Getting Jesus Wrong: Giving Up Spiritual Vitamins and Checklist Christianity
by Matt Johnson
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Jesus is not a life coach, a movement leader, a cultural visionary, or a blessing dispenser—but you might not know that by listening to many Christians talk about their faith. Feel-good slogans promote a caricatured Jesus made in our own image who cannot save us and leave us feeling guilty for not saving ourselves. Following the wrong Jesus disappoints us and produces anxiety, pride, and despair.
The first half of Getting Jesus Wrong recounts pastor and author Matt Johnson’s personal encounters with a string of false saviors—false saviors that many, especially young adults, will recognize. Johnson’s humor and transparency in recounting his own painful experiences will appeal to those who have tried a “brand” of Christianity and found it lacking.
The truth is, we all want something from Jesus. Some are just hoping for a little help to get through life—a new direction, a purpose that will get us up in the morning, an exercise plan, a way to get organized. But that approach to Jesus doesn’t result in real faith or love.
Whether we’ve followed a false Jesus or attempted to coopt the real Jesus, Getting Jesus Wrong ultimately offers us hope because it helps us see Jesus as he is. Getting Jesus Wrong shows that the message of the Bible is about Jesus coming to us as we are—which is good news for exhausted and disillusioned disciples. It shows us that getting Jesus right means a whole new way of thinking (the way up is down) and a whole new way of life (daily dependence on the one who knows the beginning from the end). Getting Jesus right gives us more than spiritual vitamins or a blueprint for living; it gives us a full, rich life spent exploring the depths of gospel love together.
Matt Johnson is a husband, father to two little girls, and is an armchair student of theology living in Seattle. He is also a freelance writer and editor. Until recently, Matt spent seven years as an associate volunteer pastor in counseling and recovery ministry.
"What kind of 'Jesus' do you believe in? Is he the Jesus you and others around you have imagined for your own life stories? Or is he the radical Savior-King who messes up your life and saves you—really saves you, not only from his judgment but from yourself? This is a fun book to read. More than that, it's spot-on, filled with the Bible's central message. Tired of chicken-soup-for-the-soul spirituality? Then read this book!"
Michael Horton, Professor of Theology, Westminster Seminary California; cohost, White Horse Innbroadcast/podcast
"We live in an age when people aren't so much interested in what is true as they are in what works. And to their minds, what doesn't work is the boring same-old-same-old story of Jesus, God's perfect Son who fulfilled all the Law in our place, died the death we all deserve, and then rose to new life again, so that we can know we're lovingly forgiven, adopted, and cherished. Because we've yawned at the gospel, Jesus has been refashioned into a person who offers more practical help: he's given to you so that you can love yourself more, be a really great you, and be part of our really great movement. Matt Johnson struggled under the tyrant of that sort of Jesus until he discovered the wonder of the real Jesus—the One who dispenses both Law and Gospel. This book is a strong antidote to all the 'wrong' Jesuses out there. I encourage you to read it and share it with friends. You'll be glad you did."
Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Author of Because He Loves Me
"Apparently it was Voltaire who originally quipped that 'In the beginning God created man in his own image, and ever since, man has been trying to repay the favor.' What sounds like a clever witticism is actually a devastating truism, the all-too-real consequences of which Matt Johnson unpacks here with both courage and a great sense of humor. Getting Jesus Wrong is a terrific—dare I say, 'glorious'!—resource for anyone who's ever thought about (let alone believed in) Jesus, and one that I plan to hand out with abandon.
David Zahl, Editor of The Mockingbird Blog; author of A Mess of Help; coauthor of Law And Gospel
"We seem to accumulate all kinds of bad ideas about Jesus, like so many sticky notes attached all over him, until we can no longer see him beneath our labels. We also tend to be unaware that we've done this until someone like Matt comes along and helps us to see ourselves and Jesus more clearly. Matt has paired his clever writing style—which I've long admired—with his years of real-world theological reflection and self-examination to offer us an entertaining read with piercing theological insight. Enjoy."
