Generous (evangelical) Orthodoxy: Jesus

Is there a possibility for a Fourth Way for the Emerging Church? A way that lives in the story of the entire Church, including the Eastern Orthodox tradition and the Western Roman Catholic tradition, as well as the Protestant tradition, one that both lets this be our story and yet that gives us freedom to take that story into a new story for a new day? I think so.

Orthodoxy

It will begin with a Kingdom mission and next it will be a Jesus first but not a Jesus only shaping of the gospel. Any genuinely Christian Kingdom message will find Jesus to be the center – not just in his Cross but in who he was and who he still is. He is first and foremost a person whom the follower is to love and then a teacher the follower is to listen to and learn from. And, surrounding all of this, he is the Perfect Eikon who, as the Apostle Paul then Irenaeus and then Athanasius so clearly taught, recapitulated our life so that we are to live his life and let his story be our story.

A Jesus first (rather than a Jesus only) approach calls us to the Gospels as the witness to who Jesus was, what he said, and what he has done – both for us and as our example. The Apostles Paul and Peter, along with the other NT writers, explore the significance of Jesus Christ and their explorations deepen that story of Jesus. But, we begin with Jesus – and read the Bible backwards from him and forwards beyond him. And because we do this, we know that the story of Jesus did not end with his ascension but continues in the Church through the power of the Spirit. So, we may go to him first, but we don’t go to him only.

Any genuinely orthodox understanding of Jesus will let the Church’s story be the story we live in: and that story is found in the classical creeds. God from God, begotten not made, incarnate, crucified, suffered, raised, ascended, seated, coming again. These are the orthodox parameters in which any orthodox Jesus first missional Kingdom will begin – and any Fourth Way, which is what the Emerging Church is shaping up to be, can start right here, too.

And a genuinely Jesus-first orthodoxy will see Scripture, not merely as theological prolegomena, not merely as a new Torah, not merely as systematic theology, but as the drama of God’s perichoretic dance made visible in Jesus and through the Spirit spoken in the written Word. Its authority is the authority of love and relationship, not of domination or weapon.

Generous

A generous (evangelical) orthodoxy will accept the faults of the Church in overwhelming Jesus’ humanity with his Deity, but will call the Church to embrace a Jesus who is really both divine and human, to embrace a Jesus who lived a life for us in every imaginable way.

It will dialogue with others, converse with others, and listen to others as they try to come to terms with what the Church is saying in its orthodoxy – and it will encourage discussion, debate, and questions. If Jesus was quite willing to listen to others tell him who he was, he’ll listen to us today, too.

In its orthodoxy, it will be generous in the way Jesus was: everyone got to sit at table with him – sinners and saints, young hotheads who were hoping for cataclysmic changes and old weathered saints who just wanted to hear another word of grace, women and men, prostitutes and Pharisees – and this means we will adopt a “come as you are culture” and love-me first approach to anyone and everyone who happens to be in our neighborhood.

In its orthodoxy, it will also be generously quick to point out purity distinctions that break down relations, as Jesus did so often with the Sadducees and Pharisees, and it will generously offer words of peace as Jesus summoned the Zealots to do when their hotheaded zeal for God’s will became little more than disguised religious hatred. Purity was upended by Jesus, and it became a purity of love and peace and justice and not a purity of Torah: it shifted, as I said in Jesus Creed, from a love of Torah to a Torah of love. (And we will not claim that this somehow triumphs over Judaism, but that Jesus’ Torah of love is within Judaism and a reading of its Torah through a hermeneutic of love.

In its orthodoxy, it will be generous to those who have been systemically excluded by religious and social violence. It will seek justice, not as the triumphalism of the underprivileged but as a vision for all – for everyone to live within the harmony that comes from God’s Kingdom will. Systemic evil is something Jesus was against, and a Jesus first missional Kingdom work will follow Jesus into the line of fire on this one.

