January 28, 2021

Triumph of the Hippie Jesus?

1027_bibelen2_stor.jpgDavid Wayne has an excellent post at Jollyblogger on the foolishness of what he calls a “purely” incarnational ministry, by which he means a focus on the earthly ministry of Jesus that omits the present reign of Jesus as Lord of the universe and Lord of the church. Mostly because I really don’t like the title, and because as someone whose theology centers around the incarnation, this whole business challenges me pretty deeply, I want to respond to a few of David’s thoughts.

For starters, there’s this:

In his typical snarky way, Driscoll says that the exclusively incarnational Jesus who forms the basis for so much of the emergent church is a hippie Jesus. I don’t know if Driscoll said it this way, but I am thinking of a guy with long hair and a beard, a long tie-dyed robe and sandals with a guitar singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony . . . ” I guess maybe I’m picturing the Coca-Cola Jesus (and for those of you who don’t get that, you are way young – ask someone over 40 what I am alluding to – and if they don’t know ask them just how stoned they really were during the whole 70’s).

I don’t know if this is the right place to start, but it is a provocative point. David- and Driscoll if this is a quote of any accuracy- may be caricaturing the emerging view of Jesus for the sake of a point. I’ll admit that there have been people promoting a “guru/hippie” Christ for decades, but if they are, it’s at the expense of the Gospel record.

When I talk with my students about how various actors play Jesus in film, I always say that it’s important that the player capture the otherworldliness, the weirdness, the strangeness, the terror and mystery of Jesus. It’s not a hippie Jesus in Mark 4 : “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?” It’s not a hippie Jesus at the transfiguration. It’s not a hippie Jesus exorcising demons. It’s not a hippie Jesus raising the dead. I could go on and on. The picture of Jesus in the Gospels is an awesome picture. Anyone who says that their Jesus is a cool guy singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing” isn’t emphasizing the Gospels at the expense of the glorification, etc. They are distorting and ignoring the Gospels.

The earthly incarnation of Jesus included 40 days of resurrection appearances, which from all I can tell, were not a visitation to Woodstock. Nothing about the real Jesus is the hippie Jesus. That’s just another American/European con job of turning Jesus into someone’s symbol. If that’s what the emerging church is doing, then I want nothing to do with it, but so far, I can’t find the hippie Jesus anywhere in the emerging stuff I am listening to or reading. I just keep hearing about him in the usual criticisms of emerging churches. I’m sure he’s out there, but not from careful study of the New Testament.

I’m quite sure that if I had been with the disciples when Jesus walked on the water, I would have needed a change of pants, and not from sea water.

Let’s move on. There’s this:

And please notice the effect that this (Jesus in Revelation 1) Jesus has on people. When people see this Jesus they don’t say “yippee, I get to partner with Him in bringing redemption to the world.”….So, where is the Jesus that terrifies people today?

The problem I’m having here is two-fold. David is talking about a version of Jesus who has either been reduced to the level of denying the glorified, reigning Lord of the Universe or whose “Godness” is being erased in someone’s presentation of him.

This gets a bit complex. The book of Revelation had its problems in the canonization process, and no doubt, this is one of those problems. Christ as the judge pronouncing condemnation on the world and the church, pouring out buckets of wrath, killing the enemies of God till the blood runs up to the horses bridle, in other words the Hal Lindsey-Megiddo movie Jesus, is not Christ as he is proclaimed in the HEART of the Gospel, i.e. the cross. This risen Jesus cleansing his church is the real Jesus all right, but if this is what I am to offer to people in the Gospel, then I guess I am misreading a large amount of John, Romans, Colossians and so forth. Jesus IS the reigning, returning monarch who commands our unconditional surrender, but he presents himself to us as the lamb who was slain, as the one lifted up to draw all men to himself.

Paul’s words ring powerfully true: Nothing but Christ and him crucified. All the Biblical material about Jesus is integrated in the CROSS, not in the rider on a white horse. This is classic Law and Gospel stuff. Capon said that the fingerprints of God are on every Biblical image that presents Christ to us, throughout all of scripture, but when we preach Christ, we preach one crucified for sinners, and that one is the reigning, returning one. This doesn’t dampen anything. It amplifies everything.

