I just finished reading Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus. It’s John Eldredge at his best. Probably my favorite.
The book is a deep, real examination of the life of Jesus. John zeroes in on stories of Jesus — many we know very well, some honestly disturbing to us — and interprets them more accurately than most sermons I’ve heard. I found myself laughing at Eldredge’s witty interpretations, often thinking, “I never thought of it that way, but boy, that sure makes sense.”
The only criticism I have of the book is this: It speaks to readers who have a fair knowledge of Bible stories, someone who already knows their Bible well. I guess this is why I enjoyed it so much. Beautiful Outlaw isn’t milk; it’s juicy steak. I relished the humor, playful, cunning side of the familiar Bible stories. I already knew them as Sunday school flannel-board stories, but the book explores the reality of the stories. Page after page, Eldredge brings Jesus to life.
Truth be known, this is why the book is so refreshing. Does the world really need another book that talks to the pagan, that speaks to the atheist’s doubts? I suppose more like these will be written, and they surely have their audience. But Beautiful Outlaw was written to the religiously tired, the exhausted Christian, the loyal child of God who wants to know Jesus but is suspicious of getting too close.
“Religious poison” is a thread throughout Beautiful Outlaw. Eldredge isn’t a church basher — he insists that church is good and that he attends faithfully — but he openly challenges church culture. “Religious fog” he calls it, a most deadly reality of the Pharisees that ultimately turned Christ over to be crucified. If you think such fog only existed 2000 years ago, you’re probably in the middle of it not realizing a much better redeemed life is out there, where Jesus lives and invites his children.
Wendy and I have spent the last 5-7 years freeing ourselves from such religious bondage. We don’t write about it much (at least not directly), though much of what we write about LOVE is sometimes at direct odds with religion. Funny, isn’t it? God is love, Jesus insisted on loving God and others as the most important commandment, yet religious types insist on a host of other works as more important. Love is a sugar coating to baptism, communion, home-schooling, prayer, fasting, creation science, worship, evangelism, revelation, etc., etc. — these all seem to take the stage and drown out the Greatest Commandment.
Are you there? Is your family (or church family) void of love? Is your “walk with God” just a cliche? Knowing Jesus like a fishing buddy, like a brother, like a best friend — is the idea scandalous? Even blasphemous? Such loveless — lifeless — knowledge of Jesus is a false Jesus, religious idolatry. Such false religion stirred Jesus into a lather, and Eldredge reminds me how much I love Him for that.
Beautiful Outlaw is to the faithful Christian like More than a Carpenter / Case for Christ / Now That You Believe is to the new born-again believer. It digs deep into truly knowing Jesus, something I look forward to doing much more of.
The boys (Isaiah, Micah, Noah, and sometimes Josiah and Joshua) and I get up every morning to read the Bible. We finished the Gospels this summer, now in Romans. I plan to get the rest of the family up after our scripture reading and read some Beautiful Outlaw aloud. I just read Chapter 1 to my family this morning, and you can download it for free here. I invite you to read this book and fall in love with Jesus again.