“Design reveals destiny.” – John Eldredge
(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!
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?
Chapter 5 of Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus left me scared. I actually felt goose bumps all over my skin.
Because Jesus has never felt so real. So fully alive.
And that scares me.
It’s just easier to keep him up on a religious pedestal, tucked up neatly on the shelf or hanging on the wall. But Chapter 5, “The Most Human Face of All,” brings Jesus’ humanity to life so well that I can’t help but feel like Christ is sitting right next to me.
And of course that stirs up all my own stuff, my fear of intimacy/exposure/vulnerability, of being known so deeply and wholly, and not really trusting that Jesus won’t reject me, or that maybe I don’t want to give up my (false) sense of control … obviously this merits a different post for a different time.
Anyway, Chapter 5 feels like the linchpin of the entire book. It’s here that Eldredge demonstrates so beautifully that Jesus wasn’t “faking it” when he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) Yes, Jesus was (and is) the Son of God, but he was also fully human. He pooped. He peed. He got thirsty. He got hungry. He got tired. Sometimes he’d had enough and just needed to be alone for awhile. He got exasperated. He got angry. He felt things deeply – perhaps more deeply than any other human who has ever lived. He cried. He laughed. He loved.
Jesus was a real person.
“The world keeps pushing God away, feeling more comfortable with him up in the heavens somewhere,” Eldredge writes. “But in the coming of Jesus he draws near. Incredibly near. He takes on our humanity. How could he possibly get closer? The more we grasp his humanity, the more we will find him someone we can approach, know, love, trust and adore.”
One more great passage:
“You might think that keeping Jesus all mysterious and heavenly is the proper thing to do, but consider this: When he came, he came as presented in the Gospels – very much human, a person, a man, with a very distinct personality. This is the primary witness we have of him, recorded for all who would know him. This is how he chooses to make himself known. This is the ‘self’ he presents to us. Be careful you don’t push him away with your religious delicacies.”
This Chapter, more than any other so far, feels like a game changer for me. Eldredge seems to sense it, too. He ends the chapter by noting, “This is going to open up wonders for you.”
Chapter 3 of Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus is beautiful for one simple reason – it gives me back such an important part of the real Jesus.
“Does Jesus have a sense of humor?” Eldredge asks. “Well, he created laughter.”
I love how the author points out, “What does it say of us, or our church culture, that such a book [explaining the humor of Jesus] even needs to be written? That we have to go to great lengths to wonder if God laughs? How far have we strayed from his heart, his personality.”
It’s so easy to forget, but Eldredge makes a convincing case that if you judge an artist’s personality by the things he creates, how can you not conclude Jesus has a sense of humor and playfulness? Look at creation. Look at how playful puppies are, or the way monkeys will fly along the treetops, shrieking and chasing one another for hours on end. God didn’t make animals to be dour, serious-only creatures, did he?
So why do we picture Jesus as a distant, dour, serious-all-the-time type of guy?
My 7-year-old just walked in, and I told him about what I’m learning. That Jesus probably even chuckles at our three boys’ fart jokes. (Which are endless, by the way, with 3 boys under the age of seven.) That he loves it when we’re wrestling and being silly and carrying on for no good reason other than to laugh our faces off.
I don’t know about you, but that vision of Jesus isn’t one I grew up with in 16 years of religious schooling and churching.
Thank you, Chapter 3. You’re giving me Jesus back. The real Jesus.
NOTE: This is part of my ongoing, “real-time” book review of an advanced copy of the book. Read my thoughts on Chapter 1.
Chapter 2 of Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus is a short table-setter, an appetizer, a quick dash of flavor for what’s to come.
I love the analogy of trying to read the Gospels without Jesus’ personality being like watching TV with the sound turned off. As Eldredge points out: “Without Jesus’ tone of voice, what was in his eyes, the lift of an eyebrow, a suppressed smile, a tilt of the head, an unflinching gaze, we misinterpret a great deal of what we find (in the Gospels).”
On to Chapter 3 – “Is Jesus Really Playful?”
The best way I can describe Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus so far is like switching from a fuzzy, black-and-white image of Jesus to a 1080p, HD, full-color, even 3 Dimensional portrayal of the most important man who ever lived.
I love this line from the Introduction: “For despite the vandalizing of Jesus by both religion and the world, he is still alive and very much himself.”
What strikes me most from the first chapter, “The Playfulness of God and the Poison of Religion,” is how casual, playful and personal Jesus is with those he loves. (John 21:1-12) How fun Jesus is.
This is not the sad-looking guy from stained glass windows.
He’s a smart-aleck, quick to share an inside joke or memory with his close friends, and always beyond generous in his interactions with people.
Eldredge also takes religion to task, which I’m sure will rankle many modern-day Pharisees. (The Pharisees, by the way, are the one group Jesus always seemed to have a beef with. Not pagans, not sinners, not tax collects – but the religious guys.)
Still, the evidence the author offers up about what he calls “the religious spirit” is sobering: “Millions of people … have spent years attending church, and yet they don’t know God.”
This first chapter leaves me breathless, excited and scared.
Yes, I said scared. Because getting to know and spend time with the real Jesus is disruptive. Maybe what’s scaring me is all my false, familiar idols shouting their protestations. Maybe it’s the little, wounded boy inside of me being scared at the incredible offering in front of me.
Because, as John Eldredge lays out in the first chapter, knowing the real Jesus, in an intimate and everyday way, is life-changing.
Nothing will ever be the same.
And as exciting and hopeful as that sounds, it’s also a little bit scary, isn’t it?
Can’t wait for Chapter Two.