Jesus and Community by Gerhard Lohfink – A Review
I love reading and posting short reviews of books. I read this book a while back. This is an anaylitical report, meaning I share a bit about the author, then the thesis, an overview and then my own thoughts about the book. With that said, here is my review.
Biblical theologian Gerhard Lohfink is an author of many books and was a New Testament Professor on the Catholic Theological Faculty at the University of Tubingen (1976-1986). At that point he resigned his professorship and moved to Munich, Germany in order that he could live and work within the context of the Catholic Integrated Community, practicing with others what it meant to live as a contrast-society.
Gerhard Lohfink in Jesus and Community makes the case that in a day riddled with individualism, it has always been God’s intention to work through a visible, tangible, concrete community that lives as a contrast-society in the world, for the sake of the world.
Lohfink takes us on a four-part journey to demonstrate the idea that the reign of God must have a people who are a visible sign of salvation. In part one, Jesus and Israel, Lohfink demonstrates how Jesus was re-creating Israel around Himself and that choosing the twelve “illustrated the claim which Jesus made upon Israel as a whole” (22). In part two, Jesus and His Disciples, Lohfink continues to survey the gospels to help us to see that, “when Israel as a whole did not accept Jesus’ message, the circle of disciples acquired a new function. It received the task of representing symbolically what really should have taken place in Israel as a whole: complete dedication to the gospel of the reign of God, radical conversion to a new way of life, and a gathering unto a community of brothers and sisters” (34). In part three, The New Testament Communities, Lohfink surveys Acts and the Epistles to show us how the church understood herself as the “True Israel,” an eschatological people whose communal life was to demonstrate this new social reality of togetherness patterned after Jesus and the disciples. And finally in part four, The Ancient Church in the Discipleship of Jesus, he shows how “the reception of Jesus’ praxis of the reign of God continued beyond the New Testament communities into the age of the ancient church” (149).
Lohfink does a great job in Jesus and Community at consistently reminding us that “Jesus wanted to gather the people of God as a divine counter-society” (164) so that we might be a light to all people. By sustaining this focus throughout his book, he gives us a greater sense of focus when it comes to our mission. By tracing this idea from Jesus through the early church, he makes a convincing case that the good news is not simply pietistic sayings designed for personal contemplation. Rather, Jesus intention was to create a new society that, through their life and practices, demonstrate “the arrival of the new world of God in Christ” (93) where the Spirit of God “dismantles national and social barriers, group interests, castes systems and domination of one sex over the other” (93). His emphasis on this new social reality is a much-needed message for those of us in the West who have been trained from birth to simply be individuals or a collection of individuals.
Another strength of this book was how Lohfink traces the themes of non-violence, renunciation of domination, and togetherness from Jesus to the ancient church. By doing this he both strengthens his primary argument and makes a case for how we need to live as a contrast society today. I will be taking these different thoughts to heart as I help to lead a community here in Hollywood. I enjoyed this book so much that I went ahead and ordered his fuller treatment on this topic – Does God Need the Church? – which I plan to study with a desire to implement what I learn.