How and Why Do Christians
Try to “Domesticate” Jesus?
One of my recent blog posts—“Why the Mission of ChristNow Is So Critical for This Hour”—got some interesting responses. One of them stopped me cold!
The reader raised a concern about how often Christians try to “domesticate” Jesus. Why IS that? What does it involve? How does it impact our daily life in Christ?
Here’s my answer.
First, my reader wrote this to me:
I’d like to add one other description about the problem of the crisis of Christology in our churches. It seems like many Christians have “domesticated” Jesus Christ—or at least we try.
Of course, doing so is not at all possible. He remains Lord of all, no matter what we say or do.
But this has never kept believers from trying—trying to turn Jesus into a tame, trained Savior who serves their interests, their causes, and even their ambitions.
This is the perversion C. S. Lewis warned about in The Screwtape Letters. In that account, the demon is told to get his Christian target sidetracked by an approach to following Jesus that involves “Christ AND_____.”
As Lewis points out through this imaginary drama, the “AND” can link our view of Jesus to just about any cause, any political or social movement you want, as long as the believer’s focus is gradually drawn away from him and more and more onto the other agenda.
Satan’s goal is to get Christians excited about and wrapped up in anything except Jesus.
At this moment in America, it appears more and more that the phrase reads: “Christ AND politics”—which is particularly toxic to the cause of Christ.
This is what I mean by us “domesticating” Christ in many evangelical churches today.
But Christians are NOT called to be in charge of everything, politically or otherwise. We are called to be servants of King Jesus. By proclaiming his glory, we seek to influence from the bottom up, not from the top down.
Today, Christians seem to be seeking human power to make moral changes, doing so in all the wrong ways. We have placed Jesus “on call” to increase our access to power or to directly bring about the changes we want in our society.
Until we regain a biblical perspective on who we are meant to be, along with everything you say about the supremacy of Christ, David, it will be very difficult for the Church to BE the Church.
I’m afraid our Jesus has become too small. The Savior we have “domesticated” leaves us with a “domesticated” impact for his kingdom among our fellow Americans.
How I responded to him
Thank you for sharing. Your observations definitely challenge me.
I have also often used the word “domesticated” when talking about how many Christians today look at our Redeemer.
It’s sort of like how we domesticate a dog. We want it to be docile enough to not require a lot of attention or create a lot of distractions that get in our way. We want the pet to be a delight to have around the house. We want it to respond to us when called upon to perform our wishes. We choose the dog to serve as a companion, so we never feel totally alone. In fact, when we’re sad and down, having its presence next to us—maybe licking our hands, focusing its eyes on our faces, wagging its tail to greet us—can help chase the blues away.
In some of my writings, when I’ve used the metaphor of how we’ve made Jesus our “mascot” rather than our “Monarch,” I’m getting at this same tragic outlook on Jesus.
I suggest that Christians too often downgrade Jesus to bless us in the way a mascot provides value to a high school football game. For example, a mascot represents our school. It gives the student body an identity and sense of dignity that we happily own (like calling oneself an eagle or a badger). We fight to preserve his image—which really is our image of ourselves—as a winner.
Also, the mascot encourages us by leading us in victory cheers when we fear we may be losing. That’s why we keep the mascot on the sidelines—always available when we need him to inject new energy into the stands.
But in the end, the game is about the team, not the mascot. And if we win at the end, the credit goes only to the team. The mascot is not even mentioned in the news story the next day.
A lion, a tiger, a bear, a huskie, a panther—yes, they are very impressive icons, but they also have been domesticated to serve our own purposes.
“Christ AND___” or “____AND Christ”?
As to the Lewis scenario you mentioned, allow me to make one adjustment to his valuable observation—a modification due to how far the “crisis of Christology” has devolved since he wrote those words seventy years ago.
Today, for multitudes of Christians, it has become much more a matter of “_________ AND Christ” rather than “Christ AND_________.” What do I mean? For many of us, the Lord Jesus Christ has become even more like an “afterthought” or the “background scenery” in terms of what really dominates our thoughts, passions, priorities, projects, plans, and actions.
We’ve placed him at the fringes of our lives while we concentrate on a whole lot of other concerns and issues. We’ve retained him as our “backup,” so to speak, in case things get too tough or seem too hopeless.
But in our daily lives, other matters take first place in our hearts for all practical purposes—even “Christian” things and “spiritual” activities of our churches and ministries—including our efforts at “behavior modification” to synchronize our lifestyles with what we believe to be biblical standards.
Some of this may have a proper place from time to time. But none of it should ever be regarded of equal significance as the truth about who Christ is and what his saving work and reign are all about.
There is no “____________AND Christ.” There’s only CHRIST! Period. Everything else is to be brought under his feet as Lord to give him the supremacy in it all.
Is Jesus the Glorious King or
is he just our “Burger King”?
The REAL challenge for Christians today, especially evangelicals, is determining who IS the “Jesus” we’re following? Is he REALLY supreme for most believers today? If so, how are we evidencing that? Or have we so “domesticated” him that we have ended up with “another Jesus” altogether?
Is he our Glorious King or our “Burger King?” Are we alive in order to know him, serve him, and exalt him? Or is he alive in order to know us and serve us and meet our needs—but always doing so by allowing us to “have it your own way”?
Recently, I heard a 35-minute sermon on a biblical text by someone who I know loves Jesus. But he mentioned Jesus only in the final two minutes, and even that was essentially just in passing. I’ve witnessed this same phenomenon hundreds of times over my decades of travel into many streams of the Church.
How can this happen in a sermon (or in anything else that goes on in our churches and ministries) among Bible-believing, doctrinally sound, evangelical believers? Why are we failing so often to give Jesus his rightful place among us?
The answer, in part: We’re back again to how we have severely domesticated him—diminished him—in how we regard him and respond to him.
Again I must ask: How can such a crucial “oversight” happen if God’s people really and truly believe that in ALL things (including the focus of any sermon or any prayer) our Lord Jesus is meant to have the supremacy—that is, he is to be given the dominance, preeminence, primacy, final say—as Paul clearly teaches in Colossians 1:18 (and really throughout the entire book of Colossians).
And yet, I find this pattern of “domestication” has created a deadly “Christological vacuum” everywhere I move among believers. And I’m not alone in this observation. Just like you, there are many others, including highly respected Christian leaders, who are starting to raise the alarm with me.
For sure, we must warn Jesus followers about the current, spiritually destructive trend among a host of believers toward the total politicization of the Church unfolding across our nation. This is why I have begun to tell people, “I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I’m not an Independent.” I mean that I refuse to allow anyone to assume I’ve domesticated Jesus—co-opted him, as it were—to support worldly ambitions or political agendas.
Instead, I say, “I am a ROYALIST,” meaning that my whole life is about the King and his kingdom. I live for his agenda, his policies, his priorities, and to further his name, fame, reign, gain, and claim. In my church. In my daily walk. In the public square.
No domesticated Jesus for me! My King is actively reigning supreme today and forever.
Therefore, I join him to press forward in our generation with the gospel until, in spirit and in truth, the day appears when “the kingdoms of this world [America included! Democrats, Republicans, and Independents included!] become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ” (Revelation 11).
Let me close by suggesting three video clips from Session One of The Christ Institutes Video Series:
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular CHRIST TODAY podcast.