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It’s (not) all about Jesus

2010 August 24
by Julie Clawson


Why do we do this whole Christian thing? Why do we go to church and proclaim the faith that we do?

I’m sure that there are a number of readers who will call me an idiot for even asking that question. The expected answer of – “because we love Jesus” (or something like that), is all the answer they desire. In fact, for some, any other answer is inappropriate and evidence of a compromised faith. But honestly, I hardly know what that answer even means for many people these days. “Loving Jesus” is the rote response, but the problem with rote responses is that they are often a poor substitute for real introspection. The pat answer suffices when in reality one hardly knows one’s own soul well enough to even begin to answer the question.

As much as people want to make everything all about Jesus these days, Jesus has unfortunately become a shield to protect us from deep engagement. People start asking questions, a dialogue develops, differences emerge and instead of letting truth be sought with courage someone at that point suggests that we just need to refocus on Jesus and stop all the arguing. Jesus is what it is all about, so thinking anything more complex than just evoking his name gets shut down. But who is that Jesus to them? Without reflection or introspection, how can Jesus even be known apart from being simply an icon that we worship?

Faith is complex. Our motives for belief are complex. No one simply goes to church for the pure unadulterated reason that they love Jesus. We go because something in the environment resonates with us. Be the church hip and relevant (whatever those mean), or soaked in art and beauty, or thick with tradition – our souls find a home that we can be comfortable in. A home where we can best find the paths that lead us to God. Or we go for the community. Be it the stay-at-home moms who find a support system in the two hours of adult contact they get each week at church. Or simply the friends who can connect over a shared discussion of theology, the church offers the communal connections our souls cry out for. We go for the music, the emotional high, the networking opportunities, the dating opportunities, the playground, the coffee, the need to feel right, the intellectual stimulation, the need for encouragement, the reminders of childhood, the desperate need to feel welcomed and included. We go for a million different reasons.

And yes we go for Jesus. Sometimes this is a two dimensional Jesus we call upon to shield us from asking the hard questions. Sometimes it is a Jesus we are imperfectly trying to follow. Sometimes it is a Jesus who has transformed our lives. So yes, we go to church for Jesus. But also for all these other reasons. And in truth there is nothing wrong with any of it. We are complex creatures, piecing together meaning in our fractured world in whatever way we can. Faith feeds off culture which feeds off community. Jesus is there, but he is incarnate in all the muck and mire and breathtaking beauty just as much today as when he was born in that stable. There is nothing to be ashamed of or to reject out of hand in admitting this complexity.

Where the problem lies is when we can’t look into ourselves and ask these questions. When we are too afraid to know ourselves well enough to admit these truths. When we slap on Jesus like a shield to protect us from the hard work of knowing, then we’ve stopped actually following Jesus. Following Jesus should never be our excuse to stop pursuing truth or to stop asking the hard questions. Following Jesus shouldn’t force us to pretend that we are above the cultures of this world or are too good to be influenced by basic human needs (like the need to be loved). Maybe a flat image of Jesus we project can form a wall strong enough for us hide behind, but the real Jesus can’t do such a thing because he is deep in the midst of all the realities of life, and culture, and doubt, and longings.

Asking ourselves why we are Christians should never elicit a simple straightforward answer. We are complex people who worship a complex God – we need to allow God to be in even that complexity. Our answers might end up sounding less holy or more self-centered, but at least they will be honest reflections of reality. Hollow answers, although sanitized and religious sounding, do a disservice to the God we claim to follow. I think Jesus desires our whole self – neediness and cultural baggage included – more than some unreflective protestation of devout worship. To make it all about Jesus, we have to admit that it’s never just all about Jesus. And that’s okay.


17 Responses leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010


  2. August 24, 2010

    Really, really great post.

  3. August 24, 2010

    We find this concept in scripture too. Even in the garden, when God Himself walked around with Adam (you’d think this would be a time when all you’d need is God to be fulfilled), Adam still needed a companion to be complete. Thanks for articulating this.

  4. August 25, 2010

    Oh this is so true and so good Julie.
    Five years ago I started building this Jesus language wall of protection around myself. Everything, or so I thought, was all about Jesus.
    But in the past year or so I have unraveled a lot and have realized that sometimes, maybe more often than I’m willing to admit, it’s more about me than anyone else. My need to feel secure, my need to feel valued, heard.
    I am finally getting to a place where I am comfortable admitting that, it’s very freeing.

  5. August 25, 2010

    really enjoyed this. inspiring post for self (and community) reflection.

  6. August 25, 2010

    “Where the problem lies is when we can’t look into ourselves and ask these questions. When we are too afraid to know ourselves well enough to admit these truths. When we slap on Jesus like a shield to protect us from the hard work of knowing, then we’ve stopped actually following Jesus. Following Jesus should never be our excuse to stop pursuing truth or to stop asking the hard questions.”

    To take it a step further, we must ask these questions in order to know whether we are following Jesus at all or following something else call Jesus which is actually generated by our culture, our intuitions, our wants.

    Great thoughts!

  7. August 25, 2010

    Thanks for the reflection.

