The book ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church, is by leading thinkers and scholars in missional theology and the emergent church (which emphasizes the mission of God as the primary purpose of the church and openly questions the theology and practice of the church today, mainly in the West) Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. The main question addressed in this book is “What role does Jesus play in shaping Christianity today?” They believe that the Christian religion in the West today has become something foreign to the ideals and goals of the founder. By ReJesus they are calling the church to put Jesus at the center of their life, and as the driving center of the church again. The task of the book can be seen in some quotes from the introduction, “It’s just plain hard to create a religion out of the way of Jesus.” They go on the say “It seems to us that a constant, and continual, return to Jesus is absolutely essential for any movement that wishes to call itself by his name.” Also, “Surely the challenge for the church today is to be taken captive by the agenda of Jesus, rather than seeking to mold him to fit our agendas, no matter how noble they might be.” They believe that more than any theological enterprise, it is important for us to get our Christology (the beliefs about who Jesus was and what he taught) right in order to do church right as his followers. They want to “recalibrate” Jesus for our lives and for the church.
Let me summarize the 7 chapters:
Chapter 1: They quote C.S. Lewis, “In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose.” In the second sentence of the chapter they say, “It appears that a good church upbringing will do many marvelous things for you, but one of the unfortunate things it also does is convince you that Jesus is to be worshipped but not followed.” By this they are calling individuals back to being disciples of Jesus. They recognize that we do not have the ability or strength to actually become like Jesus, but this doesn’t mean that this should not be our goal as intended by Christ. They say, “The quest to emulate Jesus isn’t folly. When it’s embraced by those who know they are forgiven for all the ways they will fall short, it is a daring exploit!” “If your answer to the question ‘what would Jesus do?’ is that he would be conventional, safe, respectable and refined, then we suspect you didn’t find that answer in the Gospels.” Time and time again throughout the book the authors appropriately point us back to the Gospels as the primary documents for Christ followers. They believe that we need to rediscover “the fierce and outrageous life of Jesus.”
They call the church to be taken captive by Jesus and not the religion established in his name. Being taken captive by Jesus means that we participate in the Missio Dei, mission of God, as was Christ’s mission. The mission of God must be freed from a “temple theology” which keeps God confined to a building. The mission of God is bigger and more central than worship as conceived currently in our churches. Followers of Christ see God’s mission as outward going as opposed to God using members calling outsiders into a building to meet Him. The second way that we are taken captive by Christ is through participatio Christi. This means that we participate with Christ to execute the mission of God in the world. We are participants of the gospel to bring glory to God, not the church. They point out that this is where we need to understand the kingdom of God better. The Kingdom, its King and Mission, is much bigger and should not be equated with the church. They call for us to see ecclesia (church) as a gathering under the lordship of Christ not a formalized institutional religion of any sort. “We think that to be the sent people of God implies that we will have our neighborhood’s best interests at heart. We think Christians should see themselves as sent by Jesus into the villages of which they’re part, to add value, to bring wisdom, to foster a better village.” The final way that we are taken captive by Jesus is to submit to the beliefs behind imago Dei, the image of God. “The missionary task is not to bring God to them but to uncover the imago Dei and assist people to use this knowledge for the salvation of their souls.”
Chapter 2: This chapter concerns the individual dynamics of ReJesusing. They use the term disciple because it “emphasizes the kind of relationship that is decisive for the maintenance of a living connection with Jesus. For what is the church if not a community of disciples, of people devoted to following Jesus?” The individual is to reboot their hardware to Jesus in order to recover its identity as disciple and to operate at full potential. They say that the Western church needs to strip itself of the hold that consumerism has on it in order to fully be able to follow the itinerant Rabbi. They refer to a “conspiracy of little Jesuses” to refer to the idea that Jesus “takes captive the imaginations of his followers and then replicates himself in them. In fact, we can sum up the task of discipleship as the lifelong project of literally becoming like him, of becoming a little Jesus.” They write “discipleship is not a requirement of the Christian today.” It’s strange to think that there are Christians that are not followers of Christ, but unfortunately they are right. I agree with them in that the greatest obstacle in being a disciple of Jesus today is being a Christian. They quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer who is famous for saying that “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
They describe discipleship not as something the can be developed through church programs, or through only informational teaching but in the way Jesus did it which “always involves a deeply personal process of being drawn into becoming more like the image, or form, of Jesus.” Because discipleship is obedience to Jesus in his teaching as described in the gospels, they finish the chapter by providing a chart of the core teachings of Jesus and propose how they could be lived out today in the life of the individual. The point that they make is that a personal revival for individual discipleship and commitment to the teachings of Jesus would go a long way to ReJesus the church.
