In Talladega Nights Ricky Bobby prays to the Dear Lord Baby Jesus or to the Tiny Jesus because he prefers the Baby Jesus to the Adult Jesus or to any other Jesus. Which is where James Bryan Smith begins when he talks about the truth called Jesus. This in his wonderful new book The Magnificent Story.
Smith reduces the problem to two shrunken-Jesus-stories:
We need Jesus as only a teacher. The “good works” gospel sees Jesus primarily as a teacher. He can be compared to Socrates or the Buddha, an enlightened one. This was the view of my first pastor. He was a great teacher, but he was merely human. They are saying, “I like your teaching, Jesus. But I’m not interested in your miracles or even your death and resurrection. I only need your teaching.
We need Jesus for his blood only. The other dominant narrative about Jesus comes from the shaming gospel: “We only need Jesus for his blood.” Jesus came only to die. This creates vampire Christians. They are saying, “Jesus, I only want a little of your blood, please.”
Like Ricky Bobby, we can choose which Jesus we like: baby Jesus, teacher Jesus, or savior Jesus. But Jesus cannot be reduced to any one of them. Jesus said of himself,”! am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus does not merely tell the truth, Jesus is the truth. The truth is always in sync with reality. The reality of Jesus is beyond anything we can ask or imagine. Our invitation into trinitarian life comes through Jesus, all of him, not merely the one aspect we find appealing.
The magnificent story at work in Smith’s book begins with the incarnation and without it there is not magnificent story:
Immanuel means ‘God with us/’The Immanuel principle is the principle of the magnificent story. God was with Adam and Eve (until they rebelled). God was with Abraham. God was with Moses, and Esther and David and Elijah. But now, in Jesus, God is with all humanity in a new and special way. God is not just with an individual, a tribe, or a nation. God has come to establish a new with-God life, called the kingdom of God. And Jesus is the King.
Our view of Jesus needs to get bigger not smaller; we need to Expand Jesus not to shrink Jesus.
Jesus is at the center of it all: “all things have been created through him and/or him.” Jesus made you, and you were made for Jesus. Things are beautiful not because we deem them so but because Jesus has made them so. The gospel message—the big story—must include this mind-blowing detail. The shrunken gospels start with me. But now we see that even before I’m in the picture, Jesus is the center of all things. The shrunken stories do not include this central truth: Jesus made it all. We sing, “Jesus paid it all.” He did. But he also made it all.
I’ve never heard this one but it’s a great one:
Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote, “If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.” The good news is that we don’t have that problem. Jesus is the truth. And Jesus is beautiful and good. We can rely on him, we can live in awe of him, and we can be sure he will do good in our lives if we let him.