Is there a possibility for a Fourth Way for the Emerging Church? A way that lives in the story of the entire Church, including the Eastern Orthodox tradition and the Western Roman Catholic tradition, as well as the Protestant tradition, one that both lets this be our story and yet that gives us freedom to take that story into a new story for a new day? I think so.
It will begin with a Kingdom mission and next it will be a Jesus first but not a Jesus only shaping of the gospel. Any genuinely Christian Kingdom message will find Jesus to be the center â€“ not just in his Cross but in who he was and who he still is. He is first and foremost a person whom the follower is to love and then a teacher the follower is to listen to and learn from. And, surrounding all of this, he is the Perfect Eikon who, as the Apostle Paul then Irenaeus and then Athanasius so clearly taught, recapitulated our life so that we are to live his life and let his story be our story.
A Jesus first (rather than a Jesus only) approach calls us to the Gospels as the witness to who Jesus was, what he said, and what he has done â€“ both for us and as our example. The Apostles Paul and Peter, along with the other NT writers, explore the significance of Jesus Christ and their explorations deepen that story of Jesus. But, we begin with Jesus â€“ and read the Bible backwards from him and forwards beyond him. And because we do this, we know that the story of Jesus did not end with his ascension but continues in the Church through the power of the Spirit. So, we may go to him first, but we donâ€™t go to him only.
Any genuinely orthodox understanding of Jesus will let the Churchâ€™s story be the story we live in: and that story is found in the classical creeds. God from God, begotten not made, incarnate, crucified, suffered, raised, ascended, seated, coming again. These are the orthodox parameters in which any orthodox Jesus first missional Kingdom will begin â€“ and any Fourth Way, which is what the Emerging Church is shaping up to be, can start right here, too.
And a genuinely Jesus-first orthodoxy will see Scripture, not merely as theological prolegomena, not merely as a new Torah, not merely as systematic theology, but as the drama of Godâ€™s perichoretic dance made visible in Jesus and through the Spirit spoken in the written Word. Its authority is the authority of love and relationship, not of domination or weapon.
A generous (evangelical) orthodoxy will accept the faults of the Church in overwhelming Jesusâ€™ humanity with his Deity, but will call the Church to embrace a Jesus who is really both divine and human, to embrace a Jesus who lived a life for us in every imaginable way.
It will dialogue with others, converse with others, and listen to others as they try to come to terms with what the Church is saying in its orthodoxy â€“ and it will encourage discussion, debate, and questions. If Jesus was quite willing to listen to others tell him who he was, heâ€™ll listen to us today, too.
In its orthodoxy, it will be generous in the way Jesus was: everyone got to sit at table with him â€“ sinners and saints, young hotheads who were hoping for cataclysmic changes and old weathered saints who just wanted to hear another word of grace, women and men, prostitutes and Pharisees â€“ and this means we will adopt a â€œcome as you are cultureâ€ and love-me first approach to anyone and everyone who happens to be in our neighborhood.
In its orthodoxy, it will also be generously quick to point out purity distinctions that break down relations, as Jesus did so often with the Sadducees and Pharisees, and it will generously offer words of peace as Jesus summoned the Zealots to do when their hotheaded zeal for Godâ€™s will became little more than disguised religious hatred. Purity was upended by Jesus, and it became a purity of love and peace and justice and not a purity of Torah: it shifted, as I said in Jesus Creed, from a love of Torah to a Torah of love. (And we will not claim that this somehow triumphs over Judaism, but that Jesusâ€™ Torah of love is within Judaism and a reading of its Torah through a hermeneutic of love.
In its orthodoxy, it will be generous to those who have been systemically excluded by religious and social violence. It will seek justice, not as the triumphalism of the underprivileged but as a vision for all â€“ for everyone to live within the harmony that comes from Godâ€™s Kingdom will. Systemic evil is something Jesus was against, and a Jesus first missional Kingdom work will follow Jesus into the line of fire on this one.
In its orthodoxy, it will be a missional Kingdom community of faith that seeks, above all, to offer the grace of Jesus to everyone and everything â€“ including humans, cultures, nations, and our ecology.