“I Don’t Want to be Part of Any Jesus Revolution Without a Perichoretic Dance” – Why We Need Both Jesus Manifestoes

Frank Viola and Len Sweet’s book  Jesus Manifesto remains in the Amazon Top Ten today, and my interview with them yesterday has stirred a lot of interesting conversation. Among conversation partners is my friend Jeff Straka, who airs some honest thoughts and frustrations that inspire me to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. Jeff wonders:

While Brian McLaren has endorsed both these authors’ books in the past, his name is glaringly (to me, anyway) missing from the list on this new book. Nor did I find any endorsements from other names considered more solidly in the emergent movement (and not just in “conversation” with). Am I reading too much into this or is this shaping into a “spy vs. spy” manifesto?

Also, are the subtitle words “the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus” a helpful choice of words as they seem to imply then that other religions are flat-out wrong or false (ala Franklin Graham)?

Well Jeff, we know that Brian rarely eats or sleeps, but even he cannot endorse everything. 🙂

But seriously. I think there is a difference between divergent views and hostility. F’r instance, it was apparent that Mike Wittmer didn’t merely have differences with Brian’s presentation in A New Kind of Christianity; he was pretty hostile toward Brian, both theologically and personally.

I’m almost certain that this isn’t the case here. While there are doubtless differences between Len and Brian (as the Sweet piece you cite demonstrates), I see them as iron-sharpening-iron differences and not iron-jabbing-your-opponents-eyes-out differences. Both Len and Brian have been accused of various grevious heresies by the self-appointed watchdog ministries; I doubt Len wishes to inflict that pain on anyone else, even if he disagrees with them theologically.

So: Does JM say some different things than ANKoC?


Is it possible to enjoy both books?

Yes, I think so, though natural predispositions being what they are, readers might naturally gravitate toward one perspective or the other.

Here’s the fascinating thing, as an aside: Brian in ANKoC and Richard Rohr in The Naked Now (which I’m presently reading) both write out of a conviction that Jesus has become in the hearts and minds of Christians too remote and too ‘divine’ to be of any earthly good, or connection with his followers today. Rohr specifically indicts contemporary Christians of the heresy of gnosticism, saying that while Nicea (or was it Chalcedon? I always forget…) technically settled the matter of Jesus being fully human and fully divine, “most Christians are very good theists who just happened to name their god Jesus.” By contrast, Rohr calls for a robust incarnational ethic, where we disavow a remote ‘theism’ as such and affirm a ‘down and in’ God who is located precisely right here, in our midst. Brian and Rohr both hope that people will stop merely worshiping Jesus and start listening to and following his teachings.

Sweet and Viola, by contrast, are observing an opposite trend: People following the human Jesus, but neglecting the exalted Christ. They wish to reclaim the grandiose language of the Epistles, which speaks of a Christ who fills all-in-all. This is different than a John Piper or Franklin Graham approach of brow-beating the planet earth with a jingoistic Christ, in my opinion.

To begin with, ‘supremacy’ is used in a mystical sense, inspired by T. Austin Sparks. And the divinity of Jesus championed by V&S isparticipatory divinity: We have become partakers of the divine nature through Christ. It’s a perichoretic divinity: The expansion of the dynamic life of the Trinity into communities where this Trinitarian life is made welcome, and thus radiating into the earth. (See Viola’s From Eternity to Here and Sweet’s So Beautiful.) To be honest with you, not counting Rohr, I miss this kind of unbridled mystical-devotional dimension in much of the emerging church. I too agree that everything must change and I don’t share Len’s antipathy with liberation theology (I don’t see how anyone can read Leonardo Boff or James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez, or know the story and plight of the Base Ecclessial Communities in Latin America, and dismiss liberation theology as simply re-hashed Marxisim), but I will paraphrase anarchist Emma Goldman here: “I don’t want to be part of any Jesus revolution without a perichoretic dance.”

I want to see an emerging conversation that makes room for neo-liberationists and neo-pietists, Jesus Manifesto and Jesus Manifesto. We need neo-pietists in the Conversation to remind us just how revolutionary Paul was, and the Epistles are – that participatory divinity linked to the monotheistic God was truly a new phenomenon in the first century, and can be just as much so today. We need the neo-pietists to remind us of a good, strong, Lutheran-esque Gospel of God’s gratuitous grace and favor toward us, and how we can’t be the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ unless we’re connected to the authority and animating energies of Christ our Head.

