Mark Galli, Author of "Jesus Mean and Wild", Here Tomorrow!
It's Where I'm Chillin'

Today's Guest: Mark Galli, Author of "Jesus Mean and Wild"


Paradoxology is thrilled to have as our special guest today, Mark Galli, author of the recently released book, "Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God."  [He will be checking-in throughout the day, responding to your questions and comments]   I recently interviewed Mark about his book, which appears below:


Why in the world did you want to write a book on this topic?

I want to address two related concerns. First, the sentimentalizing of Jesus. I had heard too many sermons and teachings in which Jesus is described as “always gentle,” “always compassionate,” and so forth. I immediately thought of biblical passages in which Jesus is anything but that. One night I read through the Gospel of Mark and marked every passage where Jesus comes across as stern or intimidating. I saw that this was a regular feature of his ministry, and I wanted to understand it better.

The question that intrigued me was this: If Jesus was God’s love incarnate, how did these stern, angry, intimidating passages reflect the love of God?

Second, I wanted to address the sentimentalizing of faith. There is a temptation to believe in God’s love when things are going well, and to doubt that love when they aren’t. I wanted to remind us all that sometimes we’re driven into the wilderness of doubt, despair, emptiness, and trials by the same Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness. And that this same Spirit is the one who descends on us from time to time to remind us that we are beloved of the Father. Everything that happens to us is encompassed by God’s love, but that love does not always feel good.


Where in Scripture do you find Jesus at his meanest and wildest?

Certainly there is the turning of the tables in the Temple.  This included the use of a whip, which Jesus himself fashioned.  The fact that he took some time to make this whip, according to John 2, indicates that his violent behavior in the Temple was not an explosion of anger -- as if he "lost his temper" -- but a premeditated action.

The other main passage that comes to mind is Matthew 23, where Jesus in verse after verse relentlessly assaults the Pharisees, calling them snakes, hypocrites, and white-washed tombs.

But what really impressed me as I researched the book was in how many little ways Jesus was “mean and wild.” One instance is how often he spoke “sternly” to people he had just healed—“Don’t tell anyone about this!” The language used is not a request or a suggestion. It’s a stern warning.


What prevents people from seeing and appreciating Jesus as mean and wild?

For some, it upsets their idea of love. Love to them is about gentleness, kindness—the soft virtues. They have forgotten that love includes the strong virtues, like boldness, courage, and even anger.

For others, it’s a reaction against a religious upbringing that was “mean and wild”—legalistic, oppressive. Their faith came alive when they discovered how merciful Jesus was and is, and they’re having a hard time understanding how his stern side can be loving.

Others still are simply afraid. If this is part of Christ’s humanity, then it must be part of ours if we are to imitate Christ. But employing anger, boldness, sternness, and such in our lives is not easy, and it’s easy to get it wrong and make things worse. That’s why we revert to niceness as the chief Christian virtue. It seems safe (when it actually isn’t).


How should we understand the “fear of God” and why is it important?

The fear of God can be understood in a variety of ways. Certainly, there is the idea of awe and respect. I would hope it goes without saying that all of us should reverence God with awe and respect.

But in the book I talk about fearing God in the sense of being afraid of him or the righteous consequences of our behavior. Though “perfect love casts out fear,” most of us are a long was from being motivated by perfect love. I still find that I have to be confronted with the consequences of my actions, consequences that I fear, before I’m motivated to change sometimes. For example, I’d like to say I try to avoid pornography because I love my wife so deeply. But the fact is some days I reject pornography only because I’m afraid I’ll get caught. It’s not the best or most lasting motive. But in a pinch it will do. God uses even this motive to shape our behavior, at least until he is able to form perfect love within us.


Why do you say “there comes a time in the life of faith when Jesus must die?”

The Jesus who must die is the Jesus of our imagination. This is the Jesus that excuses our behavior because he would never condemn, the Jesus who supports our political platform, the Jesus who makes us feel comfortable and warm. This is not the Jesus of the New Testament. This Jesus must die if the real Jesus is to rise up in our lives.


What are the dangers of “easy believism” and “sentimental discipleship?”

