Today I continue with a look at the first chapter, “How Jesus Changes Everything.”
This chapter makes a particularly good start, and as I worked through it I noted more than a mere nod to a Trinitarian foundation. This means I have to repent of earlier comments where I complained of a leaning toward Christomonism. While the book is by no means a formal attempt at Christology, this chapter comes across as an engaging blend of inspiration, challenge and careful thought.
As usual, Alan and Michael use great quotes. You may as well have a pen ready so you can jot them down, you will want to use them somewhere eventually! On page 17, the first page of chapter one, there appear two quotes. I particularly like the one from CS Lewis, who gives a solid nod to telos. Lewis writes,
“In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose.
It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose. It says in the Bible that the whole universe was made for Christ and that everything is to be gathered together in Him.”
The authors open this chapter with a jab at the church: let’s face it, these jabs are usually deserved. “One of the unfortunate things it [the church] does is convince you that Jesus is to be worshipped but not followed.” Shades of Richard Rohr who writes something very similar in “Everything Belongs.”
The authors then relate a couple of stories, one from the life of Harvey Cox and a second from the novel In His Steps. In the novel one of the main characters encounters a homeless man who is puzzled about the way Christians talk about Jesus but don’t act like him. He relates that he has heard them sing,
All for Jesus, All for Jesus,
All my being’s ransomed powers,
All my thoughts, and all my doings,
All my days, and all my hours.. (19)
But of course, it is quite possible to make this sort of confession if we live in a world where spiritual and physical are divorced from one another. With a dualistic frame we can live differently on Sunday than we do on Monday and it all seems fine.
Yet one wonders, along with Alan and Michael, how we manage to keep up this schizophrenic way of living in the face of the Jesus of the Gospels. That Jesus is “homeless, propertyless, peripatetic, socially marginal, without a trade or occupation, a friend of outcasts…” etc. In contrast the Christ the church has tended to offer quietly hangs on the cross and doesn’t cause much trouble.
From here the authors move to Dorothy Sayers. Her writing embraced a fully human Jesus, but it was this embrace that got her into trouble. Sayers wrote of “the scandal of particularity.” In a time when the church preferred to keep God at a distance in his “thusness,” she wrote of Christ in his “thisness.” (22) The only way to embrace such a Christ involves “a preparedness on our parts to resist capturing [him] for our own endsÂ or molding him to our theological or political agendas.” (24)
This brings us to a transition where Alan and Michael will set out three lenses for us. They write that “through the eyes of Jesus we will see God differently, no longer as a distant father figure, but through the paradigm of the missio Dei to find the sent and sending God. Second, we will see the church differently, no longer as a religious institution but as a community of Jesus followers devoted to participating in his mission (participatio Christi)… Third, through Jesus eyes we will see the world afresh, not simply as fallen or depraved but as bearing the mark of the imago Dei — the image of God.” (24) What follows from here is a lucid and stimulating discussion that is both theologically anchored and rich in application.
1. You will see God differently – missio Dei
“The Latin phrase missio Dei is used to describe more the divine nature of God than simply the practical nature of Christian mission.” (24) There aren’t any footnotes to this comment, but it assumes a great deal, not least a background and conversation that most of their readers will not know. While I’m inclined to agree with the theological implication, excepting Moltmann and Holmes, most would affirm that the missio Dei is rooted in the economic (immanent) Trinity but not the social (eternal) being of God.
Still, it’s a great question. Does God have a mission, or is he a missionary God?
What follows is less controversial. The authors anchor mission in the doctrine of God. “Those who are taken captive by Jesus see mission not merely as a practice preferred by God but as an aspect of his very character.” From here we move to John 5. “The Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing..” (5:19) Jesus claims to be himself captive to the missio Dei. Yet more than this, he claims some kind of identity with the Father (cf. John 8:16,29). The authors write, “Here we get a glimpse into the mystery of the relations between the Father and the Son, for the Father sends the Son yet is present with the Son.” (25) Alan and Michael have a point in all this; they are intent on showing that the Father’s presence relies on the Son’s commitment to do what is pleasing to the Father. In this Jesus reveals the primacy of the missionary God.
