Taking Jesus Back for America (by John Frye)

Take Jesus Back for America

Every national election cycle sparks the Christian quest to “take America back for God.” That seems backward to me, and somewhat redundant; redundant in that all nations already belong to God and are like dust on his scales (Isaiah 40); backward because the real quest is to take Jesus back for America.

The spiritual ills of the country are not traceable to letting go of its grip on God. Having Native American blood (Cherokee), I am not sold on our nation’s “Christian” grip on God. Genocide is not a Beatitude. I am grateful, though, for many godly people woven in the fabric of our country’s history.

Our current problem is that the church jettisoned the revolutionary Jesus of the Gospels in exchange for a Jesus-just-like-me. We have a Jesus who wants us to be safe and our kids nice and our lives comfortable and, if possible, convenient; an English speaking, TNIV Jesus. The only wood this Jesus carries is boards for the white picket fence. Ignoring Jesus’ social history while obsessing over theological verities, we removed all revolutionary aspects from Jesus’ life. We created a comfortable chameleon Jesus who blends in with everything American. We cannot tolerate a Jesus who scares us witless. When we sing “Jesus loves me this I know” we mean “Jesus coddles me this I know.” Like most things American, Jesus is another product to sell or own; another religiously-packaged commodity that we put on the cluttered shelves of our lives.

Jesus is Alka-seltzer for the soul; he’s our pain-reliever Jesus.

We need the radical Jesus; the Jesus of the canonical Gospels. The Man who exploded every category of what it means to be human and who was never, ever for sale. When the traumatized disciples gaped at Jesus in the boat after Jesus simply spoke a fierce hurricane out of existence, they screamed in terror, “What kind of man is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?!”

What kind, indeed. This is the Jesus we must meet. We have so many micro-brewed Jesus’s domesticated for our various tastes: Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Episcopal/Anglican, Wesleyan, Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, Four Square, Lutheran, Reformed and Christian Reformed, the generic, non-denominational Jesus, cathedral Jesus and house church Jesus, Wall Street Jesus and surfer dude Jesus, Catholic Jesus, the Protestant Jesus’s, Orthodox Jesus, tee totaling Jesus and beer-drinking Jesus, institutional Jesus, hipster Jesus, and organic Jesus. No one seems to want the bold, full-bodied Jesus who radically changes everything.

If the USAmerican evangelical church would get its eyes off America and fix them on the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we might discover some surprises. Surprises like: God really doesn’t want America. He already has it. Not that everyone is converted to Jesus, of course. The Great Commission is not targeted at and limited to America. The redemption of lives of the people of the world and the renewal of the cosmos is what the Gospel Jesus is after. We do not read anywhere in the New Testament, “Go, make America Christian.”

If a reporter from CNN had interviewed the disciples just after Jesus had stilled the storm, the reporter might have asked, “How did you feel? Do you feel comfortable with Jesus?” I imagine the disciples looking at each other and grinning. Peter might have said to the reporter, “Are you fricking kidding me?! How did we feel?! Was it comfortable?! O Lord, no! But comfort aside, we never felt more alive in all our lives!”

Getting Jesus right, not getting America right, is the great challenge we face.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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