In America today we have a great problem with ethnocentrism. According to wikipedia "Ethnocentrism or ethnocentricity is the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one's own culture." We have a tremendous tendency to relate to scripture and the characters in scripture in ways that are familiar to us. There's nothing unusual in that, it only makes sense that we would try and relate to people and concpets in ways that are familiar with us. In one sense though, that's what makes understanding scripture very difficult for those of us in North America. The society and culture that Jesus lived in was tremendously different than the one we live in today. For instance, I have a good friend who is a church planter in California who likes to refer to many of our current American pictures of Jesus as "Surfer Jesus" because of his blond hair and blue eyes. I'm afraid that I have many aquaintances from the southeast who are going to have a heart attack when they find out someday that Jesus looked a lot like the middle easterners that they villify in their snide comments and actions.
For many this may not seem to be much of problem. You may see the that there is a problem, but it may not seem to carry that much weight particularly in comparison to many of the other problems floating around the Christian world. It is, however, a much greater problem than many would imagine.
For those who are missionaries among non-anglo-americans the wall of the "American Jesus" can often loom large. It was amazing to me, when living in another culture, to consistently have to battle with the belief that to be a "christian" meant to behave as an American. For instance it one particular instance was disturbing to me as I spoke at a Ghanaian church. After driving 30 minutes past electricity and pavement I was confronted with a small white church with a steeple, a sound system powered by car batteries (complete with wireless mics) and an indigenous African pastor wearing a suit and a tie leading the church in American hymns. Sadly many well meaning, but poorly trained American missionaries had contextualized the gospel to the American context and then allowed that contextualization to carry the same weight as scriptural truth to the point where many of the Africans that I encountered believed that a succesful church wasn't possible without many of the typical Amer! ican features. Unfortunately this occured at the loss of the gospel within their own cultural situations.
Now I'm not opposed to contextualization, as a matter of fact I think it's important in helping to apply biblical truth in any context, however when the American perception of Jesus, or the Americanization (is that a word?) of Jesus, takes precedence over the authentic Jesus, we have a problem.
This is equally problematic in America, however. We have so twisted and changed the authentic Jesus and the original church that there is often very little in our American contexts that reflects what originally was.
The video below is a funny, yet altogether too apropriate example of that. Vintage21 is a church in Cary, North Carolina that worked through a series on Jesus. As part of that series they put together a series of videos that takes a humorous look at many people's perception of a pansy, judgmental, Jesus. I hope the video is enlightening to you as much as it has been for me.