I have a sermon on Revelation 1 I have preached for years. The heart of it is the passage David quoted. But David stops in the middle of the verse, and that is too bad, because the Gospel is not that we are left in terror:

Rev 1:17-18 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, (18) and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

David admits he’s gone a bit intense on poor emerging souls like me –

Now, I know I have taken some broadsides at the emergent folks here and I want to step back and say that the picture of Jesus we see here in Revelation is as great a rebuke to the traditional church structures that I am a part of as they are to newer, emerging forms of church. I do think that many, maybe even most, of our traditional churches (again, of which I am a part) are enculturated, are moralistic rather than gospel-driven, rely too much on our own riches (and that can be our carefully laid out plans, procedures and campaigns, as well as our money) and are lukewarm.

Yes and amen. The risen Christ has an earthly church that has forgotten the risen, exalted Jesus AND the earthly incarnational Jesus.

This means that we do not partner with Jesus in bringing the kingdom to earth. “Agents” and “ambassadors” are good words to describe our role in the advancement of the kingdom as we do play a part, but not “partner.” The Jesus who lives today is a king. The Jesus of the seven churches wasn’t looking for partners He was looking for repentance. Kings don’t have partners, they have subjects. Fortunately for us, Jesus is the most kind and benevolent king, but we are still subjects, not partners.

Perhaps David could be more specific about what “partnering” with Jesus means, because I’ve missed this one, and that’s entirely likely to be a major omission on my part. I’d appreciate the clarification: Who specifically is calling on churches to “partner with Jesus” in a way that humiliates the reigning Lord of the universe?

I am going to speculate here, and if I am wrong please say so. I know that many emerging people, following N.T. Wright and many missional thinkers, are encouraging Christians to go into existing movements and “partner” so to speak with justice and compassion causes rather than simply starting their own. In this way, the presence of Christ-honoring persons goes into the world and doesn’t wait until we can create our own “Christianized” structures to do good in the name of Jesus. Is that it?

If it is, I’ve never failed to hear the Lordship of the risen, reigning Christ from Wright. He’s strong on it. I’ll go a bit further. The phrase “partnering” with Jesus doesn’t do Biblical discipleship justice. Unless it were contextually qualified in very important ways, I would say its an inadequate term in anything other than a very casual use.

There is a lot of Kingdom/missional language in the emerging church. It’s not always clear, and it doesn’t always sound like the clear cut evangelistic message that some people need to hear up front in anything the church does. The emerging church that I read about does celebrate and encourage all Christians to know that Jesus is the reigning Lord of the universe. All things belong to him now. Therefore, we are not waiting for an eschatological unveiling of the Kingdom of Christ, but we are seeking to unveil it and participate in it now in the name of Jesus.

I do not see this as a denial of the exaltation or sovereign reign of Jesus, or of the the Kingship of Jesus at all. I see it as an expression of our confidence in that Kingship, and a willingness to assert it in the darkness of the world at the first opportunity.

I’ll end with David’s last paragraph’s, which are unarguably true:

This has been a very one sided post. I don’t mean to dismiss incarnational ministry, nor to dismiss the emergent church. I am grateful for the emphasis on being missional that is driven by an incarnational Christology and am grateful that the emergents are leading in beating that drum. I am even now engaged in study as to how our church can become more missional and incarnational.

But I repeat what Driscoll says. Incarnational ministry is only one aspect of following Christ today. The Christ we serve not only was, but is, and is coming again. Jesus lives today and He lives in a state of exaltation, not humiliation.

We need to avoid talking merely about who Jesus was and talk more about who He is right now.

Let’s not give the world a partial Jesus who merely has a humbling past, but a full-orbed Jesus who lives exalted in the present and will come again with glory in the future.

It seems to me that there are some Christ-belittling streams in the contemporary emergENT variety of Christianity, but from my vantage point in the blogosphere, it appears this is a minority view, and one that is under considerable pressure to come clean in regard to its liberal biases and agendas. I join with David in saying that Christ Paul in Philippians traces the journey of Jesus that we all must allow to shape our ministries: into the world, as an incarnate servant, crucified for us, risen, exalted, reigning and returning. I pray that all those who identify with the emerging church’s goal of a missional church in a post-Christian America will affirm all that Christ models for us in that passage, and all that he is for us today.


  1. chrisstiles says

    I think the source of the Driscoll quote is his latest presentation on the marshillchurch site – the one on Leadership. At the very least he says something fairly similiar.

  2. bookdragon01 says

    I know the ‘Jesus as hippie/guru’ idea is out there – and it way predates the emergent church – and understand criticism of reducing Jesus to just a ‘cool dude’.

    But I find much of the criticism presented by David and Driscoll a little confusing – esp. the dichotomy made between Jesus as the Incarnation and Jesus as Lord.

