One of the primary objections that conservative Christians have to the work of historical Jesus scholars is that they often have a tendency to create Jesus in their own image, or at least in an image congenial to them. This is said particularly of the scholars of the third quest, and of the Jesus Seminar in particular. It’s not entirely a false charge, either. With the use of historical criteria one can quite easily tilt the results in just about any direction depending on what weight one gives to each historical criterion, not to mention the weight given to the various sources.
Now this isn’t an essay on the historical Jesus quest, as interesting as that subject is. But what struck me recently was how easy it is for any of us to create a Jesus in our own image, whom we can piously follow. Conservatives can get in on the game, simply by placing more weight one one text than another. Do you need a more violent Jesus? Try the cleansing of the temple. More gentle? “Love your enemies.” If you’re dispensationalist, at least of the older variety, you can simply disregard whole swaths of the teaching of Jesus because they apply to a different dispensation.
In the person of his followers, Jesus is both for and against the war in Iraq, both for and against capital punishment, eager to help every immigrant or determined to move them out as quickly as possible, interested in more or less government regulation (I’m really not sure where this comes from, but there are those who invoke “Christian principles” on the matter), and so forth.
Recently I read an excellent blog post on the patriarchal movement, (Women Who Drive and the Men Who Let Them, which led me to this patriarchal article). There is much that one could comment on in an article such as this, but there were a couple of sentences that inspired this post:
But at the same time, our culture is at war with this masculinity. This means that the men who are equipped to maintain peace in their homes will be men at war beyond the front door. A man who has what it takes to provide peace, stability and security in his home will be just the kind of man who is embattled outside. Our world system is hostile to the kind of masculinity which is capable of guiding and protecting the godly home. Centuries ago, in the great battle over the Trinity, Athanasius was told at one time that the whole world was against him. Then let it be known, he said, that Athanasius is contra mundum against the whole world. In the same way, the biblical man should know that his scriptural hardness, the necessary protective fence for his family, will always provoke a hostile response whenever he is out in the world.
Jesus the controlling masculine he-man! This shows how far in one direction some people will adjust the image of Jesus in order to make him fit the way they want to view the world. Elsewhere in this patriarchal movement we have advocacy of harsh corporal punishment and an ungodly level of control, all practiced in the name of Jesus. (Hey, the guy ought to at least apologize to Athanasius!)
And then there is the ultimate sign of the blessings of Jesus–opposition. Because Jesus was crucified for who he was, and because he said that his followers would be persectued, many see opposition, ridicule, and persecution as a sign of how right they are. But you can awaken opposition and persecution in two different ways: 1) Your life might be a rebuke to others because you are living so well, but much more likely, 2) You could just be a person who is obnoxious! Many, many Christians are rejoicing in opposition (persecution is too strong a word for what goes on in the U.S.) as a badge of their righteousness when it is really an indication of how little like Jesus they are.
The problem with asking “What would Jesus do?” is that you have to be willing to look openly at the things that challenge your own way of living and of doing things. It has to be a sincere question that looks for a challenging answer, otherwise it’s just another form of excuse.