Like recurring themes in our dream lives, I tend to encounter recurring themes in my reading as well. Lately I’ve been reading The Journey In To God by Kenneth Bakken; Gnosticism: New Light On The Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing by Stephen A. Hoeller; An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michael Toms; The Future of Wisdom by Bruno Barnhart. As always, Meister Eckhart is somewhere in the background like a computer program you didn’t even realize was running. The theme that keeps cropping up: theosis, divinization, the inner Christ, the “hero” who is human but also, on some level, God.
I was very interested then when I was offered a review copy of a brand new book, Being Jesus In Nashville, by Jim Palmer. Palmer is an established author, but he self-published the new book. The major Christian publishing outlets refused to touch it because he says they felt that it was outside the bounds of orthodoxy. The review copy I received was an unpublished galley.
First the criticism: this is another book in the emerging, goatee wearing, Starbucks sipping, I-wrote-a-promotional-blurb-for-The Shack stream. Think: author as social media/social justice rock star penning another book about how much institutional church sucks but that we should all love Jesus anyway. That was my initial and remains my overall impression of the book (cue U2’s I still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and donate all the 99 cent downloads to charity).
However, something I didn’t quite expect happens in chapters 3 and 4. He begins to explore the (very Eckhartian) concept of God and humans sharing the same “ground”. After some theological investigation into both the Bible and the church fathers, Palmer says, “the evidence pointed to the conclusion that Jesus and I shared the same God-essence, God-fullness, God-nature” (page 38). He also quotes St. Athanasius: “God became man so that man might become God” (38-39). At the end of chapter 4 Palmer appears to take a final leap into the abyss:
I felt that God and I had become one. I didn’t find that Jesus-line and cross it;there was no Jesus-line to cross. The moment I opened my heart to the love that is God, the line merely disintegrated. There was no longer separation between God and me—it was no longer “I” who lived, but Christ—the very nature and essence of God—living in me and as me (52).
I know emerging hipster types like to push the envelope theologically, but as soon as I read those words, I could see why no Christian publisher would ever consider picking this up. The author also states that he has caught some serious flack from booksellers and former seminary professors.
Overall, the book wasn’t my cup of tea, and even when the author begins to identify with Christ his arguments aren’t terribly compelling. In the final analysis, Being Jesus in Nashville provides a new spin on the whole In His Steps/WWJD thing, but it isn’t going to spend any time on my nightstand.
It does leave me hanging with one rather haunting question, though: Is the eye with which I see God the same eye with which He sees me?