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Getting Jesus Wrong: Giving Up Spiritual Vitamins and Checklist Christianity Paperback – March 20, 2017
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"What kind of Jesus do you believe in? Is he the Jesus you and others around you have imagined for your own life stories? Or is he the radical Savior-King who messes up your life and saves you really saves you, not only from his judgment but from yourself? This is a fun book to read. More than that, it's spot-on, filled with the Bible's central message. Tired of chicken-soup-for-the-soul spirituality? Then read this book!"
--Michael Horton, Professor of Theology, Westminster Seminary California; cohost, White Horse Inn broadcast/podcast
"We live in an age when people aren't so much interested in what is true as they are in what works. And to their minds, what doesn't work is the boring same-old-same-old story of Jesus, God's perfect Son who fulfilled all the Law in our place, died the death we all deserve, and then rose to new life again, so that we can know we're lovingly forgiven, adopted, and cherished. Because we've yawned at the gospel, Jesus has been refashioned into a person who offers more practical help: he's given to you so that you can love yourself more, be a really great you, and be part of our really great movement. Matt Johnson struggled under the tyrant of that sort of Jesus until he discovered the wonder of the real Jesus the One who dispenses both Law and Gospel. This book is a strong antidote to all the wrong Jesuses out there. I encourage you to read it and share it with friends. You'll be glad you did."
--Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Author of Because He Loves Me
"Apparently it was Voltaire who originally quipped that In the beginning God created man in his own image, and ever since, man has been trying to repay the favor. What sounds like a clever witticism is actually a devastating truism, the all-too-real consequences of which Matt Johnson unpacks here with both courage and a great sense of humor. Getting Jesus Wrong is a terrific dare I say, 'glorious'! resource for anyone who's ever thought about (let alone believed in) Jesus, and one that I plan to hand out with abandon.
--David Zahl, Editor of The Mockingbird Blog; author of A Mess of Help; coauthor of Law And Gospel
"We seem to accumulate all kinds of bad ideas about Jesus, like so many sticky notes attached all over him, until we can no longer see him beneath our labels. We also tend to be unaware that we've done this until someone like Matt comes along and helps us to see ourselves and Jesus more clearly. Matt has paired his clever writing style which I've long admired with his years of real-world theological reflection and self-examination to offer us an entertaining read with piercing theological insight. Enjoy."
--Mike Wilkerson, President of Redemption Groups Network; author of Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry
"I don't know when I've laughed so hard, thought so deeply, and repented so much while reading a book. Getting Jesus Wrong is an amazing life-altering book. When I said life-altering, everything you thought I said is wrong. Read it, find out why and give this book to everyone you know."
--Steve Brown, Key Life radio broadcaster; author of Hidden Agendas and How to Talk So People Will Listen
"The usual 'answer' to disillusionment with evangelical and Pentecostal church life is growing resentment, actual personal despair, and almost inevitable distancing. But it doesn't have to be this way! Matt Johnson s book helps disillusioned Christians find the Real Thing underneath all the stressing surface things. The Real Thing is God's grace to the shattered human, the poor guy who's been done to death by the Law. Matt Johnson has lived this hopeful story. He's funny and honest and true."
--Paul Zahl, Retired Episcopal minister; former Dean/President of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Pittsburgh; author of ten books
"For a relatively young author, Johnson reflects a rare spiritual maturity. He writes as one who has found new hope after spiritual fatigue, having been being tricked over and over again by communities and movements that advertised their commitment to good news but end up saddling followers with burdens neither our ancestors nor we could bear. He does this with a refreshing, candid, but never gimmicky style. Many who've been part of the American Christian experience will find his story familiar. For those who don't, it offers helpful insight into how many people from the author's generation have experienced Christianity in our times. In exposing the many forms 'latent theology of glory tendencies' can take, he's neither snarky nor condescending; rather, he invites us to join him in an exercise of self-assessment, and a journey to the foot of the cross. I recommend this book to anyone seeking restoration after being worn down by law-based religion."
