Tim Harlow on His New Book ‘What Made Jesus Mad?’


Ed: People may not know about you and your church, so please tell us a little about it.

Tim: Parkview was a 40-year-old church when I got here 29 years ago. We are located in the south suburbs of Chicago. We had to go through a relatively long season of transition to get to the point where we were focusing on the goal of reaching those outside the kingdom, which is where we are, and the point of this book.

In 2002, we were able to relocate and get some property, and we’ve been on a pretty wild ride since then. We added a second campus in Homer Glen and then a third in New Lenox. Eighty percent of our people grew up in a Catholic background, which is indicative of the south suburbs.

It’s also a blast for me because they have a love and respect for Jesus and the Word, but they aren’t mired down in a lot of evangelical traditions either. My favorite story is about the guy who bought a WWJD patch for his biker jacket, thinking it meant We Want Jack Daniels.

Ed: Your book is a pretty big slap at legalism. How do you define it, and why do you think it matters?

Tim: Yeah, I’m not a passive rule-following kind of guy. I’m a classic eight on the Enneagram. But the issue that always made Jesus mad was when humans got in the way of God’s love. And legalism is an excellent way to do that. Matthew 23:4 says, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders…” And Matthew 23:13 says, “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces…”

The problem is not the laws themselves; it’s when our interpretation of the laws or even our enforcement of those laws gets in the way of people making it home to the Father. That’s my definition. I don’t think Christians are really comfortable with grace; that’s the problem.

And when we’re not comfortable, we sure don’t want other people to be.

For me, it’s the difference between Jesus’ approach to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 and the way we think it ought to be. Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you, now go and leave your life of sin.” We believe Jesus should have said, “Go and leave your life of sin, and then I won’t condemn you.”

As a matter of fact, according to Augustine, the early church left the whole story out of many manuscripts to “avoid scandal.” We just aren’t all that comfortable with grace.

I love the study that David Kinnaman of the Barna Group did, intending to assess self-identified Christians to determine if their attitudes and actions toward other people are more like Jesus or the Pharisees. He said, “Our intent was to create some new discussion about the intangible aspects of following and representing Jesus.” They tried to identify qualities of Jesus, such as empathy, love, and faith or the “resistance to such ideals in the form of self-focused hypocrisy.”

He found that 51 percent of Christians identified themselves more strongly on the Pharisee side, while only 14 percent (one out of seven) seemed to represent the actions and attitudes consistent with Jesus, as identified by the Barna Group.[1]

What made Jesus mad? When people are denied access to the Father.

Ed: In a world where pastors keep getting in trouble and immorality is everywhere, do we really need a book telling us we need less rules?

Tim: You and I are living in the middle of that world here in Chicago, and it pains me greatly. But honestly, I think this whole attitude is a part of the problem. It leads to hypocrisy, just like it did for the Pharisees. In one of my chapters, I quote a line from my favorite John Mayer song, “Comfortable.” It’s about his Christian girlfriend who is “posing for pictures that aren’t being taken.”

To be clear, pastors need to knock it off when it comes to getting in trouble and immorality. We all struggle with our sin nature, but pastors are held to a higher standard and level of responsibility. James told us that, and I own it. The problem is, as we live a “posing” life, we can never get better.

If pastors are living under unrealistic expectations of legalism, they are naturally going to hide the things they struggle with. It’s always best when we can walk into a meeting and say “Hi, I’m Tim, I’m an alcoholic.”

The deal with the rules is this. First of all, if we’re still living under the old covenant, we are missing the point of the cross. We should start by figuring out how much of our legalistic tendencies are based on Old Testament commands, or worse yet, misinterpretations of Scripture.

I dangerously use alcohol as an example in my book. It’s dangerous because alcohol is dangerous, and so many people are affected by alcoholism. But when we start to impose that as a rule, or a test for fellowship, we are blocking the way to the kingdom of God. Jesus made wine, Jesus drank wine, and there is absolutely nothing in Scripture forbidding alcohol, but it does forbid drunkenness.

Second, I don’t think we need fewer rules; I think we need a better relationship with our Father. When we begin to see God as our Father who loves us instead as our judge who wants to smite us, all of the rules and guidelines in the Bible start to make a lot more sense. If you can just read “thou shalt have no other gods before me” as “don’t go follow other dads”, this relationship will really start to make sense.

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Source: Christianity Today