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We had a great discussion in a previous post trying to figure out which should take priority in determining a missional ecclesiology—missiology or ecclesiology? Both Stetzer and Hirsch have kindly provided their schematics to help clarify their positions. Stetzer writes:
My point is that scripture sets the agenda and has provides direction for all three– one does not “come from” the other but they are all derived from scripture, interact with each other, etc
Hirsch explains: We believe that Christology is the singularly most important factor in shaping our mission to the world and the forms of ecclesia and ministry that form that engagement…Before there is any consideration given to the particular aspects of ecclesiology, such as leadership, evangelism or worship, there ought to be a thoroughgoing attempt to reconnect the church with Jesus; that is, to ReJesus.
Stetzer sets Scripture as the starting place and Hirsch begins with Jesus. What are the implications for these slightly different starting places? Do these differences matter?
Previous reviews here.
The thrust of ReJesus is to recover the centrality of Jesus’ example for the church–radical, passionate, merciful. Hirsch suggests recalibrating discipleship and church by the template of Jesus: “whether one talks about becoming a little Jesus or uses that wonderful old phrase “imitation of Christ,” the essential function is clear—the modeling ourselves upon his life lies at the center of our spirituality.” A timely call to a methods, not Jesus-driven American Church. Hirsch goes on to provide a four page chart of how we can imitate Jesus (56-60). I cannot help but detect a dangerous tendency towards a new moralism, a WWJD without the power of the gospel to do it. The imitation of Christ minus the power of the Spirit. So I recently asked Alan:
What keeps imitatio Christ from becoming a new works-righteousness? He replied:
“You are right that imitatio can become works righteousness. But I guess most of us are not in danger of that as we have have a meaty diet of salvation by grace alone. I guess here what we are saying is akin to Bonhoeffer’s idea of cheap grace layed out in his book Discipleship…(read the rest)”
In chapter three, Hirsch & Frost turn their attention to reJesusing the church and organizations. They argue that many churches have become de-Jesus, religious organizations and what we need is a rebooting with Jesus at the center. Later on in chapter five, they present a much more compelling vision of what it means for us be reJesused. There Hirsch calls us to monotheistic christology, as he did in FWs, but with an ethical spin. The lordship of Christ over all things calls for a distinctive discipleship that is expressed in all domains of life. With Jesus as Lord, there is no such thing as private Christian faith. To be Christian is to be a public little Jesus. This is a robust, biblical vision of Jesus and discipleship. How can a church live under the lordship of Christ in all society in such a way that the society is changed? What does this look like in the marketplace, the Arts, Technology, Education, Science, Government, and so on? They provide a very helpful chart on p. 175 that helps churches begin to implement a reJesused approach.
I skimmed chapter four. Others have reviewed the Jesuses of history much better (Todd Johnson, Philip Jenkins, Jaroslav Pelican, Mark Driscol), though Hirsch and Frost bring out some good insights. Chapter five is worth the book. Again, anytime a missiologist is willing to take up monotheistic christology as a starting place for being the church, i am all ears. Hirsch moves beyond MC into what he calls ethical monotheism, the idea that the oneness and sovereignty of God in Christ compels us to live very differently in all domains of life, to live like Jesus. However, his disproportionate emphasis on the ethical, again, is cause for concern. So I recently asked him:
Is ethical monotheism dangerous ground if we don’t fully grasp ontological monotheism? To which he responded:
“As for the issue of ontology, I do believe that we cannot lose a sense of ontological monotheism and Trinity! But again we are well trained to think this way. what we need is correction. We start with what the Bible and Biblical worldview can affirm and build from there–not the other way around.”
Hirsch’s little phrase—”What we need is correction”—says a lot. The whole book, ReJesus, is an attempt to correct Western, doctrinally-driven, non-Hebraic ways of knowing. ReJesus and chapter six chart this corrective for us.
