WILL THE REAL JESUS PLEASE STAND UP?: 12 False Christs. By Matthew Richard
WILL THE REAL JESUS PLEASE STAND UP?: 12 False Christs. By Matthew Richard. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017. 261 pages. $14.99.
In Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking Glass, there is a delightful exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty concerning semantics. Alice expresses confusion over Humpty Dumpty’s use of the word ‘glory’ when she says, “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory.’”
Humpty Dumpty replies, “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I mean ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”
Alice objects, “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’.”
Humpty Dumpty snootily replies, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
This is what has happened to Jesus. There is the real Jesus. He is begotten of the Father from eternity, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified for our sins, and raised for our justification. And then there is a multitude of Jesuses, devised in the minds of men, with each one being just what people have chosen him to be, neither more nor less.
In the book Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? Matthew Richard looks at a few of these “Humpty Dumpty” Jesuses. There are twelve false christs that Richard explores.
It is amazing how many people want Jesus on their side. It seems everyone is scrabbling to show the world that Jesus is on their team. Find an agenda—social, political, theological, or otherwise—and you’re likely to find someone who is adamant that Jesus supports their cause. It’s almost as if the world has collectively forgotten that Jesus was so hated and despised in his own day that he was nailed to a cross.
Matthew Richard won’t let you forget the real Jesus’ death. He rightly insists upon it. And let the record be clear, Jesus isn’t on your team. You’re on his. Jesus is your advocate, but he’s not an advocate for your cause, he’s your advocate before the Father in heaven, who demands nothing less than total righteousness.
In this book, the reader is introduced to twelve false christs through vignettes. The vignettes themselves are fictional, but they are based on the real experiences of the author. Through them, the reader meets Jesus the Mascot, Jesus the New Moses, Jesus the Teddy Bear, and nine other false christs besides. Matthew Richard clearly explains what makes each false christ false, and what’s really at stake.
These vignettes are not theological grandstanding, but pastoral words of wisdom about the dangers of these false christs who cannot deliver the gifts of grace sinners need. The entire book has an evangelical and apologetic tone. Each vignette includes advice on how faithful Christians might respond to those who are following false christs. A strong emphasis is placed on one's 'confession' of the real Jesus. The reason for this emphasis is that we (i.e., Christians) don’t convert or save or win people. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. What we can do, though, is confess the real Jesus to all whom we encounter who are being led astray by false christs.
The book contains no footnotes. It does, however, include offset paragraphs in shaded blocks. These paragraphs are places where the author develops themes that the reader might not be familiar with, such as: ethical hedonism, liberation theology, theology of the cross vs. theology of glory, Ebionites, and theocracy. Each shaded block is a tangent to the main argument of the book. I appreciated these tangents because the vocabulary of the Church is important. Matthew Richard doesn't dumb it all down, but uses the language of the Church, while simultaneously bringing the reader up to speed on the meaning of such terminology. This helps prevent the creep of anti-intellectualism.
I cannot stress enough the importance and value of familiarizing yourself with the terminology and language of the Church. The unabashed use of technical terminology is present even in secular children’s books. My son came home from kindergarten one day with his Scholastic book order that included a book titled Pirates on the Farm. The back page of the book is an entire glossary of the technical “pirate words” that are used within the text of the story. If Scholastic Inc. has no problem teaching five-year-olds terms like ‘poop deck’ and ‘hardtack’ and ‘gangplank’ and ‘scrimshaw,' then the Church shouldn’t fret over teaching adult readers concepts like ‘ontology’ or ‘mysticism’ or ‘Keswick theology.’
Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? is much shorter than its 261 pages. Every chapter is followed with “study questions” making this book a ready-made resource for a church Bible Study led by a pastor or lay-person. There’s even a 40+ page appendix that serves a leader’s guide.
This book is approachable without being shallow. It’s gentle yet firm in its confession of the real Jesus. Matthew Richard is to be commended for writing a valuable resource for the Church.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.