For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with this blog, I’ve been answering questions about the new book, Jesus Manifesto. You can click on the links below to see what other questions I’ve answered so far.
Here’s another question I received this week:
I notice that a few people have criticized your book for talking about Jesus but not giving much instruction on how to follow Him. What is your response to this criticism?
Jesus Manifesto is NOT a recipe book. In that regard, the book breaks popular convention.
Christian bookstores are filled with “5 steps to …” “how to be a better …” “the spiritual memoir of …” and various other volumes that are drenched with personal stories, personal examples, and personal antidotes from the authors’ personal experiences as well as a litany of practical applications.
Len and I deliberately swim against this stream with Jesus Manifesto.
Our volume is not a pop recipe book. Nor is it a memoir that points to us and our experiences. It’s an unveiling of Jesus Christ – much like Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, and Philippians 2. Its goal is to disclose the staggering enormity of Christ to the heart in a way that (we hope) leaves readers overwhelmed, moved, smitten, challenged, freed, hungry and thirsty for HIM and HIM alone.
We are thankful that it’s having this effect on many readers (a la, the testimonies below).
We intentionally didn’t give personal examples, stories, illustrations (there are only a few exceptions) because we want the spotlight to be focused on Christ, rather than on us.
To our minds, emphasizing the “how 2s” is the wrong place to start. Let’s first get a groundbreaking sighting of our incomparable Lord in a way that throws us all on our knees and blows to soot all the things that are competing for His preeminence.
After that happens, we are then ready to begin looking at the practicals with the help and guidance of the Spirit. (I believe we’ve put the cart before the horse in this regard. Note that Paul’s custom was to exalt Christ in the first part of his epistles to the churches before he made practical applications.)
Len recently put it better than I when he wrote:
Frank and I deliberately did not want to make this a praxis book, because we both believe Jesus is the Killer App. The whole “applications” mindset and this “apps” culture of franchise churches and franchised faith is what we’re critiquing in this book. Unlike a lot of other “story” and “best practices” or “apps” books that are popular nowadays, we did not write a “This is MY story, This is MY song” book because we wanted the focus to be on “This is HIS Story, this is HIS Song.”
One of the dominating features of our book is that it unites the Person of Jesus with the praxis (=practical application) of Jesus’ teachings. We believe that the two have been wrongly detached and separated from one another. But the Person of Christ cannot be separated from His teachings. Person and praxis should be distinguished, but they should never be separated. The Person of Christ and the praxis of Christ’s teachings are not either/or – they are both/and. We hammer this point away throughout the book.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer brought this truth out beautifully and irrefutably in his book, Act and Being some eighty years ago. In his book, Dietrich was taking dead aim at the idea that God is exclusively Act – a popular belief in some circles today – especially those who base their theology on Barth or Derrida. (Note: Bonhoeffer’s book is a work of high-voltage theology. It’s not recommended for ocean-front reading.)
The truth is, God as Act is not in contention with God as Being. God is both Act and Being. It is right to draw a distinction here; but it is wrong to separate or oppose the two.
If we just talk about the praxis of Jesus, then Jesus is no different from any other admirable personality (such as Gandhi). If Jesus is just the top guy in the pantheon of social and moral heroes, then we’re not really dealing with Christianity any longer. We’re just blowing wind up people’s skirts when we talk about God.
The wonder of the gospel is not just redemption, the forgiveness of sins. It is the God of the universe sharing His life with human beings in the Person of Christ.
Consequently, a theology that focuses completely on particulars ends up looking for universal formulas and recipes. Whereas when we focus on Christ Himself and how we are caught up in the Trinitarian life of God because of the unity of the Divine and the human nature in the One Person Jesus, we are able to follow the Lord presently in particular situations. We’re not trapped inside of a frozen model or recipe for action.
The truth of the matter is that Len and I talk quite a bit about praxis in the book. Chapters 5 to 9 are filled with the praxis of Jesus on the ground. However, we don’t discuss praxis in the specific way that some Christians are used to hearing it talked about. We intentionally don’t give personal anecdotes or “add water and stir” recipes. And we dedicate an entire chapter to the tension between theological ethics and theological rationalism.
The praxis of the Christian life begins with a revelation of Christ, giving our hearts toward knowing Him as a real and living Person, and seeking to live by His indwelling life. Everything else flows out of that. Regrettably, people who are unfamiliar with this kind of praxis claim that we don’t talk about praxis at all in the book. Or very little.
People need to be free to assess their particular missional setting and circumstances in light of what it means to participate in the life of God. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to apply the revelation of Christ to each unique missional situation. If we put recipes in our book, this would obstruct the Spirit’s work in this regard.
Put another way: when we miss the primacy of Jesus, we will inevitably end up fixating on something else, like a certain missional methodology.
That said, Jesus Manifesto is by no means an exhaustive statement. It has a very specific focus. It’s an “in your face” book, if you please. An “in your face” with the face of Christ. Neither is it a spiritual memoir of a fallen human being (or beings). It’s more of a memoir of Jesus Christ.
In fact, in the book we tell the story of every believer within the context of the story of Christ. (The chapter entitled “If God Wrote Your Biography” underscores this point.) The truth is, without the story of Jesus, none of us can really know what our story is. This is because Jesus is the embodiment of God’s definition of a “human.”
All told, our hope is that readers will have an encounter with their Lord while reading the book.