Jim’s Jesus or Jerry’s Jesus?

Would Jesus side with the Wall Street protesters? asks Dr. Jerry Newcombe, of Truth in Action Ministries. Dr. Newcombe has taken time to watch some videos, has seen what’s behind the ‘occupy’ protests, and has exegetically discerned that it’s not pretty. In fact, it may very well be demonic. Or as bad—loutish. A rabble of lazy, "able-bodied, twenty-first century hippies."

corporateJesusWhat appears to have raised Dr. Newcombe’s eyebrows the extra inch however is the fact that ‘progressive’ evangelical Jim Wallis, a thorn in the fleshy-cheek to less ‘progressive’ evangelicals, is saying that Jesus is already there. Of course if that’s true it’s all too embarrassing to the more pious E’s who have built a safe spiritual Jesus on the ethical absolutes of the Almighty. You see how it looks bad for this Jesus to be at the protest; too many occasions for misunderstanding, even scandal, maybe jail time.

This doesn’t seem to bother Jim Wallis, who’s already been arrested 22 times, and is married to a Vicar—I suspect some evangelicals think the later should lead to the former—but of course the arrests  have all been for civil disobedience. Wallis has tempered his activism as he’s aged; these days he’s even rubbing tailored elbows and offering spiritual advice (progressive evangelical advice one supposes) to Mr. Obama. Hard to say if this has helped anything.

In any case, you see how these two evangelicals may simply end up glaring at one another across the valley of Raphaim; Jim’s Jesus isn’t Jerry’s Jesus. Jim’s Jesus, is, well, an able-bodied misfit and first century hippie with a work ethic that kind of sucks, at least one that tapered off, making him a poor role model for hard working fishermen; then again he was irresponsible from the age of 12, had questionable family values, was a nard wastrel, wine maker, anointer of people with oil from undisclosed herbs, curser of fruitless fig trees and religious systems (must have seen a link), who was apparently okay getting arrested to make a point, noncompliant while in custody, and to the end—forgiving of thieves and most everyone else…I mean hardly a ‘Truth In Action’ kind of guy—even though he claimed all he did was do the truth—just someone who might like to hide out among the rabble at the "Occupation." I suspect Dr. Newcombe’s Jesus might be easier to spot down at the park.

Thing is, as both Jim and Jerry know, Jesus is the merciful type…forgiving even of fraudulent CEO’s and their tax lawyers. Perhaps you’ll recall Zacchaeus’ bump with Jesus, so smitten that he gave half of his possessions to the poor and paid back everyone he cheated—four times the amount. Imagine now, with me, Goldman’s CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, up a tree in Zuccotti Park, scanning the crowd…and that’s why I’m going with Jim’s Jesus.


  1. The Jesus I read about starts off as an able-bodied carpenter and part time Torah student. Then after a 40 day sojourn in the desert he becomes a full time travelling synaggogue lecturer and miracle-worker. He disrupts the merchants and moneychangers at the Temple grounds but he does not call for them to be arrested. He performs good works any day of the week including the Sabbath but says it’s primarily for the glory of his Father. He claims to be the Son of God but does not call for overthrowing the imperial Roman state. He does not demand the abolishment of slavery, a union for workers, nor even a guarranteed income with health and retirement benefits during this time. But at the same time he recommends the rich sell everything they have and give it to the poor instead of just implementing a higher marginal tax rate for the top 1% of income earned. Jesus’s message is more radical yet less radical than what I hear from progressives today.

  2. As for me, I will follow Jesus. It is not about is Jesus like Jim or is Jesus is like Jerry or is Jesus like the Wall Street protester? Jesus gave His life for the lost. We are all lost, sinners. His free gift of salvation from death is open to all who will follow Him. It is not about whether we will follow Jim, or Jerry, or the Wall Street protestor, or Stephen, or for that matter, me. The really only important question to ask is: Will you follow (side with) Jesus?