In its orthodoxy, it will be a missional Kingdom community of faith that seeks, above all, to offer the grace of Jesus to everyone and everything – including humans, cultures, nations, and our ecology.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/1200432 WoundedHealer

    Again, well said and concise. Leaves so much to hang the other related, non-central stuff, on. I love the idea of Jesus First as contrasted with Jesus Only.WH

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/4660809 Kerry Doyal

    “If Jesus was quite willing to listen to others tell him who he was, he’ll listen to us today, too.”Help me here, were there times He listened without correcting (the Q & A with the Relig.), affirming (blessed are you Peter, flesh & blood…) or hushing (demonic testimony)? Maybe I am missing who the “others” are. “Purity was upended by Jesus, and it became a purity of love and peace and justice and not a purity of Torah: it shifted, as I said in Jesus Creed, from a love of Torah to a Torah of love.”Is this confusing a misuse of the Law / Torah with its real nature? When Jesus summarized the Law, He quoted it: Love God & others. Your Anabaptist convictions – which you readily own – really come through in this post. The first two paragraphs remind me of a Christian Bahaism: affirming the points of agreement (nobly) but ignoring points of irreconcilable differences. Which, I can hear it being said, proves the neeed for a Fourth Way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3452528 Bob Robinson

    One of the hallmarks of the evangelical church has been it’s “protestantism”–it seems to have always been a protesting movement. We seem to always seek to be “against” something as a definitive characteristic of ourselves. Against Roman Catholicism.Against Heresies.Against Modernists/Liberals.Against, Against, Against.We see it today: the strictly “Reformed” camp (of which I have been associated) has become the most vocally against Emergent (see DA Carson, A Mohler, M Dever, M Horton). Evangelicals are always looking for the next thing to be “against.” How will we move toward a “generous” evangelicalism, when will be known more for what we are FOR than for what we are AGAINST?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6927773 Stan F.

    Scot,You continue to add to my vocabulary as I had never heard the word, pericoheretic so I went and looked the word up. Finding nothing in Merriam-Webster online, I did a google search. On one site, after a person describes the dance as the recipricol self-giving of the Trinity, the author went on to say,The first book of the bible tells us, “God created man in theimage of Himself, in the image of God He created him, male andfemale He created them” (Gen 1:27). This means that the nature ofthe human person is “perichoretic”, because it is made in theimage and likeness of God. So, in the very core and center of ourbeing, we are made for self-giving. To live selfishly would be togo against our true nature.As another site says, the author declares “We were made to dance” with God and one another. Sin, however has hampered our ability to danceIn other words – mine – we’re not very good dancers.If only we would let Jesus lead in our relationship with him and be “generous” when our earthly partners aren’t such good dancers themselves. Is this what you are getting at through your post?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8992938 shellbell

    I’m a little unclear on your Jesus first and Jesus only comments. Are you suggesting that we read the OT in light of the NT? Also the last line, “so, we may go to him first, but we don’t go to him only,” doesn’t define what we go to him for. Thus I’m not clear to what/who else we would go (tradition?).Regarding the 2nd paragraph under Generous: isn’t one of the faults of Jesus studies (The Quests) that they defined Jesus but were in reality projecting their perceptions on him. It seems that many who were telling Jesus who he was were projecting their expectations on him, and their projections were often misguided. What do you mean by saying Jesus will listen to us tell him who he was?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3075330 Bob

    All praise and Glory to Him who has revealed His pleasing and perfect plan to us! There is none before Him, none after Him, none over Him but all are in Him and for Him. Nothing compares and nothing lacks.(Thanks, Scot, you made me break into tears and song with this one…)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Stan,You’ve got it: the perichoresis is an old old Christian doctrine. Cappadocian and John 10:38. Lots of folks discuss it today.It will be in my Embracing Grace. Jonathan Edwards too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Bob,The Emerging movement has the chance to be a “for” type evangelicalism if it will embrace its own vision.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Michelle,The Jesus only people make me nervous: only Gospels, only Kingdom, only Jesus’ teaching — not enough Paul, Peter, Hebrews, etc. So, the Jesus first not only stance is both an affirmation of Jesus’ centrality to everything we believe (christocentrism, if you will) but a robust confession of the canon as central to how we understand Jesus. I have big questions about how historical Jesus studies often turn out: if we find “another Jesus” that we believe in who is someone other than our Church-canonical and creedal-portraits, then we have in effect composed a fifth Gospel — which I don’t think is fair to our commitment to the Spirit’s guidance of the Church.Again, though, we can only approximate who Jesus is and what he is for us: ongoing theological development in the power of the Spirit is necessary.Help?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3075330 Bob

