Who is Jesus?
The question is even more popular now than it was when Jesus himself questioned his disciples about people’s speculations (Mark 8:27).
Christians believe that the true nature of Jesus’s identity is fully explained in scripture, yet somehow—even with the Bible as our ostensible authority and guide—people have a lot of ideas about Jesus that can only be called unbiblical.
Some say he wasn’t divine, others claim his words trump the rest of scripture, and still others maintain that his teachings made institutions like the church irrelevant.
With this problem in mind, Daniel Darling sets out to dispel some of these notions in The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is.
The ten particular caricatures Darling names and debunks are Guru Jesus, Red-Letter Jesus, Braveheart Jesus, American Jesus, Left-Wing Jesus, Dr. Phil Jesus, Prosperity Jesus, Post-Church Jesus, BFF Jesus, and Legalist Jesus.
Here I feel a point of clarification—one essential to understanding this book—is in order.
The book’s title and chapter names give the impression that Darling is addressing false ideas of Jesus as a person—what he said and did—when it would be more accurate to say he is targeting distortions of Christianity itself.
This is why most of the chapters don’t really present a mischaracterization of Jesus per se.
Rather, Darling describes a faulty understanding of Christianity—that it’s about becoming wealthy, achieving political objectives, or following certain rules (Prosperity Jesus, American Jesus, and Legalist Jesus, respectively)—and then cites passages from the gospels and other books of the New Testament showing how it is a misconception.
Notably, the one chapter that discusses at length a falsehood that is actually about Jesus (based on select scripture passages) is Left-Wing Jesus.
Darling acknowledges that verses such as Matthew 19:24, Luke 4:18, and Acts 4:32-37 can be used to lend at least a thin layer of credibility to the idea that Jesus was a socialist.
However, as he ably argues, and as multiple authors on this site have argued before, to say that Jesus—and indeed, all of scripture—is concerned for the poor is not to say the Bible teaches that socialism or communism is morally incumbent on Christians, or even the government at large.
Moreover, Darling stresses that welfare and aid are not as effective at helping the poor as many think, and that some of the best ways to lift people out of poverty include robust property rights and economic freedom.
This chapter stands out because the ideas presented in it—Jesus was a socialist, the Bible teaches socialism/communism—actually build up to a false image of Jesus himself that is derived from Scripture.
The only other chapter that does this to any marked degree is Braveheart Jesus, which is based on Jesus’s forceful cleansing of the temple. The rest, again, are largely concerned with shedding light on the original Christianity as elucidated by Jesus.
That being said, given how prevalent some misconceptions of Christianity are, Darling performs a great service in pointing out and rebutting them. As he says, unless we are rooted in scripture our hearts will be perpetual false Jesus factories, and with this truth we can keep our eyes fixed on the original Jesus.