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Timestamp: 2010-07-09 03:22:32 UTC
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June 2010/204 pages/$11.99
Sheep and cows. Dogs and cats. Plants and trees. These are all living entities that humans have domesticated -- tamed to be under man's control and to serve his needs.
Harry Kraus has written a convicting and thought-provoking book claiming that we have also Domesticated Jesus. And as much as I'd like to sputter and protest his assertion, the truth is that this book made me squirm. I invite you to squirm with me, to wrestle and "think critically about how much the Jesus you serve resembles the real deal, the Jesus of the Bible." (p. 13) If you're like me, you may discover that we have made Jesus in our own image!
Harry graciously agreed to a second interview to talk about this issue and the book he has written. (The first interview--focusing on his newest novel, The Six-Liter Club--is here.)
Domesticated Jesus is an unusual title and premise for a book. Please explain what the title means. What led you to write it?
I use the word domesticated to refer to any way I have had a tendency to make Jesus small (and me big!). So many Christians have turned the gospel around to be all about us: we are glad for Jesus to come into our lives and take care of our sin (imagine asking him to come in and clean up after us, a domestic job, huh?) but we aren’t so willing to let him rule. In this rather transparent, insider book, I look at a myriad of ways that I “domesticate” Christ: when others see me in an anxious state, what does that tell them of the size and power of my God?
You encourage questions, even those without answers, as ”the essence of living faith” (p. 15). Why is “blind” faith, one that doesn’t ask questions, so dangerous?
Because our faith, this gospel is big enough to withstand criticism! Learn to talk back, ask questions honestly and make your faith sure.
You address a number of ways that we domesticate Jesus. Which one do you think is the biggest stumbling block for most Christians?
I would venture to say that worry is the most common way we domesticate Jesus or act as if he is small. Another common one is walking around feeling guilty for past sin. Isn’t his cross powerful enough, his blood sufficient to remove our sin and shame?
How do you see the domesticating of Jesus by other cultures, such as your mission field in Kenya? Or is this primarily a tendency in the Western World?
This is a human problem and the essence is a prideful heart. It crosses every culture.
Gospel debt is a term you use throughout the book, and if I remember correctly, it was also a major concept of your book Breathing Grace. Can you explain what this is?
Think for a moment about a physical concept called oxygen debt. We’ve all experienced it after running full speed across a playground. Soon we find ourselves breathing faster, and our heartbeat quickens in response to the muscles cry: oxygen debt is when the muscles are demanding payment and the currency is oxygen. But what about when my soul is the part of me that is breathless? What about when I am acting as if God will love me more if I perform a little better? At that moment, I’m functioning out of a “gospel debt,” a condition I define as when my soul is demanding payment and the currency is grace. I am functioning out of gospel debt anytime I am striving to win God’s favor by my own effort, or conversely, if I am making excuses for my bad behavior. Essentially, anytime I find my soul anxious, guilty, bitter, jealous, or fearful, I am functioning in a state of gospel debt. The cure is grace, something we need (like oxygen) every moment, every second. To get a full idea how to resuscitate our souls out of gospel debt, refer to the book, Breathing Grace: What You need More than your Next Breath. (Interjection: my review of this excellent book is here.)
As a nurse, I loved your correlation of soul resuscitation to physical resuscitation. The first things to evaluate and address when someone is in a physical crisis are known among medical professionals as the ABC’s: Airway, Breathing, Circulation. What is the spiritual application?
A. Acknowledge your need. This step is the hardest for many of us because pride blocks it from the beginning. The essence of this step is choosing to recognize the pedestal we are standing on (anything we look to and say, “I am OK because of this.”) and step off. Here, we simply come and say, “I’ve blown it. I’m in need of grace.”
B. Believe the gospel. Here, because of grace, we find ourselves as the recipient of many promises. We no longer need to worry because we are children of God and he cares for us. We no longer need to feel guilty because he’s forgiven us. But simply knowing our need isn’t enough. We need to find and believe the promises that apply to our state of gospel debt.
C. Communion. We need to take time to meditate on God’s promises and let them circulate to every area of our lives. This takes time.
One area in which Christians have, as you state in the introduction, a “disconnect between our experience and what we see written in the pages of the Bible” (p. 13) is miracles, and you expand on this thought in chapter 5, “An Unpredictable, Miraculous Jesus: Domesticating Jesus in a Safe, Scientific Box.” You state that western Christians are more skeptical of modern-day miracles than believers in other parts of the world, and that missionaries are often reluctant to tell their supporters about supernatural events that occur. As a missionary surgeon, have you experienced a tension between the supernatural and the scientific, and if so, how do you resolve this?
I have only noticed this in discussion with other missionaries, but personally, I have no problem if God decides to “step out of the box” and do something miraculous and unexpected.
You give a couple of examples of miracles in this chapter. Believing/accepting a miracle after the fact is often difficult. Then there’s the “front end,” so to speak, of faith and expecting a miracle. How do we remove the “box” with which we limit Jesus? How do we believe big enough in what God is able to do without making presumptions and disregarding other avenues such as medical treatment?