Here are a couple graphics that Ed and Alan use. They are helpful in clarifying their respective understandings of how christology, ecclesiology, and missiology relate. By the way, these guys are friends not foes, so I’m not trying to make them enemies (see Ed’s recent interview with Alan). I know you’ll appreciate that. Great discussion on the previous post.
Continuing the review (part I here) of Frost & Hirsch’s ReJesus, chapters 2 & 3 apply the concept of ReJesus to the individual and the community, to discipleship and the church. The aim of “rejesusing” disciples and communities is to “recover the absolute centrality of the person of Jesus in defining who we are as well as what we do.” Thus, they “believe that Christology is the key to the renewal of thE church in every age and in every possible situation it might find itself.”
Chapter two advocates personal renewal through Christology but what kind? They advocate a “recapturing of our imaginations” to person and example of Jesus. Sympathetic to empire theology, they suggest that we become a “conspiracy of little Jesuses” to order to subvert the rules of the Western empire, i.e. globalism, consumerism, etc. In short, “the task of discipleship is the lifelong project of literally becoming like him, of becoming a little Jesus” (49). How then do we become like Jesus? F&H try to steer clear of religion and “conformity to impersonal commands” by emphasizing a “constantly renewed, up-to-date experience with our Lord.” How do we develop this personal relationship with Jesus (which never appears as such in the Bible)? Contemporaneousness–unmediated closeness to Jesus, a term drawn from the wells of Soren Kierkegaard, an existentialist philosopher turned Christian. And here are where some personal concerns begin to emerge.
While I have been invigorated by the radical focus on the person and work of Jesus, the power to become like Jesus appears to be pietism. They steer clear of bootstrap religion but point us to the personal relationship with Jesus as the source for obedience. While I’m sure that is a motivating factor–the more I know Jesus, the more I desire to be like him–the Bible doesn’t appeal to a personal relationship w/ Jesus for our motivation to imitate him. Why? Probably because our experience of being close to him fluctuates considerably. As relationally, emotionally broken evangelicals, we easily confuse emotion for love and piestism for being “in Christ.”
Rather, the New Testament consistently points to new creation, the Spirit, and the Cross as motivation for obedience. For example:
Future Glory: “ For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, a)who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
God’s sovereign pleasure: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Power of the Spirit: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Should there not be a concomitant emphasis on the gospel, the Spirit, new creation and so on, if we are to imitate Jesus? Will not imitatio Christi lead to a new works righteousness without proper emphasis on the gospel? While working on this post I noticed Stetzer interviewed Hirsch, so I dropped some of these questions off in a comment. Hirsch graciously responded by pointing us away from cheap grace to costly grace. Read his response here.
I’ve appreciated Frost & Hirsch’s previous writing, their willingness to look at Jesus, community, and mission from a fresh perspective. Although I struggled through The Forgotten Ways, I definitely found the struggle worthwhile. ReJesus offers the same fresh perspective but from a much better pen. Either Frost or Hirsch have improved in their writing ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church!
The thesis of the book is that the Western church has overlooked the wild side of Jesus and under-emulated it. Sounds like Wild at Heart repackaged, but hardly!Attempting to retrieve the humanity of Christ, they build upon the theological foundations of imitatio Christi, the imitation of Christ. The notion that we should imitate Jesus was jettisoned from theological reflection for several centuries due to its moralistic overtones. Frost & Hirsch seem to be aware of these dangers, but it will be interesting to see how they relate their thesis to Chalcedonian christology.
In order to sufficiently reJesus the Church, they propose a three-fold focus (and take us on a Latin tour!): missio Dei, participatio Christi, & imago Dei. They write:
Those taken captive by the sight of Christ must be prepared for a reintegration of the theological concepts of missio Dei, participatio Christi, and imago Dei. These three concepts are foundational for a rediscovery of missional practice in our time. They are also foundational for us to reJesus the church in the West.
