Jesus Made in America rocked my world, my silly little world where I assumed I had a full grasp on who Jesus is and was delusional enough to think I could compartmentalize him into something which resembled a spiritual Roomba rather than the Almighty King. He zipped around my life cleaning up my messes and if anything called this dynamic into question I could point out I was giving him all the freedom he needed to do his job. I wasn’t controlling where he went or what he did; I was just controlling what department of my life he was tending to. Even my times in the Scriptures were far too quiet and unassuming more often than not lasting just long enough for me to not feel guilty about not committing myself fully to the text.
But Jesus Made in America challenged my interpretation of Jesus by revealing my insane assumptions about Him were nothing new but in fact have been happening in America since the time of the Puritans. What does the book suggest is the most influential and dangerous theological norm in American history? The idea that Jesus is a “personal” God who exists to give his followers good “experiences”. Think for a moment about how often you use “I feel” when you are talking about Jesus. Chances are, like me, you use it a lot. Why? Because culturally speaking, Americans value personalized experiences over anything else. Now am I saying Jesus isn’t a personal God and that we can’t experience him? Of course not, he is and we can and should.
A “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” more often than not can be translated “personal relationship with Jesus Christ where Jesus meets my needs and saves my soul from hell and as long as I keep experiencing him in a good comfortable way and he blesses me we are cool” (my paraphrase & exaggeration). This is evident in my own life. My faith can easily slip into a low grade Gnosticism where I love Jesus spiritually but don’t allow him any impact in my reality. Not only is this a gross misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what he came to do, on a basic level it paints Jesus as someone very insignificant and small. This is the Savior of all creation we are talking about, the King of which Ephesians says “ALL things (are) under his feet”. Not just spiritual things, or morality, but all things: heaven, earth, creation, time, sin, death, life…everything. And when we try to make our relationship with the Savior-King something we can control we are delusionally putting ourselves on the throne of our lives where He rightfully belongs.
Ultimately God DOES desire a personal relationship with every one of his children and he pursues us even when are in sin, the same way he pursued Adam and Eve after they sinned in the Garden. Jesus Made in America didn’t make me lose hope in this Christ but rather perpetuated my already deeply ingrained desire to know Him more fully. It also challenged my understanding of Him and helped me to break down some of the barriers I had unknowingly constructed. And in some cases, like my own, the removal of a barrier allows one to take their gaze off themselves and direct it instead to the infinite glory and magnificence of Jesus.