Monday, October 05, 2009

A New Jesus Manifesto

Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola are a pair of interesting, if not provocative, Christian authors. Apparently they run the blog, A Jesus Manifesto. The Manifesto itself, has a lot to say about Jesus, belief and the life of the church, and not all of it makes sense. Here are a few quotes and thoughts.

Seek a truth, a value, a virtue, or a spiritual gift, and you have obtained something dead.

This strange and self-defeating sentiment is quite popular among young evangelicals and their theological leaders. You mean if I seek a truth like the one you just presented, I have found something dead? This is bumper-sticker kind of thinking that doesn’t help the discourse about Jesus at all. Everything listed in that little sentence finds their life and light in Jesus Christ, and he had no problem asking us to seek these things in their right contexts.

What is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christianity is the “good news” that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are found in a person. Biblical community is founded and found on the connection to that person.

This is another nice-sounding slogan that doesn’t hold water for the Christian. Thought it is true that we do not equate the substance of Christianity with “ideology” or “philosophy,” both find their fullness as they become alive in Christ and Scripture. And again, right after saying it is not an ideology, they provide an ideological view of Christianity. I have no problems with that, except they don’t want to be associated with an ideology while, at the same time, propounding an ideology.

The person of Jesus is increasingly politically incorrect, and is being replaced by the language of “justice,” “the kingdom of God,” “values,” and “leadership principles.”...Justice apart from Christ is a dead thing.

This thought I like. Too much of evangelicalism is slipping out of orthodoxy into orthopraxy, as if the two are incompatible. I have never understood the drive among so many to dismiss the creeds while they insist on doing good deeds. Sweet and Viola are absolutely right: deeds without creeds becomes in quick fashion dead works.

What God the Father was to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is to you and to me. He’s our indwelling Presence, and we share in the life of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father.

This statement seems to me to be pressing up against an actual heretical view. If we take it extremely metaphorically and charitably, then maybe we can let them slip past. But in every significant sense of that sentiment, it just isn’t true. Jesus wasn’t God because the Father indwelt him – he just was God. And we do not have the indwelling of Jesus, but of the Holy Spirit (if we are going to think carefully about it). And in addition, that indwelling is nothing like the deity of Jesus Christ.

Maybe you have a few more thoughts on something I think, on the whole, is not a very useful manifesto.


Brian B said...

Right on the mark, Phil. As I read through the Manifesto, I was struck by the frequency with which I encountered consecutive sentences, one of which would make me say "Yes, right on!" and the other of which would make me think "Wait, what? No, not at all!!"

For instance, in what I take to be a key section, the authors state:

"It is possible to confuse an academic knowledge or theology about Jesus with a personal knowledge of the living Christ himself. These two stand as far apart as do the hundred thousand million galaxies. The fullness of Christ can never be accessed through the frontal lobe alone. Christian faith claims to be rational, but also to reach out to touch ultimate mysteries. The cure for a big head is a big heart."

(They go on to give three or four further examples of how "rationality" is in some sort of conflict with "relationship.")

What strikes me about that passage is the second sentence, considering its place between the first and third. The first sentence seems obviously true - one thinks of the verse which asserts that "even the demons believe." Right, so correct belief is insufficient for right relationship. The third sentence echoes the same sentiment - that the frontal lobe "alone" isn't enough to get us to the fullness of Christ. It may be necessary, but not enough on its own. Yup!

But then, bizarrely, the second sentence sure gives one the impression - reinforced by the rhetoric of the subsequent statements in that section - that the authors mean to say that "thinking" or "sound doctrine" or "rationally elaborated theology" is not only insufficient for "the fullness of Christ," but that it is downright opposed to it! Surely, if "rationality" is as far removed from "the fullness of Christ" as the one end of the universe is from the other, well then, how could one avoid the conclusion that it is positively detrimental to the life of the believer? One couldn't find a stronger metaphor to describe the "distance" between, say, a commitment to false idols, indulging the passions, and abusing one's fellow humans, on the one hand, and the life of a Christian, on the other (what, are those a bajillion quadrillion super duperillion galaxies apart?)

That entire section (#8) is full of pithy quips that leave the reader with the impression that "rationality" is something to steer clear of in the Christian life. It's too bad - they do a great job of emphasizing the need for more than merely getting one's theology right (but who ever denied this?), at the cost of suggesting something that's downright dangerous and destructive - that using one's mind (at all!) is problematic.

I would have thought that one very good way of coming to know Christ (relationally) is to find out (rationally), you know, facts about who he is. Without some kind of sound theology, which Christ is one supposed to come to know?

John Payne said...

Christianity is the “good news” that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are found in a person.

Silly me here I was thinking that the gospel had something to do with the forgiveness of sins

The Gyrovague said...


I agree that this statement is rather unclear. I think you will find it has not held much water with post modern (emergent)believers for that reason. Nicely said but lacks the chops.

That being said I want to comment on your statement "right after saying it is not an ideology, they provide an ideological view of Christianity"

Emergents are the first to tell you that the first time they settle in on a belief that it is an ideology. We know the way that statement sounds, but the second something is put to paper it becomes an ideology. What we are conscientious of is favoring a single doctrine or ideology over another when it comes to biblical interpretation. When we get our doctrinal blinders on and look at the gospel through our dogmatic and narrow views... aren't we being... idolaters? We make idolatry of our own understanding.

Armenians think they have it right, Calvinists think they have it right... Emergents try to be 3rd way thinkers... taking a critical look at the gospel and how it has been shaped by our enlightenment thinking and all we are asking is... is there a better way?