In our first post of this series, we began our look at a “new but not entirely novel” development in Christian theology, pointed out by fellow Patheos blogger and scholar Roger Olson, that
Jesus is the perfect revelation of the character of God . . . traced out to its logical conclusion and not left as a mere notion that does not permeate the whole body of belief.
It is axiomatic that the Church could always stand to become more like her Lord and Savior (though this feels especially pointed and dire lately). But is it also true that even our doctrines, our faith could use the same correction? Does Christianity, as a faith, need to give more centrality to Christ?
In today’s post, I want to look at some of the particular voices who have contributed to my own convictions and growth toward that end. But first the context: I grew up going to conservative evangelical churches each Sunday. I went to Christian schools from kindergarten through high school. I memorized scriptures and even the creeds. We had chapel once a week, and every day on some “spiritual emphasis” weeks. We had bible classes every day. And, to be honest, I actually paid attention. Then in college, I heard a scholar of the New Testament (I don’t even recall if he was a Christian or just a scholar of the texts and history) say some version of the following: The topic of the kingdom or reign of God was so central, so thematic to Jesus’ own teaching and preaching that it is fair to say that even when he wasn’t talking about it explicitly, he was still talking about it.”
That shook me. And puzzled me. And motivated me into the subject of this series: a more Christo-centric faith.
Why? Because if you had asked me about the kingdom of God I would have known that Jesus said a bunch of cryptic things about it, and I knew it had something to do with heaven, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much about it. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell you how it was “the gospel” in any rational sense, even though Jesus proclaimed it as such and it was his favorite topic.
So, after more sermons than I could count, after thousand upon thousands of Christian bible classes, I was largely ignorant . . . about the main subject of Jesus’ teaching and preaching. Worse, I was far from alone in this.
So, now, to the journey forward. My wife and I started attending a Vineyard church just as we finished college. The reality is that John Wimber, and thereby the Vineyard movement he led, was profoundly shaped by this: Wimber came to faith, having grown up well beyond church culture, through a evangelistic bible study of the gospels. For Wimber, the gospels generally and Jesus specifically became literally the foundation of his faith and practice that shaped all the rest. Todd Hunter, who led the association of Vineyard churches after Wimber passed, said this of Wimber, and of Dallas Willard, who was my next encounter on this Christianizing of my Christian faith: “John [Wimber] gave me Jesus back in terms of Jesus’ ministry. Dallas gave me Jesus back as a Teacher.”
In my view, it was not Willard’s brilliance that led so many in the evangelical world to devour his books, talks, articles or anything he had to say. Brilliant as he is, even more rare and treasured was the gift he gave to Todd, which he gave to many: a winsome, thorough and embodied Christ-centeredness. To Willard, Jesus is so much more than a source of sacrificial blood unstained by sin; he is a genius–the genius in all matters of human life and purpose. If you’ve not let Dallas challenge and reorient your thinking around Christ and his kingdom, I highly recommend it.
But where else could I find resources to re-prioritize my theology, values and life around the priorities of Jesus? Some combination of the internet’s connections and the name of Scot’s blog and first book of his that I read, The Jesus Creed, led me here and to that book. Not only did Scot’s own published works (especially The Jesus Creed and The King Jesus Gospel), help further root me deeper in a Christocentric faith, but those that have been here for any length also know that the volume of books, authors, pastors and other practitioners whose ideas have been discussed on this blog is immense, and so often has much of value for those looking to let Jesus shape everything.
I could go on to discuss such various persons as N. T. Wright, Alan Hirsch, James K.A. Smith and others at Renovare, and many more. What I see in all of these folks, is the notion that Christology needs to be first, and all the rest is built upon it, or upon Him. He reveals both the Father, as well as our destiny and vocation. From Wright:
Let me put it like this. After fifteen years of serious historical Jesus study, I still say the creed ex animo; but I now mean something very different by it, not least by the word “god” itself. The portrait has been redrawn. At its heart we discover a human face, surrounded by a crown of thorns. God’s purpose for Israel has been completed. Salvation is of the Jews, and from the King of the Jews it has come. God’s covenant faithfulness has been revealed in the good news of Jesus, bringing salvation for the whole cosmos.
The thing about painting portraits of God is that, if they do their job properly, they should become icons. That is, they should invite not just cool appraisal, but worship though the mind must be involved as well as the heart and soul and strength in our response to this God. That is fair enough, and I believe that this God is worthy of the fullest and richest worship that we can offer. But, as with some icons, not least the famous Rublev painting of the three men visiting Abraham, the focal point of the painting is not at the back of the painting but on the viewer. Once we have glimpsed the true portrait of God, the onus is on us to reflect it: to reflect it as a community, to reflect it as individuals. The image of the true and living God, once revealed in all its glory, is to be reflected into all the world, as was always God’s intention. The mission of the Church can be summed up in the phrase “reflected glory.” When we see, as Paul says, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we see this not for our own benefit, but so that the glory may shine in us and through us to bring light to the world that still waits in darkness and the shadow of death.