They go on to claim that a fresh perspective on mission, Jesus, and church will release Christianity into a renewed level of impact. I’m excited to keep reading but concerned about some of the conclusions. Already they have mixed theological concepts that are at odds, affirming total depravity in one breath and prevenient grace in the next. Hopefully thier missiological creativity will not outpace theological integrity!
The Austin Stone and Acts 29 are hosting a Missional Community Leadership Conference on Feb 6-7 at Great Hills Baptist. This is the kind of conference that is long overdue and will deliver on Gospel, Community, and Mission for the practitioner.
There are too many to list, but include topics like Missional Leadership, City-wide Networking, Discipleship, Communication & Conflict.
Talking with our staff last week, I was further convinced of the value of simplicity. We have made some significant changes along the way that have pushed us into more simply being the church. I have not read the book Simple Church, but as I see it there are two kinds of simplicity–one that ignores complexity and the other understands it. It is the latter that is shaping our church.
Black & White Simple
One kind of simple church ignores complexity. This kind of church calls it like they see it. There is one way to do things. They call the outs. They insist there is one way to spell gray. This kind of “simple church” refuses to re-contextualize the gospel, insisting upon old forms for new times. Like the missionary who exports Western pews, pictures, and pet theologies, simple churches that ignore cultural complexity produce disciples and doctrines that are disconnected from the people they are trying to reach. They are simple in missiology, but they are also simple in theology. Simple in that they assert that: “if we would just interpret the Bible literally,” we would all have the same theology. This simplicity ignores the complexity of biblical theology, revelation embedded in history and culture that alternately affirms and contradicts its historical-cultural context. This kind of simplicity is not what we are after.
There is another kind of simple church that understands complexity. This kind of church realizes that things are not always what they appear. They know that what appears as an “out” to some may also appear as “safe” to others. They realize there’s two ways to spell grey. This kind of simple church critically embraces cultural change in order to communicate the gospel faithfully within complex cultural shifts. This people understand that the difference between “the world” and “the church” is not black and white. They strive to bring Scripture to bear upon the grey of culture and their relationships. As a result, they are constantly theologizing. They realize that theology is not inspired and neither are they. They struggle to take inspired stories, letters, and gospels and learn how to bring them to life in variously delightful and decadent cultures. This process forces them to deal with the complexity of suffering, human flourishing, common grace, and human indifference and come through the other side with a simple, accessible, thoughtful, and reproducible way of following Jesus.
Theological Basis for Simplicity
There is a black and white simple church that calls things the way they see them. There is a grey simple church that is willing to do mission in the mess of life, not from the safety of doctrinal and traditional towers. The grey simple does not abandon theological conviction or absolute truth, but works to convey their conviction in ways that are digestible and contextual. But why simple?
Lamin Sanneh offers a staggering simplicity in the phrase: incarnation is translation. By this he means that by becoming flesh, Jesus translated divinity into cultural form. Theologians have debated the complexity of this phenomenon for centuries. Consider Philippians 2. Whatever you make of the incarnation, it communicates a single, simple reality. God is translatable, just as the Bible is translatable. God was touchable in Jesus. He ate, he slept, he walked, he talked. In many respects, he communicated the complexity of divinity in simplicity, so that common fishermen could catch on. That is the task of the Church–communicating the complexity of the gospel in simplicity so that our people can catch on.
Oliver Wendell Holmes captures the search for grey simple very well: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity the other side of complexity.” As a church, we are constantly striving for the other side of complexity. In fact, I am in the process of reducing our core values to three values. My original prospectus for Austin City Life has undergone a hundred revisions, most of them in space and time not paper and ink. This is primarily because we are trying to faithfully adjust methodology to our missiology, to be the church by following the Spirit through unplanned change and unchanging gospel conviction. We will be releasing a new, 2.0 website in the new year that attempts to communicate even more simply our vision and mission as a people. We are refining and maintaining a simple discipleship structure along which our church can grow. Our missional spaces are increasingly strategic and well-defined. I hope we never tarry in this task of simple church, for the sake of making the incarnation translation.