Jesus Is (not) My Home Boy

A few years ago a t-shirt company sold gazillions of shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Jesus is My Homeboy". Well, he's certainly our friend - but he's so much more!

N.T. Wright goes into great detail about who Jesus was, and is, in his book "The New Testament and the People of God" or NTPG for Wright fans.

It's not light reading - that's for sure. And that means there's no way to do justice to a monumental work like NTPG in a blog post. So we'll deal with just a few points here.

First off, Wright deals with the development of the Messianic expectation held by first century Jews.

Why in the world, you yawn, is this important?

Because one of the great tragedies in the modern church is that we've yanked Jesus out of his first century context. We don't have a clue as to what those people were expecting, what they saw and heard, and more importantly, how they interpreted Jesus' words and works.

And so, ignoring historical reality, we do what comes naturally to us - we construct an image of Jesus that fits our 21st century, modern (or postmodern, if you will), Greek-philosophized view of reality. And then we worship that image.

Even Sunday-school kids know the word for worshipping an image of our own creation. Idolatry, right? That kinda thing got you in deep doo-doo back in Old Testament times.

Wright also explains the importance of story in the human experience. Stories...

Humans think, and communicate with each other, in narrative form. We tell stories. Stories give context to our actions and beliefs. They explain, both to our listeners and to us, where we are and where we're going. In the broadest sense, we understand our place in the world and we interpret our daily "micro-stories" in the context of our "macro-story" of choice.

Muslims have variations of a unique macro-story and Jews have very different ones. Maybe someday we'll examine the differences between these macro-stories, or worldviews, and see how they affect life on the ground for these very different groups of people.

But the subject of NTPG is, of course, the Christian macro-story. The grand Christian meta-narrative that so fired-up those first-century Christians that they turned the world upside down. Perhaps we'll outline the Christian metanarrative another day.

In my younger years, Christian theology was a confusing set of sometimes-conflicting "doctrines". And that confusion came from listening every weekend to preachers that apparently viewed the Bible as a collection of convenient anecdotes. They'd reach into what was meant to be an overarching story - a single play with many acts, as Wright says - and yank out an amusing anecdote or a vignette. Then, with much bluster, they'd vigorously proclaim some "timeless truth" hidden in the scripture-snippet.

Problem is - this piecemeal, anecdotal grab-bag of pop-theology gets really confusing for those of us that think very hard about the whole thing.

Now I'm not saying I have everything figured out - not by a long shot. But deeply historical works like NTPG help me to see Jesus firmly within His historical context. And that's the way we need to see him.

That leaves way less chance of me creating some 21st century, white, middle-class, SUV-driving, Starbucks-drinkin', home boy Jesus (idol) that bears little resemblance to the magnificent, 1st century, kingdom-inaugurating, world-renewing Jewish Messiah.

Thanks goes to Mr. Wright for his brilliant insight!

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