I once wrote a skit about a postmodern Bible study. No matter what passage participants read, each reached the conclusion that “What this means to me is that Jesus wants me to be happy.”
The skit was an exaggeration, of course, but it was based on a real Bible study I once attended prior to becoming a committed Christian. Participants were deeply sincere and friendly, but they seemed to be looking at scripture as a mirror in which to view their own reflection rather than to understand God.
I walked away with the impression that these vibrant young believers were just like everyone else, except that they become very good at putting a spiritual veneer on their self-obsession.
Faith and the Christian Narcissist
Narcissism is a pseudo-psychological condition in which people, like Narcissus in the ancient Greek myth, fall in love with themselves and end up losing some of their humanity.
Christian narcissism happens when our worship services and conversation about faith come back to the self: “This is what the passage means to me.” “God is so good to me.” “It’s true because it makes sense to me.” It’s all about me. Or, well, me and Jesus.
I’m not saying this just to be grumpy. For decades I’ve worked with young Christians from all over the globe. Here are some of the things they’ve told me they are being taught in church:
- “I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28) means that Jesus wants me to get enough sleep
- “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10) means that I don’t have to work at finding my purpose in life
- “Do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself” (Luke 12:11) means I don’t need to study to articulate my faith
- “Unless you turn and become like children” (Matt. 18:3) means that complicated things are not godly
- “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39) means love myself first
Of course, these young adults could have listened selectively and drawn the wrong conclusions from the teaching they received. But they’ve definitely picked up the impression that God is opposed to our being inconvenienced, exerting energy, or undergoing suffering. Christian narcissism is leading a generation to conclusions that are the polar opposite of what the Bible actually teaches.
Refuting the “Me and Jesus” Myth
In my book Unquestioned Answers, I speculate that we end up with a self-focused faith because of an unquestioning belief in clichés that keep our thinking at a shallow level. One such statement is that the Christian life is “just me and Jesus.”
While I do believe that the Christian life revolves around a personal relationship with Jesus, talking about “me and Jesus” becomes cliché when we conclude that we don’t really need the Bible or the church or spiritual disciplines to be true followers of Jesus.
A biblical faith is not about me. As the respected Anglican priest, John Stott once said, “Christ is the centre of Christianity; all else is circumference.”
What does it mean that Jesus is at the center? Certainly, it means that Jesus Christ loves us and gives us eternal comfort and good hope through grace (2 Thess. 2:16). But it also means that:
- Jesus Christ is God in the flesh (John 1:14)
- Jesus Christ is our greatest treasure (Matt. 13:44)
- Jesus Christ is the way, truth, and life, and the only way to the Father (John 14:6)
- Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18-20)
- All things were made through Jesus Christ (John 1:3)
- Through Jesus Christ everything holds together (Col. 1: 17)
In short, in Jesus Christ, we have been given both a personal, loving relationship with God, and also a framework for understanding all of reality.
Holding down the center is a tremendous amount of pressure for the young adults I work with in our Summit Ministries worldview and apologetics programs. One student last summer told me, “Adults are always saying that we are special and that we will be leaders. I don’t know if I can handle the pressure. It gives me so much anxiety.”
Understanding Jesus as the center of all of reality is liberating. It rescues us from the “me-ness” of “me and Jesus” and positions us to see the world from God’s perspective and bring His good news to everyone, everywhere, all the time.