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A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful…

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel

by Bradley Jersak

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My interest in the idea that God looks like Jesus has grown over the past few years. Such an idea may seem fundamental to the faith of some Christians, but it was a radical idea for me. Growing up Jesus was rarely presented as anything more than a way to escape God’s wrath and eternal damnation. Until recently the idea that Jesus’ life, death, and teachings might say something about God’s nature was foreign to me. Because of this interest I was excited about the opportunity to read Brad Jersak’s new book A More Christlike God.

Like my friend Ryan – who reviewed A More Christlike God on his blog last month – I was introduced to Brad Jersak by way of the Hellbound? documentary. That film played a huge role in challenging my spiritual views and expanding my library. After watching it I devoured books by Frank Sheaffer, Brian McLaren, Greg Boyd, and Rob Bell. Despite Brad’s compelling parts in the documentary, I have not read any of his books before now.

The question the book seeks to answer is a timeless spiritual query, “What is God like?” Using scriptural references boundaries are laid out for how Christians must answer this question. God must look like Jesus. Before answering the question, the author presents four common “un-Christlike” images of God. All four images are found within Christianity, but most people will be familiar with the “Punitive Judge.” This God controls every atom of existence. He blesses and brings to ruin whomever he pleases either natural disasters or divine providence. This is the image of God most often presented by religious fundamentalist and even many atheists.

I expected to skate through the false images of God because I felt confident that I no longer held any of them. However, as Jersak describe each one in detail one of them made me feel more than a bit uncomfortable; the “Deadbeat Dad.” This God is like an absentee parent who gives their children physical life, but neglects to be present afterwards. Jersak describes this God as “perpetually distant, absent, silent and disconnected.”

I’ve felt God’s “absence” for some time, but reading Brad’s counterpoints to this view made me realize I was bitter. As he offered reasons why this view was false my thoughts became defensive and snippy. Even though my experiences have led me to reject a micromanaging God, I still long for one. If I’m honest, I’m upset that God is not meticulously controlling events. This strange tension has definitely left me with a frustrating feeling that God is a “Deadbeat Dad.”

The next section begins to answer the question “What is God like” by looking at Jesus’ incarnation and death. Jersak believes that these two things hold serious practical and theological implications for Christians. The words he uses to represent incarnation and death are kenosis and cruciformity.

Kenosis is defined as “self-emptying power, self-giving love and radical servanthood.” Although kenosis isn’t a common word for most Christians, they will be familiar with the idea it embodies. Philippians 2:1-11 is a well known reference about Jesus emptying himself of power and glory to become a servant. But most Christians assume that Jesus’ kenosis was temporary. He did rejected power and glory while on earth, but re-assumed them upon ascension to heaven. A More Christlike God pushes readers beyond that assumption, asking if Jesus’ kenosis reveals a God who is always rejecting power and glory.

“What if Jesus’ humility, meekness, and servant heart were never a departure from God’s glory and power, but actually define it and demonstrate it….What if God does rule and reign, not through imperial power but through kenotic love?”

Cruciformity is another word that isn’t familiar for most Christians. It’s defined as “cross-shaped or in the form of crucifixion.” Most traditions have a focus on Jesus’ crucifixion, but in a selfish and transaction way. Their theology ask questions like: What did Jesus’ crucifixion do for me? How does Jesus’ crucifixion gain me salvation? How did it deal with with my own sin?

Cruciform theology requires different questions to be asked. Questions like: What does God’s death at the hands of humanity reveal about God’s character and power? What does Jesus’ willingness to forgive rather than crush his enemies mean for those who follow him? What does it show about God’s posture towards sin and sinners?

For Jersak, both of these ideas are crucial for answering the question of What God is Like. With a heavy dose of scriptural references he looks deep into the kenosis and cruciformity of Jesus, seeking their significance to our understanding of God. Above all, he pushes readers to see that these key attributes reveal what God has been like and is like for all time.

“The truth is that cruciformity and kenosis are not temporary conditions of God’s history, restricted to a first century Jewish long-weekend or even to the whole of the Incarnation of Christ. They describe God’s divine identity—not just what he is like, but who he is.”

This section is dense and meaty and definitely the most challenging part of the book. While the basic concepts are easy to comprehend and digest, Jersak doesn’t let the reader rest easy. He pushes deep into their complex, mysterious, and paradigm shattering implications. One example of this is the author’s response to the age old questions of “If God is all good and all powerful, then why does evil exist.”

Brad affirms, through scripture and experience, that God is all good. And it’s undeniable that evil exists in the world. So what then about God’s power? Logic says that one of these premises must be untrue. Jersak asserts:

“the cruciform King [and] the Cross itself challenges this premise and overthrows our ideas of what it means for God to be all-powerful in this world. If by
[all-powerful] we mean God is controlling history and causing all events (good and evil), the implications are impossible, immoral, and in fact simply pagan. [That] God is Zeus rather than Christ.”

