Outlaw: John Eldredge is reclaiming Jesus’ wild side

CAN YOU SPOT THE SOLDIERS COMING TO KILL FIRST-BORN CHILDREN? (No, they’re not figures in traditional Nativity Scenes—but perhaps they should be, argues author John Eldredge.)In a season when millions of homes soften the story of Jesus into a lovely little infancy narrative, best-selling author John Eldredge wants us to reclaim Jesus’ wild side. Wildness is Eldredge’s trademark.

You can meet him later this week in our author interview about his new Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus.

Or, visit Eldredge’s own Ransomed Heart website, where he also has a personal blog—and you can find out about the upcoming schedule of retreats that focus on unleashing one’s faith. Among his most popular events are those called Wild at Heart Bootcamps, which aim at “the recovery of the masculine soul.” Now, Eldredge and his team also offer retreats exploring the feminine soul,  under the name Captivating. All of the programs are described on Eldredge’s website.

This week, ReadTheSpirit is recommending Eldredge’s provocative new Beautiful Outlaw, which you can order from Amazon by clicking on this link or on the book cover, at right.

Eldredge is so popular among evangelical readers that some of his fans are actively purchasing copies and giving them away to friends in big quantities. (One fan told his personal Facebook list of 600 friends that he’d give a free copy to any of his friends who wanted one.) When Eldredge’s book first hit Amazon, his ministry group sent early copies to so many regular readers that the book landed on the Amazon website in October with more than 150 glowing 4-star and 5-star ratings. As of mid December, the book now has a whopping 200-plus 4-star and 5-star ratings. In short: If you’re ready for a provocative book about reclaiming the wild side of Jesus from a strongly evangelical perspective—then Beautiful Outlaw is as good as it gets! Obviously, given Eldredge’s enthusiastic fan base, this is a terrific Christmas gift for the evangelical on your gift-giving list—or for the spiritual seeker who might enjoy an edgy introduction to a version of Jesus you won’t find in a typical Nativity Scene.

In Beautiful Outlaw, Eldredge re-casts Jesus from our softly domesticated image of a meek and mild Jesus who usually is depicted as gently toting sheep, or politely knocking on a door, or peering out at us in a friendly way from a circle of disciples. It is in this effort to reclaim Jesus as an outlaw under Roman imperial reign that carries Eldredge’s teachings across theological barriers to echo themes from the work of progressive Bible scholars such as John Dominic Crossan. The whole point of Crossan’s new series, The Challenge of Jesus, is that Jesus and Jesus’ followers were far more confrontational than today’s Christians understand. To be sure, Eldredge and Crossan would heatedly disagree on many points of theology—but both of them join hands across their theological barriers in trying, in this turbulent era of global change, to recapture the Jesus who truly shook the world’s foundations. That connection alone is remarkable.

Eldredge begins his book with the infancy narrative—and overly sanitized Nativity scenes …



For some reason we keep forgetting that Jesus is operating in enemy territory. We project into the Gospel stories a pastoral backdrop, the quaint charm of a Middle Eastern travel brochure—picturesque villages, bustling markets, smiling children—and Jesus wandering through it all like a son come home from college. We forget the context of his life and mission.  His story begins with genocide—the  massacre of the innocents, Herod’s attempt to murder Jesus by ordering the systemic execution of all young boys around Bethlehem. I’ve never seen this included in any crèche scene, ever. Who could bear it? You must picture ethnic  cleansing as the 20th century saw in Bosnia, Rwanda, Burma. Atrocity, the ground soaked with the blood of children who five minutes earlier were laughing and playing.

God the Father, knowing this is about to strike, sends an angel to warn Joseph:

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. (Matthew 2:13-15)

The little family flees the country under cover of darkness, like fugitives. The Father’s strategy is intriguing—surely God could have simply taken Herod out. Or sent angels to surround the holy family. Why must they run for their lives? It ought to make you think twice about how God goes about his plans in this world. But let us continue with the facts—the angel in the night, a flight in the dark, hiding south of the border like outlaws. Thus begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

REMEMBER: Beautiful Outlaw is available from Amazon.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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