Discerning Truth in a World of Deception By Mike Gendron We are living in a…
The “Jesus” the World Loves
The “Jesus” the World Loves
By T. A. McMahon
This is an updated version of a TBC article I wrote in 2008. Normally when I write something for the ministry, my goal is to correct something that has drawn Christians away from the truth of the Bible. I’m always hopeful that I can redirect them back to what the Scriptures teach and that disclosure will turn them from their biblically erroneous beliefs or practices. I’m continually optimistic that by simply showing how the false teachings or practices deviate from the written Word of God, what I write will be effective. Nevertheless, my success rate leaves much to be desired.
This article, written fourteen years ago, is an example of what I and many others who function as apologists (giving reasons for and defending the faith; 1 Peter 3:15) face at times in fulfilling our ministries. The title, “The ‘Jesus’ the World Loves” presents a major obstacle to overcome. The world, which rarely looks to the Bible for information about Jesus, is satisfied with any other source, as long as their Jesus is devoid of judgmentalism, exclusiveness, negativity, and can be reflected in every one’s belief system. Many “like” Jesus, including some atheists who speak highly of the character of their Jesus. Hindu gurus who flooded the West during the 1980s wrote books describing their avatar “Jesus.” Islamic clerics praise Jesus (Isa in Arabic) although they deny that he is the Son of God (i.e., Allah, who has no son).
All of that is expected of the world. Yet in our day when much of the church is heavily influenced by the world, the “Jesus” the world loves is often reflected in the beliefs of professing Christians as well as some of those who may be born again. A false Jesus who manifests characteristics that appeal to the fleshly nature of Christians is a powerfully seductive device of Satan, who is “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Those who profess to be Christians quite often have ideas about Jesus that are just as wrong as those people who don’t claim to be Christians. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is a created god and that He is also Michael the Archangel. Mormons believe Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer and that He was married and had children. The followers of Christian Science and the Religious Science religions believe that Jesus was simply a man upon whom the “Christ empowerment” came. Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine of the Eucharist can be transubstantiated, or changed, into the literal body and blood of Jesus, who is then ingested into one’s stomach. Lutherans believe that Jesus is consubstantiated, or present, “in, with, and under” the bread and wine of communion. Such unbiblical beliefs are a mere handful among hundreds promoted by various Christian denominations and cults. Yet what is even more appalling is that an inquiry about Jesus today among those who call themselves evangelicals (Bible-believing Christians!) too often reveals “another Jesus” and a “false Christ.” How does that happen?
Let’s start with how one comes to a true knowledge of, and relationship with, Jesus Christ. It begins with a simple understanding of the gospel that Jesus is God, who became a Man in order to save mankind from everlasting separation from God that resulted from man’s sin. Jesus satisfied the perfect justice of God by His once-and-for-all payment for the sins of humanity through His death on the Cross. His resurrection from the dead assures the salvation of all those who acknowledge before God their sin and their hopelessness in saving themselves, and who by grace through faith accept Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf and His free gift of eternal life. This is how one is reconciled to God and born again spiritually. This is how one’s relationship with the biblical Jesus Christ begins.
Although that relationship is supernatural in that every true believer in Christ is indwelt by God, it nevertheless progresses, as any good relationship does, by getting to know the person with whom one has a relationship.
The primary way a relationship with Jesus develops is by reading the revelation of Himself given in His Word. This is the only way to obtain specific information about Him that is objective and absolutely true. In addition, not only is the content of Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that same Spirit of Truth is given to believers to understand that content. How then could those who profess to follow God’s Word come up with erroneous ideas about Jesus? Regrettably, many are getting their information about Jesus from sources outside the Bible or second hand from those who claim to be teaching what the Bible says about our Lord.
To demonstrate how ludicrous a relationship dependent upon such sources of knowledge is, consider what might happen to a husband and wife who try to form an intimate relationship with each other by relying on the insights of other people who claim to know them. That’s a sure recipe for failure, yet Christians often run to extra-biblical sources for their knowledge of Jesus.
Years ago, the amazing popularity of the book The Shack among evangelicals was just one among many examples of depicting a Jesus who is foreign to the Bible and worse. What does the author think about Jesus? He characterizes Him in a way that may make some people feel more comfortable with Him, yet the Jesus of The Shack is clearly a false Christ. He’s a “good old boy,” who likes to fix things and takes “pleasure in cooking and gardening.” He laughs at crude jokes, is a bit of a klutz, engages in trout fishing by chasing one down as He runs on water, carves a coffin for the body of a little girl, and enjoys kissing, hugging, and laughing with the two other members of the “Trinity.” The book is filled with dialogue from the characters of God the Father (portrayed as an overweight Afro-American woman), the Holy Spirit (a petite Asian woman), and Jesus. All three speak as the “oracles of God,” giving insights and explanations neither found in nor consistent with Scripture. Some enthusiastic readers say the words and interactions with the Godhead have comforted them, answered difficult questions about their faith, and made the person of the Lord seem all the more real to them.
The reality is that out of his own imagination the author has put his words into the mouths of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which are then perceived by multitudes as “thus saith the Lord.” This is not only a bogus secondhand source but the arrogance of false prophecy at least and blasphemy and idolatry at worst. It is man, making God in his own fallen image.