Chapter 3: The next chapter focuses on implications of ReJesusing the church. Jesus is the Lord not only of the individual but the Lord over His church. They raise concerns over the way the organizational church is operating today. They ask “Is this really what Jesus intended for his movement?” They say that “we need to rediscover Jesus afresh even though this be a dangerous course of action because it calls into question so much of what we might build our various religious houses on.” They propose the equation: Christianity – Christ = Religion. When this happens it can become something that can produce an inquisition or, as is usually the case, something more subtle but equally void of the teachings of Jesus. This historical reality points to the need for Christianity to constantly ReJesus itself. They believe that Christianity is in reality anti-religion as seen through the ministry of Jesus and his constant battle with the Pharisees. They go so far as directly relate the religion of the Pharisees with some of the evangelical Christians of today. They say that the Bible believers of Jesus’ time, the Pharisees, were most responsible for putting Jesus on the cross so we should beware lest we evangelicals do the same today.
The authors want us to see the ReJesus project as nothing more than a movement to reform the church back to the original beliefs of the founder. In order to bring reform today the church must contextualize itself. They use the example of the remake of the Beetle in the early 2000’s, which was a contemporary upgrade to the 1970’s original. This remake was successful because it was modern while preserving its original essence. The chapter ends by saying, “ReJesus, the refounding of the church, means departing from a blind, slavish allegiance to religious rules inherited from our parents and forebears. It means walking into the turmoil of chaos and daring to trust that at the end of the path will be not bedlam but a rediscovery of the way of Jesus, a rediscovery of the original rules that we can own ourselves with greater conviction and authenticity. Jesus, as the founder, is our guide on this path. His words and his example are the constants as we leave our old traditions and look to bring the church and the gospel into new contexts of traditional radicalism.” “Traditional radicalism” is their term for bringing Christianity back to its true tradition, to the original radical message of Jesus.
Chapter 4: Frost and Hirsch recognize that we all bring ideas of who Jesus is and what he taught to our faith that may or may not be in perfect communion with the Jesus of the Gospels. “Show me your Jesus and I’ll tell you who you are.” This means that how we conceive Jesus and what he is about informs how we will live our life. They mention God being like the imagery of the lion Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. “Is he safe?” asks Lucy. “Course he’s not safe” answers Mr. Beaver, “But he’s good. He’s the king.” Instead of taking the imagery of Jesus from the Gospels, the authors believe that we tend to make Jesus in our image. Which is ironic because it is supposed to be the other way around. He uses a couple famous paintings to illustrate how people see Jesus through their own experience. They take the discussion to fall in line with C.S. Lewis’ famous discussion that Jesus must be either Lord, lunatic, or liar. He can’t just be a good moral teacher. Let the reliable accounts in the gospels inform what he is, which is Lord. In discussion the radical nature of Jesus the authors say, “Our hope is that church leaders would recognize that Jesus doesn’t want to destroy what they’ve got now—he just wants to reshape it radically.” The authors do not hate the church they only call for its radical reformation in line with the teachings of Jesus. To conclude the chapter they say, “Our point is that to ReJesus the church, we need to go back to the daring, radical, strange, wonderful, inexplicable, unstoppable, marvelous, unsettling, disturbing, caring, powerful God-man.”
Chapter 5: This chapter focuses on the importance of the concept of one God in the task of ReJesusing the church. The focus of this important teaching is the Israelite “schema” found in Deut. 6:4 as well as Jesus’ use of the “schema” in summarizing the law of God. They also emphasize the important of understanding the kingdom of God as the active reign of God everywhere and all the time. This eliminates the categories of the sacred and secular but they are one and God is Lord of all. This is seen in their definition of worship as “nothing less than offering our whole lives back to God through Jesus.” The purpose of this chapter is to totally reconcile the divinity of Jesus. “In Jesus, God has come to us.”
Chapter 6: They believe, as they discuss Jacques Ellul, that it is important for us to realize that “God does not reveal himself by means of a philosophical system or a moral code or a metaphysical construction but rather enters human history and accompanies his people.” They stipulate that we should not allow the Bible to be the focus of our faith. “In a way we are not really the ‘people of the Book,’ as we are so often called.” They say that we are “truly Jesus people.” Too much focus on the Bible and propositional truth can take the focus away from a life giving and life steering personal encounter with the founder of our life and faith. They have a problem with the way bible study is done today as to extract truth. They do not want to throw out Bible scholarship but they believe that “following a purely rational, linear, historical approach, we cannot hope to get at the true meaning of a text.” Instead of studying God we are to engage the God of the Scriptures. They speak of the “art of participation in the text, of somehow finding ourselves in the text.” This hermeneutic is similar to Kevin Vanhoozer’s “Drama-of-Redemption” model. We are to read ourselves into the text or letting the Bible read us not the other way around. To me, this can only be done through serious historical-critical study of the Bible, which they also say we must do. They say that, “we have much to unlearn in regard to our approach to Scripture, and therefore the God of the Scriptures, and much to relearn as we seek to ReJesus our lives and churches.”
