jesus: fanatic or bourgeois?

Recently I had the pleasure of being referred to as a fanatic. In a negative way. By another Christian.

From a pulpit.

Luckily I (ironically) took it as a complement.

The comment was made by a young pastor in reference to my quasi-activism (I can’t really refer to myself as an activist, it would do a great disservice to those who really do go out life and limb in their activism for causes they believe in.)

This experience got me thinking about the Jesus-es that people follow. For example, which Jesus does this young pastor follow? And indeed, which Jesus do I follow?

Now of course there is only one Jesus. But how do we know if we are following him, or a twisted conception of him?

In the episode described above I had a brief chance to confront my friend and accuser with the fact that I truly believe Jesus was and is a fanatic.

Indeed, I truly believe Jesus was an extremist. Not an extremist of hate, however, but an extremist of love, peace, justice and goodness.

Think about it. Jesus confronted and protested against the corrupt powers of his day through subversion of their laws, social order and economic system, which in effect was a direct subversion of their claims to and hold on power.

He redefined Jewish laws around issues of food and Sabbath to free the poor and marginalised from the systemic grip of an exploitative aristocracy and political leaders.

He encouraged people to forego paying Roman tribute (tax) to protest against Caesar’s divine claims. He also encouraged rich people to redistribute their wealth.

He physically protested and disrupted operations in the Temple, the central institution of Palestinian Jewish life for religion, politics and economics (sounds like many modern protests…).

He called his disciples to a radical form of nonviolent resistance to violent powers, even to the point of promising that some would die (it’s a wonder anyone followed him at all).

He was even executed by crucifixion, the punishment reserved solely for insurrectionists and political rebels (ever heard of Spartacus?) He even told his disciples to take up their crosses, an unmistakeable call to civil disobedience and self-sacrifice in the face of unjust rulers.

The list could go on. Each of these claims may well need clarification for those who may not have heard such events being interpreted in these ways. Unfortunately I do not have space right now (happy to discuss them via comments or email).

Needless to say that since I perceive Jesus in this very gritty, historical, radical, revolutionary way I am becoming more like him every day (or so I hope, I am aware of my shoddiness). I guess it is inevitable I be called a fanatic, or any of the other tags that have been levelled against me by fellow Christians.

I can’t be sure but I would guess, judging on the temperature of much modern preaching, that the Jesus of many Western Christians (a generalisation, I know) is more like a bourgeois – reasonably rich, submissive to powers, conservative, capitalist; a champion of the status quo.

In other words, like them.

I once saw Jesus this way too. But a journey of reconsidering Jesus in his first century Palestinian world led me to shift my perspective of him – from moderate teacher of esoteric truth to radical prophet-king of the kingdom of God.

It is no surprise that those who see Jesus as a bourgeois might call people who see Jesus similar to the way I do “fanatics”. The problem for people like my friend, at least as I see it, is that the Jesus of the Gospels could not be further from a bourgeois conservative, inasmuch as conservatives by definition seek to uphold the current order of things.

As I have claimed many times on this blog, Jesus came not to leave the world the same, but to turn it upside down (see this post, for one example)! Jesus was not a bourgeois, nor did he seek to support the current kingdoms of his world and ours – he came to bring such kingdoms to an end through the coming of his kingdom of justice/righteousness, “enough” for all (daily bread) and economic equity (forgiveness of debts). For this kingdom he gladly faced the cross, and called us to do the same.

Jesus, my friends, was a fanatic. Let us be conformed to his image.


P.S. As we think and discuss these claims, let us meet each other recognising that though we may come to different conclusions, this issue is of no peripheral importance for Christians – the identity of Jesus is central to everything we believe and do!

Posted on June 15, 2011, in New Testament, Theology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Wel said Matt. As christians we need to be constantly challenged to break-free of the stereotypical view of Jesus….”gentle Jesus meek & mild” etc…and see he him as he was and as you’ve described. One of my first “Oh..I see(jesus) now” moments was after reading Michael Frosts- Jesus the Fool, many years ago. More recently, your insights into the book Matthew was also a further unravelling of the real man and humanity of Jesus. John Eldredge (of whom I’m a fan) is about to release “Beautiful Outlaw”, an apt title if ever there was one.

    The real Jesus stepped forward two thousand years ago, but many of us still struggle to see him in the line-up.

  2. You have made some good points there Matt- however have you considered that Jesus didn’t actually break the Jewish law – rather he fulfilled the full intent of the law – which basic premise was one of how to love God and each other within the context of society.

  3. Hi Craig,

    I think you’ll find upon a closer reading that I never said Jesus broke the Jewish laws.


  4. I’m glad that you’re challenging the ‘fundamentalist vs liberal’ paradigm.

  5. Thanks for that, Matt. I become a little clearer in my understanding of me every time I read your blog. (Well, almost every time…) And this was a new angle that helps make sense.


