In light of the severity of the Day of the Lord and the danger of deception, Peter concludes his second epistle with the solemn charge to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” Twice in the first chapter (verses 3 & 8) the apostle refers to “the true knowledge” of Jesus. It is not hyperbole to say that of all the things that we might hope to have clear in this age, it is of utmost importance to understand precisely what that phrase means. The alternative is disastrous. Imagine standing before the judgment seat with the overwhelming majesty of Jesus before you, and realizing your “knowledge” of Him in this life was inauthentic and shallow – words and sentiments with little substance.
Though it causes me great grief, I cannot evade the conviction that the vast majority of the Church in America is presently on a collision course with that dreadful moment. “Knowing Jesus” in contemporary rhetoric has somehow come to often mean ascribing to a very anemic body of doctrine, conforming to a certain moral protocol, and possessing a measure of zeal for a handful of socio-political issues. The specifics may vary across denominational lines, but the formula is virtually the same. When we very tritely say, “do you know Jesus?”, we are really asking something akin to, “do you want to accept our values and join our organization?” In fact, in order to join this club and ascend its ranks it would seem that someone hardly needs to know anything at all about Jesus as revealed in the New Testament. Such a statement is not based on a vague impression. Extensive studies on the movement of evangelicalism in the United States have demonstrated that the majority of those who would identify themselves as “born again” Christians lack even the most rudimentary knowledge of the Bible and spend almost no time trying to read it.
If such is the case with basic familiarity with Scripture, how much more grave is the situation with things pertaining specifically to Jesus? How many sermons or books are actually devoted to expounding upon some aspect of who Jesus is and what He has done? Over the course of a year, what does an ‘average’ Christian who is faithful in church attendance hear of the marvel of His sinlessness, the splendor of His deity, or the wonder of the Incarnation? What place does Christology hold in Christian training and leadership development? How often are His perfections spoken of in our fellowship? How many of us could talk for more than ten continuous minutes about the details of the life and teaching of Jesus found in the Gospels? What answer would we have if a challenge was posed against the divinity or humanity of Christ? How often do we think of His return?
This hollow, gaping center of ignorance remains thinly veiled by a surface of religious culture where the name of Jesus is nearly ubiquitous. It is found at the end of prayers, in the middle of songs, on the back of cars, on the cover of books, at the top of soup-kitchen banners and on the front of T-shirts. We have even gone so far as to peddle His name on the political platform in the hopes of garnering some long-overdue power and prestige. Yet all this does not change the simple fact that multitudes of people who call themselves His followers know almost nothing about who Jesus is and what He is actually like. Therefore, He simply cannot be – in truth – the object of our affection, the focus of our worship, the substance of our witness, or the model of our discipleship.
The purpose of briefly addressing this modern crisis of Christology is not to launch criticism or breed negativity toward the Church. Jesus deeply loves His people and has such astonishing patience with us in our immaturity. Much of what makes this crisis so threatening is how common and indistinguishable it has become. An expression of Christianity where Christ Himself is scarcely known and rarely treasured has become normative rather than outrageous. It is challenging, at times, to even discern the way in which Jesus is subtly used to justify a host of different goals and trajectories instead of being the supreme End for which His people spend themselves in love and labor. My own soul knows all too well the pain of suddenly realizing in the midst the fray of life that Jesus has drifted to the fringes of my thoughts and my affections. The purpose, therefore, of naming the problem is to give context for the dire necessity of the answer. We desperately need to see how concrete the true knowledge of Jesus is, and understand how we might grow in it.