    For instance, “We need to avoid talking merely about who Jesus was and talk more about who He is right now.”

    Huh? Isn’t He the same then, now and forever? Doesn’t the bible say that He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow?

    And this sort of statement is especially puzzling: “Jesus lives today and He lives in a state of exaltation, not humiliation.”

    I can’t help but wonder if those who find a need to make this kind of distinction just don’t get it. Has the idea of Christ’s glory on the cross been lost? How have we so lost sight of what was really happening there that we can view the cross as humilation only, and not triumph and exultation? Are we so focused on ‘best life now’ type of theology that we don’t want to even try wrapping our minds around the idea that suffering and humility are deeply and intimately intertwined with triumph and exultation?

  3. I could very well be misunderstanding what David Wayne is trying to say here but I think, at the very least, he needs to restate this:

    We need to avoid talking merely about who Jesus was and talk more about who He is right now.

    Taken in context, I understand he is talking about getting a complete picture of who Jesus is and the difference between what He did on the cross and what He is doing sitting on His throne. However using terms like ‘who he was’ and ‘who he is’ are very misleading when referring to a person who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

    This really highlights the difficulty we face when trying to grasp the nature of the Son of Man/Son of God. Focusing on one aspect without the other gives us an incomplete, often misleading picture. But a ‘that was then, this is now’ approach is wrong, as well. Even though He didn’t come to rule and to judge, at that point in time, He was still the King and Judge of the Universe in His incarnation –and He is still a man (and God) and our friend (“if you keep My commandments”) and companion even as He sits on His throne, today….and forever. Depending on the circumstances, He can make hippies feel at home or kings fall on their face in awe and fear. That’s the mind blowing awesomeness of the thing..

    The beauty of the person in the Gospels is the power of humanity and divinity in the same person–the man who commanded the waves, walks on water and, after the resurrection, walks through walls–walked with His friends and cooked breakfast for them! I know all of that occurred before He ascended–but He is unchanging. So I don’t see how any of those aspects of who He is can be any different today, in the future or in eternity. Why can’t a meek and humble Lamb wield a sword or judge? He wielded a whip, when circumstances called for it, during His incarnation. I know that’s hard to comprehend but the dual nature of Christ is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend.

    Please forgive and correct me, here, if I am misundersanding David’s point. I just mean that we have to be very careful in our use of temporal terms like was/is when we are referring to the Eternal. He may look a lot different at various points in time and what He is doing at any given point in time changes but the exalted Lord and the incarnated Lord, are still the same unchanging Person.

    Bottom line: I heartily agree with the points of your post, IM–especially this one:
    The risen Christ has an earthly church that has forgotten the risen, exalted Jesus AND the earthly incarnational Jesus.

  4. bookdragon, you beat me to the punch. 🙂 You expressed, better and more succinctly, exactly what I was trying to say.

  5. Debra,

    I think you are spot on. This entire way of thinking has been giving me a headache for a day. It’s like an evolving Jesus. No no no! The Final Word has always been our glorious mediator. He APPEARED to us in temporal flesh, but even then his glory was visible in everything he did and was.

    If David is concerned about turning Jesus into Ted Neely in Jesus Christ Superstar, then I am buying him coffee. Amen! But the idea that emerging churches that emphasive the Gospels are rejecting or demeaning the risen, reigning Lord seems to me a faulty criticism.

  6. But the idea that emerging churches that emphasize the Gospels are rejecting or demeaning the risen, reigning Lord seems to me a faulty criticism.

    I agree.

    Maybe some of the problem could be resolved by defining terms. A partner is defined in my dictionary as “a person who takes part in some activity in common with another.” It doesn’t necessarily imply equality, which is what I think many people think of when they think of partners. I think using this definition of partner, most would agree that when we yield our will to His to accomplish His purposes we are taking part in the activity of God. We are unequal partners with God. I would guess that most who use the expression ‘partnering with God’ are trying to suggest agreement with and involvment in what God is doing–not equality.

    Humble and meek are other terms that are similarly misunderstood and need to be defined and/or examined in light of the original language used in Scripture. As I understand the terms, a powerful, mighty person can also be meek and humble. He would not cease to strong even in meekness or humble even when exercising his strength.

  7. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Some of this looks like a rehash of what Bonhoeffer talked about in Ethics, that if we separate the life, death, and resurrection of Christ into constituent parts we miss the point of who Jesus is and who, naturally, God is. What some people call a focus on a purely incarnational theology of Christ sounds like a rerun of one of the theological currents Bonhoeffer criticized in his time.

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