The big question that goes unasked but is answered all of the time in churches throughout history is this: what do we do with Jesus? I say unasked because our practices have often been “locked in” for some time. That means something drastic has to happen to an individual or a church to get them to reconsider their basic presuppositions.
What do we do with Jesus? We may preach him or teach him. We may remember him or consume him. We may dress him up in fancy robes or dress him down like a regular Joe in We may be as likely to invite him into our community as we are likely to ignore him when he is in our midst. We might make him the center of our commitments, but we also might relegate him to the outer reaches of our conversations. Whatever we do, we reveal something significant about who we say we worship.
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Of the many things he has to say about Jesus in “The Drama of Discipleship,” Kevin Vanhoozer asserts that Jesus has something of significance for our hearts. “Spiritual formation,” he asserts, “involves, first, coming to desire the same things that Jesus desired: sharing his passions.” For the believer, this can happen on a deep level at conversion, is something the Holy Spirit works with a kind of immediacy. And then the long road happens, the questions get difficult, the road gets narrower and steeper, and we do our best to protect the change the Spirit has brought. So when Jesus reiterates the Old Testament Great Commandment, to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and when he recasts what that love looks like through a willingly sacrificial love, we ought to take notice. All the preaching and teaching, remembering or consuming, inviting him or ignoring him pale in comparison to the call to become like him. But we don’t hear much about that these days with our obsession and mastery over Everything Else.
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In my last post, I mentioned three terms that Vanhoozer uses throughout “The Drama of Discipleship” as touch-points: vocation, formation, and culture. “Coming to desire the same things that Jesus desired” means engaging with the Scripture that speaks of him. Vanhoozer asserts: “Scripture is more than informative. It is formative and transformative, not least when it is a means of reordering our desires.” At this point, Augustine and James K. A. Smith enter the picture: Augustine with his belief in rightly ordered loves and Smith with his work with habits and the spiritual life. Vanhoozer weds Scripture with the role of imagination (in a nod to C. S. Lewis) as “the imagination allows us to taste with the heart what reason only sees in the mind’s eye.” Drawing from the Apostle Paul, Vanhoozer concludes that “to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:15) is to have one’s heart habituated in the way of Jesus.” Beyond that, “to share Christ’s passion is to share Christ’s love for the world,” which ties back into the significance of vocation for Vanhoozer. But what about culture?
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I move about almost daily in a world shaped by Scripture. I read it in my quiet time. I walk through it with my students. I share it in chapel. I hear it read at church. Scripture has always been a good thing for me. True: God uses it to point out my sin. Also true: God uses it to remind me of His mercy and forgiveness. But too often a Scripture-infused “culture” leads to a kind of weariness, a kind of jadedness, that I don’t quite know how to handle. A good bit of it has to do with being around many who read the text without any sense of God having authority through the the text. Another factor is that we all too often think that if we’ve heard it once we know exactly what is being said. And who wants to make people feel that the sacred text is far from an easily-maneuvered thing. Because sometimes it is easy to understand and grasp. And it does shape our imagination.
I was recently conversing with friends who have embraced the Anglican tradition. One person mentioned the funny thing of taking a Bible to service. It’s funny because the Anglican service is saturated with Scripture; you just don’t really read it from your own Bible– you hear it or sing it or chant it. One of the great blessings of my years attending evensong services downtown was the opportunity to hear Scripture being read aloud well without commentary. The Story simply gets to be the Story. How good it is to be reminded of the Story that we are in! But I feel that I was able to engage with the text on that level because it was a Story I’d known for some time, a Story that I had been reading and rehearsing since childhood.
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One of the first things I noticed about being a teacher 16 years ago was how quickly I came to care about the things that concerned or intrigued my students. I would hear them talking about it before class. Then, when I was walking through the mall or a store and I saw something mentioned, I would think about that previous conversation. As much as I have loved movies, a lot of that love comes from dear friends in Texas who shared an even greater love of the medium with me. You really do become a little more like the people that you love, that you spend time around. And while simply being around them is something, it’s the love part that does the good and proper formation. We are all of us, in some way, missionaries to one another. And that is true about Scripture and about the God we read and hear about in Scripture. We would be wise to step back and consider how well we are shaping and being shaped by it.