Untamed – A Chapter in a Page (Ch. 1)
This is a continuation of my series on Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship by Alan and Deb. Take a moment to read the introduction to the series. I will summarize a chapter in a page and then give a few comments about the chapter. I was talking with Alan on the phone this week and he may pop in and answer some questions if you have any. So get the book and let’s work through this together. I’m going to meet up with both Alan and Deb on Monday for lunch, so I will see if I can get them involved in interacting with you in this series. So it’s not too late to work through this book together. I will seek to post on Wednesday’s, but sometimes the schedule might change, as it did this past week.
Section one which is about Untaming (our idea of) God consists of three chapters. The first chapter focuses on Jesus.
UNTAMED – CHAPTER ONE – jeebus made me do it
The title of this chapter comes from an episode of the Simpsons called “Missionary Impossible”. Deb and Alan use this episode where Homer finds himself as a missionary to a bunch of natives on an island and has no clue of who Jesus is, to help us think about how well we know Jesus. Homer says, “Jeebus? Jeebus? But I don’t know Jeebus!”
So how can we Untame (our idea of) God? Alan and Deb rightly emphasize we need to remember a fundamental truth, that God is like Jesus. Alan and Deb write, “Jesus is the key not only because Christian discipleship is about becoming more like Jesus but also because it is only in and through Jesus that we can get the proper Christ-ian understand of God” (35). They give us some rich quotes from Albert Nolan, N.T. Wright and Greg Boyd that focus on this theme and conclude this section with a quote from Michael Ramsey, former Anglican archbishop, “God is Christlike and in him is no unChristlikeness at all.” Alan and Deb help us to recognize that when we have a clearer picture of Jesus, we have a clearer picture of God and thus a tangible and concrete God to follow.
So do we follow Jesus or Jeebus? “The sad fact is we have made Jesus look a lot more like us than we would care to admit. We have cut Jesus down to size, made and repackaged him into an image of ourselves on a good day and at our best. Now to be fair, it is hard for any of us not to do this to some degree. We all do and will struggle to discover just who Jesus really is” (38). Then then take us on a tour of how some various images of Jesus that people have concocted. In doing this they seek to remind us how important it is to get a proper view of Jesus.
One of the questions they pose to help us see Jesus better is, “What is it about the holiness of Jesus that caused “sinners” to flock to him like a magnet and yet managed to seriously antagonize the religious people?” This section really helps to “unsanitize” Jesus, and helps us to see him more gritty and earthy than some portray him. In summing up the chapter, they help us to realize the degree that our image of Christ is “off”, is the degree we will be “off” on our discipleship, for “Jesus not only shapes and defines our idea of God, but also shows us what kind of people we ought to be in the world. They conclude the chapter with some practical ways we can know Jesus better and some questions that might be able to be used in some small group discussion.
Any good book on discipleship starts with helping us to examine our view of God, and Alan and Deb help us to understand that Jesus is a tangible, concrete and historical revelation of God. This makes discipleship concrete. They rightly call us to understand Jesus in his historical context and give a concrete example of what holiness meant for Jesus in his day and how that might transpose to our time.
For me, my view of Jesus has become more robust by studying the gospels freshly by looking at him in a first century Jewish context. I’ve been greatly shaped by reading books about Jesus in his Jewish context. It has effected my discipleship in a huge way. I understand Jesus’ mission to be much more broad then I did ten years ago. I think ten years ago I domesticated the good news by the focus being on another time and another place. But through studying the life of Christ in more detail, I realize that the Good News that Jesus was bringing to his people in the first century, the poor and oppressed people in Galilee and beyond, was more than just a personal sense of forgiveness, but it meant new economic realities, new social realities and new political realities. And of course this is the mission we are also called to carry out.
I once asked Scot McKnight the question: What are your top five favorite contemporary books on the life of Jesus? His recommendation would be mine as well:
1. Jesus and the Victory of God – N.T. Wright
2. The Aims of Jesus – Ben F. Meyers
3. New Testament Theology: Vol. I, Part One, The Proclamation of Jesus – Joachim Jeremias
4. Jesus the Jew – Geza Vermes
5. Jesus Remembered – James D.G. Dunn