Book Review: Jesus Mean and Wild by Mark Galli

Before reading this book, I don’t recall hearing anyone describe Jesus as mean. So far as I can tell, Galli uses the word to describe the Jesus who is not always courteous, mild-mannered, and accepting. From a marketing standpoint, it’s probably an excellent pick for a title. For making a point about Jesus, I don’t think it works. I looked up definitions for mean in several dictionaries to assure myself I wasn’t missing something. The definitions I found included the following: selfish, nasty, malicious, petty, despicable, callous, bad-tempered, vicious.

Even when Jesus confronted people, He didn’t do so because He wished them harm, wanted to hurt them, or didn’t care about them. Though Galli concludes “the real Jesus . . . puls[es] with an unnerving and irresistible love” (182), Galli’s description of Jesus as mean suggests that Jesus’ motive was not love, but rather disdain.

That problem aside, Jesus Mean and Wild brings needed balance to our view of Jesus. Galli uses each of his seventeen chapters to examine a difficult passage from the Gospel of Mark:

  • The Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness
  • Jesus preaching repentance
  • Jesus warring with demons
  • Jesus leaving behind people searching for Him
  • Jesus sternly warning a man He healed
  • Jesus entertaining anger at the religious leaders
  • Jesus claiming His followers over His family
  • Jesus warning His listeners
  • Jesus teaching in a parable that confused even His closest disciples
  • Jesus commanding the storm with fearsome power
  • Jesus rebuking Peter with these words: “Get behind me, Satan!”
  • Jesus demanding His followers surrender their lives
  • Jesus asking how long He must put up with a faithless generation
  • Jesus driving out the temple merchants with a whip
  • Jesus describing His second coming in power and glory
  • Jesus asking on the cross why His Father had forsaken Him
  • The followers fleeing the empty tomb in fear and amazement

Galli urges us not to worship a false god by acknowledging only part of Jesus’ nature. In Jesus Mean and Wild, Galli demonstrates that though Jesus is surely gentle, compassionate, humble, and kind, He is also sometimes harsh, confrontational, angry, and demanding. If we only see Jesus as our Best Friend—if we are never struck with fear or awe—we have missed something, Galli argues. When we do encounter “the glorious Christ,” we “gasp, stare, whisper, and tremble.” Why? “We are in the presence of something both dangerous and wonderful” (182).

I find the claim that Jesus is mean to be distracting throughout the book. However, I appreciate the balance this book brings to my thinking. Jesus loves me. But that love has far bigger aims than making me feel good.

Have you ever seen Jesus as both dangerous and wonderful?

Publication Information
Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God by Mark Galli. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006. Pages: 208. ISBN: 978-0-8010-1284-6.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Jesus Mean and Wild by Mark Galli

  1. I haven’t read much of Galli’s stuff and I don’t know his background, but it does seem like a mean Jesus is a false idol.

    • It could be, if that’s all you focused on. In fairness, to the author, I don’t think that’s all he focuses on. I think in this book, he’s trying to remind us to take a full view of Jesus. For example, just because He’s compassionate and patient, does not mean He’ll fail to come in judgment. Or just because He offered rest, does not mean our journey with Him is easy–He also demanded we give up our lives to follow Him. I think that’s where Galli is coming from.

  2. I think to use the word ‘mean’ to describe Jesus is a mistake because outside the USA, in English speaking countries, ‘mean’ simply means nasty and therefore the title already sounds insulting to Jesus Christ who was perfect in every respect. I do agree that there has been a lot of soppy and sentimental talk about Jesus (leaving out His Lordship and as Christ), which is also wrong, but perhaps this author could have tried not to use a controversial title to attract readers.

    • Paul, I think even in the USA, “nasty” is usually how we understand the word “mean.” So, I agree, it works well as a controversial title but not as an accurate description of Jesus.

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