Quick Hitter: The Jesus Movement
To me, the most inspiring and exciting Christian leader in the United States is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry. His handling of the brouhaha over the Anglican primates meeting strikes me as not only politically masterful but also spiritually uplifting--standing firm on a set of core values, but also refusing to be provoked into recrimination and tit-for-tat. And while it is difficult to tell exactly what the outcome will be with regard to the broader Anglican world, or even what is actually going on at some of these meetings, it seems to this outsider that the "joyous resistance in place" strategy is paying dividends.
In the interview above, Curry talks about the idea of the "Jesus Movement" as a core concept in his approach. I've heard him mention this before, and he fleshes the idea out a bit in this interview. Bishop Curry points out that the earliest followers of Jesus were people who were impacted and transformed by the person of Jesus and His teaching and His life. They saw who He was and what He stood for and decided to follow that way. The notion, then, is to try to get back to that experience of being a follower of Jesus, someone who is caught up in the inspiration of His life and wants to carry that forward.
This strikes me as enormously helpful, and a better and simpler way of saying much of what I was trying to get at with the idea of the encounter with Jesus. Seen through this lens, all of what we think of as "Christianity"--the New Testament, the doctrines of the Church, the Ecumenical Councils, etc.--are a collection of reflections on the experience of being part of the Jesus Movement. Christianity is a product of this Jesus Movement and not its source. An authentic product and an important product, even a necessary product, but still a product. The core irreducible experience is encountering this person of Jesus (in a variety of ways--in the pages of Scripture, in the teaching of the church, in others, in an ineffable highly personal experience, etc.) and then having that encounter be a springboard to living in a different way. Everything else that is associated with Christianity is, one way or another, there to support that core.
It also seems to me that this is a powerful evangelical tool. Maybe you are not sure about how to reconcile story X in the Bible with what you learned in science class, or you have serious doubts about doctrine Y that Christianity has traditionally advocated for. That's OK; let's start with this person of Jesus and the things He said and the life He modeled for people to live. Is that attractive to you? Do you want to try to live this way He is setting out? Then come on over and be part of the Jesus Movement. Don't ignore or suppress your other questions and concerns. Live with them, but focus on living a life that models (in no doubt a limited and at times failed way) that of Jesus. If you are open in principle to what the other members of this Jesus Movement have said throughout the ages, maybe over time you will come to understand their perspective and what they are trying to say. Or perhaps not, but in any event you will be surrounded by people trying to live out the life Jesus models for us (in the same limited and flawed way) who can help you on that journey. That's a reason to come to church, to be with fellow travelers on the road.
Said another way, rather than "fronting" the doctrines of Christianity as the entry point for people to come into the faith, the Jesus Movement suggests we should front the person of Jesus and the life He is trying to get people to live. That's not easy, because it makes concrete demands on us to, you know, live the way Jesus wants us to live, and that way is not easy. But, I suspect it is a much more attractive and resonant message than the complex doctrinal edifice of Christianity. Our "best foot," so to speak, is the person and life of Jesus. Why not put that forward?