This is a discipleship that makes us feel good, especially when we need comfort and assurance, but it is not a faith that can meet the challenges that life presents us. The moment life throws an obstacle in our path—death, despair, anxiety, loneliness—we are left quivering in doubt about God’s love and about our ability to make it through such tough times. Sentimental discipleship is tag football in the back yard with family. Jesus discipleship is tackle football with 300-pound linemen trying to take you down. You can really enjoy the latter—it is part of the abundant life Jesus promised, after all--but you have to be toughened for it.


Why does our culture confuse patience with tolerance, and what are the dangers of doing so?

I tolerate another’s behavior or beliefs so that we can just get along with as little friction as possible. This is a necessary virtue in a democracy, but not very helpful for the Christian in the end, because it’s not about love.

Patience is about love, because it has a goal of another’s transformation. I will not tolerate bad manners from my child, but I will be patient with him while he learns respect for others. Sometimes I won’t discipline him if he is rude because I know he’s tired or cranky and I want to give him some space. But that patience will end at some point and I will expect him eventually to learn to treat others with courtesy.


Jesus often seemed to focus his angst against the religious power elite.  Who might be at risk of his meanness in our day?

We live in an anti-authority culture, so it is easy for us to take Jesus’ anger with the Pharisees as a model for our own disrespect for authority. But it is not authority, as such, that disturbs Jesus. He’s willing to render to Caesar the things that are his, and he tells the crowds they are to follow the teachings of the Pharisees. What bothers Jesus is hypocrisy, and when religion gets in the way of faith. Jesus is not so much against a “power elite,” as much as he’s against the misuse of power.

Despite the typical American wish, you cannot have faith without “religious trappings”—ceremony, ritual, tradition, and so forth. And you cannot have religion—or any organization or corporate existence for that matter—without a “power elite” (someone or a smaller group who administrates things for the entire body). Those that reject religion for some pure life of faith end up simply creating another set of religious rituals and traditions. Those that reject every power elite, end up becoming the power elite themselves. What’s key is keeping ritual and tradition grounded in things spiritual, and making sure those in power see themselves first and foremost as servants.


What was it that diminished the importance of repentance over the past 100 years, and why is it so important?

For right or wrong, the word has become associated with a legalistic Christianity that has been emptied of love, or worse, has been associated with religious hypocrisy—the Elmer Gantry syndrome. The word definitely needs rehabilitation, but I don’t think we should abandon it any more than we should abandon the word sin. Given our cultural context, we have to use such words in a measured way, making sure people understand what we mean when we use them. But there are no words that can replace sin and repentance, no words that have the breadth and depth of meaning.


Do you believe the practice of “confession” will return, in one form or another, to Protestantism and Evangelicalism in particular?

Probably not in the sense of a people going to a priest to confess their sins. But this sort of confession does happen in small groups. The trust required takes some time to develop, but many people join small group Bible studies and book studies precisely because they want a place where they can confess their sins, one to another, and receive absolution and grace from one another.


Markgalli1_sm Mark Galli is a former Presbyterian minister, the managing editor of Christianity Today, and the author of several books, including 131 Christians Everyone Should Know and Francis of Assisi and His World.


I encourage you to take advantage of today's opportunity to leave Mark a question or comment about his latest book, Jesus Mean and Wild.  He will be checking those questions and comments throughout the day and will be posting responses to them.


Finally, a BIG thanks to Mark for agreeing to the interview and blog appearance here at Paradoxology today.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Mark, Thanks for visiting us here on Chris' Blog.

I have the book, and am reading it with interest. I opened to the section where you talk about Jesus on the cross quoting Psalm 22:1. You seem to be saying (I could easily be wrong) that God abandons us to show us his love. Could you unpack that a little for me?

I am operating under the thought that for a Jew at his time (a time when every male child by age 12 had most of the torah memorized) to quote the first line was to reference the entire Psalm?



A good question, because it gets at the heart of my book.

I've also heard the argument that in quoting the first line, Jesus was referencing the entire Psalm. But I'm not sure how far that gets us, because while the Psalm ends on trusting God, it is grounded in the experiencing of feeling deserted by God.