    Scot, in the past couple years I have been exposed to a holistic handling of the Bible–a unified work that finds its fulfillment in Christ. I think some of the “mega-themes” (as I call them) of redemption, recreation, kingdom, covenant, from chaos to order, etc. are lost in today’s teaching.I theorize that dispensational teaching has destroyed the over-arching themes that this post points to. How much do you think dispensationalism has contributed to the OT becoming the “yellow pages” (unread) and the Israelites becoming just a huge object lesson?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Bob,There is an element of truth in what you say, but only at the populist level. Dispensationalism did tend to divide the Bible up into periods and with some that meant past eras are dead and gone. I was taught, for instance, that the OT was Law and the NT was grace. This is, however, a populist simplicity and not what good old-fashioned dispensationalists did, for many of them were always reading the OT and finding Christian truth in it.However, the more consistent way is along Covenantal theological approaches, though I’m nervous about making the word “covenant” carry too much weight — it is not, as you know, how Jesus read the OT (he read it through the term Kingdom) and Paul doesn’t focus at all on Covenant (though he does use it a few times).Having said that, the reading of the OT that sees in the Abrahamic covenant (as did T.E. McComiskey and others — too many now to name) the foundations of how to read the Bible is best (this is what Paul is doing in Gal 3).Big themes are important.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Kerry,Try John 1, Mark 9, and Matt 11 and figure out what John Baptist thought of Jesus. Does it not appear to you that John and Jesus must have discussed “who was who?” in the OT? John, for all his stature, did not see that it was he who was Elijah, and that is why he is still asking in Matt 11 — and you may know that I think “the one who is to come” is the Elijah figure and not the Messiah figure, and that Jesus says, “No, I’m not that one, John, I’m the one in Isa 29, 36, and 61.”And the language used by the early Christians for who Jesus was is a study in diversity of understanding.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/9548318 John Frye

    Scot, you wrote, “I have big questions about how historical Jesus studies often turn out: if we find “another Jesus” that we believe in who is someone other than our Church-canonical and creedal-portraits, then we have in effect composed a fifth Gospel — which I don’t think is fair to our commitment to the Spirit’s guidance of the Church.”I was trained in a very fundamentalist/evangelical vision of Jesus. A timeless Jesus for all people in all ages. A Jesus revealed in Gospels that exist simply to support his deity and humanity in one Person forever. I don’t think it was the Jesus of the ‘Church-canonical and creedal portraits,’ but a Jesus of and for comfortable, cultural piety. I sometimes get jittery that I could be one of those who have a relationship with a figment of evangelical imagination, not the Jesus of the New Testament at all.Your thoughts?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    John,Good come back.My concern is that those of us who do historical Jesus studies need to see what the appeal is: are we creating another Jesus? We all have fashioned a Jesus — we can’t avoid this interpretive process. But, we need to do two things: first, exegete the texts and second, make sure that our historical understanding is credible. This is the value of historical Jesus studies, as well as the capacity we get to trace how we got from point A (30AD) to points B (Gospels) and C (Creeds).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    John, We can up this one notch.The problem with Gospel studies, as I see it, is that the scholars become preocuppied with either the “author” or the “narrator” and the next thing we are talking “Matthew/Mark/Luke or John” and not Jesus.I hate to admit this now, but at one time I was very much against Hans Frei and now I find his approach much more amenable to how we should approach Scripture.But that’s another blog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    John, We can up this one notch.The problem with Gospel studies, as I see it, is that the scholars become preocuppied with either the “author” or the “narrator” and the next thing we are talking “Matthew/Mark/Luke or John” and not Jesus.I hate to admit this now, but at one time I was very much against Hans Frei and now I find his approach much more amenable to how we should approach Scripture.But that’s another blog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/4226999 Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Scot, I really appreciate this post. When you said, “But, we begin with Jesus – and read the Bible backwards from him and forwards beyond him.” it made me think of how this works itself out in practice.Frequently, I am approached by disillusioned young Christians (usually Evangelical/Charismatic) who are dissatisfied with the inductive method of Bible study (which I critiqued at my blog). I have struggled to offer them alternative/additional approaches.From this Jesus-First approach, how in praxis, can this inform the way we can approach Scripture?Peace,Jamie

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/9548318 John Frye

    Scot, I checked out Amazon.com on Hans Frei. What book of his would you recommend to read first?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    John,The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. Frei is obtuse at times as a writer, but he’s got plenty to say — he must have read Barth often to have learned to write the way he does.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/4660809 Kerry Doyal

    For the record: I in no way want to imply that Scot is a Bahai, or like them in their beliefs in any way, shape or form. Forgive a poor parallel / analogy.


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