What is Christianity? "It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less," say two popular authors.
Yet Christians have made the gospel about so many things other than Christ, Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet lament.
"The sad truth is that the Jesus who is preached so often today is so shallow, so small, and so uncaptivating that countless believers are enthralled with countless other things," the authors wrote in their newly released book, Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ.
Christians have dethroned Jesus from His rightful place, they say.
Viola and Sweet were burdened and concerned about the place that Jesus Christ was getting in Christianity as a whole. So in 2009, they wrote a 2,400-word essay and titled it "A Magna Carta" and subtitled it "A Jesus Manifesto." It went viral immediately.
"We're very interested in people knowing their Lord, falling in love with Him, and learning how to live by His indwelling life," Viola, a church planter and best-selling author, told The Christian Post in an e-mail. "The way to be a true disciple is to know Jesus, to love Jesus, and to learn how to follow Him by the indwelling Spirit in the here-and-now. That's not WWJD. It’s 'not I, but Christ lives in me' (present tense)."
Many Christians do affirm the orthodox teaching of the Person of Jesus, Viola acknowledged. But they get easily distracted with "things" – even good and religious things that are related to the Lord – and miss the Lord Himself.
"As A.W. Tozer once put it, 'you can be straight as a gun barrel theologically and just as empty as one spiritually,'" Viola pointed out.
To put it another way, it's one thing to parrot correct doctrine about Jesus; it's quite another thing to have "an earthshaking revelation of Christ," said Viola. And that's what many Christians are missing.
"When someone really sees that Christ is ALL (as J.C. Ryle put it) on a heart level, it changes everything ... even our vocabulary."
Jesus' greatness, beauty and splendor are unknown to many Christians, the authors write in the book. They may rightly describe Jesus as the Son of God or the savior of the world but few would describe Him in a way that "arrests and rivets" their heart.
"To our minds, there is one reason why a Christian would not be absolutely occupied and consumed with Christ," the authors state. "That person's eyes have not been opened to see His greatness."
For Viola, the journey of seeing His greatness began in April 1992 when someone presented Christ in a way that he had never seen or heard.
"It wrecked me and left me hungry and thirsty to know Him," he recalled. "He has been my chief pursuit ever since."
And he's hoping more Christians will join the pursuit and become aware of a Christ so grand and glorious that it boggles the mind.
"One of the things that our book is designed to do is to create hunger and thirst for Jesus – a real longing to know Him that’s not generated from guilt, duty, or obligation, but out of a sighting of His glory," he said.
Viola and Sweet, who occupies the Chair of Evangelism at Drew University in New Jersey, challenge pastors to unveil Christ and present Him in all His fullness just as the apostle Paul did when preaching to the Colossian Christians who had become distracted from Jesus.
The Scriptures, they note, are completely occupied with Christ and thus those who do not present Christ when they minister "not only miss a note, but they play the wrong tune."
"The tragedy of our time is that countless preachers, teachers, even healers are giving dozens of sermons, lectures, and messages, relegating Jesus to little more than a footnote or a flourish to some other subject. At best, He gets honorable mention," they lament.
And if they're not proclaiming "this amazing Christ," they will settle for something so much less and be tempted to motivate God's people with lower things like principles, rules, religious duty, shame, fear and guilt.
But the authors assure preachers, "it doesn't get any better than Christ."
"We can never exhaust Him," they emphasize. "Christ is so large that no search party in the universe can explore an iota of His infinite depths. What is more, He will never grow old or stale. Jesus Christ is the only thing in God's universe that doesn't wear thin."