Understanding the basic contraversy between sites like Jesus Manifesto and Christian Research Net really boils down to an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I like to admit openly that, while I have been a Christian for ten years of my life, my understanding of the gospel has constantly grown deeper throughout my childhood years, into my teen years, and now in my early twenties I can finally begin to say that I really have only a small understanding of the mystery that is Christ’s gospel brought to earth. Let us consider the two “sides” here, and how they have evolved recently:
I spent a good majority of my time in the first installment showing the side that sites like Christian Research Net espouse as their gospel. I would like to spend a little bit of time getting acquainted with what Jesus Manifesto has to say about it. Mark Van Steenwyk, editor of Jesus Manifesto, openly explain his understanding of the gospel on his site here:
“…some folks TEND to think the Church primarily as the community sent by Jesus, whereas others see the Church primarily as the community that worships God. Yes, I realize that these aren’t mutually exclusive, but almost everyone I have ever known starts with one or the other…every church has a blend of the two. And I’d like to argue that we start with the latter, rather than the former. Why? Because I think the provocative thing about Christianity is that we are called to embody Christ in the world, not that we, among all people, can worship God in the most correct manner. The amazing thing about Christianity, to me, isn’t so much that we are square with God because of the work Jesus did, but that because of who Jesus is, we can be partakers of the Divine Nature. In Jesus, we not only see the proper worship of God, but also God embracing the world. And we the church are to follow Jesus–both in his worship of God, but also in his embrace of the world.”
The reason that many Christians are concerned is that, at first glance, it may seem that Mark is suggesting following Christ is more important than worshiping Christ as the legal sacrifice for our sins. He can correct me if I am wrong (and I may very well be), but he seems to be suggesting, rather, that following Jesus Christ is our greatest form of worship. The two should not have to be mutually exclusive (although he admits, in practice, they often are in the modern church). Recently, at the youth group I help out at, Ty (the church youth pastor) asked me to teach on 2 Corinthians 3. I was floored. I wasn’t floored because I didn’t think I could teach, but because I have never really taught very well on Pauline theology. But as I read through the passage, I could not help but think Paul was suggesting that it takes more than a system of systematic theology when we think about Christ.
He ends it by suggesting that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, Christ is the one who removes a veil from our eyes. The text is clear that we are presently “being transformed” into the very same image as that of Jesus Christ. When I read the first chapter of Willard’s book on the Disciplines, I was dumb-founded by an analogy that I will paraphrase below:
When children want to be like their favorite baseball players, they imitate them. They try to throw like them, bat like them, and imitate their mannerisms. None of these things, however, make them better baseball players. A true athlete knows that to be like the pros you have to live like the pros. You have to follow their diet, follow their exercise habits, and have all the mental knowledge of the game. As Paul said, we are running a race for more than gold and for more than a world series championship. Shouldn’t we be imitating our favorite Rabbi with even more vigor than even the most serious athletes? Shouldn’t our souls burn for the way of our master?
I hope that through this series one will think much more deeply about following the way our master–Jesus Christ.