The final section of the book is called “Unwrathing God.” It examines God’s wrath in light of the God revealed by Jesus in the previous section. Part of this section deals with penal substitutionary atonement (Jesus received God’s wrath on our behalf). Having wrestled with PSA enough to walk away from it, I didn’t find anything particularly new here. What was new and interesting for me was the way Brad deals with God’s active wrath against sin.

My tradition taught that God is love, BUT he was also just. (i.e. He’s hates unrepentant sinners, but loves repentant ones.) It is intellectually difficult to hold God as conditionally unconditionally loving. In my experience most ease this tension by leaning towards God’s active wrath towards sinners. There is a real and understandable comfort in knowing you’re in and others are out. Unfortunately this tension easing is often done at the expense of Jesus’ teachings and the gospel. Cherry-picked selections of Paul’s letters and the Old Testament often become surrogate gospels and proof texts for a God that’s less than love.

Jersak eases this tension, not by pitting God’s love against his justice, but by showing that God’s wrath isn’t active. Through scripture and reason he shows that the wrath of sin is a consequence of God’s loving, cruciform consent to our freedom. He uses the parable of the Prodigal son to explain this idea:

“The Father consents to the son’s stubborn defiance and selfish recklessness. In love, [the Father] lets him leave and gives him over to the wrath of sin. When the son bottoms out, wakes up and heads home — when he consents to the father’s way — the father welcomes him home with great joy and without shame.”

And certainly the Father also suffers in this act of consent! He loses a beloved child and one half of his property and wealth. Not only this, he also experiences shame, embarrassment, and public ridicule for the folly of his son.

The book closes with a chapter on how to share the message of a cruciform, self emptying God. One tool that has been popular is the Gospel in Chairs. It is a visual representation comparing the legal view of God with the restorative view of God. I personally haven’t found it to be that powerful or moving and it felt less so in print.

I appreciated Brad’s writing style throughout the book. Although there was often an overuse of flowery, religious jargon. He also writes in a tone that is humble, gentle, and inviting, like as a gentle, wise figure pushing the reader beyond their limits. Reading A More Christlike God felt like spending time with a spiritual mentor.

Another feature of the book that I really liked was the summary and questions at the end of each chapter. I don’t know if this is a trend with Canadian authors – I also noticed this in Andre Rabe’s book Desire Found Me – but it’s something that I appreciate as a reader.

As excited as I was about reading this book, I also arrogantly expected it to confirm my beliefs about a “Christlike God.” This was not that kind of book. It would surprise me if anyone walked away from A More Christlike God unchallenged. The ideas contained in this book and their implications will leave readers with much to wrestle with. I expect it will be a book that people return to again and again. I know I will. ( )
  erlenmeyer316 | Sep 21, 2015 |
Title: A More Christlike God (A More Beautiful Gospel)
Author: Bradley Jersak
Pages: 352
Year: 2015
Publisher: Createspace
My rating is 2 stars
Sometimes when nonfiction books such as the one titled above are offered for review, I sense the Holy Spirit prodding me to sign up to read the book. There are times when I come away with a treasure, which means that though there are some things I might disagree with in the book it contains some nuggets of gold that I might want to refer back to. Some of these nuggets of gold help expound Scripture and some speak deeply to my heart and are found in the Bible. Other times I come across books that just aren’t Biblical in their stance or in the defense of what points it puts forth to readers. So as I began reading the book to prepare writing a review it wasn’t long before I was confused or upset by some of the points made by the author. First, in a discussion with a young girl looking for answers he dismisses the existence of Hell. The girl is upset because relatives are crying saying that the relative who passed is in Hell as she never believed in Jesus as her Savior. The author talks with this girl and basically dismisses the existence of Hell and has the girl put her grandmother into the hands of a loving God. In doing so, he gives the girl untruth just to make her feel better.
There are some serious issues with this book. First, it doesn’t take the whole counsel of God. Second, it looks at what we have written in the Word about Jesus and applies it to God. Yet, the writer of the Gospel of John forgets that we don’t have written accounts of all Jesus said and did, because if we did the world couldn’t contain the writings (see John 20:25). People are looking for answers about or from God about some events, actions or happenings this side of heaven, so let’s remember a couple of things. One, He is infinite we aren’t. Two, there are some things we are not going to understand this side of heaven. Third, God doesn’t owe us an explanation; however, we do owe Him our worship, our very lives. Finally, what we have in the Scripture is God-breathed and therefore without error. Anything written by any human is subject to errors; we aren’t perfect this side of heaven.
It breaks my heart that a book that takes what we do know about Jesus as God revealed in the Bible without remembering it isn’t everything Jesus said or did, and thus fails to be founded on solid ground. Our place is to worship, adore, submit, and more. He alone is God; He alone knows all, sees all, and understands all. We are finite and we serve Him, not the other way around. Frankly, instead of demanding God answer us or explain to us our why’s and wherefore’s, we need to kneel to His Sovereignty and be at peace with not knowing. Why? Simply, it’s the Truth! ( )
  lcjohnson1988 | Jun 18, 2015 |
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