coverReJesus is the latest offering from the dynamic duo of Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. I’ve looked at the introduction and first chapter, and now I want to revisit chapter two.The stated intention in this work is to declutter Jesus: to free him from the baggage and cultural accretions of centuries.

ReJesus is Soul Survivor meets Wild at Heart. The motivation is sound; others like Clark Pinnock have affirmed that evangelical Christology is anemic, either academic on one hand or bumper-sticker best-buddy on the other. Nearly every theological discussion these days risks the effects of concision. Concision is not merely shorthand but a cultural effect of media and the need to present information in a way that is engaging and especially – brief.

Frost and Hirsch make clear that they are NOT interested in Christological propositions. Part of their motivation is to move away from complex theological formulations. This raises the question of methodology. Just HOW do we move away from modernist and propositional frames in our search for truth? What are the alternatives?

The best alternative is probably a recontextualizing of Jesus. How best to do that? In The Great Giveaway David Fitch references Lindbeck.

Lindbeck explained that doctrine functions in one of three ways: as propositions, as expressive-experiential articulation, or as cultural-linguistic grammars. The lecture hall views doctrines as verifiable propositions while the feel-good pep rally sees doctrines as the articulation of experiences. The former locates truth in spoken or written words while the latter locates truth in immediate experience. In the cultural-linguistic mode, doctrines of God function as comprehensive interpretive schemes — usually embodied in myths or narratives.. which structure human experience and understanding of self and world (113). Lindbeck’s model argues for designing worship as an enculturated living place of God where our personal character is formed into the specific culture of Christ in order to know truthfully and experience God in worship.

The dominant religious paradigm, evident in most of the churches in my city, is propositional, though one finds constant drift toward the expressive-experiential, particularly in the charismatic churches. Most of our churches are a hybrid of lecture hall and pep rally. The third mode seems rare: the cultural-linguistic mode, or the narrative mode. Which of these three modes are the dominant method of ReJesus?

Andrew Perriman doesn’t outright utilize Lindbeck’s frame, but if I read him correctly he characterizes the method of ReJesus as a hybrid of propositional and expressive-experiential. Andrew writes,

Frost and Hirsch call people to follow a captivating messiah, but they won’t tell us what he did, why he did it, or where he thought he was going. If we are not given the overall shape of Jesus’ teaching, how are we to be sure that the “spiritual centers” have been correctly located? Much is said – and said well, if a little hyperbolically at times – about the character of Jesus: a daring, radical, strange, wonderful, inexplicable, unstoppable, marvelous, unsettling, disturbing, caring, powerful God-Man (111). But is it wise to encourage people to follow – indeed worship – a dangerous charismatic figure without providing some basic information about his agenda, some sketch of the contours of his teaching?

The problem is, I think, that Frost and Hirsch give very little attention either to the story that Jesus tells or to the story that he finds himself in, which is a story about Israel and its place in the world.

I opened this discussion with a characterization of ReJesus as Soul Survivor meets Wild at Heart. Andrew seems to be making a similar argument, with a focus on theological method. Maybe we could paraphrase McLuhan, “the method is the message.”

It’s not as if Frost and Hirsch completely avoid theological formulation. When I previously looked at ReJesus I quibbled with the shorthand that we find on page 43:

Christology –> mission –> church

This shorthand risks reductionism, or remains naive with regard to cultural lenses. I am convinced that incarnation alone, and even mission and incarnation, are insufficient lenses to challenge our cultural frames. If we do not move beyond this monism to a Trinitarian exploration, we will merely reinforce the individualism that subverts Christian formation.

That’s a strong statement and it requires some unpacking. With the frame above.. Christology –> mission .. I feel we will end up with .. Jesus is sent.. I am sent.. out to convert discrete individuals who will become independent believers with no ability to submit to the body. Our dominant lenses and dominant ethic — expressive individualism — will not be challenged.  It won’t matter that Jesus chose twelve; we can write that off to methodology. We can envision discipleship as a personal process.

So while we might affirm the Cross as the means to a new humanity (collective), we can just as easily see “Jesus my personal Savior.” That’s ok as a starting point, but it is too easily oriented around my private self. Jesus alone as the foundation for mission pushes us to monism, which in turn reinforces individualism. Where is the death of the individual that results in one new humanity? And where is the new community? Perhaps we could find it on the ecclesiology side if not in the Trinity by talking about the multiplicity of the body.