  8. August 25, 2010

    We are doing the Living the Questions course at our church and it makes us face up to the very issues you are addressing. Thanks for sharing those thoughts. Every Blessing

  9. August 25, 2010

    I guess when you’re sitting still, you don’t need to ask a lot of questions.

    But if someone is trying to follow Jesus, that involves movement. And I don’t know about you, but when I am moving I am always full of questions. Where am I going? Am I on the right road? Am I going too fast, too slow? Gee, what was that I just passed? Who’s coming with me?

    Yes, movement should always entail questions.

  10. bill holston permalink
    August 26, 2010

    Just wanted to say, happy Women’s Equality day:

  11. Brenda Chihi permalink
    August 26, 2010

    thank you

  12. August 28, 2010

    Very interesting deeply thought out post. Most people refer to the two dimensional Jesus.
    The third dimensional thought is when you reach the pinnacle of spiritual development and true fulfillment has been accomplished then you will live in much peace and harmony.

  13. August 29, 2010

    I don’t believe faith is complex. Jesus himself was a great teacher because he simplified faith for his followers. It’s true that our lives are complex, but saying there’s more to faith than loving God is wrong. Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” I disagree that “faith feeds off culture.” My faith is at war with my culture, a culture of greed and war. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” That’s the second simple but great commandment. Are we even given the opportunity to love our neighbors as ourselves in this culture, in America? The way it’s been set up in society is that our “basic human needs” are not important to the people running the world. They care little about providing enough food or shelter or medical care, not to mention “the need to be loved.” If the only place where we can find the “communal connections that our souls cry our for” is at church, maybe we should ask why we have to go to church to find those connections in the first place. We can’t be find them among other adults in our society, in the reality of our daily lives, because the society isn’t designed to nurture those connections. It’s designed to make money for a few rich and powerful people, turning the rest of us into producers of products we don’t need, while everyone is at each other’s throat in the race for a meaningless goal. The culture we live in is not a Christian culture by any means. If it was, you wouldn’t have to write about life being complex. You could write about loving God and your neighbor as yourself and being happy, living at peace with others instead of being fearful of them. That’s the message of the Gospel, and it’s not complex. It’s not supposed to be.

  14. August 31, 2010

    Thank you for this reflection, Julie. “Why are you a Christian?” is one of my favorite questions to ask people. The responses are indeed remarkably varied. Amen to your post.

  15. August 31, 2010

    @Freda: “Living the Questions” programs have been a great discovery for many of us who are grappling with why we are Christians. A variety of ways to understand Jesus have made us really think about what we “believe”. Thanks for the reminder.

  16. September 3, 2010

    “Why do we do this whole Christian thing? Why do we go to church and proclaim the faith that we do?…The expected answer of – “because we love Jesus” (or something like that), is all the answer they desire… But honestly, I hardly know what that answer even means for many people these days.”

    Thank you for the opportunity (invitation?) to clarify what that answer means.

    – It means that — even after having enjoyed much of what passes for “success” in this world’s calculus — until I surrendered my life to the living God made known to us in Christ Jesus, I never dreamed that life itself could be so incomparably true, real, challenging, exalting, joyful, beautiful, and suffused with grace;

    – It means that every aspect of my life that I live in obedience to Christ helps me to become more humble, loving, and servantlike, and every aspect that I live according to my own desires only feeds pride, selfishness, the sin of (self-) idolatry, the folly of self-importance, and the falsehood of self-sufficiency;

    – It means that never before have I cried so frequently with gratitude at receiving afresh God’s undeserved mercy and forgiveness, which knows no bounds, nor so joyfully shared with so many the creation-redeeming love of God mediated to us through Christ and His Holy Spirit;

    – It means that every and any worship service that I encounter – regardless of denomination, location, demographic, whatever — is a blessed opportunity to share with brothers and sisters the unique joy of praising and worshiping the Lord;

    – In sum, the reason I do all these things is not, principally, “because I love Jesus” — but rather, “because Jesus loves me (as well as all the world)” — and there is no truth that brings me greater elation, gratitude, and humility, or moves me to offer the whole of my life in earnest response.

  17. January 3, 2011

    There are over 50,000 life principles and promises contained in God’s Word. The world wants us to doubt them by saying that God’s ways are just too simple to believe and things are much more complex. Well, after all it is the devil’s world and, as the Bible says he is the prince of the power of the air. So naturally he’s making it as complex a place as possible in his attempt to take away all hope that God can take a mediocre life and make is something special. He, Jesus, is the God of the impossible and in His name spiritual bondages of all kinds are broken and new life is given. Let’s not play the devil’s game and call Jesus and His solutions complex, their not. They are simple and straight forward, but require the enabling power of the Holy Spirit and steadfast faith to receive them. Life is complex, not God and His plan for us. It is simple. Believe — trust — obey — be blessed. If we’re duped by the devil and make it more complex than it really is, we lose the blessings that God has promised to all who believe with a child-like faith. When we read the Bible, we should read it with child-like believe not with a contending spirit that finds fault in its simple truth. We should allow it’s simple truth to penetrate our hearts and rule our lives. In this way and this way alone we become the lights to the world that He intended us to be. But if we feed off of our culture we eat only death and destruction.

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