By: Bruce Ashford
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to acquire a pre-publication copy of a fascinating and helpful new book, The Original Jesus, by Dan Darling.
Dan is a boy wonder who, at a very young age, has written a number of books and also serves as the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. I asked Dan to do an interview with me on the book. Here are Dan’s answers to my questions:
BA: What was the motivation for this book and why did you think it was needed?
DD: This book began with a couple of statements. First, I began to hear a lot of evangelicals say things like, “The Jesus I know is . . . ” it is innocent enough, well-meaning to be sure, but reflects, I think, an impoverished Christology, as if Jesus can be whatever we make him out to be. Then I heard D.A. Carson say in a class, “The Bible doesn’t open with epistemology, but with theology.” God is who He is, who the Bible declares Him to be, not who we think He is. It’s the same with the Son of God. We have a tendency to want to mold Jesus into our image rather than being shaped into His. So I set out to examine ten counterfeit Jesus’ in this book.
BA: Why are we so tempted to create a Jesus in our own image?
DD: I think its because of the age-old temptation we have as sinners to worship ourselves as little gods. In America, we still like Jesus a lot, but we like Jesus the way we like him. We like a malleable Jesus who conforms to our ideologies and preferences. Soon Jesus begins to look strangely like the man in the mirror. I think this tendency is also a result of our pop spirituality that is, at times, disconnected from historic Christian orthodoxy. We need to get back to a robust, awe-inspired worship of the Christ who is not the Christ we make him out to be.
BA: The American Jesus is one is a particularly temptation for those of us in the west. How do we do cultural engagement without creating a Jesus that looks strangely like Uncle Sam?
DD: Christians are called to faithfully engage the culture, restoring, redeeming, renewing as ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom. In America we are offered a particularly wonderful opportunity to shape our government and participate in the choosing of our elected officials. Unfortunately, we are tempted to commit the same sin as Jonah and put our love of country above our love for Christ.
As my boss, Russell Moore, says, “We are Americans best when we are not Americans first.” We know we are worshipping a false Jesus when he begins to look more like Uncle Sam than the Christ of Scripture, when love of country begins to supplant love of nations. America is perhaps the greatest exercise in human government and yet it is just one more kingdom that will eventually fade into history. Christ’s kingdom is forever. We don’t live out the gospel by pining for days gone by, but by looking for that city “whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
BA: In “BFF Jesus” you decried the sort of pop spirituality of much of evangelicalism. Why don’t you think this kind of faith will hold up under changing cultural pressures?
DD: At the center of the evangelical movement is the personal nature of the atonement. We come to faith, as John says in John 1, “not by blood, not by flesh, not by the will of man, but by God.” Praise God for the personal nature of our salvation and a Christ who is a friend of sinners, who walks with us and talks with us. Yet, I think we’ve, at times, emphasized the nearness and humanity of Christ so much that we’ve lost a sense of the deity of Christ, his majesty and glory and power. We’re not in awe of Christ because, at times, he seems to us a pathetic, co-dependent lover from a country song.
BFF Jesus is nice and makes few demands. He’s not the reigning King of the universe, the Son of God who breathed out creation, the victor over sin, death, and the enemy. If the first century people of God had a hard time accepting and grasping the humanity and nearness of Christ, in this age, I think we neglect the power and authority of Christ. We should continue to worship a Jesus who is a “friend of sinners” but also be reminded that he is the Son of God come in power and glory.
In an age of increasing secularism, a flimsy theology that is unanchored from historic Christian orthodoxy, will not hold. It will not stand up against the pressure to conform to social norms.
BA: I’m interested in how you began thinking theologically and writing at such a young age. What is your background and how did you come to be a writer?
DD: I grew up in a Christian home with faithful, godly parents. Our home wasn’t perfect and upon close inspection, one might find faults, but still I learned the gospel, was taught the hymns of the faith, and was cared for and loved. What was most helpful about our home, I think, were parents who encouraged me in my gifts. From an early age I was a reader. As early as I can remember I read the newspaper almost every day, front page, inside news, and sports. This was before a world of Twitter, email, online news, etc. I also was encouraged to read books and think through ideas. I’ve always had a fascination with the world: politics, sports, culture.
As for writing, it was in junior high in my Christian school that I started to develop a love for writing. I remember one particularly day when I turned in an assignment and my teacher, Mrs. Birginal, said to me words that fueled my future endeavors: “Dan, I really think you have a gift of writing. You should pursue it.” You should pursue it–that was gold for a chunky, uncoordinated kid who wasn’t going to play in the NBA. Here was something I could do and do well. I’ve been a writer ever since. Writing is one of those wonderful things that goes with you from job to job, season to season. So I’ve worked as an editor for a large Christian organization, a pastor, and now in my role as a denominational executive.
Writing comes with me wherever I go and life experiences continue to fuel ideas. My wife has gotten used to me getting ideas at all times, during sermons, in the car, during conversations, etc! My desire with my writing, though, is to serve the church in whatever way God uses me.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC).
Bruce Ashford is Provost, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Theology and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.