Often at a carnival or sometimes large wedding reception you may find quick-draw artists off to the side, drawing portraits more humorous than accurate (mainly for folks’ amusement). They enlarge, bend, and highlight certain features that identify the person yet poke fun at his/her appearance; we call them caricatures (political cartoonists have earned a living from them for centuries). Dictionary.com defines caricature as: 1) an image ludicrously exaggerating the peculiarities or defects of persons or things; 2) any imitation so distorted or inferior as to be ludicrous. Webster further explains that caricature has Latin origins meaning “the act of loading.” Caricatures can span the spectrum from harmless laughs to biting satire to even character assassination. The key to its more harmful effects is when the caricature becomes the main reference in people’s minds for any particular person instead of their actual visage.
I believe that many people don’t embrace Jesus Christ as Lord because we offer them caricatures of Christ. Our sermons, teachings, and theology often exaggerate one quality to the detriment of others: the admonitions of Christ about hell, His social justice, His healing powers and miracles, His contemplative side, His love of children, His temper in the temple courts have all been championed by this or that denominational grouping as who THEIR Christ is.
It is true that at certain times in our lives we cannot handle a “full” portrait of who Christ really is. Small children are taught about the love of God and His creative nature, not the blood-soaked cross of Calvary; there was good reason The Passion of the Christ (2004) film was rated R. But achieving adulthood in a person’s life should bring a correspondingly deepened, more accurate and “fuller” understanding of who the Son of God was, is, and will be. What was sufficient for children can become a caricature of God in our mature years.
We magnify (or neutralize) our teachings of a “fuller” portrait of Christ with our incarnation of those teachings. Can people see the “full” portrait of who He is when they scrutinize our actions and decisions? Or do they see one facet of Him exaggerated, His love or His wrath or His stated purposes distorted? We Baptists are famous (perhaps it should read notorious) for defining ourselves by what we are NOT: we don’t do X thing like Catholics; or Y like the Lutherans; or Z like the “holiness” crowd. I long for the day when someone sees my business card and says, “Baptists, huh? Those are the folks who showed me who Jesus really is.”
Younger generations of believers have popularized the life purpose phrase “know Him, and make Him known.” (Phil. 3.10). Perhaps we could amend that to say “know Him (in His fullness) and make Him known (in His fullness).” A current strain of Christianity known to contemporary writers as “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD) is a vapid caricature of the gospel: “God exists, God is nice, we should be nice, happy, healthy, and just get along”. The “full gospel” is not about missing doctrines as some of our second blessing friends would put it; the “full gospel” is about sharing with folks the “full” portrait of Jesus Christ in our spoken and lived witness. Let us look in the mirror of God’s Word to see how we distort His image (Rom. 8.29), look to His Spirit to smooth out our exaggerations and correct our deficiencies, and look (to the world) more like our Christ and less like His caricature (Eph. 4.17-24; John 1.14-18) the goal being see us, see our Jesus. (Soli Deo Gloria, to God and God alone be the glory).