Gwinner Minister Pens Book On False Identities Of Christ

Reprinted with permission from The Sargent County Teller (Milnor, ND: June 2, 2017)

By Paige Cary 

Who, exactly, is Jesus? That is the question Pastor Matthew Richard of Gwinner explores in his new book entitled Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?: Twelve False Christs.  Richard is the current pastor at Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS), a position he has held since 2013. This is his first book, and, perhaps, the first time many people have been asked to consider the true identity of Jesus Christ.   

Writing a book was on his personal bucket list, but Richard says he hadn’t planned for it to happen quite so soon. He was blessed to have what many potential authors dream of-- a publishing company seeking him out. In late 2015 he had given a lecture at a conference in Grand Forks. The talk focused on some false christ examples, a topic that he had been developing for a while. A Concordia Publishing House representative later heard his message when it was replayed on a recorded video. The representative thought the topic would make a great book and approached Richard with the idea.  In May of last year, a book contract was signed, and he was on his way to becoming an author. 

The book, which was just published and is available for sale on June 6th, revolves around the idea that the true identity of Jesus Christ has often been altered to fit an individual’s own ideals, beliefs, and even personality. It’s a concept that holds challenges and thought-provoking queries for Christians. Richard explains the need to understand the real Jesus in the introductory chapter.  “Who we say Jesus does not only reveal the identity of Jesus but also influences how we understand the Church, how we read the Bible, how we live and how we know the truth,” Richard writes. “Who Jesus is has lasting ramifications in this life and the next.” 

“This is really a book about Jesus,” Richard says of the book’s overall message. In today’s age, he explains, personalization is a high-priority in our society. We like things that are suited to our interests and our tastes. To this end, many people can even change Jesus.  “If we can personalize our music, movies, and food, why can’t we customize Jesus the way we want?” Richard points out in the first chapter.  He goes a step further and notes that creating a personalized Christ to believe in is a form of idolatry. It’s a sobering thought that leads the reader into the next twelve chapters detailing who Christ is not. 

Each chapter in Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? centers around a fictitious character that is based on real events or situations that Richard was involved in or made aware of. The title of each chapter is named for the false christ that is explained in each one. A few of them include memorable titles like “The Giver of Bling,” “The Mystical Friend” and “The Teddy Bear.” When he started the book, he had fewer than twelve examples. As he continued to do research, several others came to light.

The list of false christs in the book is by no means comprehensive, Richard assures. There are other types out there, and some are hybrids of ones he shares.  Each one, Richard explains, holds some element of the true Jesus but, the identity of Christ has been altered by a person’s own set of beliefs and ideals.  He describes it as a kind of math equation with attributes of the true Jesus being subtracted or added according to an individual’s desires. 

Choosing to begin each chapter with a story was done to help draw in the reader and better explain each false christ example.  “I thought if I can use individual people to carry the theology, they can see it with flesh and blood, see the false christs, the assumptions and presuppositions at work in the characters’,” Richard explains. “The narrative keeps it relatable.” 

As he wrote about each false christ a few came easily because they were ones that Richard had dealt with himself or been exposed to more frequently. Others were more foreign to his life, and he reached out to social media and other sources.  Making contact with people who were led by those conceptions about Christ gave him real-life material to use. The research itself brought new revelations to him as he conversed with people who held a belief in Jesus, but a Jesus whose identity had been twisted. 

Although he holds a doctoral degree, Richard desired the book to be layperson-friendly and unhindered by heavy theological terminology. Intense editing was done halfway through to remove lengthy footnotes and make it flow better. Richard relied on his wife, Serenity, to help pick out language that might frustrate the average reader. Each month he would send in two completed chapters for editing and review from the publishers. 

In each chapter, there are text boxes giving further detail for words or concepts that might be unfamiliar to some readers. The book can be read individually or as part of a study group. Each chapter concludes with some questions and further information about that false christ, and the end of the book concludes with a thorough appendix for additional study. 

The topics contained in Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? are particularly timely today, Richard shares. Some of the false christs he wrote about have been present in society and Christian circles for thousands of years. “There is no such thing as new heresy,” he says.  Some of the types of false christs are more prevalent in today’s age. Richard noted that society’s increasing desire to move away from moral absolutes and embracing more individualistic beliefs has promoted new false christs. 

Throughout the writing of the book, Richard says his goal was to present the truth according to the Bible without apathy or frustration with those who have created their own version of who Jesus Christ is. Aware that some of the descriptions and insight could come across as tough to hear, he took pains to infuse compassion in the book.  In the final chapter, he describes his own struggles with false christs and coming to terms with his own weaknesses and need for the real Christ. The personal revelations confirm the need for the author’s own dependence on the real Jesus, and help to connect him to the reader in an authentic way.  

A book with the title as a question would not be complete without an answer in the end. The book concludes with a summary of who Jesus is and why the message of His work on earth, his crucifixion and resurrection are the powerful, yet simple, message of love, grace, and power that is timeless and unchanging for everyone. 

Richard drew straight from the Bible for the foundation of who Christ is. He also entrenched the answer to his title question with the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed, two faith statements that are widely accepted among most Christian denominations. Although Richard is a Lutheran pastor, his background and upbringing are such that he grew up as a “spiritual mutt”. Considering this, his desire was that this book would transcend any denominational lines and speak directly to individuals.  

The book was a labor of love and faith for Richard. “It was not a burden, it was a joy,” he states. Is there another book in his future? Maybe, Richard says, but not in the immediate future. He’s looking forward to discussing his book with readers, enjoying his time with his wife and three children and serving his congregation. 

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? was completed at the end of 2016, less than a year after Richard signed the contract.  The book will be released for purchase on June 6th  and is available from, Amazon, Amazon, and Goodreads. 

CLICK HERE to 'Like' on Facebook
CLICK HERE to 'Follow' on Twitter
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on iTunes
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on Podbean