Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a new sidebar feature: “Manifesto.” This feature will contain a quote pertinent to the Jesus shaped project. The current quote from Greg Boyd will certainly be hard to displace. It’s an expression of the energy and intention of what so many of us hope for in a Jesus shaped Christianity.
There is a beautiful and powerful grassroots Kingdom movement arising all over the globe that Mennonites in particular need to notice. Millions of people are abandoning the Christendom paradigm of the traditional Christian faith in order to become more authentic followers of Jesus. From the Emergent Church movement to the Urban Monastic Movement to a thousand other independent groups and movements, people are waking up to the truth that the Kingdom of God looks like Jesus and that the heart of Christianity is simply imitating him. Millions are waking up to the truth that followers of Jesus are called to love the unlovable, serve the oppressed, live in solidarity with the poor, proclaim Good News to the lost and be willing to lay down our life for our enemies. Multitudes are waking up to the truth that the distinctive mark of the Kingdom is the complete rejection of all hatred and violence and the complete reliance on love and service of others, including our worst enemies. Masses of people are waking up to the truth that followers of Jesus aren’t called to try to win the world by acquiring power over others but by exercising power under others — the power of self-sacrificial love.
What Boyd is describing is something that I believe is very real. The process is historically complex, but it is experientially simple. It is an ecumenical project, but it is critical of many of those aspects of ecumenism that are taken for granted. Boyd is describing something as old as St. Francis, and as contemporary as the Charismatic renewal and the lifetime project of Robert Webber. He has located a project that will be ferociously opposed by those who have tied God inexorably to denominationalism, denominational theology and the legitimizing of Christian experience by the acceptance of denominations as franchises endorsed by Jesus.
It is important to understand that Boyd is describing a movement, which means he is describing a process that many people have in common. I want to take a moment and describe one aspect of that project.
I want to talk about what happens when you realize Jesus isn’t going along for the ride.
“The ride” in this instance is whatever we happened to be doing or saying that we need to present as something Jesus would say, do or approve of. At the very least, it is something that we can relate to Jesus in an authentic way.
The Jesus shaped journey normally involves having multiple experiences of realizing that our religious practice has us involved in those things that we cannot, authentically, present as what Jesus believed, did, approved or taught. This brings about a crisis, and what we do with this crisis is also crucial in this journey.
Recently, a well known pastor was in the final stages of leading his church in a $20 million building program for a new facility. He had one of those moments when Jesus would not come along for the ride. He talked with his congregation and a new, more creative and less expensive plan was adopted, with the balance of the funds earmarked for missions.
My friend Edward was on his way to a Ph.d in theology in order to defend his particular brand of Christianity. Events in his life caused him to question if Jesus cared as much about theological debate as he did. Now he is headed for the mission field.
For many years, my wife and I gave our financial offerings to support the churches we served. A few years ago we became convinced that Jesus would be supporting Kingdom causes, mercy ministries and national church planters, not church programs and facilities. We changed the way we gave our money.
In the midst of discussing theological differences and distinctives, I’m frequently gripped with the sense that Jesus is not “with” me in this debate, and that I am contending for things that are not important to Jesus at all. They are somehow important to me in a religion I have created and given my loyalty to without considering whether it is connected to Jesus or shaped by his spirituality.
What did Boyd say? Millions of Christians are “waking up” from involvement in Christendom and becoming aware of the Jesus shaped nature of the Kingdom of God; becoming aware that such a Kingdom can’t be equated with all the directives and concerns of religion.
At that moment of disconnectedness, choices and options are presented.
One option is to create a connection to Jesus that actually doesn’t exist. The better you are at this, the more likely you will be qualified for religious leadership of some kind. If you can convince others that such a connection exists when it doesn’t, you’re likely enjoying fame, conferences and a book deal.
Another option is to vehemently claim that such a connection to Jesus is there, and real Christians will see and understand it.
A third option is to adopt a developmental/evolutionary view of Jesus that allows Christians to do and say all kinds of things Jesus would never do and say, but justify them as the necessary development and evolution of Christianity in our world.
A final option is to ignore the person of Jesus and simply deal with the church as the authoritative version of Christianity.
Boyd is announcing that these options are fading and new options are appearing. New communities, new voices and new movements are discovering that despite the perceived difficulty of knowing Jesus in an imitatable way and the certain opposition of religious interests that have no power to demand support if they cannot make an exclusive claim on the endorsement of God, Christianity can and does exist as a Kingdom movement with an exclusive loyalty to Jesus.
Neither Boyd nor I are denying the place of the institutional church or institutional places in the Kingdom of Jesus. Many churches and institutions are the primary conservators of the truths of the Gospel and the seeds of Christian community and obedience. Many churches provide continuing examples of understanding and building the Kingdom where they are in time and place.
But we must insist it is exactly that: A place “in” the Kingdom of Jesus. The church and all its institutional aspects bear witness to Jesus and his Kingdom. Most Christians will live out their journey in the context of some form of and some participation in the institutional church, and they will know and follow the true Christ as they do so. But the day of denominational/institutional Christianity defining the Kingdom and creating a constant competition and enmity among Christians is fading.
Many of us are discovering that Jesus has not been along for the ride and yet the ride has gone on. My goal is to encourage all of us to ask basic questions of loyalty and connection to Jesus, and to abandon versions of Christianity that are, in reality, ways of avoiding the demands and possibilities of the Kingdom of God moving in the power of the Spirit.