Categotry Archives: Jesus

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"ReJesus" Review part 2

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Categories: books, Jesus, TheOOZE

Yesterday, I posted a conversation with Michael Frost about his recent book with Alan Hirsch, ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church. Today, I’ll share my impressions about the book.

I was immediately interested in reading this book because I’d read Hirsch & Frost’s previous book, The Shaping of Things to Come, which has had a lasting impact on me. ReJesus was also an impacting book, but in a much different way. While the first book was filled with a lot of information and practical ideas about how the church should be shaped (and re-shaped) to engage our world, this book was more about where the church–and believers as part of the church–should be focused in their faith: upon Jesus as the center, rather than the institutions of church. Not the skewed pictures of Jesus, the many ways we re-make Him in our image, but the authentic Jesus that the Bible actually describes. To phrase it as Michael Frost would, Shaping was about ecclesiology (the structure/function of church), while ReJesus is about Christology. Here is another way of looking at it. In emergent/missional circles we often hear about the “ancient-future” approach. While Shaping was focused on the “future” part–ReJesus is more about the “ancient” part. But even beyond focusing on ancient traditions of the church, Hirsch and Frost go all the way back to the Founder of our faith as the necessary anchor, expressing our need as the church to sort of “reboot”, to return to Jesus as foundational to all “re-shaping” that must take place.

Because of this focus, while the first book really engaged my mind and confirmed a lot of what I was thinking and feeling about the church itself–reading this book was more of a spiritual experience for me personally. I could feel myself adjusting and shifting in the soul as I read–hungering to engage this real Jesus in a deeper way. In a way, it felt like each chapter was its own experience, and God encountered me in a different way within each one. I realize that’s subjective, and I’m not suggesting this will happen to you if you read the book; I’m just saying that’s how I responded as I read it.

If you approach this book with the expectation that Frost and Hirsch are going to simply debunk the inaccurate images of Jesus and replace them with the “real” historical one, you will probably be disappointed, because that really isn’t the point. Yes, the Biblical Jesus is described here at some level, but more importantly, the reader is invited to engage Jesus rather than just study about Him–to know Him not just by description, but by experience.

The only weakness I perceived in ReJesus is that Frost and Hirsch tend to make numerous references to their previous books to reinforce what they are saying in this one–to the point that on a couple of occasions, had I not already been familiar with those books, the point might have been lost on me. I realize this was probably to keep from repeating too much information, but in some cases it might have been better to be redundant for the benefit of people who were reading these authors for the first time–even if it made the book a bit longer.

I blog often about the need for the church to function like an organism rather than an institution, and how we need to adapt as an organism to our environment (not changing our principles, but our methods). Once a reader asked me what would happen to the church if, in our “adapting”, we adapted ourselves away from Jesus and the gospel. My answer was, “It would no longer be the church.” And the reality is, over centuries of institutionalizing the church, we have drifted from Jesus–not completely, but in framing Him according to the parts of Him that appeal to us, and in distorting the image of who He really was/is. There is a great need in all our expressions of church to recalibrate back to our founding principles, and to our Founder Himself–to recover our focus on Jesus and truly be His disciples again, as the starting point for all that we do. And this is why the discussion in ReJesus is so important.

BOTTOM LINE REVIEW: Highly recommended.

This review is posted as part of TheOOZE Viral Bloggers network.

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"ReJesus" Review Part 1: A Conversation with Michael Frost

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Categories: books, changing mindsets, church, Jesus

As mentioned previously, in conjunction with reviewing the book ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church…I had the opportunity to chat with one of the book’s authors, Michael Frost. Michael serves as Vice-Principal of Morling College in Sydney, Australia, and is the director of the Tinsley Institute at the college. Besides co-authoring two books with Alan Hirsch (ReJesus is their second collaboration), Michael has written numerous books on his own, Exiles probably being the most well-known. He is also the founder of the missional community “smallboatbigsea”, and travels and speaks internationally.

Distance being an issue, we opted to converse by online chat. Below is the transcript of our conversation. Due to the length of the conversation, I’ve chosen to break the review into two posts. My actual review of the book will be posted tomorrow.
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me: Thanks again for agreeing to chat with me. I count it a real privilege.

Michael: Not at all. I appreciate the opportunity very much.

me: This first question is sort of in two parts. You have now co-written two books with Alan Hirsch—The Shaping of Things to Come and now ReJesus. First—how did you and Alan come to collaborate on the first one; and second—what prompted you to collaborate again on this one?

Michael: Alan and I have been dear friends for about 15 years. We launched a missional church planting training program about a decade ago and Shaping was basically our write-up of the curriculum we used in that course. Quite frankly, we simply expected to sell a few hundred copies every year to the participants in the program. To find that it has become an international best seller was a huge surprise to us. Somehow, from way down here in Australia, and unbeknown to us, we were tapping into a global conversation. In fact we feel quite privileged to have been able to contribute to that conversation through that book. As for ReJesus, well we thought it was the logical next step. If Shaping was exploring a missional ecclesiology we thought it natural to then explore a missional Christology, since we had posited the formula that Christology must lead to missiology and then to ecclesiology. We are currently writing our third book.

me: That’s pretty amazing, watching it take off like that…I read Shaping at just the right time in my journey, and it verbalized a lot of stuff I was already feeling.

Michael: Amazing how many people say that! The most common compliment I get about that book is that it resonated with what people were thinking/feeling but hadn’t yet verbalized. It’s a great blessing to give words and concepts to others peoples’ intuitions.

me: And considering how revolutionary it must sound in some circles (“Christendom is dead?”) 🙂 …that positive response must have been pretty encouraging as well…

Michael: Well, I don’t want to overstate how positive the response was. There were plenty of people who hated it. My favorite negative response I got was that Alan and I were “ecclesiastical terrorists”!! What did excite me though was that it was church planters, missionaries, youth pastors, welfare workers etc who really picked up on the book. In other words, the real missionaries in our midst knew what we were talking about. It seemed that the denominational leaders of church bureaucrats and large-church pastors who were incensed by it. Interestingly, it seems even those guys are coming around somewhat these days.

me: Let’s talk a moment about the word “reJesus”, because I’ve noticed a few people have had some mixed reactions to the title of the book when I mention it to them. For the benefit of those who haven’t yet read the book—what does “reJesus” mean?

Michael: Yeah, some people have thought it means “regarding Jesus” as in re:Jesus. But we used the term to refer to reJesusing the church, that is, refocusing the church around its Founder and less around instititionalism, bureaucracy and the latest marketing strategies. It’s an idealistic book in many respects. It urges readers to explore what Jesus actually had in mind when calling people to follow him. Did he have in mind the enormous global corporation we have now? Or was his radical plan to unleash an organic movement of “little Jesuses” into the world to infect that world with the values and message of his new kingdom?

me: So…reJesus means more of a re-turning to Jesus, rather than “re-imagining” Him or “re-inventing” Him? (That’s some of the misunderstanding I’m getting from folks here.)

Michael: Interesting! I hadn’t had that reaction. No, it’s not about reinventing Jesus. It’s about allowing the person and message of Jesus to re-infect our churches: to assess everything we do on the basis of his original vision and example. In other words, would Jesus be comfortable as a member of many of our churches? What would need to change? What needs to be abandoned and what needs to be taken up if we took seriously our role as followers of the radical messiah, Jesus? Alan and I begin the book talking about a day we spent visiting St Peters in the Vatican and asking ourselves, where is the wild, radical Nazarene to be found among all this wealth and religious paraphernalia?

me: In the book, you and Alan talk about the tendencies we humans have to picture Jesus according to the parts of His nature we most gravitate toward—to sort of co-opt Jesus and frame Him according to our image, or our desires. Why do you think we do this?

Michael: I guess we do that with everyone we meet. We have certain categories and boxes into which we seem to need to put people and it’s easier to make sense of a neater, simpler world when we do it. I suppose it’s no wonder that we’d do it with Jesus. The other reason, though, has to do with the radical claims he makes and the uncompromising stance he takes. It can be so confronting that it’s just easier to box him into our preferred category and leave him there: gentle Jesus; charismatic Jesus; theologian Jesus. But every time you think you’ve got Jesus boxed he slips out of our grasp (if we take the Gospels seriously) and escapes our attempts to tame him or domesticate him. But this presupposes we are spending some serious time in the Gospels, something I’m not sure we can assume about many Christians. It’s as if the Gospels are seen as elementary stuff. We learn the stories of Jesus in Sunday School as kids and then we graduate to something deeper or richer. But the fact is the gospels are the deep rich vein of life-giving blood for the church. We can’t “move on” from them and simply allow Jesus to remain a caricature to us. Scott Peck called the Gospels “the best kept secret in Christianity.” We can’t continue to allow that to be the case.

me: I definitely know what you mean about the Sunday school versions of Jesus. Having grown up in church, a lot of my picture of Jesus had already been framed before I was old enough to read the Bible…and then, of course, for many years, I let my own formed picture of Him shape how I read Scripture, instead of the other way around.

Michael: That’s a great way to put it. Neither Alan nor I grew up in the church, so perhaps that freed us to come to the gospels with less preconceptions. Having said that, I grew up in a lapsed Catholic family and Alan’s family is Jewish. How odd that the two of us should end up writing about the wild and uncompromising Jesus who shatters all religious convention and ushers in the end of religious institutionalism. We refer to Jacques Ellul a few times in ReJesus. He reminded us that Jesus never instituted a new religion. He signaled the end of religion. Isn’t it bizarre that we’ve spent two centuries building a new religion in Jesus’ name?

me: You and Alan spend some time debunking some of these inaccurate images we have of Jesus; yet some reviewers of the book have expressed an opinion that you are a bit vague in your descriptions of the true, Biblical Jesus. Like “these are the wrong pictures”, but what is the right one? Was this vagueness intentional, or do you feel perhaps this misses the point you were trying to make?

Michael: I’m dismayed by that criticism. We certainly spend some time early in the book looking at false or unhelpful caricatures of Jesus, but the later part of the book, and the final chapter in particular, explores what kind of faith community Jesus built. In those sections we mine the Gospels for the distinct or unique mission of Jesus as he presented it to his followers. Maybe some reviewers don’t read much past p.50. If readers are looking for our replacement caricature of Jesus then they definitely miss the mark. We’re suggesting you can’t tie Jesus down to a one page description of his character and lifestyle.

me: The third chapter of the book—“ReJesus for the Church and the Organization”—was one of the most impacting chapters for me personally. It talks about how, in order to survive over time, any movement (including Christianity) must continually return to the heart and principles of its founder—in our case, Jesus—and how the very structures set in place to perpetuate a movement eventually dilute it, and so must constantly cycle between dismantling and reforming. This gave me a great amount of context for what we see happening in the church right now, with so many people drifting from institutional forms, getting back to basics, attempting to follow Jesus in a more simple manner. It’s part of a healthy cycle. What I’d like to know is…do you have any specific examples of church communities that are purposely “rebooting” in this way, attempting to “reJesus”, and if so, how is it playing out? How are these communities changing?