In his new book, A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age, Fuller seminary’s Christian ethicist, Glen Stassen, proposes a new kind of discipleship — a discipleship fit for a secular age and for a public faith. He calls this model “incarnational discipleship.” Framing an ethic, or discipleship, for the public sector will lead me to questions about the church as our politic, but we need to hear Glen out.
What model do you use when you think of how the Christian engages the State? In other words, what is your politic? The Constantinian takeover, Luther’s two-realms, the Reformed theory of influence through spheres of sovereignty, or the Anabaptist ecclesial politic? Where does Stassen fit?
He wants a “thicker” Jesus — not just a vague ideal or a principle, nor an ideal so high no one could achieve it, nor one restricted to “internal church relations” [OK, Glen, now we’ve made Jesus a public square Jesus] … the thicker Jesus is one that gives concrete and specific guidance and one that rejects a two-realms dualism and one that summons us from the ideologies of our day.
So he proposes “incarnational discipleship”, and there are three dimensions defining it:
1. A holistic sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ through all of life.
2. A thicker Jesus who is God incarnate, historically embodied, and realistic.
3. A Holy Spirit who is independent from all powers and authorities, calling us to repent from ideological entanglements.
Stassen finds embodiments of this thicker Jesus incarnational discipleship in what can only be called the progressive Christian approach to the relationship of Christ and culture (or world). His major models are The Barmen Declaration, Bonhoeffer’s early resistance during his writing of the Sermon on the Mount, André Trocmé, the righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Martin Luther King Jr and Clarence Jordan, the Revolution of the Candles, and Dorothy Day and Muriel Lester.
He stews this new kind of discipleship in the work of Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, and applies this thicker Jesus/incarnational discipleship model to issues like democracy, science, individualism, sin, the cross, love and war.