what's the worst that could happen?
Andrew, I really appreciate what you are asking us to look at in your timely analysis of Jesus. For me the heart of your comment offers a delightfully thought-provoking encapsulation of your radical approach to Scripture:
We can only really make sense of Jesus - at least, the historical Jesus - within the context of Israel’s story.
If I’m understanding your standpoint correctly, you’re not asking us to reject the idea that Jesus (including his life, ministry, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, Spirit) is universally relevant, so much as the basis for that idea - as well as how we perceive it is supposed to outwork?
If I’m correct then, you want to undermine the assumptions that lead us think we understand why Jesus is relevant to everyone, everywhere, at all times (once culturally translated), taking us back instead to the soil in which the One sometimes called the “Root of Jesse” grew up and out from and to encourage us to take that beginning as our beginning in our quest to understand and follow Jesus aright. That means understanding first-century Judaism, which in turn leads us to obtain an understanding of the Hebrew Scripture and the Israel narrative.
It’s within that Narrative that we find hints that the Creator, YHWH, is “in league” with Jesus, the Coming Messiah of Israel, in some extraordinary way and also a Community - a Messianic Community - that is called into being to be both the recipient of “the grace of God in Jesus” and the garden in which that grace is to grow and spread outwards…
Thus, it is, in a sense, the desired / anticipated effect within that Messianic Community that is so essential to understand and interpret aright. We sense from the Israel Narrative that the original, prophetically-Messianic Community misunderstood, or at least, misapprehended the Calling of God. With this very much in mind, we should learn from their errors: we ought not to assume too readily that we wholly understand the Whole Calling of the Renewed (post-Jesus) Messianic Community.
The concern which I think will strike the heart of the more “evangelically orthodox” is the sheer amount of teaching and biblical understanding which may seem to be threatened with the need for reappraisal, if not complete overhaul, as a result of this fresh approach. That is, I sense, something you are not disheartened by; you will be glad to see a stake through the heart of some manifestations of evangelicalism. For those who stand teetering on the edge of abandoning this theological forum, facing the temptation to indulge Ivan’s conviction that “Emerging Church (is a) Euphemism for Liberal Believers” I would like to offer some slight succour.
First of all, I would like to share a brief story from one of my favourite mission books, Eternity in their Hearts, by Don Richardson. Don was a man who provided twentieth-century evidence for the reality of stone-age peoples (i.e. whose custom had not evolved beyond ‘stone age’) who retained centuries old beliefs in the Sky-God (i.e. a mono-theistic, Primary Creator / Deity, so-to-speak), at a time when most other anthropologists were setting out to find such people in order to prove that Pantheism was the most natural of belief systems - certainly not mono-theism or any derivative of it. Don also found ways of allowing these peoples own, sometimes brutal, traditions to “speak” and reveal to them vital elements of the story of Jesus and, in so doing, unlocking whole societies to the influence of the Good News. One of my personal heroes, for what it’s worth and a great story teller. Look him up on Amazon, if you will.
Now, in “Eternity” (sic), Don weaves a great story about “The Hidden Message of Acts.” He believes that Jesus has been dropping hints about the Gentile peoples all the way through his life, teaching and ministry (think Roman Centurion, Syrophonecian mother, Samaritan leper, Gadarene demoniac, Syrian general, widow of Zarapeth etc…. you get the picture.) Fast forward to the Pentecostal outpouring and speaking in many languages episode and then skip right forward to Peter’s stubborn inability to grasp God’s desire to include the Gentiles in Acts 10 and you can, perhaps, begin to gain a flavour of how Don unwinds his engaging narrative.
His point is that, far from Acts being about the success of the early church, the first half of it, is more or less about their failure to engage in it! Finally, in Acts 10.34, a light inside Peter turns on: “Now I understand - how dumb am I? - God doesn’t have any favourite ethnic groups - now hang in there with me, Jews - but will accept people from every ethnic background, just as long as they fear him and do what is right.” (my paraphrase) Phew! Jesus gives out a huge sigh of relief - “by Jove’ (sic), I think he’s got it!!”
My point, in all of this, is to remind us again of the viability and acceptability of allowing God to speak through the Scripture in ways that are less than obvious to the most stringent historical-critical reading. The Jewish rabbis, in fact, point us towards four important and different methods with which to access ‘truth’ from Scripture.
Saying this in turn, however, is no attempt at undermining Andrew’s radical approach, which I restate, I find engaging and authorative, and above all, provocative. It is though, to reassure those who may feel that examining this radical approach may take them too close to a precipice from which they might fall. I began my own examination of it with some similar concerns.
What is on offer, at this unique moment in history, is the opportunity to learn from first-century Judaism in an unprecedented way, thanks to the extraordinary scholarship finds being offered up to us. Added to that is the opportunity to learn from a Hebrew Narrative that stretches back clearly for several millennia, being wonderfully opened up to us (again!) by Messianic Jews, which leads us into the last two millennia of Renewed Messianic Community / “Church” history, coupled with the capacity to observe the most recent world history with astonishing accuracy and breadth of resource.
Now, examine the Messianic Community / Church of Today, in the midst of the dominant post-modern, babelling, Spiritual Culture in the light of all of this and it begins to become obvious why a paradigm for Christianity which was framed, by and large, in the sixteenth-century Reformation Age, genuinely needs… well, yes, reforming and that such a task, far from being something to shy from, in case we undermine this centuries-old foundation, it is, in fact, something to embrace with all of our hearts and minds and strength.
Indeed, anything less will be nothing more than a dereliction of our duty: we are the only constituents of the Eternal Messianic Community who can fully serve the (Eternal) Purpose of God “among our Generation,” as the song (more or less) goes.
And, as Dr Pepper says, “What’s the worst that could happen?” It’s not as if the Messianic Community hasn’t made mistakes before. Fear of failure (let alone fear of the new) is the path to paralysis and must never be allowed to masquerade successfully under the guise of wisdom. Not that there are not accompanying constraints and dangers in such an undertaking. There are. However, it was the Jewish prophet Habakkuk who prosaically recorded for us:
“He makes my feet like hinds feet on high places; he enables me to go on making spiritual progress upon my high places of trouble, suffering and responsibility”
May the Lord Jesus enable each of his Servants to go on making spiritual progress upon their high places, as they (we?) accept the responsibility and accompanying trouble and suffering required to fully play the necessary part in God’s universal, eternal purpose.