Daniel Darling Catalogues the Jesus Impostors Vying for Your Devotion In “The Original Jesus”

The Original Jesus

You know the old saw: God created humans in his own image, and we have spent ages returning the favor. How ironic that Jesus, who came to transformus, has so many followers intent on remaking him into a more congenial idol. At first we dressed him in a royal robe and placed a crown upon his head—before nailing him to a cross. Today we continue to downgrade the original Jesus into someone less threatening and demanding.

In The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is (Baker), Daniel Darling takes aim at a score of popular but fake saviors: “Guru Jesus,” “Red-Letter Jesus,” “Braveheart Jesus,” “Dr. Phil Jesus,” “Prosperity Jesus,” and more. No matter how confidently you proclaim fidelity to biblical teaching, this book will snag you with at least one of its pseudo-Christs. In his usually gentle, sometimes funny, always astute skewering of trendy myths about our Lord, Darling (vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) vindicates a key insight of one of his theological heroes, John Calvin. The Genevan Reformer said that idolatry is our root sin and that the human imagination is an idol factory. Clear biblical thinking casts down our self-fabricated godlets. That’s what Darling does.

This book makes helpful reading for anyone willing to have his or her understanding of Christ critiqued and corrected. Church study groups, if they dared, would find the short, fast-paced, hard-hitting chapters great catalysts for debate. At various points I reacted with, “Hey, I really like worshiping that Jesus. I’ve been personally blessed by that Jesus. How dare you?” To which I hear Darling reply, “Gotcha!”

Jesus Myths

Anyone setting out to correct our false, self-serving conceptions of Christ has got his work cut out. The challenge is not only that lousy Christology is rampant among us. Perhaps more insidiously, the critic presumes to have captured the more correct, biblically defensible, surefire original Jesus. But should he be so certain? It’s easy enough to knock down Joel Osteen’s Prosperity Jesus, or the goofy, hairy-chested Braveheart Jesus. But Darling tends to get tangled up in his own Jesus myths when he goes after more subtle heresies like American Jesus or Post-Church Jesus. In those chapters he reveals the limits of his own Christology while correcting ours.

A favorite habit of liberal Christianity is to turn the living, lordly, resurrected Jesus into some abstracted essence or a set of propositions. By peeling away all the pious accretions of the ages, liberals in the past century attempted to go back to the original, historical, “real Jesus.” That’s the sort of reductionism Darling justifiably abhors (especially in his chapter debunking “Red-Letter Jesus”), but he’s often guilty of the same habit.

While Darling’s Jesus is clearly our divine Savior, he is not so much the Second Person of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit doesn’t make much of a showing in this book). It’s painfully true, as he argues, that we have attempted to cut Jesus down to size, making him into a self-help guru or enlisting him in our pet political causes. But in Darling’s telling, Christ’s work is mostly about individual salvation from our sins, leaving us unchallenged politically, economically, racially, and otherwise.


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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Will Willimon