Tonight Reconciler had its last Lenten Gathering at Mars Hill Tattoo in Rogers Park. One of the guys who works at the shop, has come around to Reconciler but also has another church he attends,( I think probably a more evangelical church) as we were wrapping up he asked Kate and I if we had heard of the book Jesus for President, we had though neither of us had read it. I am familiar with one of the authors Shane Clairborne, who is part of the New Monasticism movement and the Emergent Church conversation. I was also, somewhat familiar with the campaign that went along with the book during the lead up the election last year. Shane Claiborne irritates me a little though so I didn't pay a whole lot of attention. The irritation is partly out of sense that what much New Monasticism and Emergent stuff is doing at times feels to me like reinventing the wheel. I am more interested in catholicity than being evangelical, largely because I think that what evangelicals are seeking is in fact found in catholic and orthodox historic faith.
However, as the guy showed us the book, as we read through it we discovered that it was a distillation and putting in evangelical language the work of theologians and preachers we have long been familiar with and thus a theology that I have been living with for nearly 20 years. The main thinkers the book has interpreted for evangelicals, are Walter Wink, Tony Campolo, Brian Walsh, and Richard Horsley, among others. So it was a little odd to hear this guy start telling Kate and I summaries of Walter Winks, or Richard Horsleys ideas that were totally new to him and had completely turned his understanding of Christianity and Jesus on its head, and opened a new world to him. Odd because I forget that I encountered all of this in the academy, in Religious Studies courses and seminary courses. And so I found myself having to bite my tongue a bit, because I didn't want to squelch his sense of discovery and yet also wanted to affirm that I knew about this, but without giving a sense that this is old hat.
This is the relativity of the "new": for this guy Jesus for President was a new discovery and he could not quite grasp that Kate and I were very much familiar with the ideas and already mostly held them ourselves, and in my case have held to them most of my adult life. Now I also remember these things being new and radical, as I and the members of the Society in LA when we were all in college in the late 80' early 90's sat around and read an article by Walter Wink and discussed it, I think probably during the first Gulf War, under the first Bush administration. And about the same time reading Winks books on the Powers. I Read Horsley in Seminary in the mid 90's, and grew up on the thundering of Tony Campolo, at various conferences and at a college camp I attended every year during college. It was very much a liberating message for me then, and still remains one for me, though tempered by a certain catholic perspective. It seems to still be a liberating message, which is good. Though given that it is put in evangelical language it is a little odd because part of that liberation for me was freeing me from needing to be evangelical and needing to have evangelical faith language, which always fit poorly my own spirituality. So this was the other weird part to encounter these ideas couched in primarily evangelical language and definitely directed towards evangelicals, which was what I think made it make sense to this guy.
It made sense to me when I first encountered these ideas for similar reasons as our friend who was showing us the book, for these ideas present a call to a radical commitment to Jesus Christ and to the way Jesus calls us away from allegiances to the powers, because the powers ultimately answer to Jesus Christ. This itself is not necessarily new for this sort of affirmation in part was what the affirmation "Jesus is Lord" and thus not Caesar meant. This meant the Christians could not partake in the emperor cult which was one key element to the assertion of Roman sovereignty in the empire. and why it meant for Christians an inability to take part in the emperor cult. This position then was also very quickly in my mind connected to the christus victor understanding of redemption, that in the Crucifixion and resurrection that God in Christ was victorious over death and all powers of this world. What Shane Claiborne seems to have been able to do is make all of this make sense in the more individualistic each of us redeemed by the blood of Jesus ideas which is interesting since such a view is not my primary way of interpreting Jesus death and resurrection, not that I think such an interpretation is invalid just that I don't put the theological emphasis there. It is interesting to see where such ideas I encountered in college have ended up in 15 to 20 years.