--Jeff Mallinson, Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Concordia University; cohost of Virtue in the Wasteland, a podcast; author of the forthcoming book, Sexy: The Quest for Erotic Virtue in Perplexing Times
"In his excellent, easy-to-read book Getting Jesus Wrong, Matt Johnson has outlined many of the pitfalls of evangelicalism and the draw of our hearts toward false Jesuses. I identified with each one and the despair that came with believing in them. I highly recommend sitting down with Matt for awhile and thinking through the biblical Jesus you are going to find some good news here."
--Marci Preheim, Author of Grace Is Free: One Woman s Journey from Fundamentalism to Failure to Faith
"I've known Matt for nearly twenty years and have always enjoyed his intelligence, perspective, and sincerity. We've shared shoddy stages, stinky vans, hacky podcasts, and many, many hours of conversation. That being said, two things stand out for me after reading Getting Jesus Wrong: 1) Matt's a better writer than I am, and 2) For all he knows, he has no idea how timely and needed this was for me. So much joy in remembering that . . . it IS finished. Enjoy!"
--Mark Salomon, Author of Simplicity; vocalist for the bands Stavesacre, The Crucified, and White Lighter; host of the Never Was podcast
"I met Jesus twenty years ago and, to be honest, I've gotten Jesus wrong more times than I care to admit. The reasons are either bad teaching that I received or projecting my own ideas onto him. My friend Matt has written something that I wish I would've read early on in my faith, as it would've steered me in a far more biblical direction."
--Alex Early, Pastor of Preaching & Theology, Redemption Church, Seattle, WA; author of The Reckless Love of God and The New Believer's Guide to the Christian Life
"Reading Matt's manuscript out loud to my husband as we drove cross country, there were long pauses as Matt's well-written words resonated. Too many times we were forced to agree . . . 'that's us.' Matt's transparent sharing about how often he got it wrong about Jesus, all in light of a church failure that broke a good many hearts, are wise words to ponder. As the saying goes, wisdom is learning from others' mistakes. Thanks, Matt, for your efforts to make us wise!"
--Judy Dabler, Founder of Creative Conciliation
"Getting Jesus Wrong speaks directly and honestly to those who can no longer ignore or participate in the structures and systems that prioritize the control and conformity of the law over the freedom of the gospel. This book is funny and personal, as well as theologically rich. Author Matt Johnson's transparency about his own failures lends both credibility and insight into how the law and gospel interact in all of our lives."
--Matt Carter, Founding member of the band Emery; cohost of The Bad Christian podcast
About the Author
Matt Johnson is a husband, father to two little girls, and is an armchair student of theology living in Seattle. He is also a freelance writer and editor. Until recently, Matt spent seven years as an associate volunteer pastor in counseling and recovery ministry.
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On the technical side, there is one critique to make. He names one denomination, while omitting the names of two others, yet it's only in the context do we realize that one of the un-named churches is the main actor to the overall narrative. It can throw the reader out of the story, but it's truly a minor point because the book isn't denouncing a church. The author makes his point clear that the struggles come from his own heart and then leads the reader to the solution he found in Jesus.
Getting Jesus Wrong explores the most popular and fallacies of who Jesus is, like Jesus the “life coach”, Jesus as a “check list”, Jesus as a “visionary” as well as a few others. Johnson concludes that we not only misconstrued who Jesus is, making him into a false god, like the golden calf of Israel’s creation. When we understand who Jesus really is instead of pride and despair we have humility and hope found in a true relationship with the real Jesus of Scripture.
The book was a fantastic read and would be helpful to any Christian trying to throw off the shackles of cultural Christianity and have the relationship with Jesus that is scriptural and not a man-centric culture.
This book was provided to me free of charge from New Growth Press in exchange for an unbiased, honest review.
