The temptation to conform Jesus to our own ideals is both real and subtle. It happens to all of us at various times and in various ways as we emphasize some truths to the exclusion of others, or as we impose expectations upon our Savior that are not biblical. Daniel Darling knows this temptation and so he has written a simple, yet pointed work intended to expose these faux Christs. The Original Jesus will serve to expose the subtle idolatry of both conservative and progressive Christians.
Darling has not written a scholarly treatment on Christology. Readers looking for such will be better served by reading something like John Stott’s The Incomparable Christ. Nor has he written a historical survey of beliefs about Jesus in America. For such information one can consult Stephen Nichols’ Jesus Made in America. His intent is to give a popular level treatment of the “myths we create” regarding Jesus. His task is more pastoral. He writes:
My aim with this book is pretty simple. I want to peel away the faux Jesus we’ve constructed and expose the real Jesus…My only goal is to help known down some Jesus myths, our ideas about Jesus that are either incomplete or totally false. (15)
To that end, Darling focuses on ten Jesus myths. His various myths will impact a wide array of readers, whether conservative or progressive. This is not just a book for those progressive Christians. It hits conservative idols too: “Braveheart Jesus” and his super masculinity; “American Jesus” and his GOP political support; “Legalist Jesus” and his graceless rule keeping. In fact, his rather balanced approach will offend everyone equally and in that regard makes The Original Jesus a good resource for anyone who seeks to wrestle with their beliefs about Jesus.
He doesn’t shy away from attacking some of the make-shift saviors of more progressive Christianity as well. He is quick to expose the weaknesses of the “Left-Wing Jesus” who adopts more democratic political ideals. He is also very pointed with both “Dr. Phil Jesus” and “Prosperity Jesus” for their distortion of Biblical truths and misunderstandings of the gospel. The “Post-church Jesus” is exposed for his lack of love for Christ’s bride; and “BFF Jesus” is warned for his domesticated the holiness of God. Whoever reads this book will find some hard to read chapters, as the brush up against our own manufactured Christ.
Each chapter takes time to both expose the idolatry of the myth and contrast it with the truth of God’s Word. Darling is great about staying close to the Scriptures as he wrestles with each myth. He is able to pointedly denounce the caricature because it does not fit with God’s own description of truth as found in the Holy Bible. Darling is also an apt illustrator. He gives readers plenty of examples to see the weaknesses of the myth and sets up the true Christ to be more visibly seen.
There are many things to appreciate about this book. Some readers may find Darling’s focus a bit obvious, and it’s clear that he has a more immature audience in mind. I wish that he would have been able to tackle some of the more subtle ways we slip into these myths. Yet, I recognize they are all plenty prevalent, and the average reader will benefit from this work’s simplicity. Even where we are not prone to adopt all the myths listed and detailed in the book, it is helpful to read about each and find that we can more easily identify them as they surround us. The Original Jesus is a good resource that will be beneficial to many readers regardless of their theological leanings. It will help to promote a more complete and Biblically accurate picture of Christ in our churches. To that end, I am pleased to recommend it to all.