To unpack my views of Jesus' experience on the cross, you'll just have to read chapter 16, "Forsaken by Grace." But a couple of points I'd make in a blog context (which, by nature, has to remain short!).

First, the sense of abandonment by God is common to believers--whether it's St. John of the Cross, Mother Theresa, or Joe Christian. This is part and parcel of the life of faith, not necessarily a sign of some sin on our part (though it could be that) but often due to the will of God. Though he never actually deserts us (he's omnipresent, after all), he does allow us to feel as if he were absent. He does it for, among other reasons, to topple our idols and to deepen our understanding and love of him.

We all are tempted to form an image of God, one that conforms to our expectations and desires. When God absents himself, this forces us to reexamine once again what we mean by "God." We are reminded that he is not to be casually manipulate by our prayers, that he comes to us on his initiative, that he's not a divine bellhop, jumping at our every request. He is the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, and any relations he has with us are due soley to his grace, mercy, and initiative.

Furthermore, the ultimate expression of God's love is found in Jesus' cry of forsakenness. It is parallel to the cry of God through history, as he looks at his creation that has forsaken him. Yet despite our forsaking God time and again, he does not forsake us. As we mature in faith, God will "bless" us with experiences of divine forsakenness, partly I believe, so that we can "participate" in Christ's sufferings (Phil. 3:10), and thus participate in the way he loves the world.

This puts bluntly and awkwardly. Chapter 16 upacks it better.


Mark, in reading your response about the fear of God, it sounds as if you see the "fear of God" as a sort-of "plan B" as far as God is concerned (e.g. the fear of God is effective in the absence of "perfect love" which casts fear out). I may not be hearing you correctly on this.

Scripture's affirmation that we should "fear God" while at the same time repeatedly encouraging us to "fear not" is certainly enigmatic. In light of your book's message, don't you think it's imperative that we always maintain a healthy fear of God, even while we also pursue living a life of love which is free from fear? Don't we need that tension in order to maintain a healthy and balanced view of God?


Let me clarify a natural confusion. Fear of God in the sense of awe and reverence we should never lose. This is part of a healthy and balanced view of God, as you put it.

Fear of God in the sense of anxiety about his judgment, his wrath, his correcting discipline--well, that is something that we want perfect love to cast out--because the deeper we know him, the more our wills should be conformed to his, the more love will motivate us, the more we will want to live our lives purely out of love of God. In the meantime, it is a type of plan b--or better, one of God's merciful and incarnational ways of meeting us where we are and helping us mature from there.

So the confusion partly arises from the fact that we use "the fear of God" in two difference senses.

At least this helps me think about this whole business a little more clearly.


Mark -

I've not had the opportunity to read your book, so my question is based on impressions that I have gathered about it. It sounds like you are calling us to consider a life of "deep discipleship" vs "shallow discipleship" or "easy believism".

Does your book address "how" to do this? Is it simply a matter of believing differently than we have (if we have previously not understood the fullness of what Jesus' love means?).

I'm thinking of your answer to Chris' question about what prevents people from seeing and appreciating Jesus as mean and wild. If someone is fixated on an idea that is about gentleness and kindness, or is in reaction to an upbringing that was legalistic and oppressive, or are simply afraid - how do they change those beliefs?

I don't mean to imply that your book would be lacking if you are focused more on the "what" of the problem, than on the "how" - I am sure there is a lot of teaching in the church that doesn't proclaim Jesus as "mean and wild", and that we need voices willing to proclaim more of the fullness of the gospel. This is just the first question that comes to my mind as I read about this book.

Thanks for being willing to discuss the book here!

Chris A.


At the risk of seeming self-serving, I'd have to say that the "how" is accomplished by reading my book.... Boy that sounds bad! But the "how," in this instance, is mostly about changing one's perception of God and Jesus and the life of faith. It is seeing with new eyes, even reading the Bible with new eyes.

The point of my book is to help people see something they've not noticed, or not spent time pondering. Just like a naturalist can help us see things in the forest that we would not notice without his/her guidance. That very act--of drawing people's attention to a different facet of the gospel--I trust will help them read the Bible with new eyes, and pray through the events of their lives with fresh perspective.