More influential among evangelicals than The Shack is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which became a huge box-office success, thanks mostly to evangelical support. Available now as a “definitive edition DVD,” it features, for those who want the official Catholic theology of the film explained, a discussion with director Mel Gibson, along with a Catholic apologist and two Catholic priests who were the film’s theological consultants. The movie has a false gospel, a false Christ, and is loaded with supposedly biblical scenes from the minds of Gibson and a Catholic nun given to mystical hallucinations (See Showtime for the Sheep?). Yet it continues to be used extensively by evangelical churches, especially during Lent and Easter week.
In response to “What do you think of Jesus?” millions who saw the movie now mistakenly believe that: He was confronted by Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane; He was thrown from a bridge by His captors and dangled from a chain; His image was captured for posterity on the veil of a woman named Veronica; as His cross began to fall, it levitated to keep Him from hitting the ground, and, most contradictory to the gospel, it was the merciless scourging He suffered that paid for the sins of humanity.
These are only a few of the unbiblical images that the world and many in the church have added to their perception of Jesus. Movies are today’s most popular form of disseminating superficial information and therefore misinformation. Feature films about Jesus and God have put erroneous ideas about them into the hearts and minds of the masses: Jesus Christ Superstar; The Last Temptation of Christ; Bruce Almighty; The Da Vinci Code; Judas; Oh God!; Oh God, Book II; Jesus of Nazareth, to name but a few.
What about “more biblically accurate” Bible movies — those that take the words directly from Scripture, for example? When you have an actor portraying Jesus who says only the words of Jesus that are found in the Bible, does that make the portrayal more accurate? More accurate than what? Does the actor actually look like Jesus, or talk like Jesus, or reflect the godly demeanor of Jesus? More critically, can he accurately imitate the God-Man, the Creator of the Universe, the One in whom all things consist? Even if he could, which is impossible, it would still be an imitation! Furthermore, he will leave millions, including believers, with an image of a false “Christ.”
A few such movies are sincere attempts at communicating the content and stories of the Scriptures through visual media. Although sincere, they are doomed to failure regarding truth. Why? In addition to what was noted above, the Bible is an objective revelation from God given in words. All attempts at visually translating those words abandon objective revelation in favor of subjective interpretation.
Take a passage of Scripture, for instance, and have five people give their understanding of the verse based upon the context, the grammatical structure, and the normal meaning of the words. More often than not, the interpretations will be quite similar. Should one of the five come up with something very different, it can be corrected by simply checking it out objectively against the context, grammar, and accepted definitions of the words in the passage. On the other hand, what if five filmmakers were to translate the passage visually? The result would be five very subjective and quite different renderings. Even if only one filmmaker visually translated the verse and four people tried to interpret the image, you would likely have four different views because the medium has no objective criteria comparable to that of words. Are you getting the “picture” here? Imagery is not the way to communicate objective truth.
God did not draw pictures on the tablets He gave to Moses. His continual command to Moses and to His other prophets was to write down His instructions. Visual imagery was at the heart of pagan worship used by people whose lives centered around idols — the chief by-product being unbridled superstition. The same was true of the medieval Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, who fed their followers images rather than teaching them to read and write (as the Jews had done successfully from the time of Abraham). Even today, superstition continues to be rampant within those visually oriented religious systems.
The question needs to be repeated: Where does the world get its ideas about Jesus? Most non-Christians only know what they’ve picked up from sources they regard as Christian, although rarely is the content biblical. Many Jews put stock in the alleged Talmudic stories that oppose the gospel accounts. They have been taught that Jesus was an illegitimate child who was born to a harlot and a scoundrel. Declaring himself to be the Messiah, he performed healings by sorcery and consequently was stoned and then hung on a tree for his magic and blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God. Buddhists, such as the very popular Dalai Lama, regard Jesus as a bodhisattva, or enlightened god, among multitudes of gods reincarnated for the service of humanity.
Incredibly, the above erroneous beliefs about Jesus are fostered within professing Christianity by popular practices among Emerging Church fellowships and those involved in the Contemplative Movement. Some invite the followers of the world religions for “conversation” in order to learn more about Jesus from a pluralistic perspective. The goal seems to be to establish a Jesus who is acceptable to people of all faiths — or no faith. A common refrain heard from the Emergent communities is “We love Jesus but not His church.” Certainly, as the church has compromised with the world there is much not to like. Yet sadly, for many, it is neither the biblical Jesus whom they love nor the biblical church that they support. Some are under the delusion that Jesus is becoming more respected in our culture. That has never been the case for the Jesus revealed in Scripture (John 15:18).
The Jesus the world loves has deceived and continues to delude the world in its blasphemy, and more grievously—the church. This latest manifestation of promoting a false Christ is the internationally popular film series The Chosen. Its influence among evangelicals is shocking considering the fact that it is produced by committed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and all of what it presents is visual idolatry.
What’s taking place in the church today is the fulfillment of the prophecy given in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Pray for discernment for those who have been seduced and taken captive by the fables of The Chosen.