramatic manner possible.
Don’t you see it? In so many ways, this is our story.
What brought tears to my eyes is that while I was watching this (on a treadmill at the YMCA at 6 a.m., no less!) I felt the voice of Jesus Christ speaking directly into my heart. I felt Jesus say, “John, this is you. This is your heart that I’m fighting for. And nothing is going to stop me from getting to you!”
Watch the scene below. See the fierce determination the hero has when he sees the one he loves in grave danger. Watch how he fights through hell on earth to get to her and stop the enemy just in the nick of time. Then think about what Jesus Christ says when it comes to how valuable you are to him. Think about what he did 2,000 years ago on that cross. Think about how, even today, he pursues your heart like no other. Jesus will stop at nothing – no matter what the enemy throws at him – to get to us.
Remember too that we are living in a larger story - a beautiful, romantic adventure taking place in the midst of a life and death battle between good and evil. The stakes are real. And they could not be any higher.
And then, if the spirit moves you, shed a tear upon realizing just how much you are loved and pursued by Jesus Christ.
Here is the clip (Please note – It does contain some serious fighting/violence and can be hard to watch):
(NOTE: This is part of an ongoing, “real-time” review I’m doing on the book. Read my thoughts on some of the previous chapters.)
Chapter 13 of Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus may be the most important passage about Jesus Christ I have ever read.
I feel like jumping up and shouting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Finally, someone is sharing Jesus with me as he really is. Finally, it feels like I have permission to approach him just as I am (warts and all) and receive the life, love and intimacy he has to offer.
John Eldredge spends this chapter beautifully dismantling what he calls the “religious glaze” that we tend to paint over Jesus. Well-meaning and intended to give Jesus the proper respect and reverence he deserves, this glaze also tends to push him so far away that we never feel worthy or safe when it comes to being intimate with him.
“Addressing God with a coat-and-tie formality you would have never wanted between you and your dad will end up starching the relationship,” Eldredge writes. “[Calling God] ‘Papa’ is what Jesus gave us.”
I love this too:
“My name is Jesus. That’s pretty straightforward. Not Mr. Christ. We’re the ones who keep inserting respectable gold-leafed expressions such as ‘the Good Lord,’ ‘the Savior,’ ‘the all-glorious One,’ feeling better for offering the reverence but not realizing it is religious talk – not the sort of thing Jesus liked very much. Stained-glass language reflects a view of what Jesus is like; it shapes our perceptions of him and, therefore, our experience of him.”
Eldredge reminds us, “The original writers of the Bible did not use ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou,’ didn’t even use a capital H when referring to ‘him.’ We added these later, as an act of reverence. Along with red ink, to set apart the words of Jesus. But the effect is to create a very false impression, a best-to-keep-our-distance piety. These ways of speaking about Jesus perpetuate distorted views of his personality and keep Jesus at a distance, the polar opposite of the intimacy his entire life was committed to. It makes it hard to love him.”
The examples the author shares in this chapter are remarkable for the pure and unguarded intimacy they provide. The woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. His good friend John resting his head on Jesus’ chest after dinner. Children sitting on his lap. Jesus invites this. He wants this. And last I checked, he doesn’t ask anyone to purify themselves or have it all together before approaching him. Come as you are. Let me love you.
When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple that served as a symbol of the separation between man and God was famously torn in two.
“[Jesus] took that veil and ripped it in two,” Eldredge writes. “So why do we insist on stitching it back up? A whole lot of what passes for worship, sacrament and instruction in Christian circles is sewing lessons – hanging that veil again. Done in the same spirit that says, ‘God is too holy for us to approach.’”
Eldredge brings about another critical point later in the chapter: “Doing things for God is not the same thing as loving God. It is a fact that people most devoted to the work of the Lord actually spend the least amont of time with him. First things first. Love Jesus.”
This makes me think of all the duty and obligation we tend to feel with “serving the Lord” and how our hearts often really aren’t in it for the right reasons. Because our relationship with Jesus isn’t right to begin with. These acts should be springing out of our love for Jesus, not from duty/fear/obligation that “it’s the right thing to do” if you’re a good Christian.