As a physician, I believe the knowledge and skill of the medical team comes from God. We ask him to heal any way he sees fit. If it is using the medical knowledge and skill of healthcare professionals, so be it. If he decides to do the miraculous, we rejoice. But I am careful not to presume the miraculous. Yes, Jesus can do it. But I think we should direct people towards “normal” channels while staying open to the miraculous.
One of the many chapters that resonated with me is the one that discussed Domesticating Jesus by Walking in Our Own Strength. So many Christians live defeated lives because we are trying to overcome our “sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1) by having the wrong focus. What is the key to victory?
The key is grace. Trying to beat sin in our own effort causes our focus to be on sin and we end up tripping and falling. Legalism is focused on the act: what did you do wrong? Grace is focused on the solution: why did you fall? What hurt exists that you were trying to pacify by your sinful activity? Invite Jesus into the past hurt. Allow his grace to heal. Grace is all about focusing our attention on God. When he is our focus, we find ourselves falling more in love with him and our hearts are transformed in the process.
One of the boldest (and scariest!) chapters, I think, is “Fire-Escape Christianity: Domesticating by Living by my Rules.” Can you explain that just a bit? How have churches themselves contributed to this mind-set?
Too many Christians treat the gospel as something that applies only to salvation….ok, got my get-out-of-hell-free card to use in the end, now on to running my life myself! We act as if grace is applied at salvation and then we need to go forward in our own effort to please God.
In reality, grace is what sustains us to live this life of holiness to which we have been called.
This is the second book I’ve read in recent weeks that asserts that Christianity is incompatible with the American Dream or lifestyle. (The other one was David Platt’s Radical.) How does the “self-made man” concept domesticate Jesus?
I love what Pastor Mark Driscoll says about this: legalism says, “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps”; the gospel says, “you don’t have any boots!” We domesticate or make Jesus appear small if we think or act as if we can do this by our own effort!
Most authors write either fiction or non-fiction. You have been gifted with the ability to do both. Is one easier to write than the other? Do you have a preference?
I love to tell stories and you’ll notice that all of my non-fiction has some story elements. I think the beauty of fiction is that you can teach a message by giving the reader an emotional bond with a protagonist that changes as a result of a conflict. The beauty of non-fiction is that you can get straight to the point and just hand over the message!
What’s next? Are you working on any books right now? Any hints you can give us regarding them?
I have a three-book contract with David C. Cook, a large not-for-profit Christian publisher to do three novels. The first one is set in Kenya and deals with a surgeon who encounters spiritual warfare in an up close and personal way.
Now for a lighter and personality-oriented question: How do you unwind? What do you enjoy doing for leisure?
I love spending time with my wife and sons. Nothing better than just chillin’ out and watching my favorite Atlanta Braves!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Please give this book, Domesticated Jesus, to your non-Christian friends. Tell them it is an honest, transparent look at what Christianity should be about. Christianity should be judged by a fresh look at who Jesus really is.
Wow. Thank you, Harry, for sharing your heart here and for writing this book. Friends, this is a compelling book. My copy is peppered with little Post-It flags as I marked areas that were particularly meaningful to me. Yet, as serious as the subject is, this is not a tome requiring a degree in theology to understand; reading this book is like sitting across the table from Dr. Kraus having a mocha together. Though it is relatively short (only 204 pages), it is packed with thought-provoking chapters and concepts, such as Pedestals and Plastic Smiles (Domesticating Jesus by Acting Christian), "But Whatif?" (Domesticating Jesus by Our Worry), Yawning in the Presence of a Mighty God (The Reason We Are Complacent in Sunday Worship), and The Gospel of a Domesticated Jesus (It's Really All About Me, Isn't It?). It's tempting to list every chapter with excerpts, but then you wouldn't need to buy the book! But here's just one to whet your appetite:
When we domesticate Jesus into a divine vending machine, the gospel begins to look very different. The real gospel is start-to-finish about a work of God. . .God is central and he gets the attention and glory.
The gospel of a domesticated Jesus is all about me. My needs, my wants, my testimony, my ministry, my ability to do all the "Christian" stuff. It's all about me. Oh, I'm thankful all right. Thankful that God has used me to do good works. Thankful that he has given me a wonderful testimony to serve as an example. . . .
When Jesus assumes his rightful place, prayer is all about aligning my will with his. It is characterized by thankfulness and awe. I submit my wants and my desires to him and listen.
Prayer for those of us accustomed to domesticating Jesus takes on a different role. It's all about me, remember. Prayer sounds more like advice than submission and awe. . . .The domesticated Jesus aligns his will with mine. My needs, not Jesus, are central.
We domesticate Jesus every time we try to make him fit our agenda instead of listening to his. (excerpted from Chapter 13, pp. 153-154)
This is such an important book that I'm going to do a giveaway. I'm not about to part with my book, but I'll send one of you a new copy straight from Amazon. Just leave a comment on this post by 8:00 pm CDT this Thursday (7/8/10) and I'll draw a winner. US residents only, please.
And if you don't win, make haste to a bookstore and get a copy!
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