But I think apart from more work on the nature of God and the nature of humanity in his image, we will only reinforce expressive individualism and have no effective way to counter a consumer and private approach to spirituality. Even mission can be run through the grid of individualism after all, and salvation becomes another product we consume for self interest, with no connection to justice and no death of the self. The grapes are not crushed to make new wine, the grain is not ground to make one loaf.

It might seem that I am nit-picking here, but my point is reinforced by David Fitch in his post of January 8th. David notes that we tend to neglect the shaping power of our cultural lenses and assumptions. He writes,

Though it is a specialized question mostly reserved for philosophers, I believe our epistemological assumptions shape the way we understand the gospel (individual versus social) and church (a group of individuals or a social context for working out the gospel). Many will say that we should forget about such issues and just follow Jesus. Of course, this too is laden with epistemological assumptions. I contend that the formula ‘Christology determines missiology determines ecclesiology’ is fraught with epistemological assumptions (modern Enlightenment) that lead us to the very problem (individualist de-culturalized oriented salvation leading to pragmatic Christianity) the phrase was intended to avert in the first place.

How do we “know” Jesus? In essence, if missiology precedes the church, we must assume the gospel comes first in and through individuals and their mind/experience faculties.

David points out that this modernist epistemology turns mission inward. Of course, that is one of the problems we are trying to escape in the missional conversation.

To my reading, Christology as the root of mission is in adequate. Rather, we ought to place ‘Trinity’ at the theological starting point. There are clear implications for anthropology and relationality and thus the way we think about salvation and God’s purposes in forming a people. As Wm Cavanaugh puts it,

“People are usually converted to a new way of living by getting to know people who live that way and thus being able to see themselves living that way too. This is the way God’s revolution works. The church is meant to be that community of people who make salvation visible for the rest of the world. Salvation is not a property of isolated individuals, but is only made visible in mutual love.” (The Church as God’s Body Language)

We need the church as an epistemological foundation for the gospel in the world. Our only option is to attempt to retreat into Modernity and attempt to reinforce foundationalism. We need the church as God’s ordained bearer of the Story, where Scripture is socially embodied in the living community, the living people of God. As Fitch puts it, “The stories, the language, and the memories of a people continuous with Jesus himself, birthed by his apostles (sent ones), the very extension of Jesus himself, wherein God’s presence is promised and made possible by the Holy Spirit – this body in the world becomes the epistemological foundation for knowing Jesus.”

But while we are attempting to lay bare some of our assumptions, I would argue that epistemology can’t be separated from ontology. Being is intimately related to knowledge. The church as the living Body of Christ, the new humanity, mirrors the loving community that exists eternally within the Trinity.

In Decoding the Church (56) Howard Snyder raises the ancient concept of perichoresis. The concept was birthed by Gregory of Nanzianzus and is sometimes pictured as a dance. Clark Pinnock writes that “the metaphor suggests moving around, making room, relating to one another without losing identity. At the heart of this ontology is the mutuality and reciprocity among the Persons.. a circle of loving relationships.” (Flame of Love, 31) The concept becomes a way of picturing an abundance of love that overflows in self-giving, inviting others into the dance.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is..

T.S. Eliot, “Four Quartets”

Lesslie Newbigin developed his missiology with an explicitly Trinitarian frame. As Newbigin phrases it:

The concern for mission is nothing less than this: the kingdom of God, the sovereign rule of the Father of Jesus over all humankind and over all creation. Mission.. is the proclamation of the kingdom, the presence of the kingdom and the prevenience of the kingdom. By proclaiming the reign of God over all things the church acts out its faith that the Father of Jesus is indeed ruler of all. The church, by inviting all humankind to share in the mystery of the presence of the kingdom hidden in its life through its union with the crucified and risen life of Jesus, acts out the love of Jesus that took him to the cross. By obediently following where the Spirit leads, often in ways neither planned, known, nor understood, the church acts out the hope that it is given by the presence of the Spirit who is the living foretaste of the kingdom. (The Open Secret, 64)

For further reading, Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom and Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Ministry.

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