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Jesus and Cultural Relevance August 7, 2005

Posted by fajita in Uncategorized.

Have you ever heard people say thing like, “it’s important to use specific Biblical words” or something like that? They speak as if the fact that a word appeared in the Bible that it has some kind of supercharged power – like it has been swept over with miracle dust.

I used to believe such things, but now I don’t anymore. And the funny thing is, I don’t think Jesus does or ever did either.

OK, let’s take a very “Biblical” word like Gospel. No one is going to argue that it is a Biblical word. However, I think most people believe Jesus made up the word to describe his work on Earth, the Kingdom of Heaven or something like that. Well, if you think he made it up you would be wrong. Phillip Yancey reports in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, that the term gospel was first used by Caesar Augustus to describe his reign in the Roman empire. Jesus took the word and turned its meaning. Paul continued to use the word in his letters.

Let’s try another one: Baptism. Most people are going to believe Jesus invented baptism, but they would be wrong. The slightly more informed people would say John the Baptist (who wasn’t really Baptist) invented baptism. And yet, those people would be wrong as well. Baptism was in fact a Jewish custom of cleansing and a very meaningful ritual. Baptism pre-existed the fleshly life of Jesus. Again, Jesus took a pre-existing concept and integrated it into his mission.

OK, let’ go for Hell. The idea of Hell showed up some time between Malachi and Matthew (between the testaments – which is a false division, but anyway). Jesus took the contemporary idea of Hell and completely turned it on the Pharisees, who were bent on oppressing people and scaring people with it. Jesus didn’t come loaded with Hell ideas so much as he used what was already “common knowledge,” and transformed it into his message of love. Read Brian McLaren’s book The Last Word to learn more about this.

OK, one more. Let’s try Communion. Many people belive that Jesus invented communion. Wrong again. Jesus took the existing Jewish tradition of Passover that dated back to being delivered from Egypt when the angel of death passed over their Jewish people’s houses in Egypt who had obeyed God and placed blood on their door posts. Jesus and his disciples were doing a passover meal and he, again, changed the meaning of the meal and said, “Remember me when you do this.” This? What is this? It is passover. WOW!!!

So, Gospel, Baptism, Hell, and Communion, some of the most central concepts of the Christian faith were all things Jesus borrowed from his contemporary culture or from tradition.

Now imagine what tradtitions, pop concepts, and cultural realities that exist today that Jesus would change. What would Jesus do with American Independence Day? The Kingdom of Heaven is like the 4th of July. When you see the fireworks, remember me. What about movies? The Kingdom is like a good movie.

What about you? What do you think Jesus would use to communicate his message of love if he were to come today?



1. laura - August 7, 2005

I can’t tell you how good it is to hear this! I think that yesterday I finally reached my maximum capacity for the Christian idea that “if it isn’t explicitly pushing JESUS then it’s not good evangelism.”

Which means, The Chronicles of Narnia are not sufficient to introduce people to Jesus because the Aslan-Jesus allegory is too opaque. People won’t really “get” that it’s Jesus; there’s a danger that they’ll stop with simply heroizing Aslan and never look any further.


1. You could do a lot worse than heroizing Aslan, who IS an allegory for Christ!

2. “…and I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to myself.”

3. As IF Christ himself will leave anyone hanging if their hearts are turned toward him, no matter what the first cause, be it Prince Caspian or Pulp Fiction.

2. Sprittibee - August 7, 2005

I think Jesus would hit the mall and start handing out nice long trench coats to the half-naked hooker-looking teenagers.

Then maybe he’d run the commercial that said “This bloods for you.” during half time.

3. David U - August 7, 2005

Great post Chris! Have you read the “Joshua” book by Girzone? They address this concept you have touched on…………Jesus amongst us today. REALLY good stuff!

Keep em coming, bro!


4. Keith Brenton - August 7, 2005

More proof that Jesus was masterful at transforming.

5. Matt - August 8, 2005

Great exercise, Chris! I want to try a few…

* “Blessed are those who dwell in cubicles, for you will find work that is rich and satisfying.”

* “Blessed are the homeless, for they shall live in the house of God.”

* “The Kingdom of God is like a teenager who misplaced her Ipod…”

* “To what can I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like an investor with high risk capital. He gave $50,000 to one entrepreneur, $100,000 to another, and $500,000 to another…”

* “…and she became a prostitute, working the streets near a crack house. Then, when she came to her senses, she said: ‘Why am I selling myself to men when the people who work for my daddy earn good wages for honest work. I will go to him and say, ‘Father, I have acted wrongly toward you and toward God. I no longer deserve to be treated as a daughter…'”

6. DJG - August 8, 2005

The kingdom of heaven is like a round of golf…you are going to sometimes be off of the straight and narrow, but take your penalties and get right back in the game.

7. Steve Duer - August 8, 2005

Good post. I wonder if Jesus would call telemarketers in stead of tax collectors now?

8. Fajita - August 8, 2005

Steve LOL. Could a telemarketer become an apostle? Oh man, what a concept.

9. Chad Nall - August 8, 2005

Great post, Chris. I was at Astroworld Saturday. The day included a concert by Third Day. All the Gomers and others began waiting at the gate for the ampitheater to open. As they waited, some began singing. Then, they stampeded each other to get the best seats. I wonder if Jesus would have gone to the concert or hung out with the crowds at the rides.

This doesn’t have much to do with our use of language and vernacular when sharing the good news of the kingdom.

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