It’s been a while since I read Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. My first reading was during a Bible study at my church that surveyed Jesus, His life, teachings and the overall reason why He came to Earth. But last week I was re-reminded of the book when confronted with the random religious rants of someone I know.

People like this are part of what made me into one of those “Calvinists” I formerly disliked. My acquaintance voiced a near-exact replica of the Gospel. But to him it was just very interesting random trivia about what some people believe, along with such notions as humans being descended from an advanced alien culture lost underground on a far-flung comet somewhere. Unfortunately, he’s one of those natural men (1 Cor. 2:14) who cannot really know the truth.

I thought, might Vintage Jesus help him focus more intently on what is really important: Jesus?

Reading through the first of this book, one gets the idea how especially silly the efforts are to combine Jesus with the images of modern religions or other special interests. Just like the Jesus-as-woman-with-a-beard paintings, it’s really a rather pathetic thing to “use” the Creator/Savior as a mere template for your own art project — a Barbie doll dressed up with modern accessories matching one’s cause-of-the-week.

This seems even more silly when descriptions of all those attempts are crammed in one chapter, as Driscoll does: Buddhist Jesus, Hindu Jesus, Muslim Jesus, Meek and Mild Jesus, Sour and Dour Jesus, and Jesus with Dream House (that’s the prosperity-preachers’ version).

And for the weirdest types, you get Gay Jesus, Wrestler Jesus, Homeboy Jesus, etc.; or, because of especially audience-hungry types who want to be praised for “creativity,” we have to hear about “feminist Edwina Sandys’ 1975 sculpture of a bare-breasted Jesus on the cross created to celebrate the United Nations’ Decade of Women.” Ha ha!

(No intelligent person believes Jesus was really a girl — Driscoll points out that not even Da Vinci Code huckster Dan Brown tried that. I’m guessing people just want attention, which of course Driscoll incidentally gave to Sandys — whoever that is anyway.)

Rather, the Jesus of the Gospels, of Scripture, the true Creator/Savior Who is paradoxically both human and divine in nature, defies such redefinitions.

And Seattle large-church pastor Driscoll, stylishly yet with constant, in-context backup from Scripture references, presents Him well. Trying to imitate what he argues is the real, unadulterated Jesus of Scripture, he wants to slam the hypocrites, with just a little mockery of legalists on the way to taking a stand for Truth. It works, if you don’t mind the spice of severe sarcasm marinated with your doctrinal meat. Driscoll is the Ann Coulter of Christ-following, doctrine-advocating authors.

Style and substance

Similar to Coulter’s often adverse effects on both those who disagree with her views and those who don’t, Driscoll will likely come across as a bit brash to both Christians and non-Christians.

In substance, his book presents solid defenses of thoroughly orthodox Biblical doctrine on Christ’s nature, penal substitution for the sins of His people, His return, the balance of His wrath and love — and the very masculine, earthy, non-whitewashed ways He acted and spoke.

In style, Driscoll, who is famous (or infamous) for his emphasis on “contextualizing” for a more “urban” audience, comes across as very familiar with pop-culture bands, shows, movies, memes. Some of his examples — such as Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia paralleling Christ — seem naturally occurring. But others seem forced, especially metaphors or turns of speech that are questionable at best. Someone pointed out to me that one such eyebrow-raising term was not only crude, but a bit outdated.

That’s the only drawback to Vintage Jesus: not the substance, but the style. Driscoll is already controversial enough for the “contextualizing,” and the book seems to show that he knows it and is quite happy with that. Sometimes it seems a difficult truth — such as the Bible’s masculinity, or the fact that conservative politics is not parallel to growing the Church — is presented by Driscoll with not as much careful explanation to critics, but sly sneers.

It’s funny; and as a Coulter reader, too, I can laugh aloud and tease a bit along with Driscoll. Still I keep wondering that if Christians are meant to love and reach out to their siblings in the faith, should that not also apply to legalists? On page 157, in a seeming swerve-aside, Driscoll delves into a defense of Christian missions to the inner cities, and offers an offense against those who retreat to the hills, perhaps to wait for the Rapture or homeschool their children. Yes, it’s true that many Christians do that, but is it fair to criticize all of them and imply they’re all legalistic hypocrites? And even if they are, might a more loving approach be warranted?

That and a few more-legitimate jabs at Christians who use their religion as a cover for politics, right-wing and left-wing, and especially the “emergent church,” mark just a few places readers may stumble. Otherwise, the language just may not be someone’s style. Driscoll debunks some Catholics’ idea that Jesus wasn’t physically born “as if Mary were some Messiah-in-the-box, and Joseph cranked her arm until the Messiah popped out of her gut.” The book is not for everyone.

Yet overall, with in-depth doctrine for Christians along with a much-needed, all-encompassing apologetics emphasis, answering non-Christians’ questions about why Jesus is God and superior to other “saviors,” Vintage Jesus offers prime spiritual meat. Driscoll’s cooking is perhaps extra spicy, and even overcooked in some places, and thus the dining is not every Christian’s choice of flavor. But it’s much better than the choose-your-own-spiritual-adventure spiritual buffet books out there, where the authors, constantly trying to out-cool each other, toss every bit of belief they can into the same plate until it’s all a soupy, milky mess. And it might be just the choice to loan to your spiritual-buffet kinds of friends and neighbors.