Jesus and the Usual Gospels


Normally on Saturday mornings I post some random thoughts. But as I prepare to teach a class on Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, I thought it would be better for you to hear from him.

It is almost impossible these days for people to “focus on what is unseen.” We are tethered to the news and various modes of entertainment. And these mediums of the seen spur intense emotional reactions. And we lead our lives with those emotions. And this is why we believe other gospels. Take your pick: conservative or liberal. There are many gospels for you to choose from.

There is another way.


Jesus offers himself as God’s doorway into the life that is truly life. Confidence in him leads us today, as in other times, to become his apprentices in eternal living. “Those who come through me will be safe,” he said. “They will go in and out and find all they need. I have come into their world that they may have life, and life to the limit.

But. intelligent, effectual entry into this life is currently obstructed by clouds of well-intentioned information. The “gospels that predominate where he is most frequently invoked speak only of preparing to die or else of correcting social practices and conditions. These are both, obviously, matters of great importance. Who would deny it? But neither one touches the quick of individual experience or taps the depths of reality of Christ. Our usual “gospels” are in their effects–dare we say it–nothing less than a standing invitation to omit God from the course of our daily existence.

Does Jesus only enable me to “make the cut” when I die? Or to know what to protest, or how to vote or agitate and organize? It is good to know that when I die all will be well, but is there any good news for life? If I had to choose, I would rather have a car that runs than good insurance on one that doesn’t. Can I not have both?

And what of social or political arrangements–however important in their own right–can guide and empower me to be the person I know I ought to be? Can anyone now seriously believe that if a people are only permitted or enabled to do what they want, they will then be happy or more disposed to do what is “right?”

Jaroslav Pelikan remarks that “Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?”

But just think how unlikely it would be that this great world-historical force, Jesus called “Christ,” could have left the depths of moment-to-moment human existence untouched while accomplishing what he has! More likely, we currently do not understand who he is and what he brings.

And what is it, really that explains the enduring relevance of Jesus to human life? Why has he mattered so much? Why does he matter now? Why does he appear on the front covers of news magazines two millennia later? Why, even, is his name invoked in cursing more than that of any other person who has lived on earth? Why do more people self-identify as Christians–by some estimates 33.6 percent of the world population–than any other world religion? How is that multitudes today credit him with their life and well-being?

I think we finally have to say that Jesus’ enduring relevance is based on his historically proven ability to speak to, to heal, and empower the individual human condition. He matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary human lives, and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weakness he gives us strength and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.

He comes where we are, and he brings us the life we hunger for. An early report reads, “Life was in him, life that made sense of human existence” (John 1:4). To be the light of life, and to deliver God’s life to women and men where they are and as they are, is the secret of the enduring relevance of Jesus. Suddenly they are flying right-side up, in a world that makes sense.

The Divine Conspiracy, 12-13

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