The next page continues with a reference to David Bosch. Then we are back to the incarnation. “In the incarnation of Jesus, we hear the missio Dei presented to us in his teaching and embodied in his flesh.” God is so devoted to this broken planet that he sends himself forth to redeem it. But this movement itself, rooted in Godself, expands yet again: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit send the church into the world” (Bosch quoted on page 27). The Trinity will not be kept locked up in church. “God escapes the stained-glass crypt and sends himself out throughout the world.”
In opposition to some kind of temple theology we have the words of Jesus in John 4. “The time is coming, and now is, when those who worship the Father must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Paul picks this up when he refers to the church as the body of Christ. “The triune God doesn’t reside in a temple or any other building. Rather, the physical embodiment of the Trinity is in the people of God.” (28)
2. You will see the church differently – participatio Christi
“Through Jesus eyes, the church is the sent people of God.”
“As we said earlier, God’s mission in this world is his and his alone. The glory of God, not the church, is the ultimate goal of mission.” (29) The authors point out that we humbly participate in this mission as we serve the king and his kingdom. Immediately they broaden out mission to the entire scope of creation. Bosch again,
“Mission is the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus.. it is the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world.” (29) As Bosch suggests, this can’t be boiled down to a spiritual goal or to social justice. The mission of Jesus unfolds all around us in the world. “It is our task to create foretastes of the kingdom of God on this planet — living glimpses of what life is meant to be…” In this description I hear “shalom.” On the next page they continue:
“The kingdom is much broader than the church — it is cosmic in scope. The church is perhaps the primary agent of the kingdom but not mot be equated fully with it.” (30) Following, they relate the parable of the wheat and the chaff (Matthew 13:24-30). They bemoan a church so narrow in its perspective that Bono of U2 can’t be seen to be about this same mission.
What follows next on page 31-32 bears some photocopy work so it can be more readily shared. A nice bit of etymological work along with some good theological framing on the meaning of the little word, “ecclesia.” In common usage among believers we often translate “the called out ones” and note that the implication is an assembly or gathering that is set apart. However, the meaning is more nuanced than this. Paul could have used any number of words to denote a gathering, and probably would have chosen “synagoge” if this is all he meant. Similar to the work William Cavanaugh has been doing in this area (in particular his article “The Church as God’s Body Language”) Frost and Hirsch here hit at the political meaning.
“An ecclesia was a gathering of wise community leaders, brought together by their common vision for the harmony and well-being of the wider community.” (32)
“We think that to be the sent people of God we will have our neighborhood’s best interests at heart. We think Christians should see themselves as sent by Jesus into the villages of which they’re part, to add value, to bring wisdom, to foster a better village. In short, to participate with the work of Christ all around us.”Â Shades of God Next Door.. this is good stuff. (and see also Luke 10). Now comes a nice bit of theological reflection that undergirds all this very well.
3. You will see the world differently – Imago Dei
In The Shaping of Things to Come the authors wrote about prevenient grace, the God that goes before us in the world. But there is a second aspect of presence and it is written on the soul of every person – the image of God.
The authors rightly point out that the Imago does not deny the inherent brokenness of our race, but rather points to our God capacity, our inherent dignity and beauty. The Imago is so deeply written on us that not even the fall could remove it. (In comparison to Calvinism, the cup is half full rather than half empty). I agree with Michael and Alan that the parable of the sheep and the goats has the Imago in mind (33 – “you did it not to [them]. you did it not to me”). The very least of these bear the image of the king.
The implications are clear. If our race has such dignity and marred beauty in the eyes of our Creator, one of our tasks is to see what is obscured and to tease it out. “If we ReJesus the church we will lead it to a greater respect for the unbeliever” (34). Brian McLaren affirmed this strongly in A Generous Orthodoxy, and others (Amos Yong) have been making the theological move in their advocating a Spirit-Christology. Every created thing bears both a Word image and a Spirit image, and both of these are obscured by the fall.
The chapter closes with a story from Flannery O’Connor (35-37) that I won’t summarize here. It is her final story and considered by many her best (Parker’s Back, the story about the tatooed man). If we are marked by Jesus we participate in his mission, share his passion and compassion, and see the world through his eyes.