In a recent seminar paper, a Calvin Theological Seminary student observed that Herodotus (A History of the Persian Wars) amused himself in his Mediterranean travels with noting how much Persian gods looked like Persians. The tendency to make God in our image has had a long run. We still project both our best and our worst onto the object of worship.

One of my friends once preached a sermon in which he pointed out how twentieth-century American depictions of Jesus often seem remarkably familiar. Jesus Christ has been arranged, for instance, as an industrialist (did he not say, “I must be about my father’s business”?). But he can also be packaged as a labor unionist (remember, he was a carpenter). Indeed, Jesus was the first socialist (recall his warnings to the rich and his love for the poor). He can be set up as a revolutionary, a feminist, and as a pop psychologist and success preacher.

Publishers of children’s Vacation Bible School materials sometimes have portraits of a well-barbered, Hollywood-handsome Lord peering out at us from soulful blue eyes.

About a decade ago, a reviewer of Hans Küng’s best seller On Being a Christian noted the similarities between Küng’s Jesus and Küng himself. Writing from the heat of battle against the Vatican, Küng sketched Jesus as an uncompromising churchman, asserting God’s will “in face of the resistance of the powerful—persons, institutions, traditions, hierarchs.” Jesus, in Ralph McInerny’s immortal phrase, emerges as “The Man Who Would Be Küng.”

The human tendency to push ourselves forward into the target area for worship has by now become so usual—and so hazardous—that many ...

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