And so: I hope that in the next year, emergents and missionals, organics and liturgicals, conservatives and progressives, can stop writing each other off. If I have to stop calling it the ’emerging’ conversation in order to help missional and neo-pietist folk feel more welcome at the table, I will. Because I think that’s what Jesus – the whole, living Christ – wants.

19 Responses to ““I Don’t Want to be Part of Any Jesus Revolution Without a Perichoretic Dance” – Why We Need Both Jesus Manifestoes”

  1. 1 Ted Seeber June 2, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    FATHER Richard Rohr is a good Catholic- despite being a bit on the left-wing side of things- and to us Good Catholics, MOST Protestant theology looks like various degrees and versions of Gnosticism.

  2. 2 zoecarnate June 2, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    I hear you, Ted – I hope you don’t mind that I don’t call Rohr ‘Father’ myself – that whole pernicious Protestant thing about taking Jesus admonition to ‘call no man father’ literally. 🙂 But seriously – I have enormous respect for Rohr, and I’m sure he doesn’t mind us non-Catholics not using honorifics – especially since he rarely wears his collar!

  3. 3 Travis Greene June 2, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Well said. Yet another instance where both/and is better than some zero-sum game.

  4. 4 Joan Ball June 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I am no theologian. Sure, I’ve done my share of reading, but my spiritual education since coming to faith as an adult has been as experiential as it has been intellectual. As a result, I find myself confounded when deep faith and hands-on service are pitted against one another (intentionally or in deed). While my opinion and a token (or MetroCard) will get you on the subway, here’s my take. The issue here is not devotion on one hand and dedication to service on the other – both are Biblical. Both are Jesus. It is where these actions are rooted – the force behind them – that is sometimes lost in the conversation. Jesus was a servant who did not serve every poor person he met. Jesus was deeply devoted to the Father but frequently took matters into his own hands. What was the difference? Why did he heal one day and retreat to be alone with the Father another? My best understanding of this today (I make that disclaimer because my understanding of the faith is ever changing and deepening as I travel the way) is that he listened and obeyed. I sometimes think that if people were REALLY listening and following all the people who live in communes and serve the poor would be made to serve in 2nd grade Sunday school classes in the suburbs and all the Sunday school teachers would be sent into inner cities to become new monastics. Why? Because we are serving God, serving others and being transformed by being stretched and forced to persevere so character can be built and hope revealed. This is becoming a blog post rather than a comment so I will end here. Looking forward to following this conversation as it develops.

  5. 6 Paige June 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Amen and amen, Mike! Thank you for writing this, and my thoughts are jiving (Is that a word?) with yours here 🙂

    Loved “Naked Now” and also “Everything Belongs”. Haven’t read JM, but I’ll probably put it on my very long list.


  6. 7 brianjgorman June 2, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    I’ve yet to read the Jesus Manifesto, but what you refer to above as “participatory divinity” you mention above is also called “theosis” (though the specific definition theosis differs depending on who you talk to). Within academic circles, there is more discussion of theosis (an eastern Orthodox concept) as central to Pauline theology (doug campbell makes mention of it in his huge Delieverance of God, and my father has made it a major part of his work in his 2009 book, “Inhabiting the Cruciform God”. That’s not to say that Sweet and Viola’s theology would fit in with either of the books I mentioned, so much as it’s an interesting happenstance.

  7. 8 frankaviola June 2, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for this post, Mike. Sweet! (and I don’t mean Leonard). I plan to send the second printing to Rohr which has Rowan Williams’ endorsement on the cover. Your readers may be interested in this segment from “Jesus Manifesto” on the Trinity:

    – beginning of quote

    Christians have always held to the eternal mystery that God is triune: Father, Son, and Spirit—one God, three persons, one substance. That said, our exaltation of the Lord Jesus in no way diminishes the Father or the Spirit or robs them of their glory. The question of the Trinity takes us beyond the scope of this book, but elsewhere we have discussed how the Trinitarian community is the basis for the church and how the shape of the church is rooted in the fellowship of the Godhead.[endnote referencing our other books that deal with the Godhead in detail.)

