Impacted and Imprinted through the reading of Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His Religion Back, a recent book by Ken Wilson, published by Thomas Nelson, 2008, 230 pages. I was drawn to this book by a banner advertisement that links to the book’s web site. I was drawn by the author, a Vineyard church pastor, as I had spent some time within the Vineyard in Canada (as a pastor), as well as the emerging church context to the book and its presentation of Jesus for a Postmodern culture.
I had a double take over the sub title, “He wants His religion back”, which only intensified when reading the book. In reading this book, I was challenged, and stretched, which is always a good thing, along with quite a bit of irritation. First and foremost, I don’t believe Jesus Christ was incarnated and dwelt among us, to “give us a new religion.” I find it ironic that the only time religion is mentioned in positive terms within the New Testament, it is in the words of book of James, where he says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27). So, to use the concept that Jesus wants something that He never even gave was both strange, attractive and somewhat bizarre, all the more, coming from someone from the Vineyard movement, which to me was one of the least religious Protestant church associations on the planet. So I was intrigued.
Wilson, a pastor from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a good writer, who has put together a treatise that at one moment defines Jesus within the framework of spiritual pilgrimage and within that context, he of course includes his own faith journey. He articulates the need for the body of Christ in our day, a day in which we are in the midst of the decline of Modernism and the rise and growing influence of Postmodernism, and how many Christians are conflicted in their faith as a result. Wilson in his thesis, is calling believers back to the way and the life of pilgrimage, with the ultimate goal of having Jesus at the center. He articulates how as believers we are at the fringes and the edges, no matter what our tradition in faith, and that Jesus is always at the center. He addresses the various influences in our faith journey, but ultimately the goal in this pilgrimage is always moving toward Jesus, who is the center, the locus and the focus of what it is to “belong to Christ and His church.”
The framework in this book is a call to return to a life of pilgrimage that embraces the life and practices that Wilson finds in the life of Jesus. The spirituality, the fibre of the life of Jesus, the core essence included the four aspects of divine activity, where the context of God interacting with mankind, is through action within events that are unfolding. In this book, Wilson argues for, and convincingly that Jesus is more than willing to be active within the fabric of our lives.
The second aspect is that Jesus’ spirituality was not only active, but also contemplative. Jesus embodied the life of a mystic who was aware of all the activities that transpired around Him. When He engaged in this world, He was also engaging with the Kingdom of Heaven, and when He prayed, He prayed with His eyes open, seeing the mysterious and the mystical around Him, and at the same time contemplating and seeking the will of the Father for whatever the situation required. We too, can pray with our eyes open, being on the alert for what is going on in our midst, fully aware that God is still engaging with a broken and needy world, and seeks to use us to repair this world and those who are broken-hearted and in need.
Wilson addresses the third aspect of the spirituality of Jesus, by addressing just how much His spirituality was biblical, and how Postmodern believers must re-engage with the truths of the Bible, and be anchored within that same framework that Jesus Himself modeled.
The fourth and last aspect of Jesus’ spirituality, is that it was lived communally and relationally, and that the body of Christ needs to recover and embrace this kind of vibrant communal expression of life, that is not just limited to the “church life” but all of life, and in a holistic way. Wilson calls believers to embrace the world in which we live, and to a renewed awareness of issues like the environment, and the other issues facing societies and cultures around the world. It is not enough to simply focus on the personal salvation of people. Jesus cares about the earth as a community, of people who share a planet and its resources, just as much as He cares about their relationship to God and to each other. Wilson calls on us Christ followers, to emulate that same care, and stewardship of the earth, and the same respect Jesus showed people who were not His own.
I found Wilson’s tie in of his own faith journey intriguing as I believe we need to see our own faith stories within the context of the stories, the meta narratives within the New Testament in particular. Within Postmodernism, there is a need to embrace our own stories, and the stories of the very people we want to share the living Christ with. All this comes from examining and reviewing our own faith journeys. Wilson does a good job of blending his own stories, into the story of Jesus Brand Spirituality.
Wilson delves into many of the emerging theological issues of our day as well as the various movements within the “emerging church”. He addresses how one needs to approach Scripture, by still honoring the canon itself as the revealed will of God, but without many of the trappings of the Modernist approaches to epistemology (theory of knowledge), and the arrogance of the Enlightenment, which I found to be refreshing. He is well read and that is revealed in his analysis and observations, which only enhances what he is addressing in his presentation.
One of the interesting segways, within the emerging church, which he includes by giving his own story within the story, is his embracing of contemplative prayer (the divine hours). I found this particularly insightful, as I myself, Northern Irish born, and a historic evangelical who was raised Pentecostal, with Reformed theological roots and beliefs, have always been a “fan” (dare I use the term) or better yet, an admirer of, Patrick, Brendan, Columba, and the Celtic evangelical faith community that transformed Europe in the Dark Ages. So anything that involves Celtic principles that can be re-applied in our own day, disciplines of the heart and mind and life, that can in turn transform our lives as individuals and as communities of faith, I am keenly drawn to and interested in exploring. Wilson’s journey caused me to pursue even more some of these Celtic practices and to explore how God can impact my life and the live of those I am in community with (I am a house church planter). So, I must thank Ken Wilson for sharing this part of his faith story and journey with me in this book. But, as Wilson himself points out, principles and practices in and of themselves are not the point, but pursuing Jesus in pilgrimage, in dynamic relationship is the point. Otherwise, any practice or discipline just becomes an empty religious tradition, d
evoid of life or power.
The parts of this book that really impacted me in the most positive manner, was the recognition of Wilson of the context for the life of Jesus and His spirituality, which was communal, and lived in relationship with God and with people. I know that in one sense I am biased, but never the less, a simple reading of the stories of Jesus in the New Testament, and the writings of the epistles will reveal that the life we have in Christ, is lived in relational community. Wilson himself says, “Jesus Brand Spirituality is a path that leads beyond individualism toward community” (p.186). I could not agree more.
If your faith is bogged down by your denominational lens, or your theological paradigm, and the Jesus you see is blurred and out of focus, pick up a copy of Wilson’s book. Wilson is engaging, honest, reflective, and not afraid to challenge. He brings you from the edges and the fringes of wherever you are, and draws you into a journey, a pilgrimage, back to the center, on the quest to find Jesus in the midst of life.
I highly recommend the book.