  3. Ian, I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure that no great spiritual leader would advocate looking the other way when our institutions permit corruption that serves the power elite and diminishes the rest. An individual advocating this surely couldn’t be viewed as great or divine, could they?

    When we are aware of wrong-doing and remain silent and passive we become complicit.

  4. Ian, it’s dangerous to argue from silence. I’m sure you didn’t mean to suggest that Jesus’ silence can be construed as supportive of slavery, or as an endorsement of the atrocities of oppressive regimes, or as indifference to injustices borne upon labourers–it just sounded that way. Tragically, it’s a way of reading the text that Christians, from warring presidents to slave owners, have used as justification.

    You’re on firmer ground when you argue from what Jesus did do and say. Here we can begin to agree about the radical nature of Jesus’ life and message. That was my point in introducing the Zacchaeus story. Regarding the relative radical nature of the message of evangelical progressives, well, here we can debate. For my part, even though I’m not an evangelical, progressive or otherwise, I do respect and regard Jim Wallis’ take, not merely on the ‘Occupation’ but on the overriding social implications of the gospel, as communally and humanly fruitful, and closer to the heart of Jesus.

  5. Thanks Randy. With respect, the message of personal salvation as the singular and exclusive litmus test for Christianity is one picture of Jesus, a decidedly Evangelical one. There are of course other understandings and ways to be Christian; there are other pictures.

    As for me, I have no unmediated knowledge of Jesus. Everything I hold dear and true, including my understanding of Jesus, is coloured by culture, filtered by time and place, personal history and experience. This is not a bad thing. It’s simply a human thing. So my picture of Jesus is tied up with the Jesus of my parents, the Jesus of my Sunday School, the Jesus of my own flawed and of course socially filtered attempts at reading scripture. Over the years however I’ve also come to listen to the Jesus of Mother Theresa, of Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Day, ML King and many others and as I’ve watched their lives I’ve recognized my own impoverished view of Jesus.

    That I never grow tired of coming as close as I can to the Jesus of the gospels is, for me, a critical question; but it’s also critical that I accept the many limitations of my understanding and therefore recognize that my picture of Jesus will always be flawed, and so always open to a new and better understanding.

    Nevertheless, having said all this, if there is one overarching picture of Jesus, one thing that can be said to be the singular and exclusive crux of Christianity, it’s love. And here I suspect we agree.

  6. Yes “God (the Father) is love.” And Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) but through me.” So the really only important question to ask still remains: Will you follow Jesus?

  7. Randy, I’m assuming your understanding of what it means to follow Jesus boils down to an evangelical understanding of “salvation”, one which leaves little room for a broader understanding of what it means “to follow”, and rejects literalism and the idea of atonement theology (which this blog has eloquently dismantled on a number of occasions). Many devout Christians however embrace the idea that to follow means to emulate, to imitate, which in this case means to care more about society’s marginalized than saving our own butts, to care enough to confront the systems that fraudulently protect their own wealth at the expense of others.

  8. Randy, I sincerely thank you for your concern over my spiritual welfare, as I’m sure behind your missive there is well-meaning. That said, since, as indicated by the grammatical tense of your question, you’ve already passed judgement that I’m currently not following Jesus, I feel no inclination to answer. Whether or not I am following Jesus is a question I am ultimately not qualified to answer at any rate. As Jesus said concerning his own relationship to God (the Father): “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” So Randy, if you are sincerely concerned about my relationship with Jesus, I would ask you to consult those around me, friends and associates, those I work with and work for, and those I try to serve in the inner-city. For in the end my words, my raising an arm and declaring myself justified by faith, mean nothing if my life bears no testimony. As the apostle John beautifully writes, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth.”

  9. Randy, I’ve needed to go back and edit my last response to you. I realized that the first two sentences, which I’ve removed, were condescending and for this I ask your forgiveness. I responded out of hurt. I’m sure that wasn’t your intention.

  10. I am one who does seek to follow Jesus. And Steve, I for one have been moved to tears of gratitude for the privilege of watching from a reasonably close vantage point the journey you are on in your own following of him. Thank you.

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