Messrs. Chalke and Mann (C&M) make an interesting introduction to their book The Lost Message of Jesus. Like good doctors, they try to diagnose the problems that many have with the Christian church. People often have many fragments of doctrine floating around their consciousnesses like a jumble of jigsaw pieces that they are unable to fit together. They often leave the church because they cannot piece them together to make sense. (C&M are careful to point out that the problems never seem to be with God or Jesus but with the church.) The answer, according to the authors, is to rediscover the message of Jesus (summarised as “The Kingdom, the in-breaking shalom of God, is now available to everyone through me”) in its original setting and “re-contextualise” it for the modern day.
There is no question that there is a problem. There is also no question that modern churches cannot seem to address the problems that many Christians face. There are problems with the standard of preaching and teaching (poor training, lack of a sense of purpose, hobby-horse preachers, bad theology). There are problems with how to offer pastoral care (what is pastoring? drinking cups of tea? looking after unwell and house-bound? leading ‘by streams of living water’? what?) And, yes, there are problems for many in knowing what it is Jesus Christ has called us to.
C&M are right to want to have another look at Jesus. What could be wrong with that? But (and it’s a big ‘but’) let’s make sure that the whole context is looked at. Having read the book through once, it is clear that the source materials for C&M are the gospels and 1st century history. This is good, but not all there is. For example, what does the OT say about the coming Christ? How did Jesus see himself in relation to it? Is that relevant? How would that change how we understand Jesus’ words? And then, what about Paul and the other writers – how did they see Jesus and his work? After all, the Gospels are not the direct writings of Jesus but are collections of stories and views of Jesus life recorded by others. So why stop at the Gospels?
This is my first thoughtful response to this book. I hope to make more comments on later parts of it, as time permits. Bear with me as I try to give it as charitable a reading as I can. If anyone thinks I am being uncharitable, let me know – I am well aware that I have my own presuppositions though I may not realise exactly what they are!