Self-promomtion aside: There are lots of books out there that do this sort of thing. I think Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, Bonhoeffer (Cost of Discipleship) among others, do it well, albeit along different lines. Though Willard includes practical advice (e.g., "practice the spiritual disciplines") I think the most powerful thing books like this do is re-arrange our brains to see God and faith in a new light. And so we need to keep reading and pondering and praying, so that we will have new eyes to see. As that happens, slowly but surely a lot of other "how" stuff falls into place.

That being said, Chris, you ask a good question. I'm going to give that some thought and see if there might be practices--other than spiritual reading--that might help re-focus our spiritual vision. Thanks for the prodding.


"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

I've always love those words, because as much as the gospel writers wished to keep the 'physical' Jesus rather mysterious by not offering the slightest physical description, which any neophyte novelist would have accomplished in the first paragraph, nevertheless, we understand that the physical was not the focus of either the authors or the Subject, but then too, we are human and I find that I can picture Jesus in my imagination listening to all the chit-chat of those around the campfire, then slowly rising as the others sudden fall silent, then without even a brief clearing of the throat, shouting, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"


Thanks for the book (which I haven't read) and thanks for joining DesertPastor at this site. It's a great encouragement.

With regard to the view of Jesus offered in the book, recognizing that you're offering another side of the Jesus coin in a sense and not trying to illustrate that the mean Jesus is the real Jesus alone...does Jesus seem to deal with different types of people differently in your view?

It's been my view that Jesus was much more stern and outright angry at religious elitists and much more kind and compassionate - although often direct - with those outside the mainstream population. He was often stern and borderline angry with the disciples - especially Peter - but not usually with the name calling we see with the Jewish leaders.

Any thoughts?



Another thought - do you see the emergent movement helping to highlight the mean Jesus - or are we simply contining (or even extending) the touchy-feely, feel-good version from your perspective?



You are on to something here, but one thing I found was what an equal-opportunity offender Jesus was. It was to the crowd that he said, "How much longer must I put up with this faithless generation!" Not exactly nice.

Though it is true that he held leaders to a higher standard of accountability--i.e. the Pharisees--I wouldn't want us to assume that the real problem today is with "them," those leaders. A lot of the problem is with irresponsible leaders indeed, and we are likewise to hold them accountable. But alas, a lot of the problem is with us. With me.

G.K. Chesterton was once asked what he thought was the greatest problem in the world in his day. He replied, "I am."


Regarding the Emergent movement and 'mean and wild Jesus': I think the Emergent movement's emphasis on "the mysteries of life and faith" is certainly part of the difficult side of the gospel. As is its willingness to criticize and challenge establishment (i.e., "safe") evangelicalism. In some quarters, however, I've seen a tendency to so emphasize the grace and mercy of Jesus, the stern side of our Lord is lost.

This makes some sense, since a lot of emergent folks that I've met come out of a legalistic and oppressive religious background. They embrace emergent because it embraces so much grace. As such, they are not the people who need my book! But eventually, they'll have to deal with the full Jesus again, but in God's good time.

Then again, one thing I'm trying to show in my book is that EVERYTHING Jesus does--the 'good, bad, and the ugly'--is about grace, mercy, and love. I'm just saying that sometimes love doesn't feel good. But it's still love.



I'm glad that Andy asked you about what "Jesus Mean and Wild" has to say to those in emerging churches. And I certainly resonate with your response -- especially in terms of those coming "out of a legalistic and oppressive religious background." For them, the opportunity to finally breath-in "grace" is deeply restorative. On the other hand, many emergents have come out of "seeker" churches where the meak and mild Jesus lives srong -- a Jesus who is always on our side and only has positive, encouraging things to say to us. For these emerging belivers, what they left was "the cult of the nice."

In chapter 5 of your book, you deal rather directly with "nice" people, saying: "The person who is always nice, always decorous, always evenkeeled is likely a person who ultimately does not care about what God cares about."

It seems to me that emerging church folks want to take discipleship, followership, much more seriously than the groups they've come out of. In some cases, this may "rub" against their desire to be "affirming and accepting" of others. How might the full-bodied "Mean and Wild" Jesus help emergents to not fall prey to "niceness" (as you've written about) and to "care about what God cares about"?

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)