A Year of Living Like a Follower of Jesus

A Year of Living Like a Follower of Jesus April 17, 2012

In 2007, A. J. Jacobs wrote the bestseller, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, which recounted his attempt to live according to Old Testament law for a solid year. People loved it and it sold like syrup at a dry pancake convention.

In October of this year, we will see the release of Rachel Held Evans’s much anticipated A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master, where Rachel shows us what it looks like for a women to live by the Old Testament codes.

I am waiting for someone to write part three of this trilogy, A Year of Living Like A Follower of Jesus. But don’t look at me. No way. I mean, can you imagine. If I tried doing that for a year—or for six hours—well…I’m getting a stomach ache just thinking about it.

And I don’t mean all that stuff you know you’re supposed to take figuratively—like cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye if they cause you to stumble. I’m talking about all the stuff that you know Jesus meant literally. The stuff he actually expected his followers to do if they wanted to be a part of his movement, what he called the Kingdom of God.

Serve God without drawing attention to yourself;

Give your possessions to those who need them, even if you do, too;

Bless people who flat out hate you and want to destroy you;

Don’t defend yourself at the drop of a hat;

Don’t stand in judgment over others at the drop of a hat;

Respond to cruelty with kindness;

Truly believe that people who absolutely creep you out are of infinite worth, and then act like it;

Don’t worry—about anything;

Control your anger and make peace with others wherever you go rather than perpetuate conflict.

If I tried doing even the first three on this list, I would pop a vein in my head before breakfast and collapse.

Unlike most of the commands in the Old Testament—don’t eat camel meat, keep your bull out of your neighbor’s property, banish someone with crushed testicles, and be sure to collect a dowry from your virgin daughter’s seducer—the things Jesus talked about are actually commanded of his followers, with, if I may guess, the expectation by Jesus that they would form the pattern of our daily lives.

If anyone tried to do what Jesus said we needed to do, why, there’d be little left of us by the end. A life oriented outward—toward God and neighbor, with one’s whole heart—leaves little room for anything else. Mainly, it leaves little room for you. Heck, if you really lived like that, you might as well be dead.

Which, now that I think of it, may be Jesus’ point.

Whoever does not

take up their cross and follow me

is not worthy of me.

Whoever finds their life will lose it,

and whoever loses their life for my sake

will find it.

So, no, Christian publishing world. Not that you asked, but find another author. I want no part of this.

A Year of Pondering Quite Thoughtfully What It Would Look Like If I Actually Followed Jesus, or A Year of Reflecting on How Some Others Seem to Have a Good Grasp on Living Like a Follower of Jesus, that I can handle. But if you want the real deal, no.

Come to think of it, if I lived like Jesus I probably wouldn’t have time or energy for writing a book about it anyway.


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  • People like Evans and others captivate the Christian world, and it is alarming to me. It is such a superficial approach to Christianity and the everyday Christian life. Those books may sell many copies, but I’m afraid the poor prostitute at the well may be nearer to the Lord.

    • peteenns

      Josh, I have to disagree with you here. Both books put on display the utter foreignness of the Old Testament laws, which is something that many lay evangelicals do not see as clearly as they ought. At least I know in Rachel’s case (though neither of us have read the finished product), her book, though entertaining, is written for far more than entertainment purposes. It is a chronicle of her spiritual journey about what it means to be a biblical Christian, reacting to her inerrantist/fundamentalist upbringing (see her first book Evolving in Monkey Town). In doing so, she exposes the superficiality and inadequacy of looking to the Old Testament as a guide for contemporary Christian life. I am willing to bet, after having heard Jacobs on the radio, that he is on his own spiritual journey.

  • Well said, being a disciple of Christ seems to be impossibility. I don’t blame the disciples in the Gospels for their consistent failures. I’d be worse!

    • peteenns

      True that.

  • Ed Dobson’s beat you to it anyways. http://www.amazon.com/The-Year-Living-like-Jesus/dp/0310247772
    I find his story to be fascinating, and one I’m humbled by over and over again.

    • peteenns

      Yeah, I linked it.

