A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak
My first encounter with Brad Jersak was in the documentary Hellbound? which I routinely recommend. He, like many of the other people in that movie, left a positive impression on me. When I saw the opportunity to pick up a book of his called A More Christlike God then, I jumped on the chance. I’m glad I did.
There is a significant and important theological trend in recent years to reclaim the doctrine of Incarnation: that Jesus is the full representation of God. Greg Boyd as one of my biggest influences stresses this point a lot, and Brian Zahnd often says it something like this (paraphrasing):
God is exactly like Jesus. He has always been like Jesus. We didn’t always know that, but now we do.
This is the first book I have seen, however, that explicitly deals with that idea and a few of its subtopics in depth. Most people in theory affirm the idea that God is like Jesus – after all, it is pretty clear in both the Bible and the earliest Christian creeds. If you don’t affirm it, you aren’t an orthodox Christian, by definition.
Once we start getting into the radical implications of that, though, there’s often a lot of backlash. Three general discussions that he touches on: predestination, violent depictions of God in the Bible, and atonement theology. On the first point, people will shout back a few scattered proof texts, supported by some Greek philosophy presuppositions. I’m not going to spend hundreds of words fighting those now, but Jersak deals with some of the proof texts as well as the broader theme of how that image doesn’t look at all like Jesus, the God who had power and control but deliberately gave that up in love. A big point for me was early in the book when he discusses whether we start our image of God as Will (freedom, power, control) or as Love (as demonstrated by Jesus, especially on the cross). On the second point, literalists want to justify that God may sometimes be non-violent like Jesus, but other times he wants us to commit genocide. This God is simply inconsistent, probably with some severe anger management issues, and we just have to accept that. Conveniently, usually God is ok with violence when it is us doing it to our enemies, but God wants us to love our enemies when we are the enemy. And on the last point, Jersak does a good job of pointing out how some of the language of penal substitution is indeed biblical, but it goes way too far, painting God as a wrathful monster who has to get his quota of blood before he is capable of forgiving. That carries many problems with it, some of which I’ve addressed before.
I found Jersak did a great job of being firm about why he thinks certain presentations of God are far from the biblical images centered on Jesus, while still being respectful of those holding images of God that don’t look like Jesus. That makes it a very good resource for sharing with those who are coming out of those sometimes-very-harmful images but don’t know how to replace it.
I would specifically call attention to his concluding chapter, “A More Beautiful Gospel”. The way it is presented is truly beautiful: a God who like Jesus truly loves us and would do anything for us, regardless of if we accept the right doctrines or do the right rituals or any other way of earning his favour. It is done simply through two chairs, one representing God and the other is us. At first, they present the penal view of the Gospel, which has humanity turn away from God and God unable to look at us anymore. Eventually there’s Jesus, who doesn’t turn from God like the rest of us, and so God is able to turn to him again. That also allows us to turn to God again, at which point he will turn to you again. But if you don’t turn to him fast enough, God will continue to look away as you suffer for eternity. If you’ve been a part of most evangelical communities, you know this story.
On the contrary, a more beautiful Gospel demonstrates how God continues to look no matter how often we turn away from him. We see how Adam and Eve turn away, but God still searches for them, clothes them, and protects them. We see how Cain kills his brother, but God still marks him for protection. We see how Israel continually turn away from God, but God continues to love them. We see how Jesus is the ultimate example, coming to a world that has rejected him, and continuing to look with love on us even as we kill him. I felt like his very quick discussion of Hell near the end of this was out of place, but I guess it was necessary since Hell is usually included as a key point in the false Gospel. Jersak provides many other biblical stories, but I’m trying to be concise. You can check out a video of Brian Zahnd giving this presentation below, which I’ll leave as the last word:
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book (electronic format) in exchange for an honest review.