Tag Archives: Jesus

A Thicker Jesus

A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age, Glen H. Stassen (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012) $25

a-thicker-jesusFrom my days at Fuller Theological Seminary, I so enjoyed the perspective taught and embodied by Dr. Glen Stassen.  His ethics course and seminal text, Kingdom Ethics, gave useful language for budding young seminarians like myself on how the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount must infuse every part of our ethical decisions.  His stories about marching with Dr. King inspired me about the value of civil disobedience and political actions today.  His teachings on just peacemaking, gender roles, and the death penalty deeply guided me into the methodology of forming ethical convictions with the narrative of Scripture as a framework. And more than that, his faithfulness as an educator and a follower of Christ gave life to his teachings and proved an authentic model of deeply reflective pastoral engagement in the world through the power of the living Christ.

Though it had been years since my time with Dr. Stassen, I was eager to dive into his newest text, A Thicker Jesus and the book did not disappoint. I was immediately struck by how helpful this text would be for the field of practical theology as it matures as an academic discipline.  As a academic, Stassen only wants to deepen the conversation about Christian discipleship rather than water down any convictions for the sake of accessibility.  Stassen’s work serves as a robust text for defending a Christian ethic of incarnation and engagement in social inequalities.  Building upon the shoulders of his major influencer, theologian and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stassen propones that one of the primary challenges for the Church today is to confront secularism with a costly discipleship that will provide the resources for renewal and revival. Incarnational discipleship, as defined by Stassen, will represent three spheres: a thicker interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth, the holistic sovereignty of God, and the Holy Spirit moving the church to what Stassen calls a “repentance from ideological entanglement.”  I could not agree more.  He looks to utilize such a formula as a model to help resolve some of the many challenges facing the Church in the 21st century.  Heroes of the faith throughout Christian history, in his assessment, all share the common trait of a ‘deep and specific interpretation of the apostolic and biblical witness to Jesus Christ.’ Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Literary But Not Literal: Spong on the Gospel of John

The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, John Shelby Spong (HarperOne 2013)  $26.99

fourth gospelJohn Shelby Spong is something of a legend within the contemporary Christian thought leadership. Through a 24-book writing career and two-and-a-half decades as bishop to New Jersey Episcopalians, Spong is known for trenchant comments in interviews, dismantling the claims of evangelical orthodoxy, and furious pushback from those who deem him a heretic and a threat to the Christian flock.

A Gentle Testimony

Given Spong’s reputation for boundary-pushing and dangerous thinking, I was a bit surprised to see this gentle testimony in the preface:

Jesus walked beyond the boundaries of his religion into a new vision of God. I think that this is what I also have done and that is what I want to celebrate. God is ultimate. Christianity is not. The only way I know how to walk into the ultimacy of God, however, is to walk through Christianity. I claim not that the Christian path is the exclusive path, but that it is the only path I know and thus the only path on which I can walk. (x)

This sentiment, not wolf-like at all, represents the book’s deep, non-creedal commitment to Christianity as “the way of Jesus” that inspires life. It’s also a foundational component of the book that might resonate with readers who want to hear more from non-literalist Christian writers, teachers, and lay members. The Fourth Gospel is designed for that audience; it’s a thoroughly Christian literary reading of John, and emerged from a five-year study of the gospel text, translations, and all major commentaries on John’s gospel published since the 1800s. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

The Power of Parable

The Power of Parable, John Dominic Crossan (HarperOne) $25.99

John Dominic Crossan is a polarizing figure. His ideas would surely have been held suspect in the conservative circles where I cut my teeth on introductory catechism. He was not a featured scholar where I attended seminary due to his association with The Jesus Seminar. Needless to say, I discovered Crossan’s work later in my life, later in my journey.

I have found there is little to fear in the work of Crossan – if you hunger to get to the very heart of Jesus and the message of the Kingdom.  His scholarship is solid and his logic compelling. It is also quite evident that he follows Jesus with a deep passion, which comes through in everything I’ve read by his hand. But there is a danger in reading Crossan – the danger that many of your assumptions about the Biblical text will be challenged. You will the text differently and learn about the cultural environment that shaped it, you will encounter questions you never could have imagined before. You will be pushed and prodded. For me, the dangerous territory of this scholarship has opened up fresh vistas of discovery about Jesus and His Kingdom agenda. I find Jesus more captivating and true, the Biblical text more richly complex. I continue to discover that our participation in God’s story, even in the crafting of the text, says something magnificent about God’s desire to collaborate with us in His world.

Crossan’s most recent publication, The Power of Parable:  How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus, explores parabolic method in the Biblical text. Yes, he addresses the Jesus parables, but he also investigates other Biblical parables like Ruth, Jonah and Job. He defines parable but also demonstrates various types of parables in operation in the ancient context as well as the Biblical text. We most often assume parables are meant to demonstrate right behavior – a classic example parable of ‘go and do likewise.’ Sometimes they are riddle parables meant to tease our intelligence. But Crossan makes the case that Jesus most often employed challenge parables, a rhetorical device meant to up-end our assumptions and force us to think differently about our world. If repent means to ‘rethink’ then challenge parables were the perfect linguistic tool to invite people to rethink what they thought they knew about matters of faith and politics. Crossan makes the case that challenge parables were also a highly participatory teaching method that required crowd engagement, so well suited to the collaborative eschatology that Jesus preached and practiced. Parables, in old and new testaments, were meant to challenge and engage us.

Continue reading

Tagged , , ,