    From the beginning, God eternally poured all of Himself into His Son by the Spirit, and the Son eternally poured Himself into His Father by the Spirit. Immanuel Kant could not have been more wrong when he wrote dismissively of the Trinity in the eighteenth century, “The Trinity has got no relevance to practical living.” The eternal dance of divine life, love, communion, participation, and self-emptying within the triune God is central to the Christian life, to ministry, to the community of faith and the faithfulness of its mission.4 Most of all, it teaches us that just as God is not alone even when God is alone, so you are not alone even when you are alone. We don’t have to go down to the “valley of the shadow” all alone.

    It is only through Jesus Christ that we enter into this eternal dance. And it is only through Christ that we come to know the triune God and the loving fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit.6 As John tells us, the incarnate Son is the Father’s self-utterance and self-expression.7 As Paul tells us, the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ. All the fullness, the sum total, the full supply and reservoir of Godhood is concentrated in Jesus.

    For this reason Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who conceived of his life as a “witness to Jesus Christ,” said, “In Jesus Christ the reality of God entered into the reality of this world. . . . Henceforward one can speak neither of God nor of the world without speaking of Jesus Christ. All concepts of reality which do not take account of him are abstractions.”

    —end of quote

  8. 9 frankaviola June 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    p.s. I didn’t get to finish my point above: In our book, we *try* to fit social justice and personal piety in the context of 1) Christian community (which is rooted in the eternal dance of the Triune God, stated above), and 2) the indwelling life of Jesus which isn’t (for us) a positional or abstract truth, but a reality that works itself out in day to day life and in the trenches, individually, corporately, and socially.

    Love your post, bro.

  9. 10 jeffcstraka June 2, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Thank you, Mike, for a timely piece that is helping me work through some choppy but exciting waters. You lay out some very valid points on those who have stripped Jesus of his humanity, and those who have stripped away his divinity. I am a huge fan of Rohr’s, having read almost everything he has written and a good many of his talks. He does an excellent job explaining that in seeing Jesus, we see how the Spiritual and the Material intersect (why in the ancient iconic paintings of Jesus, he has two fingers held up – ‘I am the synthesis. I have put it together’) and how we are invited into that same dance. (He has an absolutely AMAZING talk on the Trinity: “Divine Dance: Exploring the Mystery of Trinity” – see http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/).

    One of the main points in Rohr’s latest book (I look forward to your review!) is in seeing with “both/and” eyes rather than “either/or” eyes (black spy/white spy!). “Reformatting my hard-drive” away from my Western dualistic mind to a more contemplative unitive mind is one of the most challenging things I’ve undertaken. In this mind of the mystic, Rohr is able to claim the virgin birth (for example) in a both a literal AND a non-literal sense and rest in the tension between them.

    I have been a fan of Viola, too, having read most all of his stuff, including “From Eternity to Here” (and his original “God’s Ultimate Passion”). I heard him speak at the Sustainable Faith conference a couple of years back and was most impressed with his immense passion and love for the Church we need to recover and reclaim. I will check out this new book and try to read it with both/and eyes to see what I might learn (as I have in the past from Frank’s books). Thanks again, my friend!

  10. 11 jeffcstraka June 2, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    PS – Our dualistic Western mind is also why we cannot hold Jesus Christ as BOTH Spiritual (Divine) AND Material (Human) – we only want to put him EITHER in one category OR the other. We NEED the Mind of the Mystic in order to see Christ in his FULLNESS!

  11. 13 Briana June 2, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Great post. I want–no, I need both. We need both.

  12. 14 jeffcstraka June 2, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    Leonard Sweet: Come to Christ. Cool.

  13. 15 Ted June 3, 2010 at 12:16 am

    I agree we need both, and the short answer (for me) is that I’m all for forms of piety that propel us into the rough-and-tumble world of social justice. And I’m all for forays into social justice that throw us upon our need for depth (I can’t quite bring myself to type “need for piety”).

    But this seems to be mostly a recapitulation of the classic tension between contemplation and action — and that’s nothing new to our faith tradition. It’s just that these days we can draw ourselves into mutually exclusive camps. A pox on us all!