Mike Wilkerson, President of Redemption Groups Network; author of Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry
"I don't know when I've laughed so hard, thought so deeply, and repented so much while reading a book. Getting Jesus Wrong is an amazing life-altering book. When I said 'life-altering' everything you thought I said is wrong. Read it, find out why and give this book to everyone you know."
Steve Brown, Key Life radio broadcaster; author of Hidden Agendas and How to Talk So People Will Listen
"The usual 'answer' to disillusionment with evangelical and Pentecostal church life is growing resentment, actual personal despair, and almost inevitable distancing. But it doesn't have to be this way! Matt Johnson's book helps disillusioned Christians find the Real Thing underneath all the stressing surface things. The Real Thing is God's grace to the shattered human, the poor guy who's been done to death by the Law. Matt Johnson has lived this hopeful story. He's funny and honest and true."
Paul Zahl, Retired Episcopal minister; former Dean/President of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Pittsburgh; author of ten books
"For a relatively young author, Johnson reflects a rare spiritual maturity. He writes as one who has found new hope after spiritual fatigue, having been being tricked over and over again by communities and movements that advertised their commitment to good news but end up saddling followers with burdens neither our ancestors nor we could bear. He does this with a refreshing, candid, but never gimmicky style. Many who've been part of the American Christian experience will find his story familiar. For those who don't, it offers helpful insight into how many people from the author's generation have experienced Christianity in our times. In exposing the many forms 'latent theology of glory tendencies' can take, he's neither snarky nor condescending; rather, he invites us to join him in an exercise of self-assessment, and a journey to the foot of the cross. I recommend this book to anyone seeking restoration after being worn down by law-based religion."
Jeff Mallinson, Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Concordia University; cohost of Virtue in the Wasteland, a podcast; author of the forthcoming book, Sexy: The Quest for Erotic Virtue in Perplexing Times
"In his excellent, easy-to-read book Getting Jesus Wrong, Matt Johnson has outlined many of the pitfalls of evangelicalism and the draw of our hearts toward false Jesuses. I identified with each one and the despair that came with believing in them. I highly recommend sitting down with Matt for awhile and thinking through the biblical Jesus—you are going to find some good news here."
Marci Preheim, Author of Grace Is Free, One Woman's Journey from Fundamentalism to Failure to Faith
"I've known Matt for nearly twenty years and have always enjoyed his intelligence, perspective, and sincerity. We've shared shoddy stages, stinky vans, hacky podcasts, and many, many hours of conversation. That being said, two things stand out for me after reading Getting Jesus Wrong: 1) Matt's a better writer than I am, and 2) For all he knows, he has no idea how timely and needed this was for me. So much joy in remembering that . . . it IS finished. Enjoy!"
Mark Salomon, Author of Simplicity; vocalist for the bands Stavesacre, The Crucified, and White Lighter; host of the Never Waspodcast
"I met Jesus twenty years ago and, to be honest, I've gotten Jesus wrong more times than I care to admit. The reasons are either bad teaching that I received or projecting my own ideas onto him. My friend Matt has written something that I wish I would've read early on in my faith, as it would've steered me in a far more biblical direction."
Alex Early, Pastor of Preaching & Theology, Redemption Church, Seattle, WA; author of The Reckless Love of God and The New Believer's Guide to the Christian Life
"Reading Matt's manuscript out loud to my husband as we drove cross country, there were long pauses as Matt's well-written words resonated. Too many times we were forced to agree . . . 'that's us.' Matt's transparent sharing about how often he got it wrong about Jesus, all in light of a church failure that broke a good many hearts, are wise words to ponder. As the saying goes, wisdom is learning from others' mistakes. Thanks, Matt, for your efforts to make us wise!"
Judy Dabler, Founder of Creative Conciliation
"Getting Jesus Wrong speaks directly and honestly to those who can no longer ignore or participate in the structures and systems that prioritize the control and conformity of the law over the freedom of the gospel. This book is funny and personal, as well as theologically rich. Author Matt Johnson's transparency about his own failures lends both credibility and insight into how the law and gospel interact in all of our lives."
Matt Carter, Founding member of the band Emery; cohost of The Bad Christian podcast