The last (and perhaps best) line that resonated with me was this: “Do not let those religious crows with all their squawking shame you away from this [approaching Jesus just as you are, seeking real intimacy with him] by their false reverence, making you think this diminishes the all-suffiency of God.”
For me, this chapter was very personal. Having been sexually and emotionally abused as a young boy, it is almost impossible for me to let my guard down to the point where I can just come as I am, completely vulnerable and exposed. The shame and fear of rejection is just too massive. So to hear these words, to realize Jesus is approachable and in fact wants me, just as I am, brings tears to my eyes. It gives the little, wounded boy inside me hope. Jesus will not reject me. Jesus will not hurt me. Instead, Jesus will love me, hold me and heal me. He will love me the way I – and every other human being – has craved to be loved since we breathed our first.
I couldn’t agree more with this statement from a recent Opinion piece in Christianity Today: “Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there.”
That’s why reading Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus by John Eldredge comes at a perfect time for me. Here is a book I can point to when I want to show people around me who the real Jesus is. And I understand John when he says this book partly came out of a place in him that is so sick and tired of seeing religious leaders continuing to pervert and distort the reality of who Jesus really is and what he really stands for in order to advance their own personal agendas and campaigns.
UPDATE: Great news! I just found out from John’s publisher that I’ll be allowed to give away 5 copies of the book here on my Blog! Stay tuned for details.
Also, in case you missed it, I’ve been reviewing Beautiful Outlaw chapter-by-chapter here on my Blog the past few weeks.
I just finished Chapter 7 (Disruptive Honesty) of Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus and walked away convinced the price of the book is worth this chapter alone. It is a beautiful, remarkable exposition on the honesty of Jesus.
I love this line:
“Remember, Jesus is not strolling through the Israeli countryside offering poetry readings. He is on a mission to rescue a people who are so utterly deceived most of them don’t even want to be rescued.”
John Eldredge explores the courage it takes and the costs it extracts to love like Jesus. To be honest with ourselves and others. And why most (if not all) of us don’t live that way. It’s just too painful. It costs us too much. It’s easier to walk away.
But, thank God, “you can count on Jesus to tell you the truth in the best possible way for you to hear it.”
And this is the line that changes my entire view of Jesus Christ and Christianity:
“What would it be like to have someone in your life who knows you intimately, loves you regardless, and is willing to be completely honest with you?”
Yes, Jesus is honest with us. He points out the truths that nobody else in our lives will. But he doesn’t just walk away afterward. As Eldredge notes: “Truth and grace. Anytime, every time Jesus pulls the rug out from under us, he extends his hand to lift us to a place of refuge.”
I also love Eldredge pointing out the fact that so many Christians want to soften, explain away or even flat out deny Jesus’s claim of exclusivity when it comes to heaven.
Jesus says very clearly – and repeatedly – in the Bible that he is the only way to heaven.
“No other leader of the world’s religions makes such an audacious claim,” Eldredge writes. “It is a line in the sand that has caused many Christians embarrassment (particularly those trying to win acceptance in our ‘all roads lead to Rome’ postmodern world).”
I also like this truth from the author: “The spirit of our day is soft acceptance of everything – except deep conviction in anything.”
But remember what I just wrote earlier – Jesus doesn’t share these hard truths and then walk away, saying “Good luck” over his shoulder as he leaves us behind. Rather, he reaches out his hand, ready to lovingly guide us away from a future in hell and instead into the eternity of heaven.
I love this man! He sees me as I really am, warts and all, and loves me anyway. Jesus doesn’t wait until I have it all together to spend time with me and support me and be seen in public with me. He’s scandalous that way, isn’t he?
Jesus, thank you. Thank you for telling me the truth in exactly the way I need to hear it. Thank you even more for not walking away from me, rejecting me or shaming me once you’ve exposed my deepest wounds, hurts and habits. Thank you for instead reaching out, offering me your hand and your heart. For staying by my side no matter how long it takes.
Your love – what else is there on this earth or in this life that I could possible compare it to?