“You should go to church. You should sit and listen. You should love Jesus.”

Is a personal relationship with Jesus really more like an obligation? Many seem to think so. But author Rick Lawrence believes this should-based characterization contributes to a faulty view of the real Jesus. “It’s wrong to should people into a love relationship, and it’s worse than wrong–actually heretical–to should people into a love relationship with Jesus,” he says. “Jesus isn’t trying to should you into loving him.”

Lawrence argues that the Jesus depicted by many is not the real Jesus. He writes in his new book The Jesus-Centered Life: “It’s clear that the best intentions of the Western church–with all of our Bible studies, our men’s prayer breakfasts, our women’s candlelight dinners, our Christian living books, our three-point sermons that load a half-dozen new imperatives onto our backs, our ‘positive, encouraging’ Christian music, and our accountability relationships–that those who name themselves ‘Christian’ just aren’t getting who Jesus really is. Or we’re not getting enough of who he really is, or we’re getting, literally, a fake Jesus.”

Lawrence asks, “Have we really soaked in the personality of Jesus–pursued him as the most fascinating, magnetic, shocking, lightning-bolt person who ever lived?”


We tend to nice-ify Jesus, Lawrence says, and turn Jesus’ interactions into a list of to-do’s, which reduces our relationship with him to something like a stale marriage. He writes: “I think we’re now at a place where we’re so comfortable with Jesus, so confident of who he is and what he’s like, that a lot of ‘what we know’ is actually wrong. We’ve kind of lost interest in him, like a married couple in midlife. One of the marriage partners, the church, is sort of looking around for something to spark our passions because we’re past the ‘passionate curiosity’ stage with Jesus. So we turn to the ‘form and function’ of doing church as a kind of midlife splurge–like letting ourselves get involved in an emotional affair to rouse us from our relational boredom.”

Wow. That’s disturbing to think about. But it makes me all the more eager to re-look at the person and Lord that Lawrence describes in The Jesus-Centered Life. Lawrence’s personal journey to becoming caught in the “gravitational pull” of the real Jesus is downright compelling. That’s the Jesus the disciples knew. That’s the Jesus–and the relationship–people long for today.

If you’re ready to shed the image of Jesus as an adult version of the cuddly children’s dinosaur Barney, if you’re ready to meet the Lion of Judah, I invite you dig into The Jesus-Centered Life. Get a jump-start by listening to my conversation with Rick Lawrence in the new Holy Soup podcast here: