- (Photo: AP Images / Kevin Frayer)
Amid a technology-driven culture where latest means better, it may not surprise many to find out that historical Jesus has also received a makeover.
He used to be known as Messiah, Son of God, Redeemer and Christ. Now, he's spiritual guru, philosopher, political pundit, hippie, and rock star.
Will the real Jesus please stand up?
Ben Witherington, author of "What Have They Done to Jesus?," observes that today's image of Jesus has ranged from historical to hysterical in a society that is becoming increasingly less Christian.
"He is an icon but also a swear word," Witherington said Thursday to The Christian Post.
"When your culture is biblically illiterate, anything can pass for Jesus," added the New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.
Even takes on Jesus that borrow from Buddhist philosophy and Gnosticism are finding an audience.
This is true for the Jesus seen in Deepak Chopra's "The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore." In his latest book, the "body-mind" Indian doctor attempts to argue that Jesus was a spiritual guru whose teaching sought to lead people toward the highest level of enlightenment or "god-consciousness."
This re-invention of Jesus doesn't contribute to but evacuates his identity, commented Witherington.
Jesus is not a "generic self-help dude who gets you to a higher spiritual plane in your life," he explained. "He was a ransom for many and that distinguishes Jesus from other gurus like Buddha."
Witherington also repudiated the notion of a "Gnostic Jesus," which suggests that Jesus taught a process of reasoning that would help elevate one's already divine nature to the level of God. Gnosticism, which mainstream Christians blatantly reject, was covered in Dan Brown's best-selling book, "The Da Vinci Code."
"I call it the Gospel of Narcissism," Witherington said.
The New Testament expert said he noticed many other distorted images of Jesus elsewhere, from pop-culture to politics.
"Everybody wants Jesus on his side," he said, and sometimes they "co-opt Jesus for their agendas."
But Witherington, like most Christians, believes that the true portrait of Jesus can only be found in the Bible's New Testament.
He said those writings show that Jesus was more than a miracle worker or great teacher but someone who died to bring salvation to mankind and who was commissioned for bringing the Kingdom of God.
He said that as Easter approaches, people should remember not only Jesus who died as King of the Jews but the eschatological Jesus whose resurrection marked the beginning of the End Times.
"We're living in the End Times," said the Asbury professor. "It should change your priority in life in such a way that you live with a certain contingency about this world."