How to Pick and Choose Better
There are good reasons why following and imitating Jesus can be confusing for us. In one place Jesus seems to be telling people to “Lighten up!” and in another place he tells people, “I didn’t come so you could do whatever you like.” He says the whole Law is summed up in the word love. (Sounds easy, right?) But then he turns around and uses command language when he tells us to be perfect – as perfect as God is! (Not so easy.) It’s interesting which parts of the Bible we concentrate on. My pal Jon Owen brought this up once. He pointed out how we tend to gravitate toward imitating Jesus in those areas that relate to what we’re already doing or are interested in doing. If we are predisposed towards pursuing social justice, then those are the actions of Jesus we imitate. If we’re more inclined towards ministries of compassion, we say it’s because that’s what Jesus called us to do. If we want to teach people about the Kingdom of God, it’s because we’re imitating Jesus’ ministry.
We tend to pick and choose the parts of Jesus’ teaching and ministry – the parts of the Bible – that we resonate with.
I have another friend named Conrad Gempf, who teaches New Testament studies at the London School of Theology. Conrad is constantly warning his students against this approach of looking for Jesus to merely reaffirm what you’re already doing. In fact, he suggests, “You shouldn’t focus on those passages in the Bible that contain answers you resonate with. Instead, focus on passages that address situations that resonate with your situation.”
In other words, stop rooting around in the Bible looking for something you want to read and start looking for characters in the Bible who are in similar circumstances as you. Read what the Bible has to stay to them.
For example, we love to hear Jesus tell us to lighten up and relax a little. But there aren’t many of us who are as uptight as the Pharisees to begin with. As Conrad says, “Lighten up is already our motto.” What might be more helpful would be for us to look in the Bible for conversations – especially conversations with Jesus personally involved – where folks disagree about stuff.
After all, what we're really talking about here is about a new way of thinking about and approaching apologetics, a conversational approach that is uniquely Christian. I figure, if we’re going to have Christian conversations, it might be worthwhile to actually look at the way Christ had conversations. Then, you know, maybe we could imitate him.