  • Tim

    I am encouraged by your open and honest interpretation of Jesus’ commandments. I find too many blunt the very radical guidance he gave to his followers to conform to our ideas of what a common sense and balanced life should look like. As in, “no, don’t give just freely give away your possessions to those who ask or have need of them without care or worry as to the effects on you or your family; of course Jesus would never expect you to do anything so rash or foolhardy. Rather, realize and act on the underlying command to charity to those in need in more general (and sane) terms.”

    But as I think you captured well, Jesus’ commands don’t always conform to what we consider reasonable. Rather, many were quite radical.

    So, your interpretation of the Jesus’ commands to “Give your possessions to those who need them, even if you do, too” isn’t typically followed outside of a precious few Christian outliers. It isn’t even striven for. It’s not even seen as advisable or smart for the typical Christian, particularly if they have family responsibilities and mouths to feed – for which the outcomes could be severely negative. But then see, “Don’t worry—about anything.” Jesus directs you to trust fully and completely in the providence of the Lord, even for your daily sustenance (e.g., Mathew’s/Luke’s lilies in the field). But of course while most every Christian appreciates the trust in and God that such guidance recommends, no one really applies these verses as given.

    In fact, no one even tries to.

    And not the sort of try to where it’s a struggle and you fail because you’re only human. But no one even intends to try to. They wouldn’t even consider it sane or rational or advisable to even take the first step.

    Let me give you an example. Say a member of your congregation incurs thousands of dollars worth of medical bills. They have no real way to pay them, and they’re facing financial ruin. Maybe they take up a love offering at Church, but it’s not enough. Not even close. So they turn to someone like yourself. “Hey Pete, I realize I don’t know you very well, but we’ve spoken a few times before and you seem to be a real man of God. I hate to ask this, I really do, but I’m up against a wall here. I’ve got $175,000 in unpaid medical bills from my son’s leukemia treatment. They’re talking about liquidating my assets. I’m going to lose everything. Can you help me out? No, I don’t need just a few hundred to float me to next pay check. I need the full $175,000. Could you sell whatever you can and find a way to help me out?”

    Jesus commands to do this. It’s easy to do, from a purely practical point of view. You could sell your house and work out where you’ll live later. You could take out a 2nd mortgage maybe. You could sell your car. You could sell everything. It doesn’t matter. If in order to meet this man’s request, you litterally had to sell everything you had including the clothes on your own back, Jesus directs you to do this, and trust in God’s divine providence to see you through.

    But I would gather you wouldn’t. Or even intend to. Neither would I for that matter. Neither would almost anyone, no matter how devout.

    So what does that say?

    What is your interpretation, that we don’t even want to do what Jesus commands? Not now, not tomorrow, not until Heaven when it costs us nothing. What does that say to us?

  • James

    I didn’t have the stomach to read Jacob because I thought Christian literalists would say amen and try to live that way and skeptics would say, see that’s why I don’t believe any of it. The life and teaching of Jesus complicates things further interpretively. Thomas Jefferson actually cut out portions of the gospels he found offensive from his point of view–I think, I’m a Canadian! What advice would you give Christians today, caught up as we all are in our culturally conditioned points of view? For example, Peter, you said we should interpret Luke in light of other 1st century ‘historians’. How might that help us approach the ‘historical’ Jesus and, more importantly, get a better handle on what he’s saying to us today? I like your interpretation, by the way.

  • Wow! Challenging stuff.

  • I commend your candor, and your position is certainly better than hypocrisy. However, if we who know His name don’t seek to imitate Him, how are we worthy of His name?

  • Dan Litz

    I realize this post is a week+ old, but this is absolutely fantastic.

    I do not always see eye to eye with you on your views (such as historical Adam), but much of what you say, such as this post, is encouraging.

    Agree or not, keep it up.

    • peteenns

      Thanks, Dan. Phil 3:15 🙂

  • Dan Litz

    Is there anyway to contact you personally with a biblical()/theological question (eamil/FB)?

    • peteenns

      Dan, my email contact is ont this website. I will try my best to answer you soon, but this is the end of the semester….

  • Dan Litz