Jesus – new and improved!

Today I saw a book on the bargain shelf of the local bookstore called The Secret Sayings of Jesus. Turns out it was just a translation of the Gospel of Thomas, but it made me wonder how much of the demand for “secret,” “hidden,” “gnostic” or esoteric information about and/or teachings of Jesus is really just a desire to avoid coming to terms with the Jesus we already know.

After all, why look for “secret” sayings of Jesus when something like “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” ought to be more than enough to keep most of us busy for a lifetime? Or if that’s not advanced enough, why not try “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” or “Sell all that you have and give to the poor”?

The same thing may be at work in the constant interest in new or esoteric forms of spirituality, often imported from some exotic culture or some largely imaginary setting of the past. Or the parade of “prosperity” and self-help-style “Christian” books. This is not to say there’s nothing of value there, just that there’s probably more faddishness in religious publishing than any other area, except maybe self-help and business (take a look at the “spirituality” section of your local Barnes & Noble if you don’t believe me). I mean, who wants to pracitce the same old boring things Christians have been doing for 2000 years: going to church, reading the Bible, praying the Psalter and the Lord’s Prayer, fasting, performing works of mercy, etc. Just because something worked for the great saints and martyrs doesn’t mean it’ll work for me! My needs are special and unique! (Plus, there’s only so many books you can sell on the same old, same old!)

Eugene Peterson has called the Christian life “a long obedience in the same direction.” Could there be any description more guaranteed to repel the sensibilities of a society that thrives on novelty? But the endless quest for novelty can create people incapable of making committments or putting down roots, which seems like a guarantee of a shallow life.

14 thoughts on “Jesus – new and improved!

  1. Jennifer

    ” but it made me wonder how much of the demand for “secret,” “hidden,” “gnostic” or esoteric information about and/or teachings of Jesus is really just a desire to avoid coming to terms with the Jesus we already know.”

    Or – some would say – the Jesus we already know has been passed down to us through the big, bad, oppressive, patriarchal, etc. Church, and so you can’t trust it.

  2. Eric Lee

    I think this post made my day. (it met my personal needs! -j/k) Thanks for challenging us. Makes you kinda wonder why the Da Vinci Code thing is so popular.

    Thanks, Lee!



  3. Cory

    The funny thing about this Jesus being promoted by the big bad Church is that if you compare the two, the exclusionistic Jesus preaching hidden knowledge to the in-crowd serves that purpose far better than the Jesus preaching in the Gospels.

  4. Lee

    Good point, Cory.

    “Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.'” – John 18:20

  5. Andy

    I think Jennifer nailed it. So many people seem to believe the conspiracy theory that the institutional church has tried to keep some truth hidden from the world. And now — at last — we’ve figured out what it was!

  6. M

    perhaps the trend is pointing to a desire on the part of christians and non christians alike to more fully understand what this man could have been talking about. love your neighbor as yourself is awesome, but what is the best way to do that? how do you love yourself so that you will know how? there are plenty of details you have to step away from those generalities to learn about. you are correct that there is plenty in the traditional gospels for anyone to work on, but even things in the gospels themselves point out that there was plenty said off the official record. what the disciples say in luke 9:54 is intriguing. what gave them an idea like that? there are little things like that everywhere and if they were said they must be important too. then there is matt 13:10-17. i am a big fan of that one, and i wonder about it a great deal.
    it is unfortunate that everything in our culture gets commodified, but the same thing has happened to christianity in many places. and just as there is still plenty of sincere and genuine christianity, there is also lots of sincere occultism. you just dont see it because it doesnt sell! its there, and christianity could benefit from some of the alternate viewpoints and approaches presented, which are relevant to the teachings of jesus himself, were it willing to learn. stereotypes are never overcome until one can surpass their biases to actually learn the truth. if christianity really had all the answers, the world would be a very different place.

  7. Joshie

    uat a certain point it has to get past sincerity. The belief in multiple gods is incompatible with Christianity, period, just like the belief in a Triune God is incompatible with Islam and modern Judaism, period. Dialogue can be very useful and can help improve understanding on both sides of an issue, but there’s a certain point where you get down to the gritty nitty (as mrs. slocombe would say) and there can be no progress without one side compromising their essential beliefs

  8. M

    I do not believe it is neccesary to embrace a polytheistic outlook to learn the individual wisdom a person who does have that outlook has to offer. Jesus has plenty to say to a non-christian also, plenty which has practical applications to anyone, useful whether or not you embrace the doctrines that were developed after his lifetime. What I said before was that, whether or not the gnostic writings are actually authentic, the interest in them stems from the very real knowledge that everything jesus said was not written down, that the guy was probably not just a broken record repeating the same stuff again and again. some of what is written points to ideas that are not expressed there fully, but they are still there. looking at some other wisdom traditions can provide some clues to what may have been meant by such bible verses as i mentioned before, and others. all i am trying to say is, misguided though some directions may be, the fact that people are seeking outside of the box they were taught in is something the man himself would have approved of. The establishment then was quite similar to the establishment now. People were afraid to stray from tradition and dogma then as they are now. The courage to follow truth off the beaten trail and into the wilderness is rewarded now, as it was then.
    Just because your dogma and my dogma arent the same breed doesnt mean we cant take them out for walks together!

  9. Joshie

    Never said they did. Anytime you want to go on a walk, just give me a call. 🙂 But monotheism is an essential part of what Jesus was about. While what he said can be interesting and enlightening to anyone, to fully embrace his teachings, that’s one point that must be accepted if one is to truely follow Jesus.

    All THAT said…For the past 400 years all people have been doing is leaving traditions behind. The majority of Christians don’t even know any of the church’s history, what the church has taught, what it believes. Everything has just collapsed into a big mushy mess of feelings and politics and nostalgia for times that never existed.

    I think a lot of people are dissatisfied with Christianity because they don’t even know what it is anymore. I read your blog and I liked a lot of your reflections on communion. A lot of people might consider them blaphemous or obscene, but in fact, Christian mystics (many of them women) have been saying similar things for centuries! Anyway I also wanted to make clear that I didn’t intend my response to be hostile to you and your little blog too.

  10. M

    Would you mind telling me which Christian mystics had such insights? I am told that idea never existed in Christianity, though I am sure I have heard it before and would very much like a reference or two.
    Thank you for coming over and reading my blog, you are quite welcome anytime. Its an off-leash zone for dogmas of all breeds!
    Monotheism… you know its just that I think God wears many faces which people see as their minds can handle it and as their hearts seek. Jesus himself is pictured with a thousand faces, none of which likely is anything like his true one. Yet each one is a pure expression of the artists personal vision, what Jesus meant to that person, how he spoke to them. They are all Jesus, yet none of them are, you see?
    I think it is the same with the absolute God, only she has had a lot more time to play in peoples imaginations.

  11. Joshie

    I can’t name a whole lot of specific ones right now, but the idea of spiritual marriage is a very old one in the Christian tradition. The Song of Solomon in the Old Testament has been read as an allegory of Christ’s relationship with the church for a very long time. You also might want to check out Julian of Norwich’s _Revelations of Divine Love_. The autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila is a good one too. Sorry I couldn’t give you any more specific info!

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