Jesus vs. Caesar

For People Tired of Serving the Wrong God

By Joerg Rieger Published
Jesus vs. Caesar
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The tension between true religion and false religion lies within Christianity itself.When we observe a tension between Jesus and Caesar, we acknowledge that a fundamental tension remains at the heart of Christianity. The tension is not between religion and atheism or secularism. Nor is it between organized religion and personal spirituality or between Christianity and other religions. The tension is located within the heart of Christianity itself because it is a radical conflict between faith that is life-giving for all and faith that is damaging and destructive of people and the earth.

This tension between life-giving and malignant forms of religion is also deeply rooted in the Jewish traditions. The Hebrew prophets were gravely concerned about established forms of religion that appear to be respectable but result in oppression. The prophet Isaiah hears the voice of God pronouncing judgment on malignant religion: You serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers (Isaiah 58:3). Life-giving religion, by contrast, loosens the bonds of injustice" (Isa 58:6).

This book serves as an indictment of the pieties of empire and their push for political, economic, cultural, and religious domination. Some forms of Christian faith (Jesus) versus other forms of Christian faith (Caesar). Whom and what will we trust and serve? Jesus embodies and exposes this tension in ways that transform destructive images of God, engender political and economic resilience, and model solidarity with others who are radically different, including other religions.

This tension between life-giving and malignant religion is a critical opportunity for those who seek to follow Jesus instead of Caesar.


Choose ye this day whom you will follow. So many Americans have made the choice to follow the God of Caesar, the God of capitalism, the God of empire, the God of death. Rieger, through this profound yet accessible book, encourages the reader to choose instead the God of Jesus, who radically provides life-giving ways to live into our humanity. A must-read for all of us who might be worshipping the false God of a malignant religion.

Miguel A. De La Torre, Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies, Iliff School of Theology, Denver, CO

At a time when so many say they are following Jesus but are worshipping Caesar, this timely and engaging book is a wake-up call, a serious critique, and a guide to practicing a transformative faith. It should be widely read and discussed in classrooms, churches, and grassroots communities.

Kwok Pui Lan, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Theology, Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, GA; former William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality, Episcopal Divinity School, New York, NY; author, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology

All of Joerg Riegers many books combine his distinctly powerful fusion of theology, biblical scholarship, political economics, and social justice activism. Jesus vs. Caesar luminously explicates the faith at the heart of Riegers work, revealing what keeps him going.

Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY; Professor of Religion, Columbia University, New York, NY

About the Author

Joerg Rieger

Joerg Rieger holds the Cal Turner Chancellor's Chair in Wesleyan Studies and is Distinguished Professor of Theology in the Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt University. Before that he taught at Perkins School of Theology. His Ph.D. is from Duke University and he is an ordained elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. He is the author or editor of 22 books.