The practical application of this participation in the text for the authors in fulfilled in practices such as the Lectio Divina, an ancient combination of prayer and Scripture reading mastered by early Christian monks. This involves reading a short passage of Scripture, meditating on a particular phrase or word, praying the meaning of the passage, and listening to God as he speaks through the text and in prayer. By approaching the Scriptures in this way, they believe that it allows the Bible to read us instead of the other way around. They believe that practices such as Lectio Divina can help us to keep our hearts open to the leading of God. They finish this section by reminding us that Jesus is the living, incarnate word of God whom we are to engage in a relationship with.
The next section covers the 3 fold way that we can know God. First we must know God in our hearts. They connect this idea of heart with passion and emotions. They say “how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live.” About prayer they say, “Prayer is a form of knowledge that cannot be gained by any other means.” The second way we come to know God is through active obedience. They say “the real test of what you know is how you live.” The imagery of discipleship necessitates obedience action not theoretical knowledge. A very interesting fact is when they point out that “nowhere does Jesus call us to worship him in the Gospels; what is clear is that he demands obedience.” In line with Bonhoeffer, they point out that understanding and obedience go hand in hand. The third way to know God, which is the way that most evangelical churches spend their efforts, is through right belief. This is more than just creedal formulations or doctrinal bullet points for them. They want to emphasize the teachings of Jesus as the focus of right belief which is the continual theme throughout the book. As if the point need to be made any further they say, “They (the Gospels) must become our primary stories and reference point. There is no truer way to encounter Jesus afresh than prayerfully cycling through the Gospels and asking God to give us fresh insight into the remarkable person we find there. We must give our hearts, minds, souls, to the One around whom history turns.”
Chapter 7: The final chapter covers more implications of what the church that Jesus build should look like. He begins with the fact that so many of those outside the Christian ranks view the Christian faith negatively while still admiring Jesus. They let Guandi point out the problem, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This problem highlights the need to recalibrate the church to Jesus again, to ReJesus. They ask a practical question, “What would that look like? Jesus didn’t found any churches. He unleashed an army of little Jesuses who went forth and founded faith communities across the known world.”
To make their point further they ask an interesting hypothetical question, “If the church had only the four Gospels to go by, what would it look like?” This question reveals the natural progression of thought when one sees the Gospels as the primary texts, the canon within the canon. They say they don’t want to change the current canon but want to emphasize Jesus. They say that what Paul is doing in the epistles “is working on developing the implications and logical conclusions of the stuff provided by Jesus in the example of his community.” They do not see any discrepancy between Jesus and Pauline theology. They see Paul working out the gospel in his ministry context as we should today. Jesus is central, which means that Paul should not be. They then work through some passages in Ephesians to show the agreement between Paul and Jesus.
In defending their love for the church they reveal some of their concerns for the contemporary church, “we do not like gatherings of strangers who never meet or know each other outside of Sundays, who sit passively while virtual strangers preach and lead singing, who put up with second-rate pseudo-community under the guise of connection with each other, who live different lives from Monday to Saturday than they do on Sunday, whose sole expression of worship is pop-style praise and worship, who rarely laugh together, fight injustice together, eat together, pray together, raise each other’ children together, serve the poor together, or share Jesus with those who have not yet been set free.” They finish by saying that “if it’s a family of Jesus followers striving, no matter how inadequately, to be Christlike, holistic, peace-loving, worshipful, devoted, graced, holy, and healthy, then we will love it with every ounce of physical and emotional strength we have.”
They then go on to give a chart of action points to become ReJesused and spends the rest of the book hashing out these eight points. These eight points are very worthy of consideration for the contemporary church. They are a topical systematizing of what has already been said. In these points he critiques consumerism in the Western churches, the overemphasis on Sunday worship, and the inadequate use of niceness and good-manners as the ultimate Christian ethic. They emphasize at the end of the chapter that Paul was a copy of Jesus’ gospel in his community. They believe that the problem today is that we are “trying to make faded copies of Paul’s copies.”
The book ends with a moving story of Paul and Peter reflecting on their ministries and reflecting on the Lord and Savior that they passionately love and to whom they have both given their lives. They end with a reminder that the gospel is not a list of doctrinal statements but it is ultimately Jesus himself, to whom they urge us to cling.