Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saturday Book Review - Viral Jesus

Viral Jesus by Ross Rohde

Mr. Rohde starts out with a basic question:  what made the faith of early Christians so viral?  What made their faith and practice spread so quickly from one person to another?  His book answers this question with two simple points:  First, as members of the "new covenant" Jesus spoke of just before his death, the law of God was written on their hearts.  Second, early Christians had only one allegiance, which was to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Mr. Rohde then challenges today's Western Church by saying that we're no longer doing those things.  He blames our Hellenistic dualism, which is our tendency to separate our beliefs from our actions.  He also strongly criticizes the institutionalization of the church and calls us to come back to the way of the new covenant--a radical allegiance to Jesus as Lord.  He argues that everything from discipleship to church-planting to evangelism would be better off if we could leave behind our man-made strategies and priorities to simply teach people to follow Jesus.  He calls this the true essence of disciple-making.

In describing what a viral Jesus movement looks like, Mr. Rohde gives us several key characteristics:  (1) Christians meet together in an authentic way and Jesus is there among them.  (2) Disciples are made, but they are not controlled by church leaders.  Instead, they are set free to follow Jesus wherever he leads them.  (3) Disciples are kingdom-focused rather than church-focused.  They are focused on Jesus as King, and they do more than just get together as church--they participate in other kingdom activities like feeding the hungry or caring for the sick.  (4) These movements have organic structures rather than instituional structures.  They look more like a farmer sowing a seed than a building or an organization.  (5) They are simple enough to be contagious, though that does not mean they are simplistic.

He also focuses on the fact that the supernatural is always involved in a viral Jesus movement.  In his own words, "Church, as God designed it, was meant to be a demonstration of His love and His power, not merely a declaration of His love divorced from His power.  When we return to our new covenant roots and allow Jesus to actually be Lord, we are leaving room for Him to act instead of trying to do everything in our ability and power.  The end result is that Jesus shows up, and Jesus is supernaturally powerful."  p. 30.

Mr. Rohde ends by sharing with us the pattern that he teaches for church planting and evangelism from Luke 10.  I have paraphrased his recommended pattern as follows:
 (1) The Lord of the harvest is the one who sends
 (2) Apostles tend to work in teams
 (3) The harvest is still plentiful
 (4) We must always know where the Shepherd is
 (5) We must trust God to provide the resources for the harvest
 (6) Don't spend a lot of time with people who aren't ready or interested to hear
 (7) Look for groups of people who are interested in spiritual conversations
 (8) Look specifically for a person of influence who can bring you back to his sphere
 (9) Hang out with that group of people and eat what's set before you (be responsive to their culture)
 (10) Hang out for a while with that group
 (11) Heal the sick in Jesus's name
 (12) Bless those who are responsive in Jesus's name

As for my response to the material, I have to say that I'm uncertain.  Although I have a really hard time with the institutional church myself, I found that at an emotional level I wanted to push back on some of his criticisms of the church.  Although I, too, struggle to find a way to integrate the new believers in my life with the "old wineskins" of the organized church, I have also struggled to see a way to help them become disciples over the long haul without integrating them into a church body. 

 Also, every bit of spiritual fruit I've seen has come as result of a lot of failure and a lot of struggle.  If I'm reading his book correctly, then the only thing that can mean is that I have been too focused on beliefs and not enough about authentic actions proceeding from those beliefs, and that I have not followed Jesus where he is leading me.  Because, according to the author, everywhere that Jesus leads is met with viral life transformation.

And although I'm sure that sometimes I've been attempting things on my own strength and based on my own ideas, I can honestly say that I've been trying to hear Jesus's leading in my life.  I've been trying to invite people to follow him, and I've been trying to teach them how to discern his voice in their own lives.  I haven't invited them to become an institutional church or to participate in an institutional church.  I haven't asked them to believe things intellectually that I haven't also encouraged them to live out.  So why is there no viral Jesus movement in my community?  Viral Jesus doesn't really answer that, and it doesn't really account for spiritual oppression or spiritual warfare.

I suppose that, according to the Luke 10 pattern, I may be spending my time with the "wrong" people.  Because I'm not always looking for the people who are super interested in spiritual things.  In fact, I've been spending a lot of time with those who are not interested or who are even hostile toward God or faith.  So I have to take issue with the impression that I'm left with--that somehow if there's no viral Jesus movement, we're definitely doing something wrong.  Isn't it possible that Jesus calls some of us to work in places and with people where such a movement is years, perhaps even generations, away?

The author takes this model from Luke 10, which is when the disciples were sent out to share the gospel with people who were primarily already religious--they were already following Yahweh and waiting for the Messiah.  But not everyone in our world is waiting in the same way.  Yet I absolutely believe that Jesus sends us out to those places too, to the places where his name has never been heard or where people have already hardened their hearts toward God.  It would be easier, I think, to go to the places where the ground has already been tilled and the soil has been prepared.  It's no wonder that in situations like that, disciples are growing at astronomical rates.  But I'm not sure that it's a fair comparison or a fair expectation that every time we sow the seed of the gospel it will result in a viral Jesus movement.

Ultimately then, I guess I'm left with a question:  If the author's goal is to get us to return to absolute allegiance to Christ, why does he focus on the outcome of a viral Jesus movement?  Because if some of us are following Jesus to a place that will never have that result, I'm not sure it's all that helpful to talk about all the great things that could happen in your spiritual community if all the things that are present in the Luke 10 pattern are present there.  The call to return to relationship and absolute faith in Jesus is welcome and needed.  But a viral Jesus movement will happen only when the Spirit moves in that way and Jesus happens to lead you to people who are ready to hear and respond to the message.  Where does that leave the rest of us?

That said, given the author's focus on listening to the voice of Jesus, the author would probably agree that if I followed Jesus to where I am, then I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR 255.

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