  14. 16 mike pollie June 3, 2010 at 12:26 am

    im just wondering why people NEED a trinitarian view to accept concepts of Jesus

    what i mean is that i tell people that i dont fully adhere to a trinitarian view of God and mostly they flip out

    i mean ultimately it isnt fully biblical in my eyes

    i know this isnt the point of this post and i DO accept that God is Father Son and Holy Spirit

    but it seems to me that He is so much more

    it may be semantics and/or hair splitting but i am a father and a son and a brother and a husband and a friend but i am only one person with many functions

    this is the God i see

    i could be wrong but it appears that, even though i agree with A LOT of people who endorse the trinity, there is really not plain evidence for JUST a trinity but a full community of function and eternal fellowship in God and the “Father Son and Holy Spirit” are just functions of the same God

    just a thought and hope i didnt get too off base

    in Christ


  15. 17 Moriah June 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    “Rohr calls for a robust incarnational ethic, where we disavow a remote ‘theism’ as such and affirm a ‘down and in’ God who is located precisely right here, in our midst. Brian and Rohr both hope that people will stop merely worshiping Jesus and start listening to and following his teachings.”

    This. Yes. For it is not HE that we worship UNLESS we listen to and set ourselves about following, His teachings. Rather, it would be some remote idol in the mind, some sterile, stoic, sex-hostile figment of an austere third- or fourth- century tyrant’s imagination on steroids. The false “jesus” that has been created over centuries through and by stale institutionalized religion — wherein “faith” becomes merely a buzzword for “mental assent to the list of doctrines and ontological assertions deemed ‘biblically correct’ at any given hour” — must be overthrown for the living, passionate, dynamic, engaging, interactive, arousing, resurrected and eternally, abundantly ALIVE Christ, Who is both, and simultaneously, seated in the heavenlies in absolute triumph and supreme sovereignty, as well as expressly, palpably, tangibly, viscerally present through the Holy Spirit, in each one of us who has received Him personally and in verity.

    And because that complete consummation of His love is fixed, finished, and universally available to all freely, it is indeed the simple catalyzing spark of believing it so which ignites this vast conflagration of enflamed desire for perichoretic union meeting the open hand of its Divine Architect to bring ultimate satisfaction and a strangely delicious eternal rekindling therein. It begins with the simple act of owning it for oneself, the belief in the heart and the open confession of the mouth, as Paul states in context in Romans 10:4-13. Other foundation can no man lay but that which is laid: The Man Christ Jesus. How we build upon that foundation may indeed vary, and be of variable stability and worth, but the foundation Himself is the immoveable guarantor of our salvation, and the author and finisher of our faith.

  16. 18 Coleen Rossi June 7, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    I’m so glad I found your blog.

    You’re exactly who we need to help get the word out about two amazing women who are raising money for orphans by running 50 miles in 50 states – the Running Hope Through America (http://www.runhope.com/) project.

    I’m friends with Lisa Smith Batchen (http://tri.nity.me/cGvA1E), the ultra-marathon runner and Sister Mary Beth Lloyd, the Catholic nun who are at the core of Running Hope Through America effort. CNN did a story on them that you can watch here (http://tri.nity.me/9j7ZFs).

    Lisa has already run two thirds of her 2500-mile journey across the US, raising money for the Orphan Foundation of America, AIDS Orphans Rising and Caring House Project. As a mother of five children I feel like I’m running and running to get it all done, but she is literally running and running! 50 miles in every state, no matter the conditions, and she’s doing it all for the children. The woman is an angel on earth.

    I’ve created the Trinity Cross (http://tri.nity.me/bzBTvO) as a result of my faith in miracles and my devotion to family and God. Lisa is wearing a Trinity Cross on her run. In an effort to support Lisa and her team, we are asking people to make an $80 donation via this page (http://tri.nity.me/d79gqF).

    Anyone who donates $80 or more will receive a Trinity Cross as a memento of Lisa’s effort to bring Hope to orphans.

    When you know that a mere six cents a day can feed a hungry child, any amount will make a difference. Imagine –with an $80 donation more than 1300 children could be fed.

    Please email me and let me know how you can help spread the word. We aren’t just looking for donations but partners in our mission to end suffering for these poor orphans displaced by AIDS. I know, together, we can make a difference in the lives of so many children.

    I know, together, we can make a difference in the lives of so many.

    As Always,
    Trinity Cross Collection (http://tri.nity.me/bzBTvO)

  1. 1 Quotable « Christianity – the New Covenant Trackback on June 3, 2010 at 2:38 am

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