Getting Jesus Wrong: Giving Up Spiritual Vitamins and Checklist Christianity
© 2017 by Matt Johnson
Publisher: New Growth Press
Page Count: 160 Pages
He first tackles “life coach Jesus” which is the Christological model in which Jesus’ ethical demands take the form of the contemporary culture so that the gospel leads one to become a good husband, hard worker, etc. Often this version of Jesus results from sermons that emphasize steps to a better marriage and how to exceed for Christ in the workplace.
The next chapter critiques what Johnson calls “checklist Jesus.” This version of Christ sees the Christian life as an extensive to do list. Read your Bible, pray, attend church. According to Johnson, this version of Christianity leads people to believe that these basic activities are necessary to make God happy.
In Chapter Three, Johnson wrestles with “movement leader Jesus.” This is the sort of Christianity that values leaders that are trying to get bigger faster, often in the name of mission. Often churches in this version of Christianity rely on a strong leader to further their expansion.
The fourth chapter deals with a similar version of Christianity, which Johnson calls “visionary Jesus.” It’s not entirely clear what the difference between this category and the previous one is. Though he mentions no names, here he is clearly thinking of his former pastor, Mark Driscoll, and others like him. Similarly, the prosperity preachers would generally fall in this category.
In the next chapter Johnson explains how following one of these several false versions of Christianity lead one to pride and eventually despair. His point here is valid. When the gospel is redefined or human effort in pleasing God over-emphasized, it can lead to a sense of pride in “my church” or “my denomination.” When leaders fail or churches fail to prosper, this can lead to disappointment leading to despair. Not surprisingly, this is part of Johnson’s own story that looms heavily over the entire volume.
Chapter Six begins a separate section of the book that Johnson entitles, “The Antidote to Pride and Despair.” In Chapter Six, Johnson outlines the problem with seeking justification through the law. In this chapter Johnson briefly references the three uses of the law (judge, bridle, and lamp), but camps out on the law as judge. He attempts to show that human efforts to live a holy life leads to spiritual deadness and pride.
In chapter seven, Johnson summarizes the gospel as Christ’s work on behalf that fulfills the law, since we are unable. He rightly emphasizes that forgiveness is freely available and that salvation is not a result of human works. However, the chapter on the gospel tends to emphasize a rebuttal of the law rather than a positive presentation of the glory of the gospel.
The final chapter presents Johnson’s vision of hope in Christ’s work. In this chapter Johnson spends as much time, however, talking about his own depression and struggles, which actually overshadow the entire book. His hope seems more like a vague sense of light than a glorious joy in the gospel.
Johnson should be commended for his efforts to debunk false gospels. For some, this may be exactly the message that needs to be received. If someone is tempted to believe a works-based salvation, then Johnson’s account of his spiritual journey may jostle them out of their beliefs.
The Christianity Johnson presents is anemic, however. He is so focused on debunking the versions of false gospel he journeyed through that he leaves out any implications of the gospel. In fact, one of the tragedies of this volume is that Johnson provides no mention of sanctification and, to some readers, gives the impression that the necessary human efforts toward sanctification are exactly the sort of false gospel that he is critiquing.
Johnson does not call out Driscoll or his former church, Mars Hill in Seattle, by name. However, this volume is marked heavily by Johnson’s experience as a lay elder in that church. It is clear that the well-known problems in Driscoll’s leadership and the subsequent collapse of the network of churches has scarred Johnson. He notes that while writing this volume he has been unemployed, undergoing marital difficulties, and, by the tone of the book, struggling with some form of a mid-life crisis. Johnson has a lot of the pieces of a good book here, but the effort is marred by his joyless tone throughout the book. I walked away from the volume feeling much like the Christian life is about enduring prison camp, where release is unlikely and hope is mainly for a painless death at the end leading to eventual resurrection. That’s a bleak vision and inconsistent with the hope we have in this life as a result of the gospel.
Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume in exchange for an honest review. This is an abbreviated form of a review posted at Ethics and Culture.
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