Reviewed by Caleb Kaltenbach
Tim Harlow excels in ministry leadership. He serves a growing church—Parkview Christian in Chicagoland has gone from 150 to 10,000-plus—mentors countless people, and encourages fellow senior ministers. He has served as president of the North American Christian Convention and authored Life on Mission: God’s People Finding God’s Heart for the World. And he’s done all of this—plus earned a doctorate—while loving his family and displaying courage, humility, and a sense of humor.
However, if Harlow were asked what he’s most proud of in his ministry (besides his family), my guess is he’d say, “Leading a church that wouldn’t make Jesus mad!” Let me say that another way. Tim Harlow has a passion for unbelievers and unchurched individuals. And his love for people is most clearly reflected in his latest book, What Made Jesus Mad? Rediscover the Blunt, Sarcastic, Passionate Savior of the Bible.
I’m sure we all could provide many examples of people and circumstances that made Jesus mad, but Harlow has done in-depth research on this topic. In the book’s introduction, he writes, “What was it that made Jesus cringe? Religious phonies, arrogant judges, unjust legalists, and hypocrites.” There’s something inherent in all these people that made Jesus the most angry—they were obstacles, or created obstacles, between people and God.
Harlow writes: “Denied access is what made Jesus angry, because our mission is to help people get in, not to keep them out. Access is the key. God wants his Kingdom to be easy to get into. He paid a high price for this barrier-free access, so let’s get it right” (p. 178).
Harlow highlights this when arguing against unneeded legalistic rules involving alcohol. Jesus made wine and drank it, Harlow writes, but we are quick to explain it away because it’s taboo in our Christian subculture. Some readers may not like that Harlow leverages alcohol as an example of an unneeded litmus test of fellowship, but I believe it is appropriate. Harlow certainly doesn’t imply that people must drink, but he indicates that making alcohol consumption a test of fellowship can lead others to question their access to God.
Harlow develops his main idea on a deeper level when he discusses why John 7:53–8:11 was left out of the earliest manuscripts of the Bible. Apparently, some early church leaders wanted to avoid what they perceived as a potential scandal; that is, Jesus telling a woman caught in an affair, “Neither do I condemn you” (8:11). Harlow explains, “According to Augustine, and a whole lot of Christ followers over the years, this story just made Jesus look too complacent about sin, especially a mortal sin like adultery” (p. 97).
Ironically, the Pharisees who caught the woman in adultery used the Law to block her access to God, and Christians subsequently have done the same by trying to suppress or avoid this narrative. To some degree, we all can see ourselves in this story. Harlow implies that hiding and ignoring this important story not only blocks access to God, it’s a sign of pride.
Our pride stands in direct opposition to grace. When I teach at length on grace, some people think they must remind me, “Don’t forget about the truth!” Though two separate ideas, grace relies on truth, and truth is dependent on grace. Truth without grace isn’t even truth—it’s a prideful refusal to examine oneself.
The book will challenge readers to look in the mirror and evaluate their own hearts. “It’s possible to have a head knowledge of God, and even follow the literal rules of God, without ever having a heart transplant,” Harlow writes. “But the essence of the Gospels is heart transformation” (p. 138). Unfortunately, our hearts fight such a transformation, as Harlow underscores in his explanation of the parable of the prodigal son: “The older-brother mentality is the spirit of resentment that says, ‘What about me?!’” (p. 175).
Harlow wants us to understand that Christians cannot extend grace until we check our pride. We make Jesus mad when we ignore grace, when we don’t deal with our pride, and when we make it harder for people to access God. To help us in our personal battles against pride, Harlow suggests we consider the people who have put up obstacles to God in our own lives. “God loves you, and what made Jesus mad was when someone denied your access to that love” (p. 197).
Leaders and laypeople will find this book very helpful. Church attendees will find it both enriching and relatable. It is an excellent resource for a sermon series, for small-group studies, and for leadership teams to read and discuss together.
I highly endorse What Made Jesus Mad? and I hope it becomes a permanent fixture in your library.
Caleb Kaltenbach is the director of the Messy Grace Group and author of Messy Grace and the upcoming book, Messy Truth: How to Foster Community without Sacrificing Conviction.