Friday, April 08, 2016

Learning christ

So far in Michael Frost's wonderful little book 'Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People' we have been encouraged to:
  • Bless 3 people per week - at least one of whom is not a member of your church.
  • Eat with 3 people per week - at least one of whom is not a member of your church.
  • Spend at least one period of the week listening for the Spirit's voice.

Today I wrestle with chapter six, which is the fourth habit to becoming highly missional: Learn. Frost recommends spending at least one period of the week learning Christ.

This seemed a strange wording to me, and Frost points out on p. 71:
"The expression 'to learn Christ' was a common one among the earliest Christians... In the early centuries of the Christian movement, conversion involved denying the pagan gods and entering a period of catechism, committing oneself to an intensive study of the person and work of Jesus. We would do well to institute a habitual study of the Gospels ourselves today."
There are two primary reasons he suggests "learning Christ":
  1. There is devotional value in growing closer to Jesus, fostering intimacy with God, hearing the promptings of the Holy Spirit, sensing his presence through the beauty of his Word, and seeking to conform our lives more and more to his will. But also...
  2. The more missional reason to learn Jesus is - we need to know him if we are going to share him as the reason for the hope we have.
The author calls for not only delving further into the Gospels, but becoming students of the whole of Scripture, which includes understanding the Gospels in their total biblical context. As theologian John Stackhouse has said:
"What did Jesus say?"... is the wrong question for Christian thought just as "What would Jesus do?" is the wrong question for Christian ethics. "What would Jesus want me or us to think, be, and do, here and now?" is the right question.

I was glad to see the main idea Frost emphasizes here is one of my pet peeves when it comes to the concept of missional living: the idea of incarnational mission. The term "mission" means "to be sent; to be propelled outward." Lots of churches seem to get this idea that being missional is going out to others with the Good News (rather than merely waiting for people to come to us). But the term "incarnational" takes it to another dimension. As Frost says, "It describes not simply going out, but also the difficult work of going deep with others." Just as God took on flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus, so his followers are called to dwell among those to whom we are sent. Being "missional" isn't about doing mere projects (not that there's anything wrong with that), but it is being LIKE Christ and dwelling AMONG the people we have been sent to.

Frost gives three suggestions for "learning Christ":
  1. Study the Gospels - Read, reread, and reread again. He says Mark takes about ninety minutes, John about 2 hours, and Matthew and Luke about 2 1/2 hours each.
  2. Read about Jesus - He cites several works on Jesus in the back of the book (I will list later).
  3. Further viewing - He also recommends films about Jesus and the Gospels (also in the book).

So, another good chapter. I have sometimes been tempted to elevate the Gospels over the rest of the Bible, but I agree with the assertion that one is not more important than the other - it is the totality of Scripture, and how Christ comes through and ties it all together. I do miss the days when I was a better student of the Bible, and would like to be more intentional about getting to know Jesus. I want him to be the hero of my story, and the world's. I realize he is, but I want it to be more evident in my life and words. I want to know it in my heart, not just my head.