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The Jesus Hidden by the Church
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Mike Erre
The Jesus of Suburbia:  Have We Tamed the Son of God to Fit Our Lifestyle? (Nashville:  W Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson), 2006.  202p.)

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This is a serious but readable book by a man who is now a pastor who has seen that the Jesus of the church is not the same as the Jesus of the gospels.  Erre writes with an informal, passionate autobiographical style.

I classified this in my category Culture and Trends.  This book, while being written within a Christian thought milieu and addressing the church in America, is an analysis of the social trends in the United States.  From another perspective, this is Theology.  But it is not an abstract, rationalist system of thinking.

Domesticating Jesus
Erre's book is a practical focus on real-life as the Gospels seem to portray Jesus presenting it.  This author attempts to explain to Christians how the institutional church has changed and domesticated the figure of Jesus to serve their own social purposes.

What does the term "Christian" connote?  What do people think of when you mention "the church?"  Erre tries to explain.  But the important underlying value here is that he concludes that it is the church that has fostered this in several ways.  Primarily they have accommodated the values of the cultures, thus making the church redundant and meaningless.

The spiritual and social revolution Erre sees in the Gospels and the New Testament has been sold out, he says, by the church.  The "Jesus" presented and celebrated in most American churches, Erre declares, is not the same personality as the Jesus we read of in the Gospels.  The message presented in these churches does not very closely resemble the message we read in the actual words of the Gospels.

He develops his topic by presenting a testimonial of his own growing realization as a young man that the Jesus he was discovering in the New Testament looked and sounded very different from the simple version presented to him in the suburban church of his childhood.  He issues a call for a radical shift from Religion to Jesus!

He realized the religion he had been taught a child in his Baptist church was a legalism that defines righteousness as being nice and doing what is expected.  Do good things and avoid bad things.  This false piety, based on personal effort and achievement, he came to realize, is just what Jesus condemned in the false righteousness epitomized by some Pharisees he referred to.

He came to realize that the Gospel focus on righteousness is not on us and out acts but but on God.  Erre was amazed when he discovered that the biblical message is one of radical transformation by God's direct spiritual act of grace!  He likewise discovered that Jesus did not focus on knowledge.  Erre says the call for the revolutionary Gospel for our time is More God, Less Doctrine!  He points out that rather than trying to answer everybody's questions, Jesus created mystery.  He rarely answered any question directly.  He helped people discover God.

Alienation through Adaptation
Erre notes that the church has values very little different from anyone else in reality.  They pursue the same goals of personal wealth, convenience and aggrandizement.  They see Jesus through those cultural concepts, and adapt a superficial view of Jesus and faith to the general American culture.

Yet because they want to have a separate, often elite, position and identity, they withdraw from society by insulating themselves into a sub-culture defined by "Christian" externals.  Christian music, Christian financial seminars, Christian politics, Christian this and that.  They have accepted, by and arge, the general values of general American culture, and developed an artificail world of their own that is out of touch aand uncommunicative to the culture at large.

Thus no Good News gets through.  Erre focuses on the growing alienation of the formal church and organized "Christianity" from the community at large in American society.  He is concerned to find ways to more authentically and consistently represent Jesus Christ in daily life and in the church at work.

What Erre observes about the church in his era is similar to my own early observations as a college student.  The attitudes have not seriously changed in many quarters, though there are strong signs of a new movement in American Christianity to express faith in Christ in a meaningful, active way that makes a difference in the lives of the community.

The Gospel Revolution
Erre likewise calls to task the new activist political Christianity that arose in the late 20th century in the US.  He outlines how right-wing Christians confused the Kingdom of God for the political coercive power of temporal government.  He lovingly, but firmly describes how manipulation of the political processes to accomplish some form of supposed Christian social engineering betrays the Rule of God, which is based on different principles and values than those of the societal systems.

Erre focuses on the New Testament call to live as people experiencing the Rule of God ("Kingdom of God").  Erre takes seriously the line of the Model Prayer that the God's Rule come to be on earth just as it is in the spirit realm.  The Jesus of comfortable, affluent, self-centered Suburbia will not do that.  The radical revolution of Jesus is at hand.  Erre calls us to join this reality.

Erre provides an excellent practical survey of the portrait of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven as portrayed in the Gospels.  This, he says, is the model for what life is supposed to be like.

Honoring the Text
Serious students will appreciate Erre's grasp of the text.  He honors the integrity of the text as a whole, rather than following the common analytical approach that pulls individual verses or passage out of context for focus.  He honors the story format of the Gospels and the underlying principles of life that unify them and instruct us on a dynamic life of freedom in the Spirit.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Experiencing the Future of Faith
[Review] Graduation to Reality – The Church Emerging
[review] The Jesus Hidden by the Church
[Review] Jesus' Openly Secret Teachings
[Review] Keeping It Real:  Examining the Logic Behind Biblical Text Skepticism
[Review] Postmodern Challenges to a Rising Evangelicalism
[Review] Postmodernism – The Church's Challenge and Opportunity
[Review] Progressive Foundations for Postmodern Christianity
[Review] The Shack:  a Realization of Relationship and Revelation
[Review] Uncovering the Hidden Kingdom

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Initial reading notes written 24 May 2009
Review composed and posted on Amazon 28 May 2009
Finalized for Thoughts and Resources and posted on 29 May 2009
Also posted on Barnes and Noble 29 May 2009
Last edited 1 November 2009

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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