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John Eldredge

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Author Interview

Beautiful Outlaw: John Eldredge Reveals the Personality of Jesus

By Hannah Goodwyn Senior Producer - Jesus Christ. What image comes to mind when you think of that holy name? Is He a painted figure, the angelic-looking, bearded fellow of Renaissance art? Is He a super spiritual storyteller? Is there more to this man than even the devout realize?

Bestselling author John Eldredge thinks so. He even offers answers in Beautiful Outlaw, his new book about the personality of Jesus.

Recently, the Wild at Heart author spoke with about how freeing it was to embrace Jesus’ personality and how it has deepened his faith and love for Christ. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

While writing Beautiful Outlaw, was there one revelation about the personality of Jesus that surprised you?

John Eldredge: First off, that He has a personality. Right? We've made elevator music of Jesus Christ. We've made Him the most boring, bland, blah person; and He was the most revolutionary man.

The playfulness of Jesus [was surprising]. When you pause and you think, “OK, God created laughter, and He gave us the capacity for laughter.” But then you don't really see that when you read the Gospels; Jesus seems like a very serious person. You know the phrase “Jesus laughed” isn't ever used in the Gospels. So, most people walk away with the idea that Jesus is a pretty serious guy, pretty sour faced most of the time, pretty upset at what's going on around Him.

Then, we take the playfulness of creation and you say, “Wait a second, God created laughter. Maybe Jesus is playful. Maybe we just haven't found it in the Gospels.” And you read back through some of these stories such as the Emmaus Road or the miraculous catch of fish in John 21, and you go, “Oh, my goodness. Jesus is a very playful person with a great sense of humor.”

Beautiful Outlaw speaks to a three-dimensional Jesus instead of the words-on-paper personality we hold onto. How did you go about unravelling Jesus’ personality?

Eldredge: The first step for me was to remove the religious costume that the Church has put on Jesus, the stain glass, the white robe and sandals, the super spiritual Jesus. If you just take off the religious costume, you realize He was, to begin with, a man. His humanity is real and you start looking for his personality in these stories… his playfulness, his cunning, his disruptive honesty. The more that you come to know Jesus for who He really is, loving Him is not a problem.

What’s one revelation all believers should know about Jesus’ personality?

Eldredge: That He is the least religious person you will ever meet. That's the irony. That the man who hated religion most has become the most religious cartoon in the history of the world. Our images of Him now are just draped in the hyper-spiritual religious. Just the idea that Jesus is a person that you can know and relate to as intimately as you love and relate to your closest friends. That's huge for most people.

We're told that you can have a relationship with Jesus, but most Christians don't experience Jesus personally like that. They just don't. We honor Him. We respect Him. We worship Him. We don't experience Him and His personality like we do the people we love the most in our lives. And why is that?

Some may say, “That's fine and good for the time that He was on Earth, but when He ascended it was a different story.” What would you say to that?

Eldredge: Look at how He acts after His resurrection. He doesn't just dash off to the Father and leave us here. He spends a good bit of time still with his disciples. The way that He relates to them is so human, like the miraculous catch of fish, John Chapter 21. It's the third time that the disciples have seen Jesus after the resurrection. He does this marvelous thing where He repeats the same story of how they met Him. The way that these guys got pulled into being his disciples was the miraculous catch of fish on the shores of the sea of Galilee. He does it again. Then, what does He do? He says, “Come and have breakfast.” They have a cookout on the beach. Jesus does not even show up in the temple after the resurrection. He doesn't show up in the synagogue. He doesn't invite these guys to a Bible study. There's a realness to Him. There's an earthiness. There's an authenticity to Him that we yearn to experience. This is the resurrected Christ. This is post-redemption.

Then, you go to Revelation. This is now the ascended Christ. This is a famous passage that most Christians have heard, where He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will come in.” It's a letter written to Christians, which is kind of an interesting thought. It's not an evangelistic passage. He's writing the Christians, and He says, “Hey, you have left me standing in the street.” Jesus is outside; we are inside. He's knocking, and the idea is if you open the door to Him, He says, “I will come in and be intimate with you.” So the offer of this intimacy with Jesus for who He really is still is available. He hasn't changed.

In other words, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The same man, the same personality that you meet in the Gospels. He didn't suddenly become something else. Now, He’s the hyper-spiritual, godlike figure in the Heavens? He is the same person. He acts in the same ways.

Does our walk suffer because we don’t fully understand Jesus?

Eldredge: Oh, totally, totally. Absolutely. You will gravitate. A.W. Tosure says that the most important thing that ever crosses your mind is what you believe about God. I'm going to bring that into more focus and say, the most important thought you ever think is what you think about Jesus. Because Jesus makes God very specific. It is God with us, Emanuel. Jesus came to make God known. “This is what I'm like. This is what the Father's like. If you've seen Me, you've seen the Father. We're one in the same.”

So when you have a very religious Jesus, you end up with very religious Christians. When you have a very bland Jesus, you have very bland church. So the hyper-spiritualization of Jesus has done incredible damage to our experience of Him, but also to our witness of Him in the world. Because then you get these Christians who are two-dimensional, bland, boring figures, and the world goes, “Who wants that?”

Do you think Christ says, “Man, these guys don't get me”, when he looks at us?

Eldredge: He says that to Thomas. [Remember when] Thomas says to Jesus trying to explain, “I'm about to leave, but it's going to be OK because I'm going to come back to you and it's all going to be alright.” Thomas says to Him, “Alright, before you go just show us the Father.” And Jesus looks at Him and goes, “Thomas, have I been with you for so long and you don't know Me?” Of course, He says that to us.

How do we relearn who Christ is after years of thinking a certain way?
Eldredge: The second half of Beautiful Outlaw is designed to help people come in to encounters with Jesus. It's not enough to have factual information about Him, how ever correct those facts maybe. We're meant to experience Him. I John 1 says, “I wrote this so you could experience Jesus the way we did." So let's just first make it clear that the Christian life is meant to be this same kind of experience of Jesus as the disciples had. You are meant to experience Jesus as personally, intimately, regularly, as the disciples did.

How do we get there? Step one is we begin to take down the barriers that we have placed on experiencing Jesus. Stuff like, “Well, He doesn't act like that anymore.” That's a barrier. If we hold to that about Jesus, it has to be really hard to experience Him. He's the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, opening ourselves up to the possibility that He does speak to you, that He does want to be playful with you, that He does want to be disruptive, that He does want to be all the things, that He is fierce, and kind, and winsome, and beautiful with you, just to open up the possibility of that is extraordinary for most people.

What is the role the Holy Spirit plays in understanding Jesus?

Eldredge: He makes it real. He gives us the ability to relate to the Father and the Son.

Beautiful Outlaw says that understanding Jesus' personality clears up confusion about passages the Church has debated for years. Can you give an example?

Eldredge: Reading the Gospels without the personality of Jesus is like watching television with the sound turned off. That's why so many of these passages seem so bizarre to us.

Like the Syrophoenician woman who comes to Him and says, “My daughter is possessed. Please help me.” Jesus says, “Sorry you're not suppose to give the food of the children to the dogs.” You read that story and you go, “Yikes!” He's calling her a dog. “You worthless scumbag. I don't have time for you.” But if you watch the interchange in the story, and you watch how Jesus responds to her, “You have amazing faith; you're daughter will be well.” So the story ends with Him with a smile on His face. We know that He is not racist. We know that He is not misogynistic. So what in the world is going on with that story? Well, if you insert the playfulness of Jesus, and you see it as a repartee between the two, she has a cunning reply. He smiles, and He says, “Well answered. Well answered.” Well, then you get this incredible encounter.

Same thing with the woman at the well. Same thing with the rich, young ruler. These stories that have troubled us in the past, if you recover the actual personality of Jesus in those stories and bring His heart into those stories, they take on a whole new meaning. They answer some pretty troubling questions for us.

What reactions have you gotten from readers about Beautiful Outlaw?

Eldredge: One of my favorite was when I gave it to a friend of mine. He was on a long-distance flight, and he texted me, and he says “I think that the woman next to me thought that I was losing my mind.” He said, “I wept the entire flight. I have fallen in love with Jesus again.” This guy is a pastor and a really good man and knows a lot about God, but to say, “I've fallen in love with Jesus again.” I mean that's everything. That makes it worth the whole thing.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.

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