  6. Beautifully written, Matt! thanks! I’ve been wanting to write something similar for a long time, I just don’t write that well. Thanks!

  7. Gosh dude,

    You have really turned this I to making Jesus sound like be was a protestor holding a sign for every cause. Yes Jesus was a radical, but not a fanatic.

    Jesus never questioned the authority of the roman government. He told people to give unto ceaser’s what was his. He challenged the so called Jewish religious leaders of the day , and showing how they had become slaves to the law.

    Jesus didn’t protest. He challenged them on the stand points. He went about god’s business and questioned the status quo. However your cArtoon highlights the issues about your obvious left wing view on things.

    Jesus didn’t lobby the roman empire to give more money to the poor or fight for rights. This portrayal of Jesus often made out by certain groups that he was a social activist I completely reject. Jesus challenged people on a personal level and many were convicted in his presence and changed there begaviour.

    Jesus was radical. But u make him to sound like a hippie vegan with long hair trying to end world poverty. This he was not.

    • Hi Joe,

      Thanks for your comment, though I think you have misinterpreted Matthew 22:15-22/Mark 12:13-17/Luke 20:19-26. This episode, read socio-historically, and in light of Psalm 24:1, would certainly reveal itself to be a challenge to Caesar’s power.

      You seem to have adopted a view which divides the “personal” and the “public”, qua the Enlightenment. This worldview was, however, not shared by those in Jesus’ time. To say God’s business is purely personal, or religious, is to misunderstand the message of Jesus in its time and place.

      God bless,


  8. Gosh – do you feel superior in you big theologic speak there? Dude speak english. You may think your big and smart, but you come accross as one of the most arrogant people.

    You are wrong. The disciples in Jesus time thought he was the messiah that would be political and overthrow the romans. They did not grasp the concept of Jesus being the suffering messiah who would die on the cross.

    So you randomly select one verse out of Psalms to back your claim?

    Did Jesus say in those passages ” Lobby Ceaser, Make him accountable for he needs to make good to unjustice to the poor?” Did Jesus take on Ceaser? NO!!!!!!

    Jesus was NOT Political!

    Perhaps you should take some lessons in communicating to a person in a normal way. I know your types, you dismiss others views and come up with these stupid terms like “read socio-historically” or “You seem to have adopted a view which divides the “personal” and the “public”, qua the Enlightenment”

    Matt you probably are a nice guy, but seriously why do you think that you have all the answers and that you know all about what Jesus was thinking and that your perception is right.

    You have no idea of the Jewish Culture, of which Jesus came from and you are interpreting the scriptures to suit YOUR AGENDA. Jesus was not a fanatic. He didn’t belong to Tear. He did not lobby the roman government. He did not argue for a carbon tax or climate change.

    Jesus was the one who went directly to people, the siners and tax collectors, who all under his convition decided to change there ways. The only people he challenged were the religious leaders of the day.

    Yes he did highlight things which are important to God, like looking after the poor, but that does not make him a fanatic.

  9. Whoa Dude. I disagree with Matt on many things and think alike with Matt on many other issues. But I don’t think Matt is arrogant, dismissive of other views, or elevates himself above others and nor would I say he is ignorant of Jewish culture.

    Jesus not only challenged the religious leaders of the day – he challenged his disciples, all the authorities, all within the community – take his actions with the woman at the well, the lepers, the demoniacs etc… the rich and the poor. He even challenged John the Baptists thinking as to what and how the messiah would look like when he came.

    Joe – as someone who has disagreed with Matt on issues – I think your way out of line…way out.

  10. Hi Joe,

    Just to clarify, this is in fact a theological blog; it is not designed for everyone, but specifically for people who wish to engage theological issues at a reasonable level. For this reason the language used here is often “big theologic speak”. There are, though, plenty of good theological blogs and sites on the net that cater to those who wish to engage more colloquially.

    In regard to Jewish culture, it is now well-known that Jewish messianic claimants and revolutionaries in the Roman era were forced to use subtle language given that any hint of sedition was immediately crushed by Rome. For anyone to directly tell people to challenge Caesar would have been to call Rome’s punishment on oneself. Much more symbolic and coded speech was adopted (such as in some of Paul’s letters and the book of Revelation).

    For Jesus to say “give to God what is God’s”, read in light of the Jewish conviction in Psalm 24:1 that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,” was subtle speech for ‘everything is God’s, and nothing is Caesar’s’.

    Hope this clears up any misunderstanding about what I meant. I am certainly not simply prooftexting from Psalm 24; such would be, as you said, to twist the scriptures to suit one’s agenda.

    God bless,


  11. Ahh the Nowra Craig. Gosh what a small world it is hey! I might say your out of line with the way you speak about those who are post milleniest. But Hey. Small World!

  12. Hey Joe..are you talking about me?? Never lived in Nowra. Closest I ever lived there was in the Picton area.

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