I’ve been following Jared for a couple years on his blog, The Gospel Driven Church. At this year’s Gospel Coalition, I happened to run into him while waiting in line for the Band of Bloggers luncheon. And then I won a copy of his new book. So, I figured the least I could do is review the book and interview him. And shamelessly demand his autograph in hope of a future cash-in.
Daniel: Give a little general background on yourself, and more specifically what drove you to write a book designed to clarify the biblical Christ.
Jared: The book really came out of a convergence of things in my life. Ten years or so ago a coworker in a bookstore handed me a copy of a book by N.T. Wright called The Original Jesus that really pushed my thinking about Jesus and the four Gospels. I really felt like I was seeing them for the first time. And that kind of began my intellectual journey in the historical Jesus stuff. And then about 5 or 6 years ago I began sort of a Gospel renaissance in my life, sort of a combination of embracing a more Reformed theology, getting under the mentorship of some really gospel-centered writers and pastors, and then a personal crisis the brokenness of which I cannot even put into words as of yet. But all of that left me with the stripped down all-importance of the gospel in my life and the preciousness of Christ.
So the book is sort of the outworking of my interest in the historical Jesus and my passion for gospel-centeredness in my life and in the evangelical church at large.
Daniel: You draw a lot of your thoughts on the kingdom of God from George Ladd. What was your introduction to his writings, and what steered you towards accepting his view of the kingdom of God?
Jared: I came to Ladd’s view of the kingdom completely by accident. I was still in my “end times” cage phase, in the process of trading in the pretrib, dispensational premil of my upbringing and moving to some sort of post-trib, historical premil. And I knew that Ladd was a historic premil guy with a post-trib view. I think I started with his book “The Blessed Hope” about the second coming. And that got me hooked on him. I read “The Presence of the Future” because it was about eschatology, assuming then that eschatology equaled “end times.” Between that book and “Gospel of the Kingdom,” I was hooked, and as Ladd dovetailed into my new reading of N.T. Wright’s stuff, my understanding of the kingdom really grew by leaps and bounds. Actually, I don’t know if I ever thought of “the kingdom” much before that.
And I’m an amillennialist now, so I think I was only an end times junkie by God’s wonderful irony, where he takes our dorkiness and turns it into good.
Daniel: Of the different legitimate portraits of Christ (King, Savior, Sacrifice, etc.), which do you think the Neo Reformers tend to overemphasize? Underemphasize?
Jared: I don’t know if I know who the neo-Reformers are — I once referred to myself as neo-Reformed and somebody (Bill Kinnon, I think) corrected me and said I wouldn’t want to refer to myself that way, as if they are like the Truly Reformed or something — but I think the guys in our tribe — the young, restless, Reformed or what have you — tend to overemphasize Jesus the Lord. Actually, it is not that that is overemphasized. I don’t think you can overemphasize Jesus’ Lordship. (I hope nobody takes that one sentence out of context to “prove” that I think that!) I just think that we can get off kilter when we underemphasize the incarnation, Jesus the Man. Mark Driscoll says some great things about these two opposite errors — focusing on one to the exclusion of the other — in his contribution to The Supremacy of Christ in the Postmodern World.
Daniel: In chapter 9 (Jesus the Sacrifice) you give two examples of persecution outside the United States. Do you see persecution coming to the United States for those who refuse to co-opt Christ into a mammon-mongering society?
Jared: No. Not anytime soon.
Most of us are too busy playing with a Jesus who’d never offend the powers that be anyway.
But I think talk of persecution in this country is extremely premature (and usually immature).
Target not honoring Jesus at Christmas gets whined about (as if we want some corporation commoditizing Jesus anyway) while believers in Pakistan are being burned alive in their homes. Christians in American can be such whiny idiots.
Daniel: In your context (Element and your new church) how have you seen the community of believers resist secularization/marginalization and be a bold light for Christ?
It happens any time we go serve people who aren’t like us. I see it when the Element community served monthly at the inner city after school program and the homeless mission, and when a few of our folks went to secular Japan gospel or to AIDS orphans in Africa.
Where I’m at now, dudes go finish homes for people in the mountains who have run out of money. Not church people. Just mountain people. And we’ve got a couple who run a community theater here that works with lots of kids from not only nonChristian homes but homes where, for instance, there are two mommies and what-not. People where I’m at now (Vermont) are missional without even knowing what “missional” means or that it exists as a word.
Daniel: In chapter 8, you share about your cousin Steve’s family, and how they’ve been drawn closer to Christ through the birth and growth of their son, Colton. Can you give an update on how they’re doing?
Jared: Doing great. Colton is ten now, I think. I know he loves MarioKart and swimming. He is in most ways a typical little boy: precocious, playful, boisterous, although he does use a wheelchair. I know they know God is sovereign, and they are just taking it a day at a time. They see him as a miracle. Because he is!
Daniel: In chapter 1, you state: “The promise is the king himself. The promise is Jesus.” This is an excellent thought: the promise to Christians is God Himself. Do the gloves have to come off to show that this is the true message of Christianity in a world of salvation prayers, prosperity gospels, and general man-centeredness? If so, how does the local church distinguish themselves from and deal with these other gospels within a community?
Jared: I’m gonna come at this question from another angle, if that’s okay. Because I think what you’re essentially asking is this: How do we get this message into more churches (or every church, if that’s possible). And I think that will take, yes, gloves coming off within pastoral tribes. It’s trickle down. Most evangelicals have no idea how big and how central the gospel is, and they won’t know because our sort of tribe for all intents and purposes exists in a vacuum. They don’t know we’re here, and when they do, they see we’re critical of what they’re involved in, so they tune us out. But they love their dynamic, engaging pastors who CEO their big churches. If we could get to THOSE guys, we could revolutionize evangelicalism with the gospel. (Or God would, not us, but you know what I mean.)
The cynical will say it cant’ be done. And they’re probably right. This is why Bible Belt evangelicalism will supposedly be gone in a generation. Or one of the reasons why evangelicalism is collapsing (if you’re an iMonk fan).
But if we could somehow reach and convince all these movers and shakers in other pastoral tribes, we could reach the majority of evangelicals.
I see some positive signs. That Francis Chan and Matt Chandler speak among the Catalyst and Exponential crowd bodes well. And likewise that guys like Driscoll are buddies with guys in the “arena church” crowd. That could be one of the weird benefits of the multi-site church movement. I’m not a fan of the whole video venue thing, but it has caused a blending of pastoral tribes, and I’m hoping the Driscolls, Chandlers, and Chans of the world are having great, respectful, fruitful influence on other leaders. And I hope they’ll be willing to go knuckle to knuckle when the glory of the gospel is on the line.