[This was written by Morgan Guyton on August 21, 2013 and originally posted on his blog, “Mercy not Sacrifice” There is something beautiful about re-posting a well-written piece. It’s like, “Wow, that’s exactly what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t have written it as well as you did.” Thanks, Morgan, for always making me think. I’ve included his blog in my blogroll on the right.]
The phrase “Jesus juke” was originally coined by Jon Acuff in a 2010 post on his blog “Stuff Christians Like.” Jesus jukes are moves that you make in online conversation to showcase your superior Jesus-ness at the expense of other people who have said something, often in banter or jest, that is inadequately theologically correct (or TC for short, the Christian version of PC). Jesus jukes are the 21st century online conversational version of the exhibitionist piety that Jesus calls out in his Sermon on the Mount, like praying on the street corner, disfiguring your face when you’re fasting, and announcing your alms-giving with trumpets (Matthew 6:1-18). I’ve come to realize that many Jesus jukers actually aren’t doing it on purpose, so I figured some examples might be helpful to my accidental Jesus juking friends.
1) “Why do you make things so complicated? The answer is Jesus.”
This is probably the most obnoxious Jesus juke: “You can have your ‘religion,’ but I believe in Jesus plus nothing.” In Christian music, there’s actually a term of measurement called JPM, Jesuses per minute. Throwing Jesus’ name around as a means of giving yourself credibility in a conversation is a more accurate application of using the Lord’s name in vain than saying OMG. “Jesus” is always the right answer to every Sunday school question and the way to take the higher ground in every Christian argument. “Jesus” is often a code word for a specific set of beliefs about Jesus which have little to nothing to do with the personality of Jesus displayed on the gospel.
2) “You seem to be interested in what people want, but what about what God wants?”
In every evangelical conversation, the ace of spades of trump-cards is to show that the other person is being “man-centered” while you’re being “God-centered.” This was very much the basic posture of Pharisaic existence in Jesus’ day: “I really believe your heart’s in the right place when you heal people on the Sabbath, Jesus, but how do you think that makes God feel when it’s supposed to be His day?” (Jesus himself got Jesus juked all the time!)
What does Jesus say in response to the Pharisees’ Jesus jukes? “The sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:7). “Go and find out what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13). In other words, to try to drive a wedge between “what God wants” and the legitimate needs of human flourishing (insofar as they are legitimate) is a false dichotomy that the Pharisees of yesterday and today exploit to draw a line between God and other people and put themselves on God’s side of that line as His “defenders.”
3) “You worry too much. God will take care of it.”
When someone is dealing with anxiety, the best way to ratchet up their anxiety and shut down any trust between you is to let them know that their anxiety reveals their lack of faith. Faith in Jesus is a grace God offers to all, but it is also a spiritual gift that some possess uniquely. Some people are better at trusting God than others; my wife is way better at it than I am. If you have this gift, God gave it to you to be a non-anxious presence and make anxious people feel safe, whether it’s through humor, good-natured positivity, or another tactic that doesn’t shame the other person and call attention to how much lousier they are at coping than you are.
4) “You know, I used to talk the way you do back when I was a fundamentalist/liberal/etc.”
I’m sometimes guilty of this one. I grew up moderate Southern Baptist. Since I was 3 years old, I have been opposed to fundamentalism, so it’s disingenuous to pretend that I had a fundamentalist past and used to be like “those fundamentalists” I argue with before I got “enlightened.” It’s very tempting to play the “I used to be just like you are” card as a rhetorical power play clumsily clothed in patronizing faux “empathy.”
Even if you have undergone a genuinely radical conversion from one ideological slant to another, do not project “Oh, that’s how I used to think” onto other people even if they sound the way you think you might have sounded. You have no idea what irreducibly complex combination of God’s grace, sin, and other social forces are at play behind another person’s beliefs. I realize you may have a genuine zeal to help other people escape their fundamentalism or liberalism. Just never assume that anyone else is “exactly where you were.”
5) “When I had your problem, I read [insert Bible verse] and everything made sense after that.”
That’s great that [insert Bible verse] helped you. But guess what? God uses different verses with different people and your experience isn’t invalidated if the same verse doesn’t have the same meaning for others. I was once in an online forum with a guy who was emphatic that if I would just read Romans 6 and really let it soak in and maybe say it slowly in a dramatic voice and shed a few tears, then I would gain victory over the issue I was dealing with. This kind of Jesus juke especially sucks when the issue is some kind of legitimate mental illness. When you make salvation/deliverance/healing/etc. about a particular verse and not the Holy Spirit, you’re making the Bible into a magician’s tool.
6) “I guess I just believe that Jesus meant what he said about hell/poor people/other topic.”
I know that nobody else really believes that Jesus meant what he said quite like you do, you radical Jesus freak! But maybe you’ll experience a little more of his grace for yourself if your discipleship becomes something other than a self-justification spectacle whether you’re of the “no cussing, no drugs, no premarital sex” branch of works-righteousness or the “no supporting any aspect of Caesar’s empire whatsoever” branch.
What did Jesus say in Matthew 25 anyhow? Was he using a hyperbolic parable about eternal suffering to prophetically goad his rich listeners into thinking twice about their most vulnerable neighbors? Or was he demonstrating why nobody can possibly be saved from hell because his standards for loving your neighbor are so impossibly high but as long as you do everything Paul says to do to bag justification by faith, then you’re good? Hate to say it, but there’s actually a range of possible interpretation here. What did Jesus mean by what he said? That’s a good question that a very large community of people has been working to answer for more than 2000 years.
7) [A long, non-sequitur string of scripture references without commentary that generally involve some kind of prophetic “warning” of apocalyptic destruction that has nothing to do with the topic at hand.]
This might not be a Jesus juke so much as a manifestation of mental illness. But maybe there are people who think that throwing non-sequitur scripture bombs at other people is a legitimate form of spiritual conversation. Here’s the rule: if you can’t explain in your words why you’re using God’s words, then you’re abusing God’s words and they certainly aren’t your words to own.