I picked up Greg Garrett’s The Other Jesus: Rejecting a Religion of Fear for the God of Love on a recent visit to Seattle’s Episcopal Book Store. It’s what may be termed, along with Sara Miles’ take this bread, ‘narrative theology’ – something more than spiritual autobiography in that books like these present an engaging exploration of the struggle to get to the essence of meaningful, relevant Christian faith. Both are excellent reads which I’m currently using to supplement my Lenten series on Marcus Borg’s Speaking Christian.
Garrett is a professor of English at Baylor University and writer-in-residence at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. His other works include We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2, The Gospel according to Hollywood, and Holy Superheroes! Exploring the Sacred in Comics, Graphic Novels, and Film. In things spiritual, he works in the emerging (no pun intended!) direction of Christian thought represented by writers like Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Barbara Brown Taylor, Diana Butler Bass and Marcus Borg. He expresses a healthy appreciation for some great contemporary Christian thinkers such as Walter Brueggemann and NT Wright. I appreciate the breadth of the sources from which he draws.
Why is this a good book for sharing with those who are looking at Christian faith again or for the first time? Garrett presents a consistent case for the beauty of the Gospel in understandable terms and avoids simplistic answers. He begins with an analysis of the problem of contemporary American Christianity and suggests what a thoughtful twenty-first-century Christianity might look like:
“When, after twenty-five years of wondering, I came back to church, I finally encountered the Other Jesus. I discovered an authentic message of love and acceptance, the one that the Other Jesus seems to be exemplifying in the Christian Testament….I discovered believers who were trying to live lives that reflected the change this Other Jesus had wrought in them. I discovered people who practiced faith as well as preached it.” (pg. 8)
Rejecting what Orthodox poet Scott Cairns calls, in one of his poems, “The Spiteful Jesus”, Garrett affirms that “this way of following Christ is not concerned with an array of commandments or simply with holding the right beliefs….it is centred on loving each other and loving God, what Augustine called the twofold commandment of love that is at the heart of Christian faith. This love is where the rubber meets the road, where faith meets the world”. (pg 9) By the way, I’ll forgive him the cliche!
Garrett’s concise treatment of an array of relevant questions is reflected in chapter titles like “Faith and Belief”, “The Bible and Theology”, “Sacramental Faith”, “Spiritual Practice”, “The Kingdom of God”, “The End of Things”, and “Friends or Rivals: Living in a Multifaith World”. Each chapter is accompanied by discussion questions for individual thought or group dialogue.
Garrett’s central discussion centres in his presentation of an alternative to understanding the life and work of Jesus through the idea of ‘substitutionary atonement’. He presents Greek Orthodox understandings, as well as drawing wisdom from Brian McLaren, Rowan Williams and NT Wright. His useful distinction between ‘Christianity 1.0’ and ‘Christianity 2.0’ itself makes the book worth a read.
With Sara Miles, Garrett reminds us, in the words of U2’s Bono, that the God incarnated in the Other Jesus, is deeply involved in the life of the world and that we too must take up the struggle to live out God’s mission among us:
“But the one things on which we can all agree, among all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and the poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”
-Bono, President’s Prayer Breakfast, Washington D.C.
The Other Jesus (2011) is published by Westminster John Knox Press; ISBN 978-0-664-23404-1
Steve Bailey is a deacon at St.Laurence, Coquitlam, and a blog master at New Westminster Anglican Blog. Your comments and contributions are always welcome.