15 Mar ReJesus – Book Review
A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.
Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009
196 pages, $19.95, paper.
Reviewed by William L. Turner
Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program
Lexington Theological Seminary
A 'wild Jesus?' Exactly, say these two native Australians whose earlier writings have helped to shape the ongoing theological conversation about 'missional church' in recent years (The Forgotten Ways, Exiles, The Shaping of Things to Come, Seeing God in the Ordinary).
In this later book they invite us to a fresh quest of the historical Jesus, the radical Messiah who, when more fully understood, provides the key to the renewal of his Church “in every age and in every possible situation” (42). Here is a call for the Church to recalibrate to Jesus and though this sounds like stating the obvious, these writers frame the discussion in creative and engaging ways.
Is the Church in need of renewal? “Now and always” is the answer of history, of early twenty-first century assessments, and of Frost and Hirsch. Despite the hand-wringing and dismay over the statistical decline of institutional Christianity in the western world, resistance to radical renewal – even one based on revisiting Jesus – remains surprisingly strong. To many, a reJesus project seems naïve in the context of “the sensible Christian religion we now have” (65). Traditionalists may argue that the centuries have given the Church a rich doctrinal and liturgical heritage, one which continues to instruct and inspire thousands of believers. Pragmatists may also insist that, after two millennia, the Church exists sufficiently globalized, institutionalized, and capitalized to accomplish great good everywhere in the name of Christ. All of this, notwithstanding the maintenance of a certain status quo, would seem to make a reJesus venture hopelessly idealistic and, perhaps, unnecessary.
The major premise of this book strongly resists such notions. Indeed, the authors remind that long before the early church did any serious theological reflection on the nature of God, they “focused first on Jesus” (131). Thus, Christology is key to contemporary renewal; and for well-established churches not to revisit Jesus is to invite what some sociologists have described as the routinization of charisma. The result, painfully attested by ecclesiastical history, is that a vibrant understanding of faith’s origins soon devolves into codifying, ritualizing habits which – though intended to preserve original vitality – degenerate, over time, into languid souvenirs of the past. Here Frost and Hirsch recall Pascal’s critique of Christendom that “people . . . by means of the sacraments, excuse themselves from their duty to love God”(70). So, when external form is not matched by internal spiritual vigor, authenticity suffers and renewal becomes a necessity.