[Join our live chat with Michael Hardin of Preaching Peace on Patheos’s premium content channel Teaching Nonviolent Atonement this Thursday at 11:00 central. We will discuss mimetic theory and the upcoming second edition of Michael’s book The Jesus Drive Life: Reconnecting Humanity with Jesus, with a special emphasis on two new chapters, one on the Letter to the Hebrews and the other on the Revelation to John.]
The landscape of American Christianity, indeed, of world Christianity, is changing. Of that there can be no doubt. Terms like “postmodern Christianity” and “emergent Christianity” permeate our culture. Unfortunately, while few people actually know what these terms mean, there is a palpable sense that change is afoot. That change scares many, while it excites others.
In his book The Jesus Driven Life, Michael Hardin explores the transformation Christianity is experiencing today. He has one primary answer for the many dilemmas facing 21st century Christians. That answer is simple, but far from simplistic. The answer, of course, is Jesus. And that’s the obvious answer – middle school youth groups throughout the United States (including mine!) implicitly know the answer to difficult questions posed in youth group meetings is always an emphatic . . . “Jesus!” Unfortunately, the wisdom of our middle school students has become blurred in American Christianity. This is one of Michael’s greatest points, as he argues that North American Christianity has a “theology (a doctrine of God) without a Christology (a doctrine of Jesus)” (157).
The problem of a Christless Christianity is nothing new. For much of its history, Christianity has scapegoated Jesus right out of the Gospel. We have unconsciously replaced the God of Jesus with what Michael terms a “Janus faced god.” I think this term is very helpful, for Janus was a Roman god with two faces that looked in opposite directions. The two faces of Janus symbolized the god’s dual will to violence and to peace.
The spirit of Janus infects all of human culture. Indeed, it even infects the Bible. Using the insights of mimetic theory, or mimetic realism, Michael makes a cogent and a very understandable case that humans project our own violence onto God, or the gods. This process justifies our use of violence against one another, for if the gods are violent, our violence is justified, too.
Michael points out that, despite the biblical affirmation that God is One (Deut 6:4), the people who wrote the Bible often fell into a Janus faced view of God. This is one of the strongest aspects of The Jesus Driven Life. Michael doesn’t run away from the violence in the Bible, but offers a way to interpret that violence. For Christians, the answer is not our own interpretation of the Bible, but to interpret the Bible through the lens of Jesus. If we neglect Jesus in favor of our own interpretation, we will succumb to the spirit of Janus. (Sola scriptura no longer works!) Michael claims, “As far as I am concerned, in Christianity, it is all about Jesus or it is about nothing” (273).
Placing Jesus at the center of our lives changes the way we understand not only the Bible, but also our personal lives, our relationship with others, and our relationship with the world. Let me provide an example. I know Michael, and I think he would appreciate me saying this: Michael is no saint. He has no pretense to holiness. But Michael knows something at the core of his being. He knows that Jesus changes everything. I once asked Michael how he could be so sure that there is no wrath in God, but that God’s only desire is love. “Brother,” that’s one of his favorite terms, “I know God is love because I trust Jesus.”
Indeed, when Christians begin to trust in the all-embracing love of God revealed in Jesus, the world will be transformed. I hope and pray that The Jesus Driven Life will become a primary guide for Christians as we continue to move into the 21st century.