Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost have been instrumental in shaping my faith. Reading their first joint effort The Shaping of Things To Come was a pivotal moment in my journey. I have immense respect and admiration for all that they do. I agree with 99% of what they have written in their new book ReJesus. So, if I spend most of my time criticizing or questioning their work, it is only because I agree with them so much. We criticize most that which we love most.
The basic thesis of their book is that the church throughout history, particularly in our time, has tended to stray from its founder, Jesus. We have created idols, false images, of Jesus. In order to “refound” the church, we must return to a radical (to the root) understanding of Jesus. The central idea here is that our theology should be shaped in this order: Christology > Missiology > Ecclesiology. We have tended to do it in the exact reverse order, allowing our ecclesiology to shape how we practice mission and define the person of Jesus.
I think Frost and Hirsch are on to something important here. However, I have three concerns/clarifications/additions.
1. Which Jesus?
The authors hint at the problem of unpacking the baggage we have attached to Jesus. They try to unmask many of the idols we have created that obscure the radical biblical Jesus. However, we are left without a clear vision of who this Jesus that we are to “refound” the church on is or how we come to know him. I think it is necessary to engage in some discussion about how we read the Gospels and discern the character and nature of Christ.
I would also like to add that we should take a stab at nailing down some things about Jesus, but be open to God and others changing our understanding. For example, I am committed to the fact that Jesus teaches an ethics of non-violence, or better, just peacemaking. There are many who read the same text and disagree. There is room within the history of interpretation for more than one perspective. Are the authors insisting we reach a consensus about some or all aspects of Jesus’ nature and teachings? What would be the essential things we need in order to “ReJesus” the church?
2. A Line or a Circle
I wonder if their model (Christology > Missiology > Ecclesiology) is still too linear a way of thinking about theology. Their diagram does have a loop back to Christology, but a cyclical model could more accurately describe the way that our Ecclesiology informs our Christology. In other words, perhaps the model should reflect not only an ideal for forming theology, but the reality of these discipline’s interdependence.
3. Putting the Last Things First
The final change I would make is the addition of Eschatology at the beginning of their model. While some context is included, Jesus is not set within the context of the broader biblical narrative. They make the same mistake as Red-letter Christians. While it’s better than “Buddy Jesus” it is still less than the fullness of the biblical Jesus. Eschatology is too often thought of primarily as a study of the “end times.” Properly understood it is more about the telos, purpose or goal of both history and the mission of God. Placing Jesus within the context of God’s ongoing mission also helps to mitigate the problem of interpretation and creating an idolatrous version of Jesus.
The idea of “refounding” the church also has some problematic elements. There is a danger of becoming primitivist and insisting that the church go back to a first century church. This can result in disengagement with the world we live in. We cannot “go back.” We must live in the time we are given.
For many ministers and Christians this is an excellent book written in a popular style, but engaging some deeper ideas. For an egghead like me it doesn’t address all the issues that its main tenets raise. Frost and Hirsch continue to stir good discussion and thinking about the church past, present and future.