Interview: John Eldredge on Jesus as the Beautiful Outlaw

He hangs out with riffraff, old tars and dirty fisherman, and dines with sinners and prostitutes. He likes to play pranks and shows up in unexpected places, and can often be seen fishing with the guys. He laughs in the face of authority and sweats blood. He’s the life of the party – he can turn water into wine – and yet feels so deeply that he weeps alone in secluded gardens. He has ventured into the darkest places, ridden on donkeys and touched the untouchable. He is the holiest man in the universe.

This is the Jesus that John Eldredge portrays in his new book, Beautiful Outlaw. It’s not quite the Jesus some imagine – all crisp white robes and pale, smooth skin, serious and pious. Eldredge’s Jesus is more like a wild child than a quiet, solemn introvert. He’s a Jesus you would want as your best friend.

“Reading the Gospels, without the personality of Jesus, is like watching television with the sound turned off,” Eldredge writes in the book.

The author, widely known for his popular book Wild at Heart and the ministry that grew out of it, again uncovers a different side of Jesus in his latest book.

“Something has crept into our assumptions about Jesus that makes it almost impossible to relate to him, not to mention love him,” Eldredge writes. “I think much of the creep has happened, ironically, as a result of our attempts to love and revere Christ. But crept in this notion has, and it has done great damage to our perceptions of him, our experience of him.”

“It’s the notion that Jesus was really ‘pretending’ when he presented himself as a man.”

Finding that humanity is the entire focus of Beautiful Outlaw.

“I really wrote the book out of a passion to get people to experience Jesus as he really is,” John Eldredge said in a telephone interview with The Christian Post on Friday.

Eldredge discussed his search for Christ, his family, religion and the book in an interview with The Christian Post. The following are excerpts from the interview.

CP: You present Jesus as playful, wild and emotional – a real man. The Jesus in your book is sort of an outlaw. How did you come to see Jesus in this light?

Eldredge: I tried my best to love the sanitized Jesus. But I looked at the natural world – the ocean, the storms – there’s a phenomenal richness and humanity in it. You learn a lot about an artist by the works they created. We learn that he’s not as two-dimensional and boring as the stained glass, sanitized Jesus we make him out to be. He’s rich, he’s beautiful, powerful, wild and deep.

CP: Did you always see Jesus this way? Did you first read the Bible in this way?

Eldredge: Not when I first came to know him. It was only after 20 years of being dunked in the religious culture that I got caught up in “religion.” I had no exposure to Christianity as a child. I was not raised in a Christian home. I became spiritually hungry in high school.

I wasn’t looking for religion; I was looking for a world view. It was like C.S. Lewis, I was “trying every other door.” I came to the truth by trying every other door.

I came to Christ through personal disaster. I was in trouble with the police; I was 19 and involved in the drug culture.

He (Christ) became real to me – I was experiencing a personal and real Jesus instead of religion.

CP: When you started to re-experience Jesus as “real,” how did it affect your walk?

Eldredge: When I saw this Jesus again – just the wonder. The wonder that I experienced when I saw his majesty, his humanity, his playfulness. I felt relief from the guilt that I felt from finding it hard to love a two-dimensional Jesus. I fell in love.

The thing that blows me away is that in 1 John, John, who was a close, personal friend of Jesus, says “We wrote the New Testament so you could get to know Jesus as intimately as us, as James, Peter and John.” Falling in love with God is the most important thing a person can do.

CP: When we begin to fall in love with Jesus, how does it affect people around us?

Eldredge: Just like sunshine. Just like sunshine affects others, when the life of Jesus invades your life, you become a loving person. The effect on others is amazing.