A Jesus Manifesto fails to answer "How?"

So after reading the new Jesus Manifesto by Len Sweet and Frank Viola, I find myself in agreement with almost all of what they propose. Yes, Jesus is alpha and omega, beginning and end, and Christianity has lost sight of the centrality of Jesus, all things that presume to replace Christ or supercede Christ are pretenders, etc. I get that. I agree with that.

And I really liked the part where they say that Christians don't follow a book, they follow a Person. I actually felt a shiver of excitement when I read that. Without degrading or belittling the Bible, they put it in its rightful place, the rightful place of all things, under Jesus.

Julie Clawson makes some very good points in her blog about justice, and I agree that this manifesto seems to belittle the role of justice, and of faith communities that see justice as central to their relationship with Christ. One of her points is that while the manifesto claims that Jesus cannot be separated from his teachings, it also seems to claim (somewhat falsely) that some christians are doing just that.

The point of the manifesto seems to be that christianity is in some ways failing to give Christ his proper place, that we as Christ followers are supplanting Christ with lesser things. And they specifically point to justice. But in making this point, the manifesto fails to give any advice on how to put Christ first, other than warning against putting other things first. And while this is a good and always timely warning, it lacks any positive exhortation. It does not tell us HOW.

How do followers of Christ make Jesus central? How do we make him Lord? One might argue that he is those things apart from us and what we think or do. But that is not the point of the manifesto. The point of the manifesto is that we must avoid putting other things over Christ. But I don't believe that Jesus magically becomes our Lord once all other lords have been set aside. He does not become central merely by filling a vacuum. There must be concrete ways that we MAKE him our Lord.

I believe that love, and more specifically a justice that flows from love, is the answer to this question of "How?" This is the action that makes Jesus our Lord. The greatest commandment is to love God, and the way to love God is to love others. That is why the second greatest commandment is "like" the first, because loving others is like loving God. Before Jesus died he gave us a "new" commandment: to love one another. And he says if we love him we will obey his commandments. In the parables of the Sheep and Goats and of the Good Samaritan Jesus drives home the key idea that love for others is what it means to love God. He even suggests that failing to give justice to the poor will lead to separation from God. Whatever we do, we do to him. Whatever we don't do, we don't do to him. This is perhaps the most important aspect of relationship, not what we think of others, but how we relate to them. What we think or believe about God is far less important than our relationship with him. And our relationship is dependent on how we treat him. And Jesus teaches that how we treat him is synonymous with how we treat others. The sermon on the mount is full of teaching on how we are to live with and love others. Paul teaches that love is even greater than our faith. James, in a different way, teaches the same thing, that faith without works is dead. And in all of these examples this idea of love and works is directly tied to poverty and justice for the poor. Over and over again it is taught. It is inescapable.

So it seems to me that any manifesto of Jesus MUST attempt to tell us how we are to make Christ central. And any answer to this question that leaves out justice is flawed. So not only does the Sweet/Viola manifesto fail to tell us the answer, it actually admonishes us to give less place to the answer.

But other than that it's great. :-)

Ken Bussell
Sent via BlackBerry


iggy said...

The answer to how is in the manifesto if you read it...

In fact the whole thing points to how... stop being religious and get back to Jesus.

"3. God’s grand mission and eternal purpose in the earth and in heaven centers in Christ . . . both the individual Christ (the Head) and the corporate Christ (the Body). This universe is moving towards one final goal – the fullness of Christ where He shall fill all things with himself. To be truly missional, then, means constructing one’s life and ministry on Christ. He is both the heart and bloodstream of God’s plan. To miss this is to miss the plot; indeed, it is to miss everything."

"To put it in a question: What was the engine, or the accelerator, of the Lord’s amazing life? What was the taproot or the headwaters of his outward behavior? It was this: Jesus lived by an indwelling Father. After his resurrection, the passage has now moved. 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."

For a biblical reference as to how:

John 5:19-20

19. Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.20. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.

If we are in Christ as He is in the Father, we then are to listen and do as Jesus directs us. This is actually very practical if lived out...

Ken said...

I agree with you there. Yes, the manifesto is right in saying we are to construct our life and ministry on Christ. And maybe this works itself out differently for everyone. But for me, justice is the outcome of this construction. The manifesto seemed to be warning people away from making justice too important. Maybe that's good advice. But it seems more like a reactionary statement toward certain streams of the emerging church. For me, and I think for many others, when we make Christ central, it results in justice. It is not that we are making justice more important than Christ. Justice without Christ is no justice. But at the same time, Christ without justice is no Christ.

iggy said...

Justice without Jesus as it's source and drive is not truly justice. With Jesus as the source and drive then we by following His leading, will do what is just as He does what is just in and through us.

The relational aspect was the core and heart of the emerging conversation when I became part of it. Since then we have sort of drifted off into other areas which in themselves are not bad, but without Jesus means and accomplishes nothing. We are to be totally dependant on Jesus for all things.

Ken said...

Yes. Justice without Christ is no justice. But Christ without justice is no Christ.

I agree that the relational aspect is the core. I am very passionate about understanding how our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with others are inseparable. They go together. They are the two greatest commandments, etc. And I like pushing the boundaries of this thinking and seeing where it goes. Check out my message on this.


Jonathan Brink said...

Ken, I love your response here. To follow is to love. Jesus even said, you shall know them by their fruit. The great commandment is about love.
Well done.

headintotheheavens said...

"And while this is a good and always timely warning, it lacks any positive exhortation. It does not tell us HOW.

How do followers of Christ make Jesus central? How do we make him Lord? "

I kind of agree with Iggy above that in living through Christ we'll find the answer. I read the Jesus Manifesto and thought 'yes yes YES...but wow I have no idea where to even begin doing this. Guess I'll just hafta ask Jesus to show me'. I get a similar reaction whenever I hear people talk about 'seeking Jesus' face' - again, no freakin idea what on earth that means but I know that it means something so profound that if anyone other than God himself were to explain it to me I wouldn't really understand.

iggy said...

I would recommend a couple of great books (besides anything by Frank Viola and Len Sweet of course) If you can get you hands on a copy of Major Ian Thomas' books "The Saving Life of Christ" and any of his other books they are great in giving more insight. Also for a very basic approach there is Bob George's Classic Christianity. I also recommend Watchman Nee's The Normal Christian life though he does dip into dualism a bit.

These books and people have helped me much.

The other "key" is humility... just telling God how stupid I really am and how much I really do not know... and mean it! Then ask Him to teach your His Way and let you live in and by His Life and Truth. It seems at these points (as I have had to do this often) God pours out abundance of grace and knowledge which is further humbling.