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Originally published Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 7:49 PM

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Books: 'Beautiful Outlaw': Portrayals of Jesus lack depth

Two-dimensional portrayals negatively affect views of Jesus and can stifle Christianity, author says.

Toledo Blade

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Author John Eldredge just can't take it anymore. He's heard enough descriptions of Jesus Christ as "loving"and "compassionate."

Fine qualities, indeed, and certainly true of Jesus, he said. But what about the rest of his personality?

Without Jesus' other character traits, which are so evident in the Bible, we are left with a "religious mannequin" or "a stained-glass cartoon," said Eldredge, author of a new book titled "Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus" (FaithWords/Hachette, $22.99).

Two-dimensional portrayals negatively affect views of Jesus and can stifle Christianity, he said.

Eldredge, 51, said he feels more passionately about the message of "Beautiful Outlaw" than he does about his 2001 best seller on men and spirituality, "Wild At Heart,"which has sold more than 8 million copies.

He said that when he reads about Jesus in the Bible, he finds a combination of personality traits that depict a complete and unique human being, such as playfulness and a sense of humor, cunning, humility, "disruptive honesty" and "scandalous generosity."

"The Bible says that man is created in the image of God. Man has a sense of humor, therefore why do we withhold this from God?" he said.

One example of how Jesus' personality shines through in the Scriptures is John 21:1-12, Eldredge said.

The story takes place after the Resurrection, when the disciples decide to go fishing in the Sea of Tiberias. Jesus appears to them on the shore and asks, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"

The disciples don't even recognize him.

Jesus then tells them to throw their net on the right side of the boat, and when they do, they catch so many fish they can't even haul in the net.

Eldredge points out that Jesus, after rising from the grave, could have made a stunning entrance on a cloud of glory, but instead walks up on the beach and asks the fishermen a typical tourist question: "Catch anything?"

The nonchalance of the risen Christ illustrates his playfulness and sense of humor, Eldredge said.

People too often skip over the depth of Jesus' personality found in such verses, and the consequences are serious, Eldredge said.

Depictions of Jesus as a gentle and meek soul don't align with verses such as John 2:13-17, in which he drives money-changers out of the temple.

Acting alone, he created a wildly chaotic scene.

"Jesus is a locomotive, a juggernaut," Eldredge writes. "For all practical purposes, he is the bull in the china shop. But is this the Jesus of our worship songs? The religious fog sneaks in to obscure Jesus with lines comparing him to, 'a rose trampled on the ground.' Helpless, lovely Jesus. Vegetarian, pacifist, tranquil. Oh, wait — that was Gandhi. Not Jesus."

In the interview, Eldredge said the tendency to describe Jesus as only "loving"and "compassionate"is perpetuated by people and churches without much thought or serious analysis.

"Part of the tragedy is that these things just get repeated, like urban legends. This whole characterizing, stereotyping, dehumanizing of Jesus has become so rote that it doesn't take a lot of looking into the stories themselves to realize how far from the truth it is. These things get ensconced in our religious traditions, in our church culture."

More information on John Eldredge is available online at ransomedheart.com.

Contact David Yonke at dyonke@theblade.com

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