Conforming Jesus to our Own Image

facesofjesusDuring the summer months, as I was ordering some small group curriculum from The Youth Cartel, I picked up a copy of Jen Bradbury’s book The Jesus Gap. I just started digging into it this week and am intrigued to move farther through the chapters.

The book takes a look at what teens believe about Jesus and it is based on both research and the author’s experience in working with students. In the opening chapters, Bradbury references a 2010 article from Christianity Today written by Scot McKnight. He writes about how people view Jesus and His conclusion is that we as people conform Jesus to our own image.

“Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted. Spiritual formation experts would love to hear that students in my Jesus class are becoming like Jesus, but the test actually reveals the reverse: Students are fashioning Jesus to be more like themselves. If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.”

In the first chapter Bradbury shares some of the views that students have of Jesus – from Jesus as a Superhero to an Average Joe Jesus – and whether they see Jesus as being either obedient or rebellious or quiet or talkative.  The responses are so varied that she feels her investigation supports what McKnight wrote about in 2010.

For church workers, it does raise the question of how students (and adults) in our congregations view Jesus.  I have to assume that the views we would discover are as varied as the research Bradbury shares.

For followers of Jesus – and for me – I have to wonder whether I have conformed Jesus to my own image.  Is my view of Jesus based on what is revealed in Scripture or do I view Jesus more in line what I think He is?

I’m curious to not only read the rest of the research in the book, but also to learn how to apply that in our specific context. The point (I think) is not just to learn about how people – how our students – view Jesus, but how that impacts our relationship with Him. Bradbury quotes Carl Braaten in her introduction pointing to why our view of Jesus is important: “…faith stands or falls with what it knows about Jesus of Nazareth.”


Theology Matters – Dug Down Deep

Jesus tells a story that many church-goers are familiar with – the Wise and the Foolish Builders.  Two men are doing the same thing – building a house.  They both hear the same things – the words of Jesus.  And they both experience the same circumstances – the rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on each house.  The thing that was different was their foundation.  One built on the rock and the other built on sand.

Josh Harris’ book Dug Down Deep is written to help people examine on what foundation they are building.  He points out that what we believe about God – our theology – has a huge impact on how we build our lives.

On page 10 of his book he writes these words: “Theology isn’t for a certain group of people.  In fact, it’s impossible for anyone to escape theology.  It’s everywhere.  All of us are constantly “doing” theology.  In other words, all of us have some idea or opinion about what God is like.  Oprah does theology.  The person who says, “I can’t believe in a God who send people to hell” is doing theology.  We all have some level of knowledge.  This knowledge can be much or little, informed or uninformed, true or false, but we all have some concept of God (even if it’s that he doesn’t exist.)  And we all base our lives on what we think God is like.

With that thought in mind Harris talks about our theology and what we believe about God.  He uses words like doctrine, inerrancy, atonement and justification, yet puts them into a practical context to highlight what they mean and why they are important to our understanding of who God is.

I think he really nailed the value of how we see God on page 39.  Harris is explaining the importance of how our view of God affects how we live and how we react to the things that happen in.  He writes this:  What makes it difficult for us to see the truth about God, I think, isn’t his overwhelming immensity but our overwhelming self-centeredness…instead of looking through the window of God’s self-revelation and seeing Him, we find it easier to admire our own reflection or to place on Him the constraints of our own existence.  We judge Him by our standards of justice, fairness, power and mercy.”

Harris does a good job in his book of explaining these different aspects of God through the use of scripture, other writers thoughts and personal illustrations.  In the opening chapters he talks about his own theology growing up and how he needed to grow in his own understanding of God.  His book would be a useful tool for individuals to read or for group study.

Harris has released a video curriculum to use with students to study Dug Down Deep.

Read Dug Down Deep to grow in your understanding of who God is and how you look at Him.  You can click here to see more information about Dug Down Deep and to read a sample.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.)