This review will also be published in a forthcoming issue of Themelios.
The central thesis of ReJesus is that an institutionalized church needs to rediscover the radical example of its Messiah – we need to ‘reJesus’ the church or to return to what the authors call ‘radical traditionalism’. ‘Our point is that to reJesus the church, we need to go back to the daring, radical, strange, wonderful, inexplicable, unstoppable, marvelous, unsettling, disturbing, caring, powerful God-Man.’ (p. 111)
Michael Frost is Professor of Evangelism and Missions at Morling College, Sydney, and Alan Hirsch is founder of Forge Missional Training Network. Their previous collaboration, The Shaping of Things to Come (Hendrickson, 2003), has been a significant text in the missional church movement. I’ve benefited greatly from Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways.
The material in ReJesus is not especially original. Frost and Hirsch have themselves covered some of this ground in their previous books. We are presented with Jesus subverting both imperial politics and institutionalized religion. The similarities between the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and conservative Christians in our own day are highlighted. We have a critique of consumer Christianity as well as a critique of the sacred-secular divide. Frost and Hirsch are well aware of the danger of people creating Jesus in their own image, citing many examples along the way. But they offer no rationale of why we should treat their version of ‘a wild messiah’ as any more reliable.
Nevertheless the book has many strengths. The material is presented with verve. The authors are aware of academic work, but this is a popular book with a strong polemic tone. There is plenty of insight and plenty of challenge. It is full of passion. Sometimes over-stated. But I appreciate the need to be poked a bit.
But where are the cross and the resurrection (mentioned so infrequently they merit no inclusion in the index), the ascension and the parousia of Jesus (not mentioned at all)? And for all their emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus, there is little on Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament. It may well be that evangelicals have too often neglected the life of Jesus and I suspect Frost and Hirsch are reacting against this. But the answer cannot be to neglect his cross, resurrection, ascension and parousia.
There is a telling anecdote at the beginning of the book that encapsulates the problem (p. 18). The story is told of a speaker asking an audience of 600 people with whom in the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8 they most identify. We are invited to be shocked that only six people identified with Jesus. But is it a mistake for people to look to Jesus as their Saviour before they look to him as their model? Do we really want lots of people with a messiah-complex!
What is missing is soteriology. Perhaps this is assumed. But it is a dangerous assumption. Christology, we are told, determines missiology which in turn determines ecclesiology. Perhaps, but only if christology includes an account of the saving work of Christ. The danger is that a lifestyle shaped by the pattern of Jesus that does not arise out of gospel grace shaped by the redemption of Jesus will create a new kind of legalism – a new, edgy legalism to replace the traditional legalism Frost and Hirsch decry, but legalism nevertheless.
‘We believe that Christian faith must look to Jesus and must be well founded on him if it is to be authentic. If NASA was even .05 degrees off in launching a rocket to the moon, they would miss the moon by thousands of miles.’ (p. 167) An attempt to reJesus the church with a cross-less, resurrection-less, ascension-